British Forces Broadcasting Service

The British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) provides radio and television programmes for Her Majesty's Armed Forces, and their dependents worldwide. Editorial control is independent of the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces themselves.

British Forces Broadcasting Service
TypeArm forces Media (UK)
Broadcast area
National & international
Official website

It was established by the British War Office (now the Ministry of Defence) in 1943. In 1944, it was managed by Gale Pedrick.[1]

Originally known as the Forces Broadcasting Service (FBS), it was initially under the control of the British Army Welfare Service, with its first effort, the Middle East Broadcasting Unit, with its headquarters in Cairo.[2]

Before and after end of the Second World War, various radio stations were set up, some using the FBS name, others using the name British Forces Network (BFN), but by the early 1960s, these had all adopted the BFBS name.[3]

Since the 1980s, BFBS has formed part of the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC), a registered charity, which is also responsible for the British Defence Film Library, SSVC Cinemas, and Combined Services Entertainment, providing entertainment for HM Forces around the world. BFBS does not carry commercial advertising.[4]

BFBS Radio

BFBS Radio's three stations broadcast on a combination of local DAB, FM and AM frequencies, via live streaming at, on Sky Channel 0211 and Freesat Channel 786.[5]

  • Forces Radio BFBS – contemporary music and Forces Community Radio.
  • BFBS Radio 2 – popular music, news, current affairs and sport.
  • BFBS Gurkha Radio – programming for Gurkhas

BFBS broadcasts to service personnel and their families and friends worldwide with local radio studios in Belize, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Germany, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, Nepal and operational areas from the studio in Afghanistan.[6] In addition, BFBS radio[7] is heard by troops in Ascension Island, Belgium, Bosnia, Diego Garcia and the Netherlands, as well as onboard Royal Navy ships at sea via live satellite links, online at and on Sky Digital channel 0211, via a Eutelsat 28A transponder.

Forces Radio BFBS is a music, news, entertainment and community service providing bespoke content to the global Forces Community with a focus on Forces News and connecting the Forces communities around the world.

Bespoke news bulletins are broadcast every hour, 24 hours a day, utilising content from BBC News, IRN and BFBS's own team of Forces News reporters. The standard bulletin is three minutes long, with extended ten-minute Newsplus programmes on weekdays at 0400, 0700, 1100, 1300 and 1700 UK time. Two-minute-long news and sport headlines are broadcast on the half-hour during breakfast programming. Bulletins are broadcast around the clock on BFBS Radio and BFBS Gurkha Radio, and during BFBS Radio 2's music programming.

Many of the programmes on BFBS Radio 2 are sourced from BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Five Live, including the soap opera The Archers, which was popular in Hong Kong until BFBS Radio ceased broadcasting on 30 June 1997 before the handover to China.[8]

BFBS Gurkha Radio broadcasts on AM and DAB in select UK locations as well as on FM in the Falkland Islands, Afghanistan, Brunei, Nepal, Belize and on Ops. It provides programmes in Gurkhali, for the Gurkha units serving with the British Army.[9]

BFBS broadcast in Malta until 25 March 1979, when British forces left the islands.[10] It ceased broadcasts from Berlin on 15 July 1994, following the end of the Cold War, German reunification, and the withdrawal of British forces from the city, after 33 years.[11] The BFBS Berlin frequency was given up on 12 December 1994. BFBS also broadcast on FM in Belize, from Airport Camp near Belize City.[12] These broadcasts could also be received in eastern parts of Guatemala.[13] It ceased broadcasting in the country August 2011.[14] The station re-opened in 2016.[15]

At midnight on Saturday 12 January 2008, the Forces Radio BFBS began a trial period of broadcasting nationwide across the UK on DAB, which ran until 23:59 on 31 March 2008. Audience research carried out during the trial concluded that it was successful, and broadcasts continued for 8 years.[16] Until 6 March 2017 when the service ceased, due to the cost to the charity SSVC.[17]

On Monday 31 May 2010, BBC Radio 1 teamed up with BFBS to transmit the 10-hour takeover show from Camp Bastion with BFBS presenters and shout outs from the military community.[18] It repeated the link-up in 2011.[19]

