BBC100: The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (75-71)

As Ringo Starr famously said, sorry for the lateness of my reply. This is what happens when you spot a suspiciously quiet spell in a broadcast history of a long-running series, look into it and discover it spent two years billed as “Weather, followed by [PROGRAMME NAME]”, meaning I have to recalculate a load of stuff and the show I’ve just written 1500 words on is unceremoniously yeeted up to a part of the league table we won’t get to for ages. Still, if it’s that or a half-arsed dataset, the delays are worthwhile.

Now we’re well into the territory of programmes broadcast more than a thousand times, it’s probably a bit much expecting everyone to read through entire potted histories of each programme, so instead I’m going to – at least in some cases – try and pick out some interesting detail from perhaps under-represented periods of a show’s history (or even pre-history). If only to keep things a bit more brief. So, settle down and look out for flying sausages as we get to…


75: Tom and Jerry

(Shown 1187 times, 1967-2001)

Caption card: Tom and Jerry.
You all know the premise for this programme. They fight, and bite, and such.

Here’s one that comes with a caveat: it’s likely to be the case that episodes of T&J have also been broadcast under non-specific ‘cartoon time’ slots, especially prior to 1967. Here, I’m just counting instances where they’ve been billed as such in the Radio Times. The overall broadcast total is actually likely to be higher – I’ve memories from my childhood of seeing ‘bonus’ episodes of Tom and Jerry when the news had to be trimmed down due to industrial action, meaning an unbilled T&J would often be parachuted in to fill the gap. In at least one case, doing so after an abridged 9 O’Clock News. Post-watershed Tom & Jerry. It happened. The total also misses out any episodes of T&J shown wholly within other, longer shows such as Saturday Superstore or Going Live. The former being the first place I ever saw one of the Chuck Jones T&J cartoons, and no, I don’t have a clue why my brain bothered to register that memory.

Anyway, here we’re only looking at empirical, RT-sanctioned evidence of Tom & Jerry being screened on the BBC. The earliest billed example of a T&J outing on the BBC that seems to be on Genome is a BBC-1 broadcast of 1942’s ‘Dog Trouble’, where Tom and Jerry join forces in an attempt to stop Spike the Bulldog mauling both of them. Fun times!

Image of Jerry the Mouse on a comfy cushion. An annoyed Tom is serving him a delicious meal (that's probably a bomb in disguise.)

From there, Thomas Jasper “Tom” Cat Sr and Gerald Jinx “Jerry” Mouse would be an early evening fixture on BBC-1, forming a formidable triple-act with Simon Dee on Tuesday and Thursday evenings throughout 1967. By September of that year, Tom, Jerry and Dee were even sharing a Saturday night schedule, joining forces with with Doctor Who (and, erm, The News) to make up an unlikely televisual supergroup. It surely wouldn’t have killed them to have Tom and Jerry hopping into Simon Dee’s convertible motor car in the title sequence of Dee Time, surely? Imagine that.

Page of the Radio Times from 1967 showing Saturday listings. 5.15 Tom and Jerry, 5.25 Dr Who, 5.50 The News, 6.0 Dee Time.
(Radio Times, 16 Dec 1967)

The Tom & Jerry & Dee alliance continued through much of the remainder of the 1960s, until Saturday 13 September 1969 came along and Dee hopped into his convertible for the last time, roaring off to upstart broadcaster LWT (and ultimately, obscurity*). T&J meanwhile went on to gobble up spaces in the BBC-1 schedule like chunks of cheese (or cat food). In 1972 alone, their cartoons aired on 122 different occasions. Most frequently as a buffer between Nationwide and the 7pm starter on an evening’s Light Entertainment menu, but also being deployed as tasty Bank Holiday snack, as post-Who Saturday night dessert, or even right in the middle of prime-time. T&J aired at 7.30pm on Tuesday 11th July 1972 (preceding an airing of a Margaret Rutherford Marple film) and at 7.40pm on Tue 8th Aug 1972 (before a screening of Bob Hope’s The Cat and the Canary). Sure, they were being deployed to avoid an awkward five-minute gap between the end of each film and the Nine O’Clock News, but it shows how much faith the BBC had in the cat-mouse duo in keeping entire families entertained.

