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75 Reasons To Love Your New BFBS

From cactus thorns to harems, here are 75 incredible facts about award-winning broadcaster BFBS

Crowd-duo-new-branding bfbs

It's a brand new day and, a brand new look BFBS.

Our passion hasn't changed. We still love to entertain, inform, connect and champion the armed services, their families and veterans but, we've decided to freshen up our look for 2020.

We're putting some old names like SSVC, CSE, Forces Cinemas and Forces Network in a cupboard and forging ahead with BFBS.

Our award-winning content about the armed forces for everyone from the serving military to the curious civilian are now branded Forces.

To mark this exciting change, below are some fascinating facts about the history of BFBS.

Broadcasting from war zones around the world for three-quarters of a century is no mean feat. From playing records with cactus thorns to setting up shop in a former harem, here are 75 fascinating facts about us to help celebrate the launch of our new brand.

1. The first Broadcasting Unit was established by a British Army welfare directorate in 1942, under the direction of Major Eric Maschwitz with the function of liaising with the BBC and making better use of forces programmes.

2. The first British Forces Experimental Station (BFES) went live on air in Algiers, in a former Harem for the first time on January 1, 1944.

3. Army blankets were used in the heavily tiled rooms to make the sound suitable for broadcast.

BFBS New Brand Academy Radio TV

4. An abandoned German transmitter, discovered in Tunisia, was the first broadcast equipment to be used.

5. The opening announcement was made by Philip Slessor and the signature tune used for the opening was the most popular melody with the 8th Army called 'Lili Marlene'.

6. 'Lili Marlene' was also used by the German propaganda station, 'Axis Sally' and was subsequently banned for broadcast by Forces Radio Stations until the end of the war.

The British Forces Network in Hamburg, 1940's
The British Forces Network in Hamburg, 1940's

7. Disc Cutters were used long before tape for broadcasting.

8. The first Forces Station in Algiers was named ‘B1’ and operated from ‘studio 3A’, named after the famous studio at on the third floor of BBC Broadcasting House in London.

9. The Forces Broadcasters moved into Italy with the expeditionary forces with their mobile stations ‘B3’ and ‘B4'.

10. Staff were accommodated within a local monastery in Campobasso and the early morning announcer was woken up by the duty monk on his way to prayers.

An early control panel from Studio A in Cologne, 1954
An early control panel from Studio A in Cologne, 1954

11. ABS (Army Broadcasting Service) Mobile Station B4 was once the target of the infamous 'Axis Sally', the German propaganda broadcaster. She proclaimed their location at Cesena was known to the German forces and the next day the station was machine-gunned in an air attack.

12. On D-Day plus 1, the Allied Expeditionary Forces programme was launched and the AFEP programmes were relayed by the BLAs mobile broadcasting units.

13. In December 1944, four Mobile Broadcasting Units landed in Belgium as part of the British Liberation Army BLA and they operated close to the front line until the end of the war.

14. Once peace was declared, Eric Maschwitz and John Macmillan headed towards Hamburg to requisition the Musikhalle for Forces Broadcasting.  They pinned a handwritten note on the door: “Requisitioned for Army Broadcasting” which was signed by B.L. Montgomery.

15. October 7, 1945, the first edition of 'Family Favourites' linking Germany and the UK went on air and the first request was for 'Lili Marlene'.

LAC Geraint Evans who went on to become a renowned opera singer
LAC Geraint Evans who went on to become a renowned opera singer

16. At the request of Army Welfare, a BFN Theatre Orchestra was formed made up of some of the finest musicians in Northern Germany.

17. LAC Geraint Evans arrived at the Musikhalle as a driver. He was asked to give an audition and was immediately signed up for the BFN Chorus and later become one of the world’s great opera stars.

18. FBS Benghazi was opened in 1946 by Maxwell Boyd, who went on to become a famous photographer on Motor Sport and his staff of ten included three former German prisoners of war.

19. BFBS was the first radio station in Europe to use VHS (ahead of the BBC) in 1955.

20. One of the roles of FBS Benghazi’ was to broadcast in German back to Germany, to try to counter East Germany’s propaganda.