In December 2011, Smooth Radio broadcast their national breakfast show, presented by Simon Bates, from the BFBS studios in Camp Bastion.[20][21][22] On 8 April 2012, Easter Sunday, BFBS simulcast a two-hour show with Smooth, presented jointly by Simon Bates and BFBS's Rachel Cochrane allowing family and friends of serving troops to connect with their loved ones.[23]

On 1 April 2013 BFBS began a new 10-year contract for to supply all forces broadcasting service to British troops around the world and expanded its service to UK army bases formerly served by Garrison Radio.[24] BFBS UK Bases stations now serve local communities in Aldershot (DAB), Aldergrove (FM), Blandford (FM), Bovington (AM), Brize Norton (DAB), Bulford (FM), Catterick (FM), Colchester (FM), Edinburgh (FM), Fort George (FM), Holywood (FM), Inverness (FM), Lisburn (FM), and Portsmouth (DAB).[7]

BFBS Television

BFBS Television started in Celle, near Hanover in the then West Germany on 18 September 1975 from Trenchard Barracks.[25] This used taped broadcasts from the BBC and ITV, flown to Germany from London, which were then rebroadcast using low-power UHF transmitters.[26] Live broadcasts of news and sport began in 1982, using a microwave link between the UK and West Germany, extending as far east as West Berlin.[27]

The BFBS TV service used the 625-line PAL system, used in the UK as well as West Germany.[28] By 1982, it was available at 50 sites throughout northern and central regions of West Germany.[29]

It was known as SSVC Television (Services Sound and Vision Corporation) between 1985 and 1997, when it reverted to the BFBS name.[30] Today it now broadcasts live via satellite. DVDs are still sent to forces serving in more remote areas. There was also a service known as Navy TV, which broadcasts time-shifted versions of the channel to Royal Navy vessels around the world via military satellite.[31]

Most programmes came from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky, including news from BBC News, Sky News, ITN, and sport from BBC Sport and Sky Sports. BFBS also has its own programmes, including the daily news bulletin programme British Forces News[32] and the children's programme Room 785.[33]

BFBS Television was broadcast in some areas as a terrestrial service in the clear using low power transmitters to minimise "overspill" to non-service audiences and protect copyright.[34] The satellite feed was encrypted for copyright reasons, as it is intended solely for HM Forces and their families. Until 1994, it was also carried on cable in West Berlin.[35] However, it was only available in the British Sector.[36]

Until 1997, it was also widely available in Cyprus, but its signal was encrypted or confined to the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia.[37] Following complaints from local broadcasters like Lumiere TV, which had bought local rights to show English football and other programming, the decision was made to encrypt the signal, starting with Nicosia in April 1997 and ending with Larnaca and Limassol in May 1998.[38] The decision was criticised by MPs in an Early Day Motion.[39] BFBS later ended terrestrial transmissions of its TV channel in Cyprus in January 2009.[40]

However, as a result of card sharing by services personnel, BFBS TV (later BFBS 1) was available to unentitled viewers on the island, along with other channels until 2011, when an illegal pay-TV service was closed down in a joint operation by the Cyprus Police and the Audiovisual Anti-Piracy Alliance.[41]

By contrast, BFBS TV was watched by civilians in the Falkland Islands, where for many years, it was the only terrestrial TV service. Initially it consisted of prerecorded programmes brought over on cassette from the UK, meaning that they were shown two weeks after the UK,[42] but was later shown on a timeshifted basis (which means that "live" events were shown between 3 and 5 hours after they had actually happened.) This expanded the civilian terrestrial TV service as part of a digital upgrade, which included BFBS 1 and BFBS 2.[43] BFBS 1 and 2 also became available to civilian audiences in Tristan da Cunha.[44]

British Forces and their families stationed at British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS), located at Canadian Forces Base Suffield in Canada, had access to BFBS 1, a limited amount of BFBS 2 and BFBS 3 and Sky News on a 7-hour timeshift from CET.[45] During the day, the television channel that BFBS 2/3 broadcast on, played BFBS Radio 1.