(*Topical reference: Simon Dee later did a Victor Lewis-Smith produced final episode of Dee Time for Channel 4 in 2003, as a companion piece to the VLS documentary on Dee. As a result, Dee’s last ever chat show guest was current notoriety’s Jerry Sadowitz.)

From the mid-1980s, Tom and Jerry started to be less frequent visitors to our screens, Michael Grade’s revamped BBC1 seemingly having little room for sociopathic cat-mouse shenanigans. The cartoon found itself largely confined to filler slots on Sunday afternoons, or even (shock) used to fill in space on BBC2. It did still get a few airings where it likely attracted a decent audience – such as a double-bill on BBC1 bridging the gap between Esther Rantzen’s Children of Courage and the evening episode of Neighbours on Good Friday 1989. By 1991 though, Tozza and Jezza were BACK where they belonged, kicking off evening entertainment on Saturday evening BBC1, sharing a slot with ‘Allo ‘Allo, Bergerac and, ugh, let’s refer to it as ‘The Fix-It Programme’.

Alas, everything fades, and by the late 90s those appearances were again becoming as sparse as Good Mouse-Catching Ideas in Tom’s brain. After a final flourish in 2000 (preceding the EastEnders omnibuses each Sunday afternoon on BBC1), and one solitary appearance in 2001 (again, preceding the Sunday repeats of EastEnders, and billed in the RT with the underwhelming summary “Cartoon fun”). And so, Jerry assaulted Tom for the final (RT-listed) time on the Corporation’s flagship channel.

Not that it was a full-stop for the pair on the main BBC channels. The much less uberviolent ‘Tom and Jerry Kids’ was a part of the CBBC rota from 1998 to 2005, except that doesn’t count because it’s not proper Tom and Jerry. And even now, the CBBC channel regularly hosts the newer, longform, less good Tom and Jerry adventures.

New Tom and Jerry. The duo stand next to... a young witch? It doesn't look good.
Go on, try to kill each other. You’re not even trying.

[UPDATE 04/09/2022: Reader ‘Retro71‘ writes in to mention an episode of Tom and Jerry that received complaints about swearing, with the word ‘bloody’ being mild to American ears, less so to British ones. After a little digging, the scene in question is apparently one where a pirate yells “get off my bloody boat”, though the T&J filmography doesn’t include any classic episodes set on a pirate ship – more likely it’s 1952’s Cruise Cat, which sees Tom hired as mouser on a cruise ship. Rather than that particular episode being shown in full, the scene seems to have been aired during an episode of Tony Robinson’s superb toon history show Stay Tooned!, in an episode looking at censored toons. Unfortunately, while Genome has episode descriptions for most BBC One showings of Stay Tooned!, the banned episode isn’t one of them. Anyone know any more about this? Get in touch in the comments or on the Twitter.]

[Table updated 07/09/22, thanks to Twitter’s @UKPRES1 for highlighting slight inaccuracy]


74: The Sky at Night

(Shown 1201 times, 1957-2013)

Radio Times box-out for The Sky At Night: Patrick Moore tells you what to look for in the night sky during the coming month.
Radio Times, issue 1745, 21-27 April 1957

“Liiiiiive astronomy!”

Well, here’s another one that will require some frantic reformatting of the ‘BBC Broadcast History’ table. That’s what happens when you stumble across (or if you prefer, “don’t properly plan for”) a programme that has aired on the main BBC channels for 57 years, meaning you suddenly need to cram in a bunch more broadcast years.

Back when the programme first started, on 24 April 1957, few hobbyist astronomers could have predicted the programme would run for so long. Even fewer could predict that the same host, one Patrick Moore, would still be hosting the series in Space Year 2013 (albeit posthumously – Moore died in December 2012). If nothing else, surely such a programme wouldn’t be needed that far into the 21st Century? We’d all be up there ourselves, popping to Mars for to visit Uncle Alan before nipping into the moon branch of Ikea on the way home. Surely?

