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: 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?
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?
HOST: That was not a close one.
HOST: We’ll be catching up with Jeff when he’s bought his house, which is
CUT TO INSIDE OF HOUSE
HOST: …now. Jeff, you’re now living in your house.
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…
CUT TO SAME SHOT BUT HOST IS STANDING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF JEFF. THERE IS ONE SHELF ON THE WALL. IT HAS A JAR ON IT.
HOST: …now. How are the shelves?
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.
(Shown 1340 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.
(Shown 1348 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.
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.
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.
(Shown 1361 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.
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.
66: Top Gear
(Shown 1415 times, 1978-2021)
Well, here’s a thing. Something that started out as a regional programme in the Midlands, which would go on to become the most-watched motoring programme [theatrical voice] In The World.
Indeed, one of the most profitable programmes in the BBC’s history started out as a monthly programme restricted to the BBC Midlands region. Producer Derek Smith suggested one of the region’s weekly opt-outs could be used for a look at subjects such as family cars, road safety and the like. It’s a format that Thames has been using for a while, with ‘Drive-In’ first roaring out of London’s ITV outpost in 1974, and it was a topic also likely of interest to BBC viewers. And so, from 22 April 1977, nine monthly episodes of Top Gear were transmitted, to the delight of any motoring enthusiasts not still stuck in traffic on the M6.
By 1978, national BBC bigwigs had been sniffing around the format, and a full ten-episode series of Top Gear was set to roar into life on BBC-2 from July. Main presenters Angela Rippon and Tom Coyne were retained from the BBC Midlands series, with Barrie Gill also added to the presenting team. Despite the petrol-tinged titillation you might expect from a motorsports commentator joining the line-up, topics were largely low-octane throughout the first series. Unless that is holiday driving, MOT tests, traffic jams, treatment of rust or tachographs are enough to send your particular pulse racing.
With the format proving a sizeable hit amongst drivers, the number of episodes per year accelerated from 1980, with two full series hitting the schedules per year (one in spring, one in autumn). The team of presenters was freshened up regularly, with imperial phase Noel Edmonds hosting a couple of series, along with William Woollard of Tomorrow’s World, while Chris Goffey and Sue Baker defected from Gears’ rival programme at Thames. That was before a pair of presenters who’d become more closely associated with the programme joined towards the end of the decade – former F1 driver Tiff Needell and motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson. By this point, the remit of the show was less Watchdog For Cars and more about how cool and awesome cars could be. And it was an approach that worked – Top Gear was regularly top of the BARB ratings for the channel, and comfortably so.
But, nothing lasts forever, and by the late 90s the audience figures were beginning to slip. The Beeb decided to wait before deciding whether to recommission the programme, and as a result, several members of the presenting team scarpered off to Channel Five’s new show Fifth Gear.
And that was it for Top Gear, or at least Top Gear V1. Because – as highlighted in the RT listing for the last episode of ‘old’ Top Gear (Mon 04/02/02), “Top Gear is scheduled to start a new series later this year.” And indeed it was, with Clarkson and Hammond and, erm, Dawe (later replaced by May), and in the new guise of Jackass But About Cars it would go on to conquer the world.
All this has been written about much more comprehensively (and competently) over on the Creamguide email, so instead of going into the latter history of Top Gear, I’m going to present a Compleat List of BBC2 9pm Comedy Shows That Meant You Saw The Last Bit of Top Gear Even If You Didn’t Want To. All on Thursdays unless stated otherwise. Hey, not really relevant, but it least it’s an honest reflection of what Top Gear meant to me.
- Tuesdays 09/09/80 – 21/10/80: Butterflies
- Tuesdays 21/09/82 – 12/10/82: The Kenny Everett Television Show
- Wednesdays 03/11/82, 16/03/83: MASH
- Tuesdays 17/09/85 – 22/10/85: Lame Ducks
- 15/10/87 – 19/11/87: Alas Smith & Jones
- 13/10/88 – 17/11/88: Alexei Sayle’s Stuff
- 14/09/89 – 12/10/89: Police Squad!
