Here's my piece from today's Guardian on the pleasures of trawling the BBC's online archive, which shows transmission dates for nearly 1m television and radio programmes. The website is still experiencing teething troubles and if you can't get on through the link below or http://www.open.bbc.co.uk then the best thing to do is to
type 'open.bbc.co.uk' followed by the name of a BBC programme in your search engine and you can gain access that way. Then to find out what was shown on the BBC network on a particular day, just click on any of the transmission dates shown. Have fun!
Travel back through time with the Beeb
A time machine still awaits invention. But until that moment arrives, here is the next best thing. The BBC has recently made available online, at http://creativearchive.bbc.co.uk/ an "experimental programme catalogue database", showing transmission dates for more than 300,000 hours of radio programmes and 600,000 hours of television material dating back 75 years.
So if you have ever wanted to see a full list of the guests who appeared on The Russell Harty Show between 1980 and 1984, or find out what items appeared on BBC1's main evening news on April 13 1972, the BBC's new initiative is the answer to your prayers.
With so much material to choose from, it is easy to get overwhelmed. The mid-1970s are commonly considered a golden age for the Beeb. Do the listings back it up? I head back to 1976 to find out. There are some revealing differences in programming schedules between then and now. For instance, in 1976, Doctor Who was shown at 5.45pm on a Saturday, and not promoted as primetime, adult drama and winning Baftas. Panorama, the BBC's current affairs flagship, went out at 8.10pm on a Monday, and not at 10.15pm on a Sunday.
On January 6 1976, murder mystery series Ellery Queen was followed on BBC1 by the naval drama Warship at 8.10pm, the Nine O' Clock News and Play for Today; while on BBC2, Robert Robinson chatted to Maurice Sendak on The Book Programme, fake aristocrat Lord Melbury checked in at Fawlty Towers and the Eagles played on The Old Grey Whistle Test. Not bad at all for a Tuesday night.
The BBC's catalogue provides compelling evidence of the channel's dumbing down. On February 9 1976, Panorama broadcast an interview with German chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Can anyone imagine a head-to-head with Angela Merkel being screened at 8.10pm on a Monday today?
The other striking thing about the 1976 schedules is how, in the pre-globalisation age, British television was less parochial and more internationally focused. Children's programmes are a good example. Youngsters in 70s Britain could relive the drama of the 17th century Franco-Spanish war in The Flashing Blade, experience life on a Yugoslavian stud farm in White Horses, and enjoy award-winning animations from eastern Europe. Today, the BBC buys very little of its output from other countries - other than America and Australia. Trawling the BBC's catalogue, one is faced with an unpalatable truth: the age of globalisation, with its round-the-clock television and increased "choice", has not increased diversity of programming but instead led to a far more homogenised output.