Okay, that particular dream didn’t make it to reality, but Sky at Night’s marathon tenure displays an amount of longevity that deserves to be held up against humanity’s expanding understanding of the universe. When that first episode went out, Yuri Gagarin was still four years from being the first man in space, Neil Armstrong was still a test pilot and NASA hadn’t yet been formed. The vast expanse of space was still very much something that could only be explored from Terra Firma, but with the starter’s pistol poised to start the great USA-USSR Space Race, interest in worlds beyond our own was growing.

Issue 1745 of the Radio Times used the following to welcome viewers to this new programme promising to explore all things astronomical:

Star Quest

Stars, in our particular workaday world, tend to be people with agents, and success stories, and temperaments, and talents, and a certain unpredictability that can make then either tiresome or fascinating. But when we talked to Patrick Moore the other day about this month’s stars, we found ourselves in a very different world. “People tend to think,” he told us, “that astronomy is a difficult, expensive, and unrewarding subject that has become the prerogative of old men with long white beards. It is in fact none of those things, and anyone can find interest and excitement in the night sky, if he knows what to look for.”

This is to be the theme of his new series which begins on Wednesday, and which will introduce each month the highlights of the current astronomical news.

Radio Times, issue 1745, 21-27 April 1957

As explained by the future GamesMaster there, the remit of the programme wasn’t specifically to monitor humankind’s efforts in reaching the stars, but rather helping the British population carry out their own exploration of space in the most British way possible: treating it as an endeavour best enjoyed at home whilst not spending too much money.

The programme would go on to be an invaluable resource for anyone interested in knowing more about what’s out there, and stuck pretty rigidly to that monthly schedule throughout, with same-week repeats often aired at times of day friendlier to younger astronomers. Of course, it didn’t always go to plan – as highlighted in Sean Lock’s trek through the TV archives ‘TV Believe It or Not’ for BBC Four in 2008 – with Moore embarking on a live episode where high-powered telescopes would roam the night sky and put the enthralling results up on screen, only for a bunch of clouds to get in the way and the whole thing to fizzle out like a damp banger.

Photo of Patrick Moore next to a big telescope.

Of course, if you were a dedicated viewer of the programme, you’d very likely need access to a similarly powerful radio telescope to spot the series’ ever-changing place in the schedules. The table at the bottom of this entry only accounts for the most commonly-used timeslots. If you want to know the full range of times when The Sky At Night was shown, here you go:

(big inhale….) 00:00, 00:05, 00:10, 00:15, 00:20, 00:25, 00:30, 00:35, 00:40, 00:45, 00:50, 00:55, 02:10, 02:30, 06:30, 06:35, 06:40, 06:55, 07:00, 07:05, 07:15, 08:35, 08:40, 09:20, 09:30, 09:40, 09:45, 09:50, 10:00, 10:20, 10:25, 10:30, 10:40, 10:45, 10:50, 10:55, 11:10, 11:25, 11:30, 11:35, 11:45, 11:50, 11:55, 12:00, 12:05, 12:10, 12:15, 12:20, 12:25, 12:30, 12:35, 12:40, 12:45, 12:50, 12:55, 13:00, 13:05, 13:10, 13:15, 13:25, 13:30, 13:35, 13:40, 13:45, 13:50, 13:55, 14:00, 14:05, 14:10, 14:15, 14:20, 14:30, 14:40, 14:45, 14:50, 14:55, 15:00, 15:05, 15:10, 15:15, 15:20, 15:25, 15:30, 15:35, 15:40, 15:45, 15:50, 15:55, 16:00, 16:05, 16:10, 16:15, 16:20, 16:25, 16:30, 16:35, 16:40, 16:45, 16:50, 16:55, 17:00, 17:05, 17:10, 17:15, 17:20, 17:25, 17:30, 17:35, 17:40, 17:45, 17:50, 18:05, 18:10, 18:15, 18:20, 18:25, 18:30, 18:35, 18:40, 18:45, 18:50, 18:55, 19:15, 19:20, 19:35, 19:40, 21:45, 22:00, 22:15, 22:20, 22:25, 22:30, 22:35, 22:40, 22:45, 22:50, 22:55, 23:00, 23:05, 23:10, 23:13, 23:15, 23:20, 23:22, 23:23, 23:25, 23:28, 23:30, 23:33, 23:35, 23:37, 23:38, 23:40, 23:42, 23:45, 23:47, 23:48, 23:50 and 23:55.

