BBC100: The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (45-41)

Hello, everybody. Sorry it’s been a while since the last update to this list, but (amongst ploughing through forty years of Channel 4 viewing figures), this selection has required a little more research than most.

Before hitting the list, a two bits of minor admin. Firstly: most people seem to be coming to the site via my Tweets on The Twitter. That’s good. Except Musky Burns seems determined to pull all of the Kerplunk straws from Twitter’s infrastructure (for the lulz, I assume), so it’s hard to gauge how long it’ll last in its current state. That’s bad. So there are a couple of alternative ways to get updates.

WAY ONE: I’m on the Mastodon. I’ll be posting each time there’s a new update on there as well as Twitter. Follows and boosts appreciated (say hi if you’re there from this blog so I can follow back, as a lot of people seem to be doing mass-follows to inflate their numbers at present).

WAY TWO: At the bottom of the screen, you should see a ‘follow’ button. If you click it and enter your email address, you’ll get each update automatically emailed to you. In full, not just the first bit and ‘Click here’, the full lovely update. Which is nice.

Okay, second bit of admin. Unless you’ve got an adblocker, you may well be seeing banner ads on the site. They… aren’t meant to be there. I’m paying for WordPress hosting, meaning the site shouldn’t have them. All being well, they’ll be disappearing soon. (That makes a nice change from sites saying ‘your Adblocker is killing my children’, doesn’t it?)

Okay. Admin done. Let’s crack on with…

45: Question Time

(Shown 1910 times, 1979-2021)

Here’s one that was a safe bet for inclusion. But firstly, a few things that aren’t Question Time. Starting with…

QUESTION TIME (2 October 1952)

Not the version we know and… love(?), but rather a one-off discussion programme where Young Adults of the era discuss topics raised by viewers of the same age. So, an early proto version of Twitter (except, as I say, populated by young adults). Despite the appeal in the Radio Times at the time to send in questions (“on postcards, please”), this doesn’t seem to have returned to the Television Service, at least not under the same name.

SCAN: Radio Times listing for the 1952 Question Time


“This is the first time that this popular programme from the North of England has been televised”, proclaimed the Radio Times listing. And indeed it was, a rare audiovisual outing for the Home Service mainstay. For whatever reason, the experiment wasn’t repeated, and it has remained an audio-only endeavour ever since. At least nationally – the RT listings for 1973 include three episodes of regional TV programme ‘Northern Gardeners Question Time’, because Northern Gardeners don’t want to share any of their secrets with those soft southern shandy-drinking bastard gardeners.

SCAN: Radio Times listing for Gardeners' Question Time

QUESTION TIME (11 Feb 1958, 6 May 1968)

To think, certain corners of the internet get all het up about rampant BBC lefty bias if a QT panel somehow contains participants from Labour, the Greens AND a fashionable stand-up comedian. These two offerings would likely have them putting their foot through the screen and sending the bill to the remains of Harold Wilson.

Firstly, in 1958, an event that certainly has all the hallmarks of QT as we know it. A politician is asked to face a series of questions from an invited audience. The politician in question: the sainted Nye Bevan. The audience in question: “a group of young Socialists”. The reason? This is actually a Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the Labour Party.

SCAN: Radio Times listing for the 1958 Question Time

Then, just over ten years later, almost exactly the same thing again. This time, it’s much larger in scale, with Labour MPs Barbara Castle, William Ross and George Thomas in the hot seats, and questions coming from audiences in Glasgow, Manchester and Cardiff. Simulcast on BBC-1 and BBC-2 at 9pm, just in case you thought you could escape it.

In between those two, 1960 saw Question Time for Youth, though this seems to have been on a much smaller scale – only on BBC1, shoved out just before closedown at 11pm, and the Radio Times couldn’t even be bothered listing the names of the MP questionees.

Did the tactics work? Well, the closest political poll to the 1958 broadcast was the Rochdale By-Election, called following the death on 16 December 1957 of the sitting Conservative Member of Parliament, Wentworth Schofield, and if that’s any metric it was a big success. Labour’s Jack McCann won the seat, beating Liberal candidate (and at the time, writer and radio presenter) Ludovic Kennedy and Conservative candidate John E. Parkinson.

No big national election in 1968 either, but there were by-elections in Nelson and Colne, Oldham West and Sheffield Brightside the following month. Not quite as successful this time, with results respectively being CON GAIN, CON GAIN and LAB HOLD. Thus the Question Time moniker was relinquished by the party, and never used again. As for the 1960 Youth effort – the closest contests to the transmission date were the Harrow West by-election and the Brighouse and Spenborough by-election the following month. The results? CON HOLD and NATIONAL LIBERAL GAIN. So, yeah. Not a huge success.

