Sky Celebrates 25 Years Of Breaking News


For the past 25 years, Sky News has covered the biggest stories from across the globe. Political editor Adam Boulton looks back.

What everyone remembers about the launch of Sky are the holes in the floor. Indeed my first ever encounter with Rupert Murdoch was across a gaping chasm caused by two absent computer tiles in a narrow corridor. I pressed against the wall, so he could step gingerly over the mass of wires coiled below.

Our rivals BSB had built palatial headquarters in Marco Polo building on the banks of the Thames in central London - complete with a 60,000 granite desk for the CEO, it was rumoured. But it was a point of pride to the piratical Sky that we co-opted some hastily converted warehouses in Hounslow for our HQ.

Even then our back-to-basics studios weren't quite ready for the launch on February 5, 1989. Seasonal weather ensured there were mud baths where the turf had not yet been laid outside.

Come the hour everything went smoothly. We stood around in Sky News Studio B, clutching plastic cups of fizzy wine or tea, counting down the last few seconds. At 6pm, the four Sky channels on offer took to the air with the grace of birds and they've been flying non-stop for some 219,000 hours ever since.

Back then we thought that films would be the "driver" making viewers subscribe to Sky. One manager told me that Blockbuster video stores would be gone within two years. As it turned out Blockbuster only ran out of time in 2013. It turned out that access to sport would be "the battering ram" to over 11 million BSkyB subscribers now in the UK.

BSkyB now employs almost 20,000 people, but in February 1989 you knew pretty much everyone at Sky's launch by sight - he kept the lights on, she paid the bills, he was the Head of Sky News, etc.

BSB - British Satellite Broadcasting - was the officially sanctioned, government franchised, new satellite operator. News Corp created Sky unofficially from Sky Channel, a previously operating cable service. Our satellite was run by Astra from Luxembourg.

Apart from extravagant expectations, BSB had two other disadvantages - the "squarial" a rather counter-intuitive, four-sided receiving dish and a lack of commitment to news.

Sky News has always been at the heart of the company's activities, if not its profits. So it was automatic that the launch party took place in the news building - followed by a rather bizarre candlelit buffet supper in Syon Park, a nearby stately home.

Kay Burley was a presenter from day one. Martin Brunt and I were reporters, doing then pretty much what we still do now, crime and politics.

With an eye to posterity, we both made sure we appeared in the first ever Sky News bulletin. I worked up some comments from Labour's Harriet Harman about St Thomas's Hospital, and, it being a Sunday, interviewed her at home in South London, surrounded by small children.

Politics has always played a big part in the Sky news mix. We started just as the House of Commons began to be televised and we were the first British news service to base our political unit full time in Westminster with facilities to broadcast live at any time.

I was so keen on bringing cameras into politics that I, accidentally, missed the birth of my youngest daughter, having nipped out to take part in a meeting about televising select committees.

We were the second rolling-news channel in the world after CNN. It would be eight years and two general elections before BBC 24 boldly decided to emulate us. But CNN's Ted Turner was right. In the early years both BSB and Sky found themselves "haemorrhaging red ink", until the shot-gun merger formed the BSkyB we know today.

Kay Burley and I were colleagues at the breakfast station TVam before Sky. We both knew just how bumpy the ride can be in a media start up. Even so when I heard she was going over to the new satellite news channel, I asked myself if I was envious and admitted privately that I was.

I'm still glad that a few days later I got the call to join from Andrew Neil, then Sky's CEO.

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