BBC100: The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (100-96)

Happy birthday, Auntie.

As you may have noticed this year  - or at least during the moments of it where you forget about the collapse of society, the evaporation of peace in Europe and basically everything being on fire  –  the BBC is (quite modestly) marking a hundred years of broadcasting to the nation. Since 1922 via the medium of radio, and since 1936 via Stooky Bill’s telly box. As everyone knows, that makes it the longest-running television service in the world. 

In all that time, they’ve put out a lot of programmes over Britain’s airwaves. How many? Well, by my reckoning, well over 855,000 of them. 

And how do I know that? 

Because dear reader, I’ve gone and counted the bloody things.


 Yes indeed. After extracting a frankly stupid and ill-advised amount of information from the BBC’s marvellous Genome website (and from the BBC website’s programme listings for anything since 2010), I’ve been able to calculate how many times every single(ish) programme has been broadcast since the launch of the BBC Television Service. And in all that time, one programme has been broadcast a lot more than any other. Do you want to know what it is? 

It’s ‘The News’. There. That was easy. 

Yeah, that was always going to be the case. So instead, I’ve put together a list of the hundred most frequently flung-out programmes between BBC-1, BBC-2 and the original BBC Television Service. And — crucially, to stop this all being an even more monumental waste of time — I’ve discarded a few things. 

  • The News
  • The Weather
  • Closedown (It isn’t a programme. It’s the lack of one.)
  • ‘The News’ masquerading under another programme title (such as ‘BBC Breakfast News’ or ‘Newyddion’)
  • Strands comprised entirely of other individual programmes (such as ‘Children’s BBC’, ‘Children’s Television’ or ‘Watch With Mother’)
  • ‘Open University’ or ‘BBC Learning Zone’ when listed as a programme, though individual programmes therein are included where listed in the RT.
  • The thousand-plus entries listed as ‘Demonstration Film’ from the early days of the Beeb, which I was very, very close to including. Only on further investigation did I learn that much of each two-hour ‘episode’ was long stretches of the test card.

So, y’know, do your own damn list if you want to see these. It was a bit of a struggle to keep the whole list under a million records as it was.

I have, however, kept in things like sports coverage*, and some other things that might not easily fit into a particular pigeonhole, but deserve inclusion because they were hardy enough to warrant discussion. Not saying what they are yet, to add to the swirling excitement.

*That’s “Sports coverage where a programme is defined as being for a single sport, or under a specific branding” Which often wasn’t the case:

Just look at the state of this lot. Bit annoyed I missed out on ‘International Golf Racing from Ascot’,

A few other things to note: 

  • All information taken from the details published in the Radio Times, with occasional individual missing days filled in using TV listings from The British Newspaper Archive. There are some quite large gaps on Genome for listings pre-1960 — I’ve filled in gaps as best I can where it’s the odd day or two missing. I’m not bloody-minded enough to trawl through the British Newspaper Archive to fill in the April to August 1939 gap on Genome, however. That said, that is the only notable gap in the data set. I’ve even filled in missing data from weeks where the RT was sidelined by strike action. 
  • As a result of this being a record of published listings, these figures are based on programmes that were scheduled to be shown. So there’s no need to let me know that the episode of Changing Rooms scheduled for 11 September 2001 didn’t actually go to air.
  • Only items that got a billing in the Radio Times (or, post-2010, on the BBC website, or in newspaper TV listings for days missing from Genome) 
  • Only items broadcast on the BBC Television Service (1936–1964), BBC-1 and BBC-2 (1964-) are accounted for. Don’t be expecting to see anything from BBC Choice, BBC Knowledge or CBeebies here. Unless they were also broadcast on one of the proper channels. 
  • To be quite frank, this entire endeavour has been a colossally misjudged use of my resources and limited free time, thanks to the amount of data cleanse needed. Extracting all the data itself was relatively easy. Going through and tidying up loads of OCR glitches like ‘The Weakest Unk’ was the real time sink. But in many cases, I’ve corrected them on Genome for future generations to enjoy YOU’RE WELCOME. If any have slipped past my tired typo-spotting eyes, I humbly apologise. And I say all this without a drop of cynicism about The BBC Genome Project itself. Truly, it’s one of the best resources ever made available on the Internet. 
  • I’ve also tried to differentiate between programmes where the same title has been used for more than one thing. For example, in addition to being an antipodean continuing drama, ‘Neighbours’ was also the title of a Anthony Merryn play broadcast in 1948 and 1949, plus a 1981 one-off drama by the Bristol Arts Unit. I’ve separated those entries as they were quite identifiably different. Where the distinction has been trickier, I’ll try to point that out in the listings. 
  • Programmes included up to and including 31/12/2021. By default, BBC London listings have been used. So don’t expect Sportscene or Only An Excuse to feature heavily. 