Jackie Charlton and Alan Ball,1966 World Cup Winners visit Herford
Jackie Charlton and Alan Ball,1966 World Cup Winners visit Herford

21. BFBS was targeted by terrorists and came under fire from Bazookas and machine guns in Aden, three years after its opening in 1962.

22. This heralded the beginning of the Armed Forces using the broadcaster to disseminate vital information across the airwaves.

23. BFBS subsequently trained other broadcasters on how to use the new equipment.

24. John Peel, Dave Lee Travis and Tommy Vance were among the presenters when BFBS Head Office opened in Westminster in 1965.

25. Jackie Charlton and Alan Ball, two of England’s 1966 World Cup Winners team visited the Herford studio.

Engineers installing broadcasting equipment for the FBS
Engineers installing broadcasting equipment for the FBS

26. In 1947 a Royal Engineer discovered that Cactus thorns could be used to play one side of the 78 rpm records in Benghazi when there was a delay in the resupply of steels needles.

27. The Army Broadcasting Service set up in a former Gestapo Headquarters in Northern Italy, 1947 where local workers refused to enter the basement because it had been used as a torture chamber.

28. The Services Sound and Vision Corporation (now BFBS) was set up in 1982 and was merged from the Services Kinema Corporation, the British Forces Broadcasting Service.

29. BFBS has won countless Sony, Radio Academy and New York Radio awards throughout its proud history.

30. The British Defence Film Library (BDFL) was located at the Chalfont Headquarters between 1996-2016 and managed more than 1,500 film programmes, representing more than 50 years of training material.

Sir Roger Moore: A Saint, A Spy And A CSE Legend Picture Credit Allan Warren
Roger Moore was cast on 'The Adventures of Robin Hood'

31. Elton John was interviewed by BFBS reporter Richard Astbury in 1976.

32. Geri Halliwell performed for British troops in Oman in 2001.

33. Roger Moore performed as one of the foresters in the BFN’s most popular children’s shows, ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’.

34. The first showings of 16mm programmes were in canvas tent ‘cinemas’ on Salisbury Plain in 1939.

35. A vehicle containing an IRA bomb was parked outside of the BFBS Headquarters in Dean Stanley Street, Westminster in 1971 (it was defused safely).

Geri Halliwell performs for troops in Oman, 2001
Geri Halliwell performs for troops in Oman, 2001

36. In the Gaza Strip, the Middle East Broadcasting station used a clock that had been salvaged from a Hawker Hurricane aircraft.

37. A series of terrorist attacks in Palestine in 1948 resulted in the deaths of a number of British servicemen and included Forces Broadcasting Service’s Chief Engineer Flight Sergeant Dixie Dean.

38. The first radio station to operate on the island of Cyprus was created by Forces Broadcasting Service Cyprus in 1948 and was operated out of a former cowshed.

39. When the Turks invaded the island, BFBS moved to 24-hour broadcasting.

40. An exhibition called Battledress Broadcasters at the National Army Museum was held to celebrate 50 years of the existence of BFBS and was attended by Princess Margaret (1993).

SSVC Retail Closes in Germany
SSVC Retail Closes in Germany

41. The Combined Services Entertainment (CSE), the live events arm of the organisation, has been responsible for providing thousands of events to entertain and inform British Armed Forces around the world. It is now known as BFBS Live Events.

42. BFBS Live Events deliver 500 show days a year.

43. In 1963, the British Broadcasting Service replaced BFN and FBS.

44. We relaunched our new branding on March 2, 2020, with bfbs and forces.

45. As well as providing entertainment, BFBS also ran a chain of retail shops throughout the UK and Northern Germany in the 1970’s selling everything from toasters to televisions.

David Beckham in Afghanistan, 2010
David Beckham meets troops in Afghanistan, 2010

46. BFBS has been providing television services since 1975 when tapes were flown from the UK to Germany until live news and sport transmissions became available to more than 50 sites in 1982 using a microwave link. DVDs are still sent to troops in remote regions.

