BBC Four logo
|Launched||2 March 2002|
|Picture format||576i (16:9 SDTV)|
|Audience share||0.9% (October 2013, BARB)|
|Sister channel(s)||BBC One
|Sky (UK)||Channel 116|
|Sky (Ireland)||Channel 211|
|Astra 1N||10773 H 22000 5/6|
|Virgin Media||Channel 107|
|Smallworld Cable||Channel 119|
|UPC Ireland||Channel 117|
|UPC Netherlands||Channel 53|
|Ziggo (Netherlands)||Channel 604|
|Telenet (Belgium)||Channel 566|
|BBC Online||Watch live (UK only)|
|BBC iPlayer||Watch live (UK only)|
|TVCatchup||Watch live (UK only)|
|UPC Horizon||Watch live (Ireland only)
Watch live (Switzerland only)
BBC Four launched on 2 March 2002, with a schedule running from 19.00 to 4.00. The channel shows "a wide variety of programmes including drama, documentaries, music, international film, original programmes, comedy and current affairs ... an alternative to programmes on the mainstream TV channels." It is required by its licence to broadcast at least 100 hours of new arts and music programmes, 110 hours of new factual programmes and premiere 20 international films each year.
BBC Four launched on 2 March 2002 at 19.00 GMT, having been delayed from the original planned 2001 launch. The channel replaced BBC Knowledge, an educational and cultural channel which had undergone many changes throughout its lifetime; in its final format it carried a schedule of documentaries and art programming, essentially a test of the new BBC Four schedule. BBC Four would rebrand this channel, and bring it into line with the well recognised BBC One and Two brands at the same time. Planning for the new channel, along with the new BBC Three, had been in progress since October 2000; however, the incumbent government delayed approving the new BBC digital plans. The BBC Four plans were approved earlier, and as a result launched before BBC Three.
BBC Four was different from the old BBC Knowledge: the channel would be more heavily promoted with more new and original programming and the channel would not be broadcast 24 hours a day. This was due to the fact that on the Freeview digital terrestrial platform, BBC Four is broadcast in a statistically multiplexed stream in Multiplex B that timeshares with the CBeebies channel (which is on air from 6.00 until 19.00). As a result, BBC Four broadcasts from 19.00 to around 4.00 each night, with an hour's down-time and promotions for CBeebies before the start of that channel's schedule.
BBC Four forms part of the BBC Vision group, and as a result, the channel controller is answerable to the head of this executive department: Emma Swain, as of 2012. The channel direction is determined by the channel's remit, set by royal charter and the corporation's governing body (the BBC Trust), and by the channel controller. The controllers to date have been:
BBC Four has an annual budget of £54.3 million.
BBC Four’s primary role is to reflect a range of UK and international arts, music and culture. It should provide an ambitious range of innovative, high quality programming that is intellectually and culturally enriching, taking an expert and in-depth approach to a wide range of subjects.
— BBC Four Remit
The first evening's BBC Four programmes were simulcast on BBC Two. BBC Four is notable for first showing Larry David's Seinfeld follow-up, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Armando Iannucci's cutting political satire, The Thick of It, The Chaser's War on Everything, Flight of the Conchords, Mad Men and Danish thriller, The Killing.
The channel broadcasts a mixture of art and science documentaries, vintage drama (including many rare black-and-white programmes), and non-English language productions such as films from the Artificial Eye catalogue, the French thriller Spiral and the Swedish detective series Wallander. BBC Four further supports foreign language films with its annual World Cinema Award which has been running since 2004.
On weekdays at 19.00, the channel shows a 30-minute global news programme called World News Today, simulcast with and produced by BBC World News. It screens a number of documentaries such as The Century of the Self and The Trials of Henry Kissinger. The channel is also home to many political travel shows such as Holidays in the Axis of Evil which features investigative journalism.
Drama has given the channel some of its most popular programmes, with The Alan Clark Diaries (2003) and Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa! (2006) being among the highest rated, with over 800,000 viewers. The 18 March 2008, broadcast of The Curse of Steptoe brought the channel its highest audience figures, estimated as 1.41 million viewers, a 7% share of multichannel audiences between 21.00 and 22.05, based on overnight returns. The official audience figures for the broadcast, including time-shifting, were later published as 1,625,000. Another notable production was a live re-make of the 1953 science-fiction serial The Quatermass Experiment, adapted from the original scripts into a single, two-hour version (though on the night it in fact underran considerably, lasting less than 1 hour 40 minutes), broadcast on the evening of Saturday 2 April 2005. Discounting BBC Four's previous live relays of theatrical Shakespeare productions, this was the first live made-for-television drama to be broadcast by the BBC for twenty years.
Another notable programme broadcast on BBC Four is Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe which contains reviews of current shows, as well as stories and commentary on how television is produced. The show is presented by broadcaster Charlie Brooker.
The channel is also curator and leader of the BBC Archive project whose aim is that the BBC's television archive is re-broadcast as much as appropriate so that the Archive can be enjoyed again and not isolated.
Some output from BBC Four (documentaries rather than foreign films) was for a time repeated on BBC Two in a 'BBC Four on Two' branded area, although this was often in a late night broadcast slot after Newsnight and has since been discontinued.
At the Edinburgh International Television Festival, BBC Four won the Non-Terrestrial Channel of the Year award in 2004, 2006 and 2012.
