Recollections of BBC engineering from 1922 to 1997
The British Broadcasting Corporation
web site is:

Sites, buildings and structures



BBC buildings

Article in Ariel, the staff newspaper, about BBC buildings of the past.

Foley House, the home of James Watt, on the site now occupied by Broadcasting House. New in May 2021


Architectural and Civil Engineering Department was responsible for development of the BBC's buildings, masts and towers.  It was based in Henry Wood House, Portland Place, and worked closely with the Capital Projects Departments.  I had very little experience of ACED and would particularly appreciate help with this section of the web site please. ME

A number of hand written structural calculations have survived from the 1940's and PDF versions can be seen by clicking the following links:-

Building steelworks BP 1939.pdf, Concrete Tank BP 1940.pdf, Daventry Steelworks 1936.pdf, DEI Engine Bed 1934.pdf, Earth mound BP 1940.pdf, DX Aux Power House.pdf, DX Steelwork-A 1936.pdf, DX Steelwork-B 1936.pdf, Machine room roof BP 1943.pdf, OSE5-Ottrngham-structure-calcs.pdf, Washford-and Westerglen-ext-1947.pdf, Washfors-Westerglen memos-1947.pdf, Water Tank Roof, BP 1945.pdf

Site Acquisition Section


The BBC's original television network used the Very High Frequency band and relatively few transmitter sites were needed to provide a service to most of the UK population.  In 1964 BBC television broadcasting started on the Ultra High Frequency band and, due to the nature of radio-wave propagation at these higher frequencies, many more transmitter sites were needed.  Land had to be found and acquired at suitable locations, so Site Acquisition Section was formed to carry out this work.  Organisationally, SAS was part of Transmitter Operations but functionally it delivered the first link in the chain which ultimately resulted in each new transmitting station coming on air.

SAS was involved in all BBC transmitter site finding.  As well as large numbers of UHF television sites, there were VHF and MF radio sites for Network and Local Radio services.

Each UHF site had to broadcast both BBC and ITA services so it was agreed that each organisation would acquire about half the total number of sites.  Once the site was acquired, the landlord (BBC or Independent Television Authority) provided the accommodation and common infrastructure (e.g. mast) and the tenant (ITA or BBC) installed equipment specific to their services.

By 1997, when BBC Transmission was privatised, it had 734 sites* and access to a further 550 sites provided by NTL (formerly ITA and then IBA - Independent Broadcasting Authority).  The BBC sites included those used for radio services, as well as television.

*Not including transmitting stations for World Service.

Recollections of Site Acquisition Section - By George Bath

These notes are not precise but are merely recollections to, hopefully, start the ball rolling. Thus amendments and additions, from anyone involved, past or present, are very welcome!

History and Office Locations.

Site Acquisition Section was formed as part of Transmitter Department in 1964 based in BH London. The small team comprised Maurice Clough (HSAS), Colin White, Alex Rothney and L P Tinson ? (later Head of Valve Section). They moved offices to The Langham a year or so later and Jim Moon joined as an additional Site Finder. During this period Maurice Clough moved on and Jim Moon became HSAS. Colin White left to go abroad and Malcolm Harman joined the Section.

The Team moved offices again to Harewood House, Hanover Square, in 1972. Malcolm Harman returned to Research Department and George Bath joined. Luxurious accommodation, large offices, floor length curtains and balconies! In addition to the Site Finders, a Site Engineer was appointed to check reception, for re-broadcast purposes, at proposed sites. John Hawkins, Tony Glasier and Mick Benns held this position at various times. From early days using a long wheelbase Land Rover they progressed to a Mercedes Unimog vehicle which allowed direct access to the more remote locations. The vehicle had a built in 30 foot mast raised by compressed air.

