BBC100: The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (55-51)

So close to the half-century. And it only took me re-extracting ten years’ worth of data to correct a piddling technicality for one of the entries. But more of that later. On we go!


55: Animal Park

(Shown 1645 times, 2000-2021)

If you want an animal-based programme that seems as unstoppable as a rhino-led restaging of the rollerskating scene from Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, then Animal Park is the show for you. Running for seventeen series and a total of 221 episodes, this series following the fortunes of keepers and animals at Longleat Safari Park is a definite stayer. Certainly enough for each episode to have been broadcast an average of 7.44 times.

Originally broadcast on weekday summer mornings on BBC One, running from Monday to Friday during the Julys of 2000 and 2001, it also found an appreciative audience for afternoon repeats on BBC Two. And so, from 2004’s fourth series onwards, first-run episodes of the series moved to Two’s afternoon schedule, with repeat showings going out in post-Breakfast slots on BBC One.

The primary phase of Animal Park lasted for a full ten years and nine series before production of new episodes halted in 2009. Not that the programme was particularly cancelled in any way – indeed, the volume of episodes in the BBC’s Tape Vault (sub: check the BBC still has a tape vault) meant it could be stuffed into any wildlife-sized gap in the daytime schedules.

Indeed, it was popular enough to warrant a pair of spin-off series. Animal Park: Wild in Africa saw focus shifted from Longleat to the endeavours of wildlife conservationists in Namibia, airing on BBC Two in 2005. A couple of years later, that was followed by Animal Park: Wild on the West Coast, where the action shifted to California. And with broadcasts of the series proving to be such a mainstay of the daytime schedule, 2016 saw a tenth series, commissioned to mark the 50th anniversary of Longleat Safari Park, and from there, further new series continued to be produced. As they are to this very day.

Indeed, such was the appeal of the series that it moved away from mornings and early afternoons, and became a bit of a fixture in the 6.30pm slot on BBC Two during the lockdown spring and summer months of 2020 and 2021.


54: Tweenies

(Shown 1646 times, 1999-2012)

The first truly big show for then-new channel CBeebies. Now most frequently remembered for, y’know, an episode featuring a Tweenied version of The Most Cancelled Of Celebrities, but back then it was huge. Even thirteen years after first airing, it remained popular enough to become the thirdmost CBeebies popular programme on a given week. As was the style at the time, it grew an audience away from CBeebies — it originally started on BBC1 and BBC2 in 1999 — but repeats of the shows 390 (crikey) episodes were essential for the fledgling digital channel, and the original digital TV generation of young viewers lapped it up.

The popularity of the show even troubled the pop charts — five spin-off singles reached the UK Top 20 between 2000 and 2002 — leading to inevitable appearances on Top Of The Pops. So, look out for those on BBC Four in about 2027.


53: Twenty-Four Hours / 24 Hours

(Shown 1684 times, 1965-1972)

“I’m Federal Agent Cliff Michelmore, and today is the longest day of my life.”

Okay, while it’s tempting to imagine the avuncular Holiday presenter recast as lead of the real-time CTU drama (just me then?), this was in fact the BBC’s late evening news magazine. Much higher of brow than its teatime counterpart – more ‘a report on the Ulster Defence Regiment’, less ‘man says he can jump on eggs’ – it come with a suitably sober roster of anchors. Initially Cliff Michelmore, but subsequently Kenneth Allsop, Michael Barratt, Robert McKenzie and a tyro David Dimbleby.

Initially starting whenever the schedule had room for it, the success of ITV’s flagship bulletin News at Ten led to 24 Hours going out in a spoiler 9.55pm slot for most of the week (save for Wednesdays, where the space was needed for The Wednesday Play).