Got all those? Which was your favourite? Mine was ’23:13′. What? No, you’re trying to artificially inflate the word count. (Christ, huge apologies to anyone who might be using a screen reader to get through all that. I’ll put a joke in one of the alt-text boxes for one of the images to try and compensate.)

Perhaps that’s a factor in the programme instead drawing viewers in by adopting some brilliantly interest-piquing episode titles, many of which would make equally suitable titles for Doctor Who adventures. In fact, if anyone is running a quiz night and wants to throw in a round on ‘Doctor Who or The Sky At Night Episode Title?’, feel free to throw in some of the following:

No actual episode of anything could ever live up to the title ‘Lumps from Outer Space’, of course. Nothing that could pass compliance, anyway.

In 2013, The Sky at Night’s long association with BBC1 would finally come to an end, with only a handful of first-run episodes ever going out on BBC2 (most of that BBC2 broadcast figure being afternoon repeats). Any fears that the programme was to be cancelled outright were dispelled by the Beeb however – it would be moving over to BBC Four, and there it remains.

BONUS CONTENT UPDATE 17/08/2022: Over on Twitter, Chris Lintott has informed me that for many years, episodes of The Sky at Night were broadcast each new moon. The thinking there was that serious amateur astronomers in the 1950s would likely have been studying it, so scheduling the programme that way made a lot of sense. It switched to monthly in the 1990s, when (as Patrick Moore put it) “The BBC lost track of the moon”. Superb (and thanks, Chris!).


73: Call My Bluff

(Shown 1208 times, 1965-2005)

University Challenge isn’t the only programme on the list to have had a slightly surprising origin story from the other side of the Atlantic. Despite feeling like the very epitome of dry early 1980s BBC-2 output (well, it does to me), the programme actually had a much more glamorous birthplace: Studio 6A at NBC Studios in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center. That was where the original incarnation of the series was recorded in 1965, where host Bill Leyden challenged two teams (each comprising one celebrity and two contestants) to determine the true meaning of various obscure and archaic words. The winners would pocket a jackpot of $100 (rising to a potential $200 in the end-of-show bonus game).

Despite the glitz of a celebrity guest roster (which included Betty White, Lauren Bacall and Abe Burrows), the format wasn’t a success, lasting only a matter of months before being cancelled by NBC. Recordings of the programme were believed to have been destroyed, though the complete premiere episode does survive and is available to view at the show’s Lost Media Wiki page.

It took no time at all for the BBC to leap upon the format, pausing only to rip out the cash jackpot and replace the four contestants with additional wry celebrities, then shove it onto BBC-2 in October 1965. The quizmaster (or as the show had it, ‘Referee’) gig changed hands a few times at first – actor and musician Robin Ray took the reins for the first series, followed by actor Joe Melia for the next, then Peter Wheeler for a spell before finally landing on the referee most closely associated with the series: Robert “England’s Answer To Magnus Magnusson” Robinson. Cue countless impressions on the likes of Spitting Image, Now… Something Else, End Of Part One, A Bit of Fry and Laurie and many, many more.

The roles of team captain would also become inextricably linked to the series too, especially in the case of comedy writer-cum-raconteur Frank Muir. During a lengthy writing career alongside Denis Norden working for everyone from Jimmy Edwards to The Frost Report, followed by management stints in the LE departments of the BBC and LWT, Muir had built up quite a reputation as a wordsmith (indeed, with Norden he coined the immortal Carry-On phrase “Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me”, originally used for radio comedy Take It From Here). Call My Bluff offered the loquacious Muir a prime opportunity to put his wordmongery to good use. [EDIT: As reader Paul R Jackson points out, credit should also be showered on Muir’s long-term opponents, namely Patrick Campbell (1966-80) and Arthur Marshall (1980-88). You are quite correct, Paul.]

