On this day in history : 20th April 1964 – BBC2 television is launched – only things don’t go quite to plan – as a fire breaks out at Battersea Power Station causing a major power cut….
Much publicity had surrounded the coming launch of Britain’s third TV channel – the two kangaroo mascots used to herald its arrival ~ ‘Hullabaloo’ the mother kangaroo and her joey ‘Custard’ ~ were a familiar sight….
And a right hullabaloo it was too…. The evening had been planned to start at 7.20pm with a news bullet-in and then continue with a programme schedule of music and comedy – including a special of ‘The Alberts’, a performance of ‘Kiss me, Kate’ and was to be rounded off with a celebratory firework display from Southend Pier….
However, just over half an hour before the launch was set to air a fire broke out at Battersea Power Station…. At the same time a 60,000 volt cable carrying electricity from the Midlands to the south of England developed a fault in Buckinghamshire – the result being a total blackout in the west of London and much of the city centre….
As it happened, news anchorman Gerald Priestland, who was to deliver the opening news bullet-in, was not broadcasting from Television Centre…. Instead he was in the north London studios at Alexandra Palace – which still had power…. Amidst the mayhem and chaos he bravely soldiered on – over the next couple of hours TV screens across the land displayed the words ‘Will Start Shortly’ – broken intermittently with news bullet-ins…. Eventually at 9.30pm the evening’s schedule was abandoned….
Power was restored for the channel to launch properly the following day…. At 11am the first complete programme to air was ‘Play School’….