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Pre-launch feature films on BBC2

When did BBC2 begin broadcasting? And what was the first feature film that it showed?

The easily-Googlable answer to the former is of course Monday 20 April 1964 – although famously the opening night did not exactly go according to plan, and after a technical breakdown the service was relaunched the following evening. A bit of additional research will reveal that the first film officially broadcast on BBC2 was Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925), previously shown on Christmas Day 1963 by BBC1 – or, as it was known at the time, BBC Television – to a record audience and repeated in the new channel’s revival slot Encore on 22 April. However, these are not the only possible answers to the questions.

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The classic films produced by Hollywood independent Samuel Goldwyn are currently revisiting us on Talking Pictures TV. Now therefore seems a good time to assess the treatment by television of this important library, which played a crucial role in helping to make cinema films more readily available to British broadcasters.

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As the major studios gradually opened up their vaults to British broadcasters, the feature films acquired for showing on television became ever more numerous. They grew to include some real blockbusters, which often became the centrepieces of holiday schedules when competition for viewers was particularly fierce. Many of the big films of the past which still revisit us on our TV screens today made their domestic debuts on Christmas Day in the 1960s and 1970s. Here we look at a selection of them.

See here for Part 1 of this article.

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Christmas is traditionally the time for traditions, and in Britain that includes the big film on the box after the Queen. For five decades British television has taken Christmas Day as the occasion for the small-screen premiere of a major feature film. This year it’s Disney’s Frozen on BBC1. But when did this tradition begin, and what are some of the other films that have featured down through the years? What follows is a year-by-year selection of them.

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Sheldon Times: The Early Days

In 1972, the 1971 film “Diamonds are Forever” reached North Shields, England. I saw it, at the Classic Cinema, Monkseaton. It was my chosen birthday present that year, from my parents. The next week, I got into a discussion with Sheldon about the film, in the playground of our primary school. We discussed the opening sequence, at some length. We were 7 years old. I clearly remember his specific, articulate and passionate engagement with the film. It was the first film debate I recall having in my life. That conversation is burned crystal clear into my memory. And it wouldn’t be our last…