The original run of Bluff, from October 1965 to December 1988, plus a one-off special in 1994 to mark thirty years of BBC2, clocked up 25 series’ and 542 episodes. Quite the innings, but as the channel geared up for a new generation of panel shows (kickstarted by the success of Have I Got News For You), the decidedly old-school Bluff had run its course. But not, it would turn out, for too long.

In 1996, the series was retooled as a daytime BBC1 series, with a suitably brighter, more 90s-friendly set and a new referee, Bob Holness. Alan Coren and Sandi Toksvig took on team captain roles. While it might not be the first line-up you’d think of for Call My Bluff, it was certainly a success – lasting for a further twelve series and a total of 555 episodes before the final Bluff in 2004. By that time, the line-up had changed a bit – 2003 seeing Toksvig replaced by Rod Liddle, and Fiona Bruce had picked up the referee’s baton (yes, I know referees don’t have batons).

In May 2014, Call My Bluff received a further anniversary shout-out in satirical retrospective Harry and Paul’s Story of the Twos. Rechristened ‘Speech Impediment’, an impersonated panel of Bluff mainstays were challenged to determine the meaning behind the word ‘paedophile’ (a nod to the BBC of the 1970’s nonchalance about the number of absolute dangers working there than anything to do with individual Bluff regulars, it would appear).

Harry and Paul got an easy ride for chumming it up with the actual real Nigel Farage in that ‘Ricky Gervais’ sketch, didn’t they? Unrelated, but still.

EXTRA SUPER BONUS CONTENT UPDATE:

Ever wondered what one of the TRUE/BLUFF cards from Call My Bluff looks like in close-up? Well, with a weighty chunk of thanks to Paul R Jackson, here’s a look at one in more detail. It was sent to Paul in February 1979 by producer Johnny Downes and is signed by the Bluff regulars plus Nigel Havers.

In full colour, because the site’s achingly self-conscious fanzine aesthetic can be damned for something as good as this.


72: Grange Hill

(Shown 1170 times, 1978-2008)

Screenshot of the original title sequence for Grange Hill, which is in the 1970s comic book style. A sausage on a fork is thrown into a canteen full of pupils.

“Don’t you realise the way you act is influencing millions of children to talk cockney and be insubordinate?”

“Come on sir, don’t be silly. We’re the only kids in Britain who don’t say…”

As previously mentioned in this rundown, Z Cars proved to be a revelation for an audience who’d grown weary of the idealised world of cosy TV coppers like DIxon of Dock Green. While the more uncompromising approach taken by the series attracted criticism from those preferring an idealised version of British life in their living rooms, it was a reflection of gritty reality that went on to become the norm, with Z Cars ultimately becoming the 94th most-shown BBC programme of all-time (as EXCLUSIVELY revealed here).

Welp, the same applied to dramatic portrayal of school life. The 1970s offered little in the way of television reflecting the everyday experiences of pupils, meaning that all a kid was likely to see was sepia-tinged Tom Brown’s Schooldays or the rambunctious ribaldry of Please, Sir. It all seemed to be aimed at keeping parents entertained (and indeed, comforted) rather than accurately reflecting what real-life schoolkids were living through.

Then, along came Phil Redmond.

Redmond first tried to sell the idea of a more realistic look at events in a modern-day school in 1975, and in 1976 he succeeded in convincing the BBC to give it a go. An initial run of nine episodes began on 8 February 1978. That first episode focused on characters such as Trisha Yates (Michelle Herbert), Benny Green (Terry Sue Patt) and misunderstood rogue Peter ‘Tucker’ Jenkins (Todd Carty) as they shared their first day at Grange Hill High School with the BBC1 audience.

