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In 1934 the Western Wireless Relay Company began operations in Bristol. The manager was Mr J.O. Smith and the firm had its head office at 4 Colston Street, with other branches at 50 Brandon Road, 8 Barnabas Street and 178 Whiteladies Road.
In October 1935 the company submitted plans to Bristol City Council to build a hut off Ashley Down Road, presumably to house receiving equipment, while by 1936 the head office had been moved to 10 City Road.
In 1947 the undertaking became Bristol Rediffusion Services Ltd and although the head office was moved to 78 Old Market Street the City Road premises, along with the existing branches at 50 Brandon Street and 8 Gilbert Road, were retained for the time being. In addition, in September 1947 plans were submitted to Bristol City Council for the construction of a new Rediffusion showroom at 4 Filwood Broadway in Knowle West.
Television via cable first became available in Bristol in 1952 and as for some time off-air reception was poor in many parts of the city the number of subscribers rose quickly to a peak of around 60,000.
In 1961 Bristol Rediffusion Services Ltd re-located to 2/3 Broad Plain, Old Market, from where by the late 1960s they were providing subscribers in the city with a choice of four television programmes. These included not only BBC1, BBC2 and HTV, but also ATV Midlands which was impossible to receive through an aerial in most parts of Bristol.
However, over the years more television transmitters were erected and reception of BBC and ITV programmes in many parts of Bristol improved, with the result that by the 1970s the number of customers for cable television had dropped off dramatically so anything to encourage more subscribers was greeted enthusiastically.
In mid-May 1972 the Conservative Government gave permission for a number of UK cable TV companies to undertake an experiment in local television which was planned to last until July 1976, although no advertising or sponsorship was allowed. The first of the six operations approved was launched in July 1972 by Greenwich Cablevision in London, while Bristol Channel, Rediffusion's experiment in local community television, was inaugurated on May 17th 1973 by Sir John Eden, the Minister of Posts & Telecommunications.
To begin with 'Bristol Channel' provided about 15 hours of local news, sport, drama and educational programmes a week and these went out every evening from Monday to Friday from a small studio set up in Rediffusion's premises in Broad Plain. Although the Sony 'Portapak' portable camera equipment used by the station was very different to that employed by the main broadcasters a high technical standard was nevertheless maintained and cable viewers received a good picture.
'Bristol Channel' which cost Rediffusion about £40,000 to equip and some £20,000 a year to run, not only went on to extend its hours, but also introduced the first breakfast-time TV programmes shown in the UK. Although by October 1974 it was attracting an average viewing figure of around 3000, within months all attempts to convince the recently elected Labour Government that it was essential to ease the restrictions imposed on programme content and advertising had failed, with the result that on March 14th 1975 Rediffusion were forced to shut down 'Bristol Channel'.
However, during the early 1980s the new Conservative Government, which was keen to see a large scale expansion of Britain's cable networks, managed to persuade the Independent Broadcasting Authortity and Rediffusion to undertake another experiment in local cable TV programming, although it was agreed that this should last for just three months.
As a result during 1981 Milton Keynes, Bristol, Cumbernauld, Washington and Corby all launched their own television channels, with that in Bristol being known as 'Avon TV', and in spite of operating for only twelve weeks they did help to provide the Government with information that was useful in determining future policy.
In November 1983 Rediffusion spokesman Neil Darroch announced that in order to stay one step ahead of the satellite TV revolution that was expected in a couple of years time, during the following spring the company planned to double the number of channels available to the 11,000 of its subscribers in Bristol who were already receiving BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 4 over the Rediffusion network.
This was to be achieved by transferring those to off air reception by providing customers with free aerials, and then to pipe the four extra channels through the cables, although that also meant that radio programmes would no longer be carried. The additional channels were to be up-linked from a site in London's dockland to a communication satellite, the signals from which would be received on two large dish antennas, the first to be seen in Bristol, which were erected during February 1984 on the roof of the Rediffusion building in Broad Plain.
Consequently, from 5 pm on March 29th those of the 60,000 households in Bristol within the reach of Cablevision which had been persuaded to pay £4.95 a month to receive the three channel 'Super Package' could begin enjoying the delights of Screen Sport, Music Box and Sky Channel. Alternatively, for an extra £8 subscribers could be provided with the 'Super Plus Package' which added TEN (The Entertainment Network), a feature film channel offering up to 40 movies a month, many of them never seen before on television.
However in May 1984 BET, which had gained complete control of Rediffusion a year before, sold the company's television rental business to Granada for £120 million, while in October of the same year Robert Maxwell and Pergamon Press paid £11 million for Rediffusion's Cablevision operation which was subsequently renamed British Cable Services.
© rediffusion.info 2011
BRISTOL REDIFFUSION SERVICES LIMITED
2 / 3 Broad Plain
Bristol BS99 7RG Tel. 0272 23332
The charming Broad Plain premises of Rediffusion Bristol were once home to Bristol's Lord Mayor.
Compiled with help from John Penny