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BBC TWO (or BBC2 as it was formerly styled) was the second UK television station to be aired by the BBC. It started broadcasting on April 20 1964 during which it suffered a blackout caused by a major power failure. Unlike the other channels available at that time (BBC ONE and ITV) it was only broadcast on the 625 line UHF system, so was not available to viewers with 405 line VHF sets. This created a market for dual standard receivers which could switch between the two systems. BBC ONE and ITV later joined BBC TWO on 625-line UHF but continued to simulcast on 405-line VHF until the early 1980s. BBC TWO became the first British channel to broadcast in colour in the summer of 1967, using the PAL system. BBC ONE and ITV simultaneously introduced PAL colour on UHF in late 1969.

New BBC shows often appear on BBC TWO, especially if those behind the show have not proven themselves elsewhere. A successful BBC TWO show may be moved to BBC ONE, such as happened with Have I Got News For You. The channel also has a reputation for screening challenging and 'prestige' drama productions, such as Boys from the Blackstuff (1982) and 1996's epic, critically-acclaimed Our Friends in the North. BBC TWO's programmes always had a "highbrow" image, compared to those on rival channels. This perception persists in today's multichannel world so that a programme that is moved from BBC TWO to BBC ONE will often get a much larger audience, even though no other change has been made.

As well as programmes, BBC TWO has also proved memorable for its numerous idents - various short films shown in between programme junctions, promoting the channel identity. Since it began in 1964, the figure '2' has almost always been used, using revolving, mechanical models and computer-aided technology, including the world's first computer-generated ident in 1979. In Easter 1985 the '2' was replaced by the word 'TWO' in red, green and blue on a white background. However, this made the channel appear 'dull' and 'worthy' and was changed back to a figure '2' in 1991. From then the '2' appeared the same shape but in various guises, adopting ideas like a remote-controlled car, a rubber duck and a fluffy dog. These are generally regarded as the best idents ever produced for a television channel and stayed in use for 10 years. In 2001, the figure '2' remained, but it was now always shown white on a yellow background, with various computer technology to aid it.

BBC TWO itself has been accused of "dumbing down" recently; since the launch of the new digital-only BBC FOUR, the BBC has been accused of letting its more highbrow output go to the new channel (which many viewers cannot receive) instead of BBC TWO, the perceived reason being to allow BBC TWO to show more popular programmes and get higher ratings. Certainly there does seem to be a strong resemblance between the new BBC FOUR and the early, slightly stuffy, BBC TWO.

The current Controller of BBC TWO is Roly Keating, who took up the post in June 2004 having formerly been controller of BBC Four. His predecessor Jane Root, who was appointed in 1999 and was the first woman to be appointed Controller of a BBC television channel, departed in May 2004 to become the executive vice president and general manager of US-based Discovery Channel.

Controllers of BBC TWO

See also: List of British television channels