Within a few years, the volume of angry tabloid copy about the series was rising as quickly as the viewing figures. This was a topic that needed a little more space than a spare fifty seconds at the end of Points of View. And so, on 4 March 1980, BBC-1 set aside some time in the schedule for a one-off discussion programme, where the future of the series – and presumably whether it should be allowed to have one – would be debated.

BBC GENOME LISTING:
17:10
The Great Grange Hill Debate
BBC One logo
BBC One
Tue 4th Mar 1980, 17:10 on BBC One London

with Toni Arthur and Paul Burden
Term's over for Grange Hill, and the eight million children who have been following the adventures of Class H1 will miss it. Are you one of them? Some parents and teachers will be glad it's over; they think the goings-on at Grange Hill are dreadful and they may have good reasons for their views. Today Toni Arthur, Paul Burden and a group of schoolchildren take a close look at the arguments for and against this continuing school adventure story.
Contributors

Presenter:
    Toni Arthur
Presenter:
    Paul Burden
Producer:
    Molly Cox

It’s little surprise that parents and teachers were taken aback by events at Grange Hill. Early storylines covered topics such as bullying, organised protests and child molestation, presumably much to the surprise of anyone tuning in early for The Magic Roundabout. Not that Redmond was willing to dampen down the programme’s rhetoric. By the mid-1980s, the focus had shifted to topics such as shoplifting, racism, knife crime, suicide, teenage pregnancy and heroin addiction. Much to the surprise of anyone tuning in early for Masterteam, I’ll wager.

Not that it was all doom and/or gloom. Weightier topics were often offset by japes, jokes and scrapes, and school-age viewers had the added fun of comparing their own teachers to those within Grange Hill. Was your PE teacher as much of an arch bastard as Roger Sloman’s Mr ‘Frosty’ Foster? Was your English teacher as good natured as Anna Quayle’s Mrs ‘Marilyn’ Monroe? And were any of your teachers anywhere near as bad as Mr Bronson, played by a Michael Sheard tellingly more used to playing the part of Adolf Hitler?

Newspaper cutting: GOING BACK TO SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL. "The BBC's controversial series about a comprehensive school "Grange Hill" is coming back with some story ideas suggested by pupils."
Daily Mirror, Sat 8 Sept 1979

To say Grange Hill quickly became a huge success feels a bit of an understatement. But, looking through the British Newspaper Archive for stories about the series (see above), there can’t have been too many Children’s BBC dramas that warranted a double-page style spread in the ‘Mirror Woman’ section of the Daily Mirror (27 Feb 1980). The article claims ratings for the series were as high as ten million (which strongly suggests it wasn’t only the kids watching it).

Mirror Women article on 'Classy Style of the Grange Hill Mob'.

One particularly handy aspect of running a school-based drama is, of course, the natural cast attrition that goes with it. No need to have an endless parade of characters suddenly deciding to move to Manchester – they hit Sixth Form, get to wear their civvies for a year or two, then they’re leaving the series to make their way into the real world (usually a role in EastEnders). As each group of cast members leave at the end of the academic year, a fresh intake of pupils arrive. A process which saw the programme run for a total of thirty years.

Sure, there were changes along the way (such as in 2003, when production of the series moved to Mersey TV’s studios in Liverpool, meaning a new intake of pupils who’d suddenly developed Granadaland accents), but for remaining so popular with generations of British children over three damn decades, Grange Hill deserves a place amongst the hardiest of television programmes in the BBC’s history.

[NOTE 18/08/22: Table now (hopefully) finally updated properly, to include previously missing episodes from 2001 onwards. Series 30 from 2007 aired only on the CBBC channel as far as I can fathom, if you’re wondering about that ominous gap. The same applies to weekend omnibuses, which moved there from BBC2.] [FURTHER NOTE 28/08/2022: No, now it’s finally updated properly.]

71: Mastermind

(Shown 1291 times, 1972-2021)

“One’s a Trade Union leader, the other’s a member of the Cabinet.”

You know, there can’t be too many quiz programmes based on their creator’s experiences of being interrogated by the Gestapo. But that’s precisely the inspiration television producer Bill Wright has given for the intimidating environment for British television’s longest-running (and most parodied) quiz programme.