Given its penchant for discussions in front of expert-packed studio audiences, confrontational interviews with key policy makers and reports from the likes of Fyfe Robertson, Robin Day and David Jessel, it’s hardly ripe for a runout on UKTV channels any time soon, and there’s very little out there to watch on demand. The episode ‘Yesterday’s Men’, looking at how Harold Wilson’s shadow cabinet were coping with being in opposition after their 1970 election defeat, did appear on BBC Parliament in 2013, but other than a few clips on the BBC’s website (such as ‘Gerry Fitt on the Widgery Tribunal’), this is for the most part a historical resource set to remain in the BBC vaults.

There is however one full episode on the BBC website, and it offers what seems to be a perfect summation of the series. Dating from September 1966, a special episode looks at the shock assassination of South African Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, and is so thoroughly archived you even get a glimpse of the preceding BBC-1 ident and continuity announcement. From Blackpool, there’s also a report from the second day of the TUC Congress and an interview with the Minister of Labour. The way each item is previewed to the sound of a strident brass fanfare is especially notable. The main bulk of the programme gives a great sense of how breaking news was covered at the time – lengthy shots of a studio reporter on a crackly phone line to a journalist at the scene of the event, the on-screen anchor taking a phone call from a producer on-air,

While some very archaic viewpoints are being expressed by participants of the programme, the BBC’s sense of fairness is very much present: Robin Day follows a quoted reference to ‘the coloureds’ by reinterpreting the phrase for less bigoted viewers, and views on the event are sought from various parts of the political spectrum. An instance where an architect of Apartheid is assassinated by a white supremacist’s bullet isn’t the most straightforward of stories, and Twenty-Four Hours does a magnificent job of covering such a breaking international story – it’s worth remembering that at this point, the entire medium of television is only thirty years old.


52: Holby City

(Shown 1706 times, 1999-2021)

We’ve already seen sister show Casualty on the list, so here’s Casualty’s soapier sister programme. Several spaces higher in the list, despite the original having a thirteen year head start and the benefit of not having been cancelled. Also, I’ve never watched a single second of Holby City, so this might not be a very long entry.

There were even a number of opportunities for Casualty and Holby City to cross over, not least in several episodes specifically titled Casualty@Holby City (which just reminds me of h&p@bbc, if I’m honest). The first of those episodes were in 2004, so it’s hardly as if making programme titles sound like email addresses was fresh and new at the time. They should’ve just gone with ‘Casuolby’ instead. (For the record, there were nine episodes of Casuolby, and I’m not awarding them to either programme in these counts.)

Back to the plot. Holby City was created by Tony McHale and Mal Young as a spin-off from its more established BBC brethren, making its debut appearance on 12 January 1999, and would go on until 29 March 2022 (though, for the purposes of this list, we’re only counting broadcasts up to 31/12/21). The action follows the medical and ancillary staff working at the fictional Holby City Hospital, which also serves as the host location for Casualty, resulting in occasional crossover potential with that programme plus mostly-forgotten police procedural spin-off HolbyBlue.

Casuolby, yesterday.

Holby City began with a core cast of main characters that would – as might be expected given its continuing drama remit – be replaced as needed, clocking up a number of memorable names within that time. Indeed, previous cast members include Patsy Kensit, Jane Asher, Robert Powell, Ade Edmondson and Graeme Garden. Beyond that core cast, a number of the show’s guest appearances are equally notable: Leslie Phillips, Anita Dobson, Peter Bowles, Susannah York, Ron Moody, soap royalty Johnny Briggs, Lionel Jeffries, Eric Sykes, plus Antonio Fargas and David Soul from Starsky and Hutch (sadly not in the same episode).

It’s perhaps notable that, despite the series being a soap opera (sorry, continuing drama). Holby City dealt purely in hour-long episodes, clocking up over 1000 episodes in its time. Indeed, that stack-em-high approach led to criticism, with Broadcasting Standards Commission director Paul Bolt accusing the BBC of squandering the television licence fee on the programme.

