The story is irresistible, and, as such, has become part of the BBC’s unofficial history. It is repeated on countless websites, news stories and anecdotes. It is the story of how the BBC returned to television broadcasts in the aftermath of the Second World War.
As Europe teetered perilously on the edge of cataclysmic conflict, BBC television was still in its infancy. The service could not continue in war time – its transmitter at Alexandra Palace would have been a powerful beacon for enemy planes. So, with only days to go until the declaration of war, the television signal was cut off on 1 September 1939 half way through a Mickey Mouse’s Gala Premiere. It would only resume in 1946, picking up at the same point in the cartoon but only after the announcer had witheringly intoned: “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted.”
Unfortunately, as well as being a great story, it is also a complete fabrication. There is a kernel of truth, in that they relate to the resumption of a media institution in peacetime. William “Bill” Connor, the legendary Daily Mirror writer, began his first post-war Cassandra with that phrase. The full quotation was: “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted ,it is a powerful hard thing to please all of the people all of the time.”
The BBC’s real return to the airwaves was, in many ways, just as charming a tale. The first words uttered on 7 June 1946 were “Good afternoon everybody. How are you? Do you remember me, Jasmine Bligh?” Jasmine Bligh was one of the original three BBC announcers from their pre-war service.
It is true that they then played the same Micky Mouse cartoon from 1 September 1939, but they were sensible enough to realise that seven years and a world war would test people’s memory, and so started it from the beginning. In any respect, it is part of the myth that the cartoon was cut off half way through – in reality the BBC finished the programme and then broadcast test signals until its suspension.