As we’ve seen a few times to far, it’s a format that really doesn’t need laying out here. Dark room, Magnus “Iceland’s Answer To Robert Robinson” Magnusson, black chair, specialist subject, I’ve Started So I’ll Finish. Originally airing in 1972, it didn’t became the nation’s favourite Serious Quiz Programme overnight. Initially going out at 10.45pm on Monday nights (with an afternoon repeat each Wednesday), it took the downfall of another series for Mastermind to get a wider audience.

1969 saw upstart London channel LWT broadcast a new series of TV comedy plays by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, which featured an impressive cast: Harry H Corbett, Stratford Johns, Bob Monkhouse, Pats Coombs and Hayes, plus Leslie Philips. The first episode of The Galton and Simpson Comedy – “The Suit” – saw Phillips play an adulterous scoundrel whose suit is stolen during a night at his mistress’s flat. As a result, he needs to find a way to make his way across London to his marital home sans underwear, dignity and excuses.

This premise would provide the basis for a new Galton and Simpson sitcom on BBC-1 four years later. Casanova ’73 saw Leslie Phillips play duplicitous PR exec Henry Newhouse, whose happy marriage to wife Carol doesn’t stop him seeking freelance relationships at any given opportunity. While the programme itself wasn’t remotely as smut-packed as the premise might suggest (the first episode focuses on Newhouse repeatedly trying to disrupt postal deliveries to prevent Carol from seeing a love letter addressed to Henry), such pre-watershed displays of infidelity attracted a lot of negative attention for the Corporation, and the series was swiftly shunted to a 9.25pm slot.

That left a gaping hole at 8pm each Thursday evening. What’s something so inoffensive, so sedate, so sober that nobody could complain? Not even Whitehouse? Step forward. Mastermind. By that point, it had been going out in a post-11pm slot each Monday night, and yet here it was – Magnus and his darkened interrogation chamber thrust unexpectedly into the spotlight. The irony.

From there it became a television institution, not only clocking up a huge number of episodes, but also a variety of spinoff series:

Celebrity Mastermind (247 eps, 2002-now, initially as ‘Mastermind Celebrity Special’)

Des Lynam’s Sport Mastermind (18 eps, 2008, initially billed as just ‘Sport Mastermind’)

Doctor Who Mastermind (1 ep, 2005)

Junior Mastermind (24 eps, 2004-2007)

Mastermind Champions (3 eps, 1982)

Mastermind International (6 eps, 1979-1983)

Mastermind Masters (4 eps, 1995)

A note also has to be made of how widely parodied Mastermind is as a format, with everyone from Morecambe & Wise and Hey Duggee featuring scenes centred on the famous chair. But, of course, by far the best-known nod to Mastermind has to be David Renwick’s “Answer the Question Before Last” sketch for the Two Ronnies in  1980. Anyone resident in Britain for more than seven minutes is well aware of this superb routine (it’s playing on a loop on a big screen at Heathrow arrivals, you know), but did you know there’s a longer version of the sketch?

In 1983, the Ronnies had a live residency at the London Palladium, performing many of their favourite routines to thousands of fans. And, as transcribed by the marvellous UK Gameshows website, that included an extended version of the famed Mastermind sketch, Renwick having written additional questions and answers to maximise the merriment. I’m not going to quote any of it here, it’s too lovely a thing to steal any clicks from the UKGS site, if you want to read it go here (and as an even more special super bonus, it also includes a transcript of the original version of the sketch from an episode of Radio 4’s The Burkiss Way).


Okay, that’s it for this helping. Expect the next instalment ‘soon’, or your money back. Until then, keep ’em peeled for any suspicious lumps from outer space.

One last picture of Patrick Moore

One response to “BBC100: The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (75-71)”

  1. Another fabulous post. Thank you!

    Minor typo in TSAN “tend ot be people” unless it’s the Radio Times to blame, and you are reproducing it faithfully 🙂

    Like

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