BBC100: The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (70-66)

Welcome back, everybody. Exciting fact! When I started writing this update, three of the five entries were for completely different programmes. It’s only after writing them that, for various reasons, they’ll actually be appearing higher up the list. Still, at least that’ll save me some time later, eh?

Before kicking off the next update, 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 hit me up on the Twitter.

Anyone, on with the list. Starting with a programme where I *know* the format of the programme doesn’t fully align with the write-up, so there’s no need to write in (unless you just want to comment that I’m very handsome or something).

70: Mastermind

(Shown 1265 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).

69: Athletics

(Shown 1295 times, 1946-2021)

Here’s the first of (SPOILER) several instances where an entry in the hundred is simply… the name of a sport. Some sports get a marquee programme name most times they appear on the Beeb (mainly ‘Match Of The Day’ – the last time a match was billed in the Radio Times as simply ‘Football’ was the 2005 World Club Cup final between Liverpool and Sao Paulo – but you’ve also got your Rugby Special), but for others the programme title is Name Of That Sport.

Of course, there are a few caveats to that rule. Midweek-evening sporting round-ups would go out under the banner of Sportsnight and Saturday afternoons would see everything covered by the Grandstand umbrella, but outside of those two you’d usually see an uncompromising title for the particular sport you’re about to witness.

A Grandstand umbrella, yesterday.

Not that a programme would always be restricted to a particular sport, of course. Perhaps mindful of the British weather’s tendency to disrupt sporting events, more than one sporting discipline would be thrown together under a single listing, meaning the televised action could be batted between them as events dictated.

A bit of a let down if you only like track events and you’re about to watch “Wimbledon, Cricket and Athletics” with little idea of how much athletic action you’re likely to see. But, it was a world before individual sporting rights demanded different events be clearly delineated, an era before Premier League highlights had to be stored in a separate programme from FA Cup highlights, even though they’re right next to each other in the Saturday night schedule.

A Radio Times listing
"3.0 Athletics 
Viewers visit the White City Stadium to see some members of the British team who are to compete against France in tomorrow's International Athletic Meeting. Athletes appearing will include: D. L. Grigg (captain of the British team), A. S. Paterson, E. McDonald Bailey, A. S. Wint, and D. R. Ede. They will be introduced by Harold Abrahams, who will give his forecast of some of the major events to be decided tomorrow."
Radio Times, Sun 4th Aug 1946

For the purposes of accuracy and my mental wellbeing, we’re only going to include scheduled instances where Athletics were the sole concern of a scheduled slot. That’s still a heck of a lot of television, mind. But surprisingly, despite it being a premise as simple as pointing a camera at someone running, jumping or throwing stuff, it’s not something that ever featured in pre-war television (at least not using the term ‘athletics’ to describe it*). The earliest instance I can locate is from Sunday 4 August 1946, with the White City Stadium playing host to an international meet between representatives of Britain and France. And as an added attraction, there was also the premise of “Harold Abrahams, who will give his forecast of some of the major events to be decided tomorrow”.

(*Unless you’re including one instance from TV’s pre-history: the listing for 21 November 1934’s “Television For The Baird Process” test schedule included ‘Penslow and Company’ offering ‘art in athletics’.)

From those initial events (for which it’s likely ‘getting used to doing this sort of thing before the 1948 London Olympics’ was a factor), the sport has been pretty much ever-present on the BBC’s two flagship channels. There have been occasional dips in the number of scheduled broadcasts each year, generally coinciding with Olympic years, or spells of athletics having to share billings with cricket, showjumping, swimming or tennis. The BBC even put on a generous amount of athletics coverage in the mid- to late-1980s, a time when the broadcast rights to UK athletics meetings (and many European ones) were held by ITV.

Along the way, all manner of descriptive individual billings have been used to describe the action. Generally nothing more exciting than ‘International Athletics’, but sometimes referring to specific events (such as the Diamond League) and on a few occasions giving special call-out attention to the sport’s most bankable star. So much so, in fact, that I had to search out the full programme details, in case “Usain Bolt Takes on the World” was a documentary rather than live coverage.

As Britain’s Olympic renaissance has continued in the years since 2012, the volume of athletic broadcasting has increased, for several years at an average of more than one broadcast per week. And at a time where such output could easily have been hived off to BBC Three or the Red Button, it only proves how compelling the art of running, jumping and occasionally throwing stuff is to the Britain public.

68: To Buy or Not to Buy

(Shown 1313 times, 2003-2012)

TITLE CAPTION: Coverage of People Buying a House and Then Living In it

EXT. OUTSIDE OF A HOUSE. DAY. HOST is standing next to a man, JEFF.

HOST: Hello and welcome back to Coverage of People Buying a House and Then Living In it. So, hello Jeff, you wanna buy a house, here’s a house. What do you think?

JEFF: Yeah.

