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THE THIRD PROGRAMME, NETWORK THREE
& THE THIRD NETWORK
Alistair Wyper


In the course of using the BBC Genome web pages in compiling lists of Third Programme drama I was initially confused by references to the three terms above. I have attempted to clarify the facts but if anyone has further, clearer, knowledge I would welcome it. “Third Programme is a radio service which began broadcasting on 29 September 1946 and ended on 29 September 1967” from BBC Genome. “Network Three is a radio service which began broadcasting on 30 September 1957 and ended on 29 September 1967”, also from BBC Genome.


The above hides a more complicated structure of networks.


On 30 September 1957 there was a reorganization of BBC radio services. The impetus for this was a report published in January 1957. This report had been commissioned by the Director of Sound Broadcasting, R. E. L. Wellington, who set up a working party to examine the current service. Among the Report’s conclusions were: “… the effort to improve public taste had given the public indigestion…” It also stated:


“Entertainment should not be undervalued or regarded as just a stepping stone to serious things. Less attention should be placed on spoken word and more on those who look to radio for relaxation and diversion.”


The BBC Board of Management accepted the Report’s recommendations. Briefly the significance in this was that some of the spoken word content of the Light Programme and the Home Service would be moved to the new Network Three. These changes throw a spotlight on the debate between those who criticized the Third Programme as elitist and highbrow and its defenders. Coming to the support of the Third Programme was The Third Programme Defence Society, whose members included T S Eliot, Bertrand Russell, Laurence Olivier, Michael Tippett and Ralph Vaughan Williams. In one of the definitive texts on the BBC’s history Asa Brigg described Network Three thus: “… a service for minority audiences…” (Asa Briggs: The BBC: The First Fifty Years, Oxford University Press, 1985)


Between 30 September 1957 and 29 September 1967, The Third Programme and Network Three were broadcast in parallel. From Monday 30 September 1957 until 11 December 1964 the Radio Times listings show that there were listings only for Network Three, the programmes being broadcast all day from 7 am until closedown at 11:15 pm. The content of Network Three differed from The Third Programme in that Network Three’s programmes were educational whereas The Third Programme broadcast principally music, drama and other spoken word content.


On Saturday 30 September 1967 BBC Radio 3 started. From the Wikipedia entry on the BBC Third Programme (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_Third_Programme):


“The Third Programme continued as a distinct evening service, and this continued to be the case for a short while after the inception of Radio 3 in 1967, before all the elements of the BBC's "third network" were finally absorbed into Radio 3 with effect from Saturday 4 April 1970.”


One question which occurred to me was did Network Three and the Third Programme have different frequencies or did they share the same one? It appears they used the same one. Reading the Radio Times’ listings for the week following the changes (Schedules from 29 September 1957 to 5 October 1957) Network Three broadcast from about 6:30 pm and closed down at 7:45 pm with the Third Programme starting at 8 pm. (https://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/5e2a186265eb47bf83b76202037b44e6)


To explain the term “The Third Network” I cite the Wikipedia entry on BBC Radio Three (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_Radio_3), describing the situation in September 1967 when Radio 3 took over:

“Radio 3 was the overall label applied to the collection of services which had until then gone under the umbrella title of the Third Network, namely:

-The Third Programme proper (as launched in 1946, an evenings-only offering of demanding cultural fare, both musical and spoken)
-The Music Programme (a daytime service of classical music)
-Sports coverage (chiefly on Saturday afternoons) and adult educational programming in the early part of weekday evenings (known as Network Three).


All these strands, including the Third Programme, kept their separate identities within Radio 3 until 4 April 1970, when there was a further reorganisation following the introduction of the structural changes which had been outlined the previous year in the BBC document Broadcasting in the Seventies.”


© Alistair Wyper, 17 September 2018.

(...-Thanks, Alistair - Ed.)




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