Television Talks

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 898 BBC/T/PRT/T32
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Physical Description
      2,454 files (Paper)

Scope and Content

Television Talks were loosely defined by the BBC as educational or instructive programmes, with an emphasis on the spoken word. The term ‘Talk’ was an extension of that which had previously been used to define radio talks, which took the form of a speech or lecture and were a key component of early radio broadcasts. The television equivalent soon developed on this format to include political commentaries, documentaries, quiz shows, culture review shows, magazine programmes, interviews, and debates; in fact any television programme outside of music, entertainment, drama and news bulletins.

The papers in this series relate to programming produced by the television Talks department. The vast majority of the papers consist of production files for specific Talks programmes. The files cover all stages of the production process, including initial proposals, casting, filming, technical arrangements and audience feedback. The documents mainly consist of correspondence, contracts, scripts, Programmes-as-Broadcast, Audience Research Reports, plans, designs, newspaper clippings and photographs. There are also papers relating to specific subjects on which programmes were to be based, including proposals for new programmes. The amount of detailed correspondence varies depending on the nature of the programme.

The papers include documentation from the following sources: producers; directors; writers; editors; design managers, studio managers; Head of Talks, Television; Head of Television Programmes; Controller of Programmes, Television; Director of Television; Head of Public Affairs Programmes, Television; Chief of Programmes (BBC-2); Women’s Programmes Organiser; Head of Children’s Programmes, Television; Head of Programme Planning, Television; Head of Publicity; Head of School Broadcasting, Television, and contributors to programmes.

Administrative / Biographical History

The television service produced Talks, a term loosely used for non-music programmes and borrowed from sound broadcasting, from the early days in 1936 until 1939 when the television service was shut down. When the service reopened in 1946, the process of the formation of the programme staff structure began. The Television Talks department was created in December 1947 and was part of the four programme groups that made up the Television Service at the time: Drama, Light Entertainment, Talks and Talks Features, and Outside Broadcasts and Films. The first head of the new department was Mary Adams who joined the BBC in 1930 as Adult Education Officer and was appointed to the newly established television service in 1936, becoming one of the earliest female television producers. Adams produced many programmes such as Matters of Life and Death (1949-1952), and Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? (1952-1959).

In 1954, Rowland Leonard Miall was appointed head of Television Talks, under whose leadership the department went on to be responsible for such programmes as Panorama , Tonight , Monitor , Zoo Quest , Gallery , The Sky at Night , Face to Face , and many other documentaries and programmes covering a wide range of topics. Miall was in charge of a group of people who went on to become highly recognisable figures in broadcasting: Huw Wheldon, David Attenborough, Donald Baverstock and Alasdair Milne among them. In 1963, Miall was replaced by his deputy Grace Wyndham Goldie as Head of Talks and Current Affairs Group, Television. She retired in 1965 when Paul Fox took over as Head of Current Affairs Group, Television, and the Talks department ceased to exist.


The series is arranged into several sequences that correspond with batches of files as they were deposited into the archive. Significant alphabetical and programme sequences are listed below:

- T32/1-375 is arranged alphabetically by file title A-Y

- T32/378-394 are Appeals programme files arranged alphabetically by subject

- T32/397-437 is arranged alphabetically by file title A-V

- T32/438-635 is arranged alphabetically by file title A-F

- T32/645-751 is arranged alphabetically by file title C-G

- T32/752-808 is arranged alphabetically by file title C-G

- T32/832-889 is arranged alphabetically by file title C-L

- T32/890-1133 is arranged alphabetically by file title D-O

- T32/1134-1153 are The Great War programme files arranged numerically

- T32/1176-1492 is arranged alphabetically by file title I-P

- T32/1493-1575 is arranged alphabetically by file title G-S

- T32/1587-1786 is arranged alphabetically by file title A-W

- T32/1809-1830 is arranged alphabetically by file title B-T

The remaining files in the series (T32/1831-1959) do not follow any particular alphabetical sequence and are arranged in the order in which they were deposited in the archive.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Files containing written material.

Custodial History

The papers were originally filed in the Television Central Registry. The initial sequence of Television Talks material covers the period 1935-1960.

Subsequent material was first transferred to the Records Management Centre, and later the Records and Programme Information Centre (RAPIC), before being sent on to the Written Archives Centre. Talks programme files covering 1955-1964 were transferred to the Records Management Centre from Registry in October 1979. The files were reviewed and then deposited with the Written Archives Centre in December 1991.

These were followed in August 1992 by further Television Talks files from the 1963-1969 period, found during the one-year appraisal project at the Records Management Centre. Further programme files were discovered in October 1992 during the project and deposited at the Written Archives Centre in December 1992.

Television Talks files from the period 1969-1970 that missed the one-year appraisal project were reviewed at RAPIC and sent to the Written Archives Centre in February 1994.

Related Material

Early BBC Television documentaries were produced by Television Documentaries, whose papers are filed in BBC/T/PRT/T4: Documentaries . Between 1955 and 1962 there was no separate documentary making unit (broadly speaking it was the responsibility of the Talks Group). The later periods are covered by Television Documentaries Department ( BBC/T/PRT/T56: Documentaries Department , covering 1966-1970) and Documentary Features ( BBC/T/PRT/T64: Documentary Features , covering 1971-1980).

Radio Talks are covered by BBC/R/PRR/R51: Talks .

The BBC/CORP/R9: Audience Research series of files includes viewer reaction reports to selected programmes and audience barometers listing statistics on numbers of viewers.

Scripts are available on microfilm for most programmes.