BBC Coverage of the Apollo Space Missions

This is MTMG’s 600th post. I wanted to reflect for a moment on the privilege of living through a time in which, for the first time in history, there are things more exciting than war. International professional sport is the first: it’s better than politics, too, and these days Sky Sports News has become a kind of refuge.

The exploration of space is the other. The race to the Moon was a proxy war; but that’s the very point. And I hold it forever against my parents that they left me in my cot for the moment Armstrong and Aldrin touched down. My wife is a month younger than me, and she was allowed to stay up, so why..

One of the first proper books I was ever given was the Observer Book of Manned Spaceflight by the estimable Reginald Turnill.  My copy, which i have next to me now, was given to me by my father when I was three.

Turnill, the lucky man, was at the right place at the right time to cover the entire thing from beginning to end. That world of Florida and Houston and James Lileks motels and restaurants and AC Cobras and cigarettes and late nights and coffee in plastic cups was the one I thought I was going to grow up into.

I remember what little of it we had over here in Blighty. Lying half asleep, unbelted-up in the back seat, looking up at the window as the motorway lights ticked past and the raindrops climbed. The radio would be on, saying  “Late – Night – Rock”  to me with absolute confidence.

One jingle used a NASA-style countdown. But by the time I reached 17, everything was Merchant Ivory.

Here’s what it was like. BBC black and white serious science on late, on a television the size of a packing case, in a new-build detached house near the proposed route of the M3. Cheese on toast – white bread, grilled, because although the ex-wife didn’t take the toaster with her, the husband prefers burned fingers.

And the motor in the drive with its white stones in black tarmac. And James Burke, Patrick Moore, and Michael Charlton.

Apollo 8:


Apollo 11:


Apollo 13:


Apollo 15, I think! (I can’t read, can I? Apollo 11 again, at least at first.)


When the revamp of this site is complete, there’ll be an extensive reading list and playlist on this subject, which won’t ignore the Soviets.


9 Replies to “BBC Coverage of the Apollo Space Missions”

  1. Just last year I had the privilege of meeting Alexander Martynov and Alexander Volkov both formerly of the Soviet Space program. The USA really lost their way in space exploration for a long while and the Russians (ironically) seem to have put more effort into non-military space than the US DoD dominated efforts of the last 20 years.

  2. Wired and or Reason have both had recentish articles saying pretty much the same; in a nutshell, that NASA is bloated recipient of “pork” and comparing the cost of some of the private space programmes going on right now with the cost of the Shuttle’s toilet seat.

  3. Presumably very few people saw the Apollo 11 broadcast on the BBC in colour, as it is in the 2nd clip?

  4. I can’t imagine many people saw it in colour (Apollo 11) as it is shown there – I read somewhere that there were only 200,000 colour TVs by the end of 1969.

  5. “Oh, we don’t watch television much, so we just keep a little B&W set in the kitchen for David Attenborough programmes”

    Amusing to contemplate an early colour TV owner watching Neil Armstrong touch down on the NASA black and white feed!!

  6. And for those of you watching in black and white, the pink is next to the brown.

    We didn’t have a colour set until at least 1979. The old one conked out and they got a rented Sony in its place.

    No BBC2 in the South West until 1970 either.

  7. I may have been allowed to stay up – but I can assure you I don’t remember a thing about it! Almost certainly time zone related – being in the same country as NASA probably helped.

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