QUESTION TIME! (5 March 1960)

At least, something different. No politics, but at least there’s a sense of urgency to the programme title as anyone still up at 10.55pm tuned in to see… “a talk by the Rev. W. D. Cattanach.”

ELECTION 70: QUESTION TIME (9 Jun 1970, 11 Jun 1970)

This time a more open-ended political discussion, and one with a real General Election set to happen the following week. Harold Wilson’s Labour up against Ted Heath’s Tories. Bob Wellings chaired a debate between a group of journalists and representatives of the main political parties on the issues surrounding the election. Getting closer to the canon, but not quite there.

COMMON MARKET QUESTION TIME (2 Sept 1971-23 Sept 1971)

So close to the real thing now. This was a series of four programmes from regional centres where questions from members of the public regarding Britain’s membership of the Common Market could be addressed by policy-makers of the day. This ticks off quite a few of the key criteria: each episode from a different town? TICK (County Durham, Port Talbot, Glasgow and Coventry). Members of the public? TICK. A round table of political thinkers expected to provide answers? TICK. And crucially, Robin Day as chairman? TICK. In fact, it’s only the fact these went out under the umbrella of news magazine show 24 Hours that prevents me from including these in the overall total. Similarly, in 1974 Nationwide included an Election Question Time strand that followed much the same format, minus the future Sir Robin.

QUESTION TIME (25 September 1979)

At last, the real deal. The Beeb finally offers us a whole hour to question the ideas and decisions of today. Robin Day takes the chair on stage at the Greenwood Theatre, South London, as public personalities face questions and reactions from the general public. With him tonight: The Rt Hon Michael Foot, MP, Edna O’Brien, Teddy Taylor, The Most Rev Derek Worlock, Archbishop of Liverpool.

FINALLY. But… you know what Question Time is. An excuse for all of Twitter to get really angry at each other. Well, not all of Twitter.

44: A Question of Sport

(Shown 1933 times, 1970-2021)

SCREENCAP: Question of Sport logo, circa late-80s

So, from Question Time to a Question of Sport. For some of the quiz programmes in this list there’s a feeling they’re pretty much a constant. Mastermind has remained largely the same, no matter who the questionmaster might be. Ditto University Challenge, ditto Call My Bluff. However, when it comes to QoS, it feels (at least to me) that there are decidedly distinct eras, immediately identifiable from each other

Those of a certain age will instantly think of the Coleman-era, with faux-stadium trimmings, small-firstname-BIG-LASTNAME nameplates, all that. It’s okay, people who remember that, we’re not old. We liked the Wet Leg album, so we can’t be.

SCREENCAP: A team on a Question of Sport, Charlie Nicolas, Bill Beaumont and Peter Scudamore
“Actually David, I feel that their promise dropped off substantially following Wet Dream.”

Those of a more recent generation may find their minds immediately drift to the latter-era, the Sue Barker years, the larger set, the audience sat behind the participants (which is great if you want spend an evening looking at the back of Ally McCoist’s head, I guess), the bantz-heavy dialogue, the desperate need to be more like They Think It’s All Over.

SCREENCAP: Team line-up in a later QoS episode, Seb Coe, Ally McCoist, Will Carling.

Each generational grouping thinks theirs is the ‘correct’ QoS epoch, and that all members of the other are nought but fooles. Apart from a tiny, embittered third grouping that thought Sporting Triangles was best. The two larger generation groups decide to join forces, take on that third generation, and beat them up. With good cause. And now, nobody ever mentions Sporting Triangles. Until me, just then. But anyway.

SCAN: Radio Times listing for an early episode of A Question of Sport.

My meanderings do, of course, wholly discount a whole period of the show from before I started watching it. Hey, I’ve spent ages researching hosts of a programme I can’t even settle on a consistent naming convention for, cut me some slack. The series proper began (following a BBC North-only pilot in 1968) as a Monday teatime offering in 1970, with viewers settling down to their sausage, spuds and sport greeted by original host David Vine, along with team captains ‘Enry Cooper and Cliff Morgan. The first ever episode came with a suitable special line-up: ‘Enry joined by footballer George Best (at least according to the RT listing – I assume he turned up) and cricketer Ray Illingworth, while Cliff teamed up with athlete Lillian