- Survivors: Nature's Indestructible Creatures
- Dinosaurs, Myths and Monsters
- BBC Four Sessions
- Singer-Songwriters at the BBC
- If Walls Could Talk
- Britain's Best Drives
- Only Connect
- Birds Britania
- Britain by Bike
- Churches: How To Read Them
- Shock and Awe: The Life of Electricity
- Elegance and Decadence: The Age of the Regency
- The Story of the National Grid
- Walter's War
- To Kill a Mockingbird at 50
- HG Wells: War with the World
- Twenty Twelve
- World News Today With Zeinab Badawi (simulcast on BBC Four and BBC World News at 1900 Mon-Fri)
- The Secret Life of Ice
- The Curse of Steptoe
- How to Build a Dinosaur
- Frankenstein: Birth of a Monster
- The Great War
- Jerusalam: The Making of a Holy City
- The Story of Musicals
- The Art of Cornwall
- Children's TV Trials
- Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe
- Goodbye BBC Television Centre
- Can Eating Insects Save the World
- The Ballad of Mott the Hoople
- Sings the...
- Racing at the BBC
- Dirk Gently
- Mad Men (seasons1-4 only premiered on BBC Four, moved to Sky Atlantic from season 5)
- The Slap
- The Killing
- Il Divo
- Inspector Montalbano
- The Bridge
- Parks and Recreation
- Arne Dahl
- Planet Earth
- The Blue Planet
- Yes Minister
- Yes Prime Minister
- All Creatures Great and Small
- Juliet Bravo
- Last of the Summer Wine
- Top of the Pops
- Monty Python's Flying Circus
- The Likely Lads
- The Young Ones
- Fawlty Towers
- The Bear Family and Me
- The Life of Mammals
- The Onedin Line
- Tales of Beatrix Potter
- Walking with Dinosaurs
- Walking with Beasts
- Casualty 1906
- Casualty 1907
- Great British Railway Journeys
- Climbing Great Buildings
- The Sky at Night
- Pride and Prejudice
- Blue Peter (Classics only)
- The Good Life
- Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?
- I, Claudius
- South Pacific
- When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- Monty Python's Life of Brian
- The Thirty-Nine Steps
- The Lady Vanishes
- Carry on Loving
- King Kong
- Cloud 9
- The Brides of Dracula
- The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
- Queen 1975 Live
- Madness Live (Part of Goodbye Television Centre)
- Coldplay Live
Children Classics (shown in 2007)
The channel's initial series of idents were generated dynamically reflecting the frequencies of the continuity announcers' voice or of backing music and were designed by Lambie-Nairn. As a result, no two idents were ever the same. The first continuity announcer was Zeb Soanes.
When the channel first started airing, it used the slogan "Everyone Needs A Place To Think", but the BBC stopped using this several months after the launch. However the BBC Four logo and above slogan can be found, engraved on benches along the South Bank in London, between the London Eye and Waterloo Bridge.
In September 2005, the channel began showing new idents comprising a central BBC Four logo surrounded by four quadrants which show different stages of the same footage thus making for a sort of optical illusion; for example, a swimming pool where a person on an inflatable ring appears in the bottom-left corner, though ripples don't enter the remaining quarters. Although the image appears as one at the start of the ident by the end it is clearly four separate images.
On 16 July 2013, the BBC announced that a high-definition (HD) simulcast of BBC Four would be launched in early 2014 and it will share its stream with CBeebies HD as they both air at different times. Prior to this, the majority of BBC Four's HD output was broadcast on the BBC HD channel before its closure on 26 March 2013. On 15 November 2013, BBC Four HD began testing on the Astra 2F satellite. A placeholder for the channel then appeared on Freeview channel 106 on 26 November 2013.
- "Culture, controversy and cutting edge documentary: BBC FOUR prepares to launch", BBC Press Office, 14 February 2002. Retrieved 2010-04-02.
- "BBC - BBC Four - FAQ". Retrieved 2007-08-19.
- BBC Four Service Licence. Issued February 2011 Retrieved 7 October 2011. Published by the BBC Trust.
- BBC Four Service Licence. Issued May 2009 Retrieved 12 March 2010
- "Ireland: Extra BBC channels being added to Sky EPG". The Airwaves. 2 May 2011.[dead link]
- "Janice Hadlow to be new Controller of BBC Two" (Press release). BBC Press Office. 1 October 2008. Retrieved 13 December 2008.
- "Richard Klein named new Controller of BBC Four" (Press release). BBC Press Office. 24 November 2008. Archived from the original on 8 December 2008. Retrieved 13 December 2008.
- Burrell, Ian (15 February 2010). "The Independent - Watch and learn: BBC Four's success is a sign that Britain is regaining a hunger for intelligent broadcasting". London. Retrieved 2010-02-23.
- Wallander - BBC Programmes
- "BBC4 breaks ratings record", The Guardian, 19 March 2008
- BARB multichannel top ten, BBC Four, week ending 23 March 2008
- Klein, Richard, Ten Years of BBC Four About the BBC Blog, BBC, Last accessed 3 March 2012
- Analysis of BARB audience figures, produced for QI by the BBC, QI website, accessed 28 March 2008
- "Dirk Gently to return to BBC Four". BBC. 31 March 2011. Retrieved 2013-05-05.
- "BBC News - BBC to launch five new HD channels". BBC News Online. 2013-07-16. Retrieved 2013-07-16.
- "BBC Four HD and CBeebies HD satellite tests begin". a516digital. 2013-11-15. Retrieved 2013-11-26.
- "Freeview Channel Updates: November 2013". a516digital. 2013-11-26. Retrieved 2013-11-26.