- 19/10/89 – 23/11/89: Alexei Sayle’s Stuff
- 27/09/90 – 01/11/90: Rab C Nesbitt
- 08/11/90 – 29/11/90: Harry Enfield’s Television Programme
- 28/02/91 – 21/03/91: Red Dwarf
- 28/03/91 – 18/04/91: Up Pompeii!
- 03/10/91 – 07/11/91: Alexei Sayle’s Stuff
- 14/11/91 – 19/12/91 (Except 05/12/91): Murder Most Horrid
- 27/02/92 – 26/03/92: Red Dwarf
- 02/04/92 – 07/05/92: Harry Enfield’s Television Programme
- 01/10/92 – 29/10/92: Bottom
- 05/11/92: Blackadder Goes Forth
- 12/11/92 – 17/12/92: Absolutely Fabulous
- 18/02/93 – 01/04/93: French and Saunders
- 22/04/93 – 10/06/93: The Comic Strip Presents….
- 07/10/93 – 11/11/93: Red Dwarf
- 03/03/94 – 07/04/94: Murder Most Horrid
- 14/04/94: Reeves and Mortimer’s Shooting Stars
- 05/05/94 – 12/05/94: Joking Apart
- 17/09/94: Knowing Me, Knowing You… with Alan Partridge
- 23/02/95 – 06/04/95: The Glam Metal Detectives
- 20/04/95, 27/04/95: Steptoe and Son
- 04/05/95: The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin
- 16/11/95 – 21/12/95: The Ghostbusters of East Finchley
- 11/04/96 and 02/01/97: Sykes
- 24/10/96 – 27/03/97: Third Rock from the Sun
- 08/05/97, 15/05/97: Absolutely Fabulous
- 04/09/97 – 18/12/97: Third Rock from the Sun
- 26/03/98, 02/04/98: Steptoe and Son
- 23/07/98 – 03/09/98: The Simpsons
- 20/08/98 & 17/09/98 – 17/12/98: Third Rock from the Sun
- 18/03/99 – 01/04/99: Red Dwarf
- 15/04/99: Goodness Gracious Me
- 09/09/99 – 14/10/99: Red Dwarf
- 02/03/00: Not the Nine O’Clock News
- 30/03/00: Dad’s Army
- 13/04/00: Harry Enfield and Chums
- 25/05/00: Steptoe and Son
- 12/10/00: Harry Enfield and Chums
- 28/06/01, 05/07/01: Dad’s Army
- 19/07/01: Morecambe and Wise
- 10/12/01, 17/12/01: The Kumars at No 42
- 04/02/02: Never Mind the Buzzcocks
- 02/01/05 – 30/01/05: Never Mind the Buzzcocks
- 30/12/07: Extras
- 17/07/08 & 31/07/08: Mock the Week
- Sunday 30/12/08: Shooting Stars: the Inside Story
- Sunday 27/12/09: Steve Coogan – Inside Story
- Monday 28/12/09: Not Again: Not the Nine O’Clock News
- 13/07/10 – 03/08/10: That Mitchell and Webb Look
- Sunday 11/05/14: The Comedy Vaults: BBC2’s Hidden Treasures
- Sunday 25/05/14: Harry and Paul’s Story of the Twos
- Wednesday 30/12/15: Charlie Brooker’s 2015 Wipe
- Sunday 16/06/19, 23/06/19: The Ranganation
Yes, that was a long list. No, I didn’t realise how many there would be until I generated the list. But at least I didn’t mention steak, chips or fisticuffs.
Here’s the broadcast history, which DOES NOT include:Top Gear Rally Report, Top Gear Motorsport and stuff like Top Gear of the Pops. Nor does it include the Midlands-only series of Top Gear. Just imagine if the Dave channel was included in these figures, eh?
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.