There’s another notable thing about Holby City too, but possibly only if you’ve tasked yourself with putting together full broadcast histories of a hundred long-running television programmes. And who’d be daft enough to do (etc). A short while after pulling all the data, I noticed a curious thing. Several clearly post-watershed shows were being reported as having early morning repeats. As in, episodes of Twenty-Twelve going out at 7.20am, things like that. It’s not wholly unheard of, of course. One of my favourite pieces of stupid scheduling was when UK Drama (as was) decided to repeat Alan Bleasdale’s GBH on Saturday mornings at 7am. Cut to absolute ribbons, making one wonder if it was worth that time in the edit suite for the sake of surely just a few thousand viewers. But BBC2 doing something similar seemed odd.

A few quick checks revealed something curious: while most programme listings were completely correct, anything airing between midnight and 6am (between 2010 and 2021, the post-Genome era) had the wrong time listed, showing up as anything from 7am to 9am. And that poses a problem for all those Sign Zone repeats of major programmes, which I am counting because standards. The few times this has come up so far, there has been a simple (if inconvenient) solution. Go through the online listing for each programme broadcast date, and fix the times on my list manually. And then I arrived at Holby City. Which has enjoyed overnight signed repeats 617 times. Sigh.

So, I’ve re-pulled all the programme data, so that it’s correct. Meaning the table below is correct, even though it’s staggeringly unlikely anyone but me will care. Oh well, at least it’s inflated the word count for the entry of a programme I’ve never ever watched.


51: Breakfast Time

(Shown 1727 times, 1983-1989)

It feels very strange to think that there was once a time when a nation was gripped by the notion of getting up at 6.30am to watch telly. And yet, there was such a time. From its inauguration in 1936 right until the 1980s, television was something that – thanks to a succession of Postmaster Generals – was rationed out. Fine if you’re someone who has a daily schedule that matches the consensus, not so much if you’re a night owl, early riser, new parent or shift worker. But, if television was by law restricted to just fifty hours per week of airtime, it made sense to use those hours where the most potential viewers were.

Overnight television as standard wouldn’t come to the UK until the late 1980s, where a diet of Prisoner Cell Block H, Married… With Children and Night Network would sate the needs of people who didn’t need to get up early the next day. And preceding that, what would become known as breakfast television arrived on British screens all the way back in 1977, with Yorkshire’s Good Morning Calendar and Tyne Tees’ Good Morning North. Both were only on air for a short trial run, and going by the footage online of Good Morning Calendar, were cheaper than own-brand chips – the budget didn’t even seem to stretch to a pair of scissors for mounting newspaper front pages.

With the lack of a true morning show, British TV was being left behind by international counterparts. Australia had been enjoying full-time breakfast TV since 1978 (10’s Good Morning Sydney), Canada since 1972 (CBC’s Canada AM) and the US since a surprisingly early 1950 (WPTZ’s Three To Get Ready, an entertainment show starring Ernie Kovacs, no less).

The first ‘proper’ attempt at breakfast TV came a few years later, with Breakfast Time opening up BBC1 each morning from Monday 17 January 1983. Beating ITV’s TV-am to the punch by a couple of weeks, it seems BT’s launch was expedited with that very goal in mind. And, let me tell you, for a telly-obsessed youngster, it felt like a huge occasion. While I only troubled myself to wake up at 6.25am to catch the start of it on the first morning (having asked my mum to wake me up especially, as I was still very young at the time. Thanks, Mum!), it would go on to become a key part of my pre-school routine. So much so, I probably spent too much time in early-morning lessons trying to draw the programme’s stylised sun logo in the margins of exercise books (see also: the ==2== BBC2 ident, the Granada logo and using three different colour pens held together to do the LWT logo).

No child would have bothered to attempt the logo for Sixty Minutes, mind. And that’s why it failed.

Luckily for a nation of early risers, the new breakfast show gravitated much closer to the orbit of Nationwide than Newsnight. A pastel coloured set strewn with sofas, a breezy theme tune and a bejumpered presenting team headed by Frank Bough, Selina Scott and Nick Ross eased Britain into each new morning, with a warming mixture of chat, interviews, horoscopes and advice. Supplementary fixtures on the show included weatherman Francis Wilson, keep fit guru Diana Moran (aka The Green Goddess) and astrologist Russell Grant, each quickly becoming household names, even amongst those who still preferred radio with their cornflakes.