HOST: D’you like the house?

JEFF: Yeah, it’s fine.

HOST: Will Jeff be able to buy the house that’s fine of his dreams? Yes, he will. It’s in budget, is it Jeff?

JEFF: Yeah.

HOST: That was not a close one.

JEFF: Nah.

HOST: We’ll be catching up with Jeff when he’s bought his house, which is

HOST: …now. Jeff, you’re now living in your house.

JEFF: Yeah.

HOST: What’s that like?

JEFF: ‘s all right, doing a bit of DIY, putting some shelves up, but nothing major.

HOST: We’ll be catching up with Jeff’s attempts to live his having things on shelves dream…


HOST: …now. How are the shelves?

JEFF: Useful.

HOST: That’s fascinating. So, to sum up: Jeff, who you don’t know, has bought a house and is now living in it having put up some shelves, and I think we can all agree that’s basically a good thing. Join me next week when I’ll be presenting coverage of people arranging to rent a flat and then going to the shop to buy some food to eat in it.


That, times 1,313.

67: Casualty

(Shown 1336 times, 1986-2021)

In the USA, television spin-offs are a Big Thing. Happy Days begat Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, Joanie Loves Chachi, Out of the Blue and Blansky’s Beauties, Star Trek begat The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, Discovery and others, while The Simpsons begat Wiggum PI, The Love-Matic Grandpa and The Simpson Family Smile-Time Variety Hour.

In the UK, spin-offs are much less of a thing. Doctor Who led to K-9 and Company, Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures, K-9 and Class, and Man About the House led to Robin’s Nest and George & Mildred, but other than those, it’s hard to think of many programmes that span-off into more than one programme. Well, it is for me, anyway. However, one other key example of a British programme spawning several children is very much Casualty. Springing forth from the wards of Holby’s A&E department came Holby City, mash-up Casualty@Holby City, mostly-forgotten cop show HolbyBlue, plus historical dramas Casualty 1906, Casualty 1907 and Casualty 1909 (nothing worthy of broadcast happened there in 1908, clearly).

The original series is undoubtedly the daddy of the lot. Following the professional and personal lives of a constantly evolving line-up of medical and ancillary staff of Holby City Hospital’s emergency department, the series has been a mainstay of Saturday night BBC1 since 1986. That means, chronologically-speaking, the first episode of Casualty was closer to the events of Casualty 1909 than to today.

(Now, that’s not remotely true, but the fact that you had to do some very quick mental arithmetic to confirm my blatant lie proves how old a programme Casualty is. Don’t write in.)

In all that time, the series has notched up a total of 1,257 individual episodes to date. And, perhaps even more remarkably, editors on Wikipedia have written up episode summaries and synopses for the first 1,212 of them. How do I know that? Because I’ve been into them, and copied all the text from those summaries and synopses, and generated a list of every single word used therein. And as such, I’m now in a position to introduce the pilot episode of: Casualty Plot Synopsis Word Runaround.

[Adopts Mike Reid voice]

Oi oi oi, stop that screaming. Right, oo’s ready to play the first raahnd then? Which, from each of the following pairs of words, has been used most frequently when describing episodes of Casualty?

Q1: Charlie, or Hospital?

Q2: Ketamine, or Kettle?

Q3: Duffy, or Dylan?

Q4: Henchman, or Hepatitis?

Q5: Kidney, or Kidnapped?

Q6: Horses, or Hostage?

Q7: Builder, or Businessman?

Q8: Drugs, or Drunk?

Answers after this screengrab from the 1999 Casualty Christmas special, “Peace on Earth”.

Welcome ba… OI, HEADACHE! …welcome back to Casualty Plot Word Runaround. Here are the answers.

Q1: Charlie, or Hospital? The ubiquitous Charlie features more frequently than the thing the whole series is about, winning by 750 instances to 717.

Q2: Ketamine, or Kettle? Both things that might crop up at any time in the series, but which won out? A surprisingly low scoring match sees Ketamine win, four to three.

Q3: Duffy, or Dylan? Two popular characters, but which cropped up most often in plot descriptions? The answer is: Dylan, by 328 to 285.

Q4: Henchman, or Hepatitis? Two words you wouldn’t want to confuse, but which cropped up most commonly? The winner is Hepatitis, by 8 points to 4.

Q5: Kidney, or Kidnapped? One is most often found in the human body, the other most often in long-running dramas that need to recycle ideas every now and then. And the winner is: Kidney, by 22 to 11.

Q6: Horses, or Hostage? A similar take, but with a more equine feel. And the victor is: Hostage, by 47 to 15. Raise your game, horses.

Q7: Builder, or Businessman? Ooh, a tricky shout. Likely to crop up in an early scene, allaying fears of a loved one by insisting that climbing that ladder with too many bricks, or driving their Mondeo to Aberdeen after an hour’s sleep, will be fine and they’re just being silly. Uh-oh. So, which featured more frequently? In a close match, it’s the Builder, by 13 to 12.

