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BBC Four

BBC Four
BBC Four logo
Launched 2 March 2002
Owned by BBC
Picture format 576i (16:9 SDTV)
1080i (HDTV)
Audience share 0.82% (September 2015 (2015-09), BARB)
Country United Kingdom
Replaced BBC Knowledge
Sister channel(s) BBC One
BBC Three
BBC News
BBC Parliament
Website /
Freeview Channel 9
Channel 106 (HD)
Freesat Channel 107 (SD/HD)
Channel 148 (SD)
Sky (UK) Channel 116 (SD/HD)
Channel 211 (SD)
Sky (Ireland) Channel 211
Astra 2E 10773 H 22000 5/6
Astra 2F 11023 H 23000 2/3 (HD)
Dish Network (USA) Channel 9408
Virgin Media Channel 107
Channel 164 (HD)
Virgin Media Ireland Channel 117
Ziggo (Netherlands) Channel 64
Kabeltex (Netherlands) Channel 164
WightFibre Channel 18
BT TV Channel 106 (HD)
Channel arbitrary
KPN (Netherlands) Channel arbitrary
Streaming media
BBC iPlayer Watch live (UK only)
FilmOn Watch live
TVCatchup Watch live (UK only)
Horizon Go Watch live (Ireland only)
Watch live (Switzerland only)

BBC Four is a British television channel operated by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and available to digital television viewers on Freeview, IPTV, satellite, and cable.

BBC Four launched on 2 March 2002,[1] with a schedule running from 19:00 to 04:00. 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."[2] 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 to premiere 20 international films each year.[3][4]


  • History 1
  • Organisation 2
  • BBC Four HD 3
  • Programming 4
  • Programmes 5
    • Original programming 5.1
    • Imports 5.2
    • Domestic repeats 5.3
    • Films 5.4
    • Music Concerts 5.5
    • Children Classics (shown in 2007) 5.6
  • Presentation 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


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 because 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.

On 12 May 2011, BBC Four was added to the Sky EPG in Ireland on channel 230.[5]


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. In October 2013, following the departure of Richard Klein from the controllership, the management of the channel changed, with the role of Controller of BBC Four scrapped: from this point the Controller of BBC Two would have ultimate oversight of BBC Four as part of their role, absorbing some of the former duties of the Controller of BBC Four, but a new 'Channel Editor' post, reporting up to this controller, would be created to take day-to-day charge of Four. The controllers of BBC Four to date have been:

  • 2002–2004: Roly Keating
  • 2004–2008: Janice Hadlow[6]
  • 2008–2013: Richard Klein[7]
  • 2013-2014: Janice Hadlow (as Controller of BBC Two and BBC Four) "on an interim basis"[8] - Hadlow had been Controller of BBC Two since departing BBC Four in 2008
  • Early 2014 : Adam Barker (interim Controller of BBC Two and BBC Four following Janice Hadlow's departure to a new post)[9]
  • 2014–present: Kim Shillinglaw (as Controller of BBC Two and BBC Four)[10]

Channel Editors of BBC Four have been:

  • 2013–present: Cassian Harrison[11]

BBC Four has an annual budget of £54.3 million.[3]


BBC Four HD logo.

On 16 July 2013, the BBC announced that a high-definition (HD) simulcast of BBC Four would be launched by early 2014.[12] The channel launched on 10 December 2013, though will roll-out nationwide up to June 2014 (as will BBC News HD and CBeebies HD).[13] The channel broadcasts on the BBC's new HD multiplex on Freeview and shares its stream with CBeebies HD as they both air at different times. Prior to launch, the majority of BBC Four's HD output was broadcast on the BBC HD channel before its closure on 26 March 2013.


BBC Four share of viewing 2002-2013 BARB figures

The first evening's BBC Four programmes were simulcast on BBC Two.[1] BBC Four is notable for first showing Larry David's Seinfeld follow-up, Curb Your Enthusiasm,[14] 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.[15] BBC Four further supports foreign language films with its annual World Cinema Award which has been running since 2004.

On weekdays at 19.00 and weekends at 21:00, 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. 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.[16] The official audience figures for the broadcast, including time-shifting, were later published as 1,625,000.[17] 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.[18]

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.

According to BARB the comedy panel game QI has the highest ratings of any show on BBC Four.[19]

At the Edinburgh International Television Festival, BBC Four won the Non-Terrestrial Channel of the Year award in 2004, 2006 and 2012.

In 2012 Dirk Gently became the first continuing drama series produced for the channel.[20]


Original programming

  • Free Will and Testament: The Robert Wyatt Story
  • The Great War
  • Sandhurst
  • 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
  • Doctor Who (moved onto Horror Channel)
  • The First World War (TV series)


Domestic repeats


Music Concerts

  • Queen 1975 Live
  • Madness Live (Part of Goodbye Television Centre)
  • Coldplay Live
  • David Gilmour Live in Gdansk (Part of David Gilmour Night)

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.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Culture, controversy and cutting edge documentary: BBC FOUR prepares to launch", BBC Press Office, 14 February 2002. Retrieved 2 April 2010.
  2. ^ "BBC Four - FAQ". Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  3. ^ a b BBC Four Service Licence. Issued February 2011 Retrieved 7 October 2011. Published by the BBC Trust.
  4. ^ BBC Four Service Licence. Issued May 2009 Retrieved 12 March 2010
  5. ^ "Ireland: Extra BBC channels being added to Sky EPG". The Airwaves. 2 May 2011. Archived from the original on 7 May 2011. 
  6. ^ "Janice Hadlow to be new Controller of BBC Two" (Press release). BBC Press Office. 1 October 2008. Retrieved 13 December 2008. 
  7. ^ "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. 
  8. ^ "Richard Klein, Former Controller, BBC Four - Inside the BBC". 
  9. ^ "Adam Barker Appointed Acting Controller Of BBC Two & BBC Four". TVWise. 
  10. ^ "Kim Shillinglaw Named BBC Two & BBC Four Controller". TVWise. 
  11. ^ "Cassian Harrison appointed as Channel Editor, BBC Four - Media Centre". 
  12. ^ "BBC to launch five new HD channels". BBC News. 16 July 2013. Retrieved 16 July 2013. 
  13. ^ "BBC to launch five new subscription-free HD channels on Tuesday 10 December".  
  14. ^ Burrell, Ian (15 February 2010). "Watch and learn: BBC Four's success is a sign that Britain is regaining a hunger for intelligent broadcasting". The Independent (London). Retrieved 23 February 2010. 
  15. ^ "BBC Four - Wallander". BBC. 
  16. ^ "BBC4 breaks ratings record", The Guardian (London), 19 March 2008
  17. ^ BARB multichannel top ten, BBC Four, week ending 23 March 2008
  18. ^ Klein, Richard, Ten Years of BBC Four About the BBC Blog, BBC, Last accessed 3 March 2012
  19. ^ Analysis of BARB audience figures, produced for QI by the BBC, QI website, accessed 28 March 2008
  20. ^ "Dirk Gently to return to BBC Four". BBC. 31 March 2011. Retrieved 5 May 2013. 

External links

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