Still here? Splendid. So, resisting the temptation to rig the data so broadcasts of BBC Select makes the list (FYI, it’s in 164th place, and I totally would have conjured up a rationale for including it), here we go: 

=99: Five to Eleven 

(Shown 883 times, 1986–1990)

Oh, of course our top hundred has to start with joint-ninety-ninth. Anyway, this is the content you’re all here for. Certainly something you wouldn’t expect to see on the BBC flagship TV channel nowadays, and even then it surely seemed a bit of an anachronism. The format saw various figures giving short readings or poems in a modest studio setting. And that was it —10.55am each weekday morning, just four minutes in length, a celebrity basically pops around to yours during your mid-morning tea break, does a poem and then totters off.

In the example up there, actor, writer and artist Edward Petherbridge reads Cecil Day-Lewis’s poem ‘The Newborn’. A world away from episode six billion of Homes Under the Hammer, I’m sure you’ll agree. The sort of thing seemingly more suited to Radio Four than BBC One, but then (non-schools) daytime broadcasting was still a new thing for the channel at the time, so they hardly had budget to burn. And hey, it’s really quite a nice thing to see.

Stats! Definitely not going to regret including complete broadcast histories when I reach the higher numbers, I’m sure.

99: Saturday Kitchen 

Shown 890 times, 2001–2021

If asked to name the second most frequently shown Open University programme of all time, you’d probably expect the answer to be ‘Geochemical Surveying’ or ‘Public Administration’ or something similarly dry. But nope, it’s Saturday Kitchen. Saturday. Kitchen. At least that’s how the full series was launched in 2002 following a pilot episode the previous year — as a BBC One/Open University co-production. Not that it came with any particularly lofty ideals, of course. If anything, it seems to have been little more than a linking strand, with the first outings containing full episodes of Two Fat Ladies and Australian cooking show Food Source amongst new bespoke recipes and food-based chat. That’s very nearly enough to see it barred from inclusion here, but as it would go on to become the Multi-Coloured Swap Shop for the gastro set we’re more familiar with, that’d be a bit harsh.

98: Final Score 

Shown 897 times, 1971–2021

Here’s one you’d expect to be ranking a lot higher up the chart. After all, the Saturday afternoon football results rundown is part of Britain’s modern cultural folklore. Len Martin or Tim Gudgin’s voice going up for the first bit when reading out a home win, the vidiprinter spelling out ‘(SEVEN)’ after a colossal win, an anxious wait for that elusive Forfar Five East Fife Four, being annoyed at not being told the latest score of matches still in progress (nope, ‘L-L’ is all you’re getting). So, shurely it’s been on much more often than this?

Well, dear reader. For most of Final Score’s long life — and it’s been going since 1958 — it was merely a single cog in Grandstand’s sporting charabanc, only picking up a Radio Times billing on occasions where there was no Grandstand for it to be a part of, such as Bank Holidays. Final Score has only been a regular to our EPGs since 2007, what with the BBC’s diminishing amount of sports rights blowing the final whistle for Grandstand as a concept. 

And it’s that regular scheduling that has earned it a place here, even if Final Score itself now feels a tad overshadowed by Sky’s Soccer Saturday in the eyes of many football fans. But in general, as is usually the case when it comes to football, The Football Results just seem to contain a little extra sense of gravitas when they’re on the BBC.

97: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

(Shown 917 times, 2008-2021)

There are two ways to handle things when a new TV format doesn’t quite prove as popular as you’d hoped. The first and most obvious one: write it off as a bad lot and walk away from it hoping nobody noticed you’d been involved. The second: frantically retool everything and pray to the sun god that there’ll be a third series commission at the end of it.

The initial premise for Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is saw some of television’s top consumer experts (either solo or working as a team) investing sums of their own hard-earned cash (generally investing in bricks and mortar, but occasionally in antiques) at the start of an episode, showing how their top consumer expertise can transform that initial outlay into a larger amount of money by the time the cameras stop rolling. On the one hand, that’s a format sure to work. On the other hand, that’s only because seventeen other programmes were doing practically the same thing.

So, after discovering that the Property Expert Earns A Lot Of Money pool was already full, PYMWYMI soon seemed to reinvent itself as… ripping off Bargain Hunt instead, with duelling experts each investing their own readies on a specified type of item, to see who can turn the quickest buck.

Was it a success? Yeah, you already know the answer to that, because it’s on this list. Despite adopting a fairly well-worn format, PYMWYMI swiftly became a hit with viewers, and the programme would soon see itself spread across the schedules like high-end marmalade.

96: Z Cars

(Shown 920 times, 1962-1998)

“I thought I was out. But then they dragged me back in” could be a line from any generic 80s cop film, where a grizzled LAPD Detective postpones his retirement to tackle one last case, just like he did in the previous four films in the series. The same could be said of Z Cars, had it been a sentient being capable of independent thought in addition to being a tremendously hardy continuing police procedural. 

An antidote to the corduroy constables from Dixon of Dock Green, Z Cars took a grittier, uncompromising look at life on the beat. Much against the norms for drama on the Beeb at the time, it was set in Northern England (more specifically the fictional Merseyside locale of Newtown), and therefore that bit grimier by default. It was a big success, so much so that lead characters Barlow, Watt and Blackitt had been afforded their own spin-off series, Softly, Softly. Z-Cars had enjoyed a good run, and it was time for something different.