47. Forces TV is funded by BFBS, advertisements and some sponsorship.

48. In 2010, BFBS TV reporters were able to make live contributions into British Forces News for the first time from Camp Bastion in Afghanistan using a VSAT dish.

British Forces News Kate Gerbeau James Hirst Live 2 Way Camp Bastion Afghanistan 2010 Credit: BFBS
Live British Forces News link up between the UK studio and Camp Bastion in Afghanistan with Kate Gerbeau and James Hirst in 2010

49. A three-minute news bulletin is broadcast on the hour every hour and everyday on BFBS Radio including Christmas Day.

50. Forces News is broadcast online, on Forces TV and on BFBS Extra for those posted overseas, every weekday at 12:30pm and 5:30pm UK time.

Kevin Costner with reporter Natasha Reneaux

51. In 2014, we launched a new channel on UK television called Forces TV.

52. BFBS channels are received on more than 55 Royal Navy ships.

53. Forces TV reached more than 1.2 million viewers in August 2019.

54. In 2010 BFBS added a Nepali language TV channel (later replaced by the state TV broadcaster of Nepal).

55. Susie Ferguson, Rory Higgins and Annie Haresign were BFBS’ first embedded war correspondents in The Gulf in 2003.

Annie Haresign BFBS Embedded War Correspondents Op Telic 1 Invasion Of Iraq Credit: BFBS
BFBS correspondent Annie Haresign during Op Telic 1 - The Invasion Of Iraq

56. The first record to be played by the Inmarsat satellite terminal was ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ in March 2003.

57.  Viewers watched Forces TV for an average of 3 hrs 40 mins in August 2019.

58. BFBS presenters were used to deliver tannoy announcements for Operation Herrick in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan such as: “There will be a controlled explosion in five minutes, I say again, there will be a controlled explosion in five minutes”.

59. BFBS was featured in the BBC drama ‘The Last Post’ in 2017.

60. BFBS supplies Armed Forces with the MiPlayer that has thousands of hours of TV, training materials, electronic newspapers and magazines.

Bill Mitchell, Uncle Bill of Big Wood fame, 1970
Bill Mitchell, Uncle Bill of Big Wood fame, 1970

61. The Forces TV YouTube channel was started in February 2010.

62. Since it started, it has gained nearly 81 million views across all videos.

63. The 'Big Wood Tales' were narrated for BFBS and the’ Kinder Club’ by Uncle Bill-William Charles Boyden-Mitchell during the 60’s and 70’s.

64. Although primarily aimed at children, the show attracted many adult listeners and formed the basis for drinking games among soldiers and officers alike during the episodes (one such competition allegedly involved seeing who could consume the most of a 75cl bottle of duty-free Scotch).

65. Kevin Costner recorded a message to troops on the set of his film ‘Criminal’ for BFBS in 2014.

Cassidy Little in green screen studio
Cassidy Little, Coronation Street, Strictly and BFBS celebrity in the green studio

66. The Forces News bulletin is also available on Alexa Flash Briefing.

67. Online, forces.net is the go-to website for military content and the site reaches serving military personnel all over the world plus an audience of civilian readers with an interest in the British Armed Forces.

68. BFBS has had many famous faces working for them over the years. One of the more recent ones is former Marine Medic, Cassidy Little who has appeared in Coronation Street and was crowned the first champion of 'The People’s Strictly' for Comic Relief.

69. BFBS Radio broadcasts 24 hours a day online, on FM and on DAB/DAB+ as well as SSDAB and via the app.

70. BFBS Radio broadcasts in more than 20 countries.

Elton John interview,1976
Elton John interview,1976

71. BFBS streams 24 radio channels and is available on the BFBS App, online & smart speaker.

72. There are 12 BFBS Radio stations in the UK broadcasting live and local programmes via FM transmitters.

73. The BFBS Gurkha Radio is broadcast 24 hours a day in the Nepali language.

74. There are seven overseas BFBS Radio stations at British Military Bases.

75. Except for Antarctica, the forces.net website is viewed from every continent in the world, every month.

Extreme Broadcasting - Bringing The Forces To The Fringe
BFBS tell the stories of British Forces on operations around the world