Q8: Drugs, or Drunk? Ah, the eternal struggle of how to spend a Saturday night if you’re not going to stay in and watch Casualty (or even if you are). And the winner is: Drugs, shoving drunkenness into the gutter with 214 instances to 98.

66: Pingu

(Shown 1395 times, 1990-2013)


Here’s a proper little television curio. A programme tremendously popular in (amongst other places) Switzerland, Britain and Japan, and at various points it was produced in each of those three countries. Plus, it was one of the first characters ever played by Ben Whishaw (okay, that’s a half truth).

The series tells the tale of the titular curious if occasionally short-tempered little penguin fella, and all the Antarctic antics he gets up to amongst all the other little penguin fellas. Generally, escapades would involve events relatable to the target audience – such as Pingu not wanting to eat lunch, acting like a little sod to his infant sibling, or playing so noisily the family’s neighbours get annoyed. So, like Bing, except less preachy and more good. Perhaps that’s one of the main reasons it proved so popular, but the key to Pingu’s success must be that – he’s just so damn charmingly expressive. And fun to impersonate. NOOT.

Despite not appearing on British screens until Monday 12 November 1990, the genesis of Pingu goes back to 1984, when animator Otmar Gutmann pitched a stop-motion animation to snappily-titled Swiss broadcaster Schweizer Fernsehen der Deutschen und Rätoromanischen Schweiz. Initially, the action centred on a family of sea lions who generally flapped around in an amusing way, while other animals in their environment acted as background players. While receptive to the idea, SFDRS’s Erika Brueggemann was more taken with some of those minor characters in the pilot, specifically a family of penguins much more capable of acting in a human-like manner. After an amount of muttering “but I’ve made all these bloody sea lions now” (only in German), Gutmann agreed, and a seven-minute pilot “Pingu: Eine Geschichte Für Kinder Im Vorschulalter” was produced.

The short was a success, picking up the 1987 Kleiner Baer award at the Berlin Film Festival, leading to a full series commissioned for Pingu, with Gutmann and Brueggemann credited as co-creators.

From there, Pingu went on to be broadcast around the world – pretty much everywhere except the USA, it seems. Even a 1993 rap single by David Hasselhoff about Pingu (no, really) didn’t win over the stateside audience. Mainly because it was only released in Switzerland, but still. Over here, the series became especially popular between 2009 and 2011, with Pingu shown as many as three times per day in the BBC2 early morning CBBC slot.

It’s real, and it’s spectacular.

As a result of all that success, the rights to the series were picked up in 2001 by animation giants HIT Entertainment (for a reported £15.9 million), and production began on a further 52 episodes. For these new episodes, production of the series was moved to Manchester, with Hot Animation (under the supervision of co-creator Brueggemann) replicating the stop-motion process that made the initial run of the series such a success. Indeed, that’s where cult hero Chris Sievey briefly worked on the series, writing the episode ‘Pingu’s Bedtime Shadows’ under his more famous non-de-plume.

The global popularity of the series even spread as far as Japan, the little penguin fella proving especially popular with teenage girls. As a result of this popularity, a full reboot of the series was announced in 2017, with the first episode (now rechristened ‘Pingu in the City’) airing on NHK-E that October. However, this is strictly NOT part of Pingu canon as it used CGI to simulate stop-motion animation. And also, it’s not called Pingu, but mainly it’s never been screened on BBCs One or Two, so we don’t need to be worrying ourselves about it.

It’s truly impressive how popular a relatively simple character would become, with the name instantly recognisable to a generation of kids-turned-adults. And indeed, it’s a series that still works remarkably well – I recently showed an episode to my eldest son, who enjoyed it hugely for several minutes before asking if he could put videogame longplay videos back on. Hey, for his generation, that’s as high as praise gets.

Phew. That’s it for now. Join me next time for the next installment of the series everyone is collectively being too nice to point out should probably be called ‘The 100 Programmes Broadcast Most Often On The Two Main BBC Channels… Of All Time’ instead.

There’ll be an unrelated update on Thursday, y’all.

2 responses to “BBC100: The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (70-66)”

  1. I think the Tom & Jerry was shown complete as I remember the complaints to Points of View which probably wouldn’t have occurred in the context of a programme about controversial cartoons. (I realise that’s absolutely no help in tracking it down!)


  2. Now, please correct me anyone if I’m wrong but I seem to recall the ep of Tom and Jerry was in fact from the Hanna-Barbera 70s series “The Tom and Jerry Show” which was broadcast around 1987 on But First This in the summer holidays. Perhaps the episode “No Way, Stowaways” which features a pirate.

    Ah! Just checked on a certain streaming site and it’s the right cartoon.


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