In 1965, the BBC had tried to introduce some new continuing dramas to their flagship channel. After all, Coronation Street was doing tremendous business for That Lot Over There, so there was clearly demand. New-build housing estate drama The Newcomers arrived in a twice-weekly 7pm slot, running on Tuesdays and Fridays. Into the same slot each Monday and Wednesday came a new series set to appeal to all members of the family. United! was a drama following the fortunes of fictional second-tier football club Brentwich United, with lives of the players, management and their families all falling under the cathode ray microscope. It couldn’t fail to become a hit.

By 1967, it was abundantly clear that even England winning the World Cup a year earlier couldn’t help United! become a hit, it being considered too soapy for male viewers and not soapy enough for female viewers. Having seen such a gamble fail to come off, BBC bigwigs opted to put something a little more surefooted into the twice-weekly gap in the schedule. And that’s where Z-Cars came back into play. At the end of February 1967, the floodlights fared for Brentwich United, leaving the first week of March for Z-Cars to enjoy the start of a mammoth sixth series.

Not that it had been a short-run success before. Series one to four had each contained between 31 and 43 episodes, while the fifth and purportedly final series had a run of just twelve episodes. The production run for series six, with a new twice-weekly 25-minute episode structure (generally one story spread across two parts), clocked in at 416 episodes. For the record, on the Big BrokenTV List Of Every BBC Broadcast Ever, that alone would slot it in-between Knots Landing and The Travel Show.

Amongst Z Cars’ mammoth time on our screens, it underwent several changes – not just the transition from monochrome to colour, but from the initial standalone episode format, to the twice-weekly pseudo-soap format, through to single full-length episodes later in the run. It also gave roles to a number of names that would become a lot more familiar to the public. Along with the ever-present James Ellis and series regulars Stratford Johns, Frank Windsor and Brian Blessed, Newtown nick played host to the likes of Joss Ackland, Leonard Rossiter and a tyro John Thaw.

Thanks to the BBC’s Tape-wiping policy at the time, fewer than half of those episodes survive today. It certainly didn’t help that the cost of physical storage for those episodes came from the programme’s budget – meaning that budget could be employed elsewhere in production if the tapes were simply re-used. Given the sheer volume of content that needed to be produced, that’s hardly a surprise, but thankfully that does still leave a lot on the BBC Archive shelves, and it has seen the occasional airing since the series called in a day in 1978. Single episodes were aired in 1982 (to mark the 20th anniversary of the programme’s debut), in 1986 (I think as part of the BBC’s TV50 season), in 1992 (as part of the Black and White in Colour season, looking at past attitudes towards race on TV), in 1993 (as part of a ‘Cops On The Box’ theme night) and in 1998 (as a tribute to the late writer John Hopkins). Some episodes were also shown as part of a season on police drama on BBC Four in 2008.

[NOTE: Updated this entry on 3 August to include of the one-off 1993 Cops On The Box showing of Z Cars that had slipped through the net, with thanks to Billy Smart. Also updated body of text to correct my error in conflating three-part documentary ‘The Newcomers’ (BBC2, 1964) and continuing drama ‘The Newcomers’ (BBC1, 1965-69) as being the same programme, with thanks to IanBeard on Roobarb’s.]

Phew. Okay, that’s enough for the first proper post on here. The next part of the rundown will be revealed in a few days, if you can contain your unbridled excitement until then.

7 responses to “BBC100: The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (100-96)”

  1. You’re obviously quite mad, but mad people can do great things. I doff my hat to you in proper John Rickman (yes, I know he was on the other side) style.

    At the risk of being a wee bit farouche, are you sure that some of the early 2000s entries for The Flintstones aren’t for the live-action movie rather than the animated series? And I think ‘Final Score’ is meant to be 96, not 95.

    Looking forward to 95 to 91!


    • Thanks, Simon! And mad might not be too far from the mark, I think the main thing was that once I’d sunk a certain number of hours into the project, if I’d given up I’d have wasted all those hours. Not realising how many more hours it’d take.

      Re: The Flintstones, that did cross my mind. The one flagged up as going out at 4.10pm on Christmas Day BBC1 in 1997 definitely *is* the film, but I *think* that’s the only instance of it amongst the lot [EDIT: Nope, the BBC1 broadcasts in 2001 and 2002 are as well. Hey ho]. The majority of the 2000s Flintstones screenings are mid-morning BBC2, in holiday morning double-bills. Now, when it comes to separating all the Laurel and Hardy films from episodes of the identically-titled Hanna-Barbara cartoon series – that’s a bit more of an ask.


      • Oh, and thanks for the heads-up on ‘Final Score’. I’ll correct that now. EXCITING FACT: I’d written lots of the early entries before I noticed that some major programmes hadn’t been counted correctly, and I had to shift everything up a space. Or down a space. Probably both at various times.


  2. Rights for the Laurel and Hardy films moved to ITV at some point and IIRC the cartoons were broadcast during that gap. The missing Genome data should be coming soon. I spent a number of months compiling all the schedules for the period before Radio Times was published and filled the strike gaps, including regional data. I’ve been told it will be added to Programme Index as part of the BBC100 celebrations.


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