The Harewood House lease expired and the Section moved to more modest premises at Bentinck House, Bolsover Street in 1977. The pace was now hotting up and additional Site Finders were required, Graham Barrell, Ian Baker, Doug fisher and Robert Foster. Jim Moon retired and Peter Cleminson became HSAS. Another lease expiry in 1980 saw the Section move to Henry Wood House in Regent Street. There were also organisational changes and HSAS became Head of Engineering Transmitter Support Services. Site Finders were required to complete 12 to 15 new acquisitions a year to keep pace with the UHF Relay rollout programme.

London as a base came to an end in 1987 with the move to Warwick Technology Park and Peter Mensforth was appointed as Section Head. As the rate of need for the new sites decreased the job took on a more “Estate Management” role and also Site Sharing became a more important source of income.


Site Acquisition Section
By Alex Rothney 9/05/09

The Transmitter Engineering Department [later renamed Transmitter Group] has always had the responsibility of acquiring the sites for BBC transmitting stations, in co-operation with the transmitter installation, and building and legal departments.

This was true with the enormous increase of sites needed to fulfil the changeover from VHF to UHF. Far more stations were required because the coverage from a UHF transmitter is very much less than from a VHF transmitter of the same power.

To cope for the extra work, a new section was created, Site Acquisition Section. Initially it had three senior engineers, two junior engineers and two secretaries, but later another senior engineer, two more secretaries and an office clerk were added.

An innovation was that there was an agreement that the BBC and the ITA would share all the UHF stations. SAS would acquire sites for half of the stations, and an equivalent new section in the ITA would acquire the remainder. Each body would provide its own transmitting equipment, but the aerial system and transmitter building for both would be provided by the body acquiring the site. The UK was divided up into areas for each authority.

The BBC Research Department decided where the transmitters should be located.

One of the SAS Senior Engineers was Head of Section and he would decided who would deal with each RD recommendation. The site engineer would then arrange to visit the proposed site, usually using his own car, or a hire car. With distant sites sometimes the journey could be made by rail or air and hire car. On the first visit a field strength meter and portable aerial would have to taken, along with maps, a camera, a compass, binoculars and perhaps an altimeter, (Wot! No Satnav?) hence the need for car transport.

The RD recommended site would be located, and an initial judgment made. It might have been built over, or be at the end of an airport runway, etc One example is where there was a small hill between the proposed site and the area to be served, but this did not appear on the O.S. map because the top of the hill had not penetrated the next contour boundary.

If the site was considered suitable, its ownership had to be found, and negotiations started. If they failed, a search would be made for an alternative. A purchase was preferred, otherwise a long lease with a right to renew. All would be subject to satisfactory reception and planning consent, and also approved by the Director of Engineering, which was virtually automatic. Photographs were taken of the site and access.

The planning authority needed to be sounded out. If all went well the site finder returned to base and arranged for full reception tests on the site, carried out by the junior engineers with, originally, a Land-Rover with a telescopic mast and measuring equipment. There must be high quality reception from a parent station. Later SAS was equipped with a Mercedes Unimog, a larger and more effective cross country vehicle.

An “Event 20” document, giving full details of the site was then produced and copies sent to Research Department, Transmitter Planning & Installation Department, Building Department, the BBC Solicitor and the ITA,. Also, an Application for Outline Planning Consent was made by the site finder.

In the event of planning consent being refused, an application would be made for a Planning Inquiry. The site finder would become the expert witness, and a barrister appointed.

Occasionally site finders attended public meetings to explain BBC needs.

Monthly progress reports on each site were issued to all concerned

Site Acquisition Section became so successful that its services were sought in acquiring facilities for setting up other radio facilities, such as finding sites for local radio transmitting stations or direct point to point radio links, and other matters concerning land such matters of rights of way at Rampisham, which resulted in a public inquiry with a satisfactory outcome.

Radio users, other than BBC, often applied for aerial space on BBC aerial masts and towers. Provided Building Dept gave its approval to the mast/tower loading, SAS negotiated the terms.

When Libya decided to have a television service in 1965, it sought guidance from the BBC. BBC engineers were involved in all aspects of training and construction work, including an SAS site finder being sent out to establish sites for several high power and low power TV transmitting stations.

Return to list of Reminiscences