In 2005, BFBS also began distributing commercial networks Kiss TV (previously Q), Sky News, Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports 2 to certain areas. It also started a movie channel on 2 May 2008, using money that it saved following the Premier League's decision to waive the £250,000 rights fee.[46]

In 2010, BFBS also added Nepali TV (a TV channel in Nepali language based in the UK) in its channel line up for the benefit of Gurkha soldiers.[47] This was replaced by Nepal Television (the state TV broadcaster of Nepal) on 1 March 2016.[48]

SSVC was awarded a new ten-year contract by the Ministry of Defence commencing on 1 April 2013. Fewer overseas troop deployments and reduced budgets resulted in a change to the previous TV service.[49] Since 27 March 2013, BFBS has offered timeshifted versions of BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, as well as two channels of its own. BFBS Extra offers entertainment programming from Channel 4 and Channel 5, Watch, and Dave, Sky 1, with programming from National Geographic Channel, ITV2, 3 and 4, the History Channel and Sky Atlantic. BFBS Sport carries sport from BT Sport (replacing ESPN), Sky Sports, and Eurosport.[50] BBC Two carries children's programming from CBBC, until the late afternoon, while BFBS Extra carries programming from CBeebies until the evening. Additionally, the BBC One and ITV feeds are timeshifted to hit peak time in local time zones. Channel 4 later became available as a separate channel in 2019.[51]

On 10 June 2014, SSVC launched Forces TV, a new channel aimed at the British Armed Forces. It is available on BFBS, Sky 181, Virgin 274, Freeview 96 and Freesat 165.[52] Its content is a mixture of news reports, entertainment, documentaries and features produced by BFBS. It is independent from the Ministry of Defence and is funded through advertising and sponsorship.[53] Forces TV (and Forces Radio BFBS) on satellite Eutelsat 10A (10°E).


  • Alan Grace: This Is the British Forces Network. The Story of Forces Broadcasting in Germany. Stroud (1996) ISBN 0-7509-1105-0
  • Alan Grace: The Link With Home. 60 Years of Forces Radio. Chalfont (2003) ISBN 0-9522135-1-6
  • Doreen Taylor: A Microphone and a Frequency. Forty Years of Forces Broadcasting. London (1983) ISBN 0-434-75710-1 and ISBN 0-434-75711-X
  • Oliver Zöllner: BFBS: 'Freund in der Fremde'. British Forces Broadcasting Service (Germany) – der britische Militärrundfunk in Deutschland. Göttingen (1996) [in German] ISBN 3-89588-632-7.
  • Oliver Zöllner: Forces Broadcasting: A 'Friend' Abroad. In: Communications, Vol. 21 (1996), issue 4, pp. 447–466 ISSN 0341-2059.
  • Peter McDonagh: Me and Thirteen Tanks: Tales Of A Cold War Freelance Spy. London (2014) ISBN 978-1500307370.
  • Ivor Wynne Jones: BFBS Cyprus: 1948-1998. (1998) ISBN 978-0950335933.

See also


  1. "Mr Gale Pedrick". The Times. 24 February 1970. p. 10. Retrieved 29 August 2014. (subscription required)
  2. On the Short Waves, 1923-1945: Broadcast Listening in the Pioneer Days of Radio, Jerome S. Berg, McFarland, 1999, page 215
  3. Encyclopedia of Radio 3, Volume Set, Christopher H. Sterling, Routledge, 2004, page 379
  4. 'Our aim is to entertain and inform', BBC News Online, 20 July 2004
  5. "How to Listen". BFBS. Archived from the original on 26 October 2011. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
  6. British Forces Broadcasting Service: Good morning Afghanistan!, Angus Batey, The Guardian, 29 September 2011
  7. "How to Listen". BFBS Radio. Archived from the original on 1 March 2017. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  8. Hong Kong's farewell to the Archers ... from Pete and Dud The Independent 16 April 1997
  9. Gurkha Radio staff from Nepal visit UK Archived 8 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine, BFBS, 25 March 2014
  10. A microphone and a frequency: forty years of forces broadcasting, Doreen Taylor, Heinemann, 1983, page 174
  11. This Is the British Forces Network. The Story of Forces Broadcasting in Germany, Alan Grace, Alan Sutton, page 71
  12. World Radio TV Handbook, Volume 43, O. Lund Johansen, 1989, page 276
  13. Central America , Emily Hatchwell, Simon Calder, Vacation Work, 1991, page 142
  14. "British Forces radio, BFBS, end of an era—signing off permanently in Belize -". Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  15. We're proud to say that we're back on air in Belize, serving the forces community. Tune in > BFBS Belize 94.3MHz FM, Twitter, 16 August 2016
  16. "DAB re-armed with BFBS radio". Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  17. "BFBS to end national DAB radio transmissions – RadioToday". Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  18. "Ten Hour Takeover Part 2, Fearne Cotton - BBC Radio 1". BBC. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  19. "10 Hour Takeover - British Forces special, Fearne Cotton - BBC Radio 1". BBC. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  20. "Afghanistan trip for Smooth's Simon Bates". Radio Today. 6 December 2011. Archived from the original on 16 February 2012. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
  21. Goodwin, Lucy (6 December 2011). "Bates takes Smooth Breakfast to the British Forces in Afghanistan". Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
  22. Mahoney, Elisabeth (13 December 2011). "Radio review: Simon Bates at Breakfast | Television & radio". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
  23. "BFBS links up with Smooth for Easter". Radio Today. 4 April 2012. Archived from the original on 9 April 2012. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
  24. "Garrison Radio closes as BFBS goes local". Radio Today. 1 March 2013. Retrieved 24 April 2013.
  25. "The History of Forces' Broadcasting | BFBS Television". BFBS. 18 September 1975. Archived from the original on 1 November 2011. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
  26. Coronation Street for the Rhine Army, New Scientist, 4 September 1975
  27. "The British Forces Broadcasting Service – A success Story" (PDF). Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  28. Eighth Report from the Expenditure Committee Session 1977-78, Papers by command, Volume 34, HMSO, 1977, page 92
  29. In West Germany: Military Networks Spreading Pop, Billboard, Billboard - 27 Mar 1982
  30. Rundfunk und Fernsehen, Volume 45, Nomos, 1997, page 339
  31. BFBS buys system, Broadcast, 4 March 2004
  32. "British Forces News". Archived from the original on 14 February 2015. Retrieved 21 August 2018.
  33. "Room 785 | Room 785 – BFBS Television". BFBS. Archived from the original on 1 November 2011. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
  34. Zitty, Volume 18, Issues 23-25, Zitty Verlag GmbH, 1994
  35. Medienlandschaft im Umbruch: Medien- und Kommunikationsatlas Berlin, Günter Bentele, Otfried Jarren, Ulrich Kratzsch, Vistas Verlag, 1990, page 260
  36. Insight Guide Cyprus, Julia Roles, Ingram Publishing Services, 1999, page 288
  37. BFBS pulls the plug on Larnaca viewers, Cyprus Mail 10 May 1998
  38. "Early day motion 775 - SSVC TV CYPRUS". UK Parliament. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  39. BFBS TV in Cyprus leaves the airwaves, Famagusta Gazette, 9 January 2009
  40. Joint police and industry action brings down card sharing pirate, Audiovisual Anti-Piracy Alliance, 21 June 2011
  41. A Little Piece of England, Andrew Gurr, John Blake, 2001, page 81
  42. The Record of the meeting of the Legislative Assembly held on Friday 18 December 2009 Archived 17 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  43. Grundy, Richard. "Tristan da Cunha Community News 2005 - 2011". Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  44. "Canada | BFBS Television". BFBS. Archived from the original on 10 June 2013.
  45. Dowell, Ben (13 August 2007). "Forces' TV and radio set to cut 30 jobs". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 April 2013.
  46. Arqiva adds Nepali TV to SSVC’s British Forces platforms, Arqiva, 10 December 2010
  47. Nepal TV to broadcast live on BFBS TV (press release), SSVC (via Facebook)
  48. UK Forces broadcasting contract begins, Ministry of Defence, 2 April 2013
  49. "BFBS TV SET FOR A MAKEOVER ON 27TH MARCH - BFBS Radio". 3 June 2013. Archived from the original on 3 June 2013. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  50. BFBS TV - Live TV Schedule
  51. Forces TV - About Us
  52. Forces TV will be 'essential viewing' for British public, says PM David Cameron as channel launches, The Drum, 10 June 2014

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