And yet, trope-laden ITV rivals TV-am would overcome early obstacles to do everything Breakfast Time had been doing but in a much more memorable way (all together now: David Frost, Most Profitable TV Franchise In The World, Strikes, Bingo, Rooftop Eggcups, Rat Joining A Sinking Ship, Rustie Lee, Faith Brown And Rustie Lee, Timmy Mallett, “Ran The Tape Backwards And Drowned The Bugger”). And if you want to doubt that, I challenge you to come up with ten equally memorable aspects of Breakfast Time within a minute. And so, in 1986, Breakfast Time ditched the jumpers and sofas in favour of suits and desks. Bye-bye Nationwide AM, hello Morning Newsnight.

On Friday 15 September 1989, the jig was well and truly up. The last edition of Breakfast Time went to air, with it being replaced the following Monday by BBC Breakfast News. The suits had truly won. (But also lost: I’m not including BBC Breakfast News in this list because it’s primarily a news show. So, yeah. Take that, John Birt.)

Oh, how classy. Well done, you. No child is going to be trying to sketch this in the back of their physics exercise book.

BREAKFAST PRE-HISTORY TIME

It wasn’t the first time the BBC had opened up early, of course. Occasionally, major events would necessitate the transmitters fizzling into life hours earlier than normal. Here are some of the occasions where BBC Television got out of bed before 7am.

06:00 Friday 27 May 1955: The General Election

The BBC’s first big tilt at covering a general election saw the transmitters splutter into life at an unearthly hour for the first time. The 1950 General Election (23 February 1950, five seat Labour majority) had merely seen a modest fifteen-minute bulletin at 8:15pm, albeit with the promise of “maps and animated diagrams”. The following year’s election (25 October 1951, 17 seat Conservative majority) saw BBCtv stay up later than ever before, with live Thursday night coverage continuing until 4am, though the results team were then given six hours’ sleep before coverage resumed at 10am.

It was the 1955 General Election that saw the Television Service really throw everything at the wall, with coverage beginning on 9.30pm on Election Day and continuing until 4am. After several gallons of strong coffee were fed to the production team, they’d be back on air at 6am, for all the latest results – for eleven solid hours, with an additional caveat that they’ll barge into the 5pm children’s programming if necessary.

From that point on, General Election coverage would go on to be the main reason for the BBC to ‘wake up’ (or even ‘stay up’) at a scheduled time that early.

06:30 Wednesday 9 Nov 1960: The New President

With Nixon taking on JFK for the presidency, BBC-tv were up nice and early (along with ITV) for the latest transatlantic news. Quite the epic morning broadcast it seemed, too. Richard Dimbleby introduced affairs, with Christopher Serpeu reporting from London and Douglas Stuart from New York. Robin Day embarked on the West End, where he chatted to American correspondents, Ludovic Kennedy talked to the man (and presumably woman) in the street, while John Tidmarsh spoke to Americans flying into London Airport.

Best of all, between election developments David Jacobs presented “music from the current American hit parade”. That’s the kind of multimedia experience we want with our Rice Krispies.

06:00 Friday 16 October 1964: General Election Results AND The 1964 Tokyo Olympics (BBC-tv)

Siri, show me an utter headache for a 1960s television backroom staff. Everyone involved must have been sorely wishing more than 376 people had access to BBC-2 at the time, so they could just put one of the programmes on there without interruption.

06:00 Monday 21 July 1969: Apollo 11 (BBC1)

Five years on, and for sports and politics haters a much more thrilling reason for the channel to wake up early: MEN ON THE ACTUAL BLOODY MOON. Big news, as all the newspapers reported:

06:30 Thursday 20 November 1969: Apollo 12 (BBC1)

Man sets foot on the actual bloody moon for only the second time in history. Big news, as all the newspapers reported:

The Moon? Again? Done that. Give us a ring when you’re lolloping around on Mars, yeah? (No wonder they stopped bothering a few years later.)

