1975: Launch of BFBS TV

Vintage image of a TV with the BFBS logo.

A recreation of a vintage BFBS TV logo on screen in 1975.

Spoken by Hilary Osborn on 18 September 1975, these were the first words heard on BFBS Television, a pioneering and innovative way for BFBS to support the military community it served in Germany. 

With postings to Germany sometimes lasting several years, familiar home comforts for the families of service personnel were crucial. 

Some armed forces personnel serving today have grown up with BFBS TV as a constant in their lives – from celebrating their birthdays with a shout-out on children's TV, learning to speak the local language while watching ‘Instant German’ with Corinna Schnabel, to watching today's Forces News on BFBS Extra, and all packaged with a bespoke mix of familiar and popular TV shows from home.

The birthplace of BFBS TV was a 30ft, purpose-built mobile control room in Trenchard Barracks near Celle, Germany. 

Cutting-edge technology has always been the backbone of everything we do but, back in the pre-internet days of the 1970s it was the tech that proved to be one of the biggest hurdles BFBS had to overcome. 

BFBS TV is a unique worldwide service – with so many locations, time zones and restrictions to contend with, no other broadcasting service is challenged in the same way. 

It's a demanding operation in terms of the content we broadcast the technology we use to deliver it and in parallel, audience habit and expectation.

It was the success of BFBS Radio since it launched in 1943 that led to the proposal for a television service as far back as 1959.  

Various ideas were discussed, such as airing programmes on German television, sending video tapes to the garrisons and even broadcasting from an aircraft over Germany.  

It took another 16 years before BFBS TV was eventually on air in September 1975. 

Initially a collaboration between BFBS, the BBC and ITV contractor London Weekend Television, the programmes were recorded in the UK and the adverts were removed using two very large video tape machines and an editing unit designed by a BFBS engineer. 

Archive photograph of a BFBS TV building set up.

The mobile BFBS TV trailer in Joint Headquarters (JHQ), Rheindahlen, Germany in 1982.

Deciding which programme to record was difficult.  With only four video tape machines, if two were editing – one was recording from BBC One and the other from BBC Two – there wasn't a spare to record a programme being broadcast on ITV at the same time. 

The understanding of the core value of a BFBS TV service by the British television industry at the time (which remain the founding principles and necessary support which underpin BFBS TV in the present day) meant that most UK-produced programmes were available to the BFBS TV programme planners, however popular American series and films were slightly more difficult to get the rights to use, but not always insurmountable! 

The tapes were then flown to Joint Headquarters (JHQ) British Forces Germany in Rheindahlen, stored until transmission and then lined up by a video tape engineer ready for broadcast using low-power UHF transmitters to ensure BFBS TV did not interfere with local German stations. 

About 100 tapes per week were delivered in this way to the BFBS TV unit stationed in Germany. 

Due to strict copyright laws, the TV shows broadcast on BFBS couldn't be seen by the German population so, as a result, smaller transmitters had to be scattered all around the garrisons and living areas.