Down the Tubes

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The year 1986 was notable for the FIFA World Cup in Mexico in the summer, during which Maradona claimed the 'Hand of God' was responsible for the hand goal which put England out of the contest. Earlier that year the Chernobyl Power station exploded causing a major nuclear disaster.

The World Cup was already underway when we commenced the day shift one morning in the BBC Communications Centre in Bristol. This technical area at the time was a hub for the BBC's vision, sound, and data circuits between London, Cardiff, Plymouth and Southampton. In particular, BBC1 and BBC2 was received was London and fed to Cardiff, Plymouth and the Mendip transmitter station. Additionally, the Centre enabled Points West opt-outs on both television networks by switching the local studio into circuit to Mendip.

Part-way through the morning the BBC's transmitters in Southwest England lost their line feeds and went to their reserve feeds. Plymouth phoned to complain of the loss of both television networks, and Wenvoe Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) confirmed that Caradon Hill, Huntshaw Cross and Stockland Hill were on RBS (Re Broadcast Standby). Enquiries revealed that all vision circuits between Plymouth BBC and the BT Repeater Station at Forder Battery (outside Plymouth) had been lost. A digger working on the new Plymouth Parkway - a new dual carriageway carrying the the A38 through Plymouth to the Saltash Bridge - had sliced through the vision tubes and completely cut BBC Plymouth off from the BBC network. Coincidentally Television South West, the regional ITV franchise, had escaped this fate by the IBA self-providing all its inter-regional circuits and was therefore not reliant on BT.

BBC TV Analogue Network South West