06:40 Wed 30 January 1974: Open University (BBC2)

Daily Mirror, Monday 4 Jan 1971

Now the UK’s most-populated university, but back in 1971 the OU was a brave new venture. The brainchild of Harold Wilson’s Labour Government, it set out to widen access to the highest standards of scholarship in higher education, and the most efficient way to do that was by employing television to deliver lectures.

Initially going out in any spare off-piste part of the television schedules from 1971, OU programming primarily went out at 11am on weekday morning BBC2. As popularity increased, as possibly did the need to provide a place in the schedules for students juggling a 9-to-5 job alongside studies, early morning TV provided a handy home for Encouraging Regional Development, The Joule-Kelvin Effect and Neural Modelling.

First arriving in a pre-7am slot in January 1974, the Open University (scary ident and all) was the first regularly-scheduled ‘breakfast’ TV in the UK.

06:45 Thursday 7 October 1982: Breakfast with Brisbane (BBC1)

The 1982 Commonwealth Games provided early morning BBC1 viewers with a welcome alternative to the likes of Political Stability in Sweden. While the games started on 30 September, it wasn’t until a week later when sports fans could tune in at 6.45am to see Des Lynam introduce coverage of the 30km Road Walk, Men’s Long Jump, Men’s 5,000m, Women’s Javelin, Women’s 800m and something Genome lists as “10-mile Individual Shooting”, but which I can find no evidence of elsewhere. It’s probably the 10 Metre Individual Shooting, and the Radio Times simply weren’t having any of that metric nonsense.

Once Breakfast Time was in place, any such sporting events were to be incorporated into the BT brand, with the show appearing as ‘Olympic Breakfast Time’ during the 1984 and 1988 Olympiads. While there’s a case for arguing such spells weren’t ‘proper’ Breakfast Time (for sone thing, they represent the only times ‘Breakfast Time’ was scheduled to be broadcast at weekends), it’s the branding that matters. After all, I’ve counted episodes of Sportsnight Special when they’ve been live primetime football matches rather than roundups, and the same applies here.

If you’re wondering about those time-of-day outliers:

The first 6am start was on 10 Jun 1983, and was an Election Special, the 6.15am start on 13 Oct 1986 was to provide coverage of The Queen’s visit to China, and the second 6am start came on 9 Nov 1988, which offered live coverage of the Bush Versus Dukakis Presidential Election.

Those 9am ‘starts’ came during a spell in November and December 1986, where Breakfast Time was listed as running from 7-8.40am, before Watchdog operated as a standalone show at 8.40am (at least as far as the Radio Times were concerned), before Breakfast Time ‘returned’ at 9am to wrap things up.

Barely seems worth the bother, but hey.

Lastly, that 10.50am billing for Breakfast Time was from 8 May 1985, as part of a special episode where “Frank Bough, Selina Scott, Nick Ross and Sue Cook present[ed] a special programme to mark the 40th anniversary of the Victory in Europe”. That ran all the way to 11.15am, but with the 10.30am slot reserved for Play School, meaning there was a fresh listing for Breakfast Time at 10.50am. Best bit must surely have been at 9.05am, with the ‘Breakfast Time Street Party’, not least as it was billed as including “Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band bring[ing] back memories of that day”.


That’s another one wrapped up. Yes, a few shorter write-ups this time, but shush. We’re at the half-way stage, and my original plan of getting the whole thing wrapped up before the actual centenary itself arrives in… [looks at calendar] oh. Ah. Um.

2 responses to “BBC100: The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (55-51)”

  1. Breakfast Time in fact ran for two weeks longer than listed in Radio Times, as the launch of BBC Breakfast News was delayed at short notice until 2nd October for some reason.

    Like

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