The Strange Story of the BBC, Mickey Mouse and the End of World War II

TV URBAN LEGEND: The last thing broadcast before England shut BBC TV down for the duration of World War II was a Mickey Mouse cartoon that was cut off mid-cartoon and when the war ended and the BBC returned in 1946, BBC TV picked up where it had left off in the Mickey Mouse cartoon.

In 1933, Walt Disney did the 58th Mickey Mouse cartoon, Mickey’s Gala Premier, which was about Mickey Mouse debuting a new cartoon at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The cartoon shows the famous Mouse attending the gala premiere with Minnie, Pluto and Clarabelle the Cow. A real Who’s Who? of the Hollywood elite were at the premiere, as well, including Lionel, John and Ethel Barrymore, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Jimmy Durante, William Powell, Helen Hayes and more.

At the end of the cartoon, Gallopin’ Romance (amusingly, the title was not an actual Mickey Mouse cartoon, but rather a fictional cartoon. The interesting aspect of that fictional cartoon is that it showed how Mickey Mouse cartoons were distributed at the time, as Disney had his cartoons distributed through United Artists back then, much like how Marvel Studios used Paramount to distribute its films before Disney purchased Marvel. Once Disney re-purchased the rights to the cartoons, the company removed all mention of United Artists in the old films, except for that fictional cartoon in the movie , so fans can at least see how a Mickey Mouse cartoon WOULD have looked back then), Greta Garbo just can’t help herself, and so she heads to the stage (where Will Rogers has used his rope to force Mickey to go to the stage to accept his plaudits from the stars) and covers Mickey in kisses. This is right when Mickey wakes up to Pluto licking him, as the whole thing, of course, was a dream.

This was the first time that Mickey Mouse interacted with human characters, so it was a historic cartoon, but an old legend suggested that it had an even MORE historic role in the history of BBC TV and its suspension and return from broadcasting during World War II .

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The British Broadcasting Corporation was formed in 1927 after initially trying out the concept of a centralized British radio broadcasting company with a private company, the British Broadcasting Company, in 1922 (England decided not to allow the same free-for-all approach once radio broadcasting started in England in 1920 that the Americans had allowed to occur). In November 1936, the BBC launched BBC Television Service, a television broadcasting company (today this is referred to as BBC One). The BBC had been doing sporadic television broadcasts from the base of the Broadcasting House in London, but in 1936, the company launched the regular station, with the broadcasts airing from Alexandra Palace in London.

In late August 1939, Europe stood poised at the brink of World War, and England knew that it could be entering the war any day now, so it made plans to shut down the BBC Television Service because the government believed that the Very High Frequency ( VHF) transmissions that the TV broadcast used could be used by the Germans to target London with its bombers.

As the legend goes, on September 1, 1939 (the same day that Nazi Germany invaded Poland and two days before England formally declared war on Germany), BBC TV was airing a Mickey Mouse cartoon (over the years, there has been much dispute over WHICH cartoon that it was airing, but most people believe it to be Mickey’s Gala Premierand that actually WAS the cartoon aired that day, so let’s go with that) and it was cut off mid-broadcast by the station shutting down.

Then, on June 7, 1946, after the Allied Forces successfully defeated Nazi Germany and the rest of the Axis in World War II, BBC TV relaunched. As the legend goes, the Mickey Mouse cartoon was then picked up from where it left off almost seven years earlier.

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Now, right off the bat, I think everyone gets how unlikely that would be as a concept, right? It had been almost SEVEN YEARS. Who would even get the joke?

So simply put, no, that did not happen. However, enough of the story IS true that it is still an interesting tale. The plans were for the BBC TV to shut off service at 12:00 noon on September 1st. For some reason, the broadcasters then decided to air the Mickey Mouse cartoon. It aired, though, in its entirety. There was then about 20 minutes of system tuning signals and then the sign-off occurred.

On June 7, 1946, the service picked up at 3pm, with one of its original broadcasters, Jasmine Bligh, stating, “Good afternoon everybody. How are you? Do you remember me, Jasmine Bligh?”.

The Mickey Mouse cartoon then aired twenty minutes later, shown in its entirety.

This is one of those legends where we can pretty easily pinpoint the origin of the legend, as there was a BBC documentary called Magic Rays of Light in 1981 and in the documentary, the filmmakers did a recreation of BBC TV going off the air and in the recreation, the Mickey Mouse cartoon was shown being cut off midway. This was done for dramatic effect, but, of course, many more people saw that 1981 documentary than were watching BBC TV at noon on September 1, 1939, so that imagery has been burned into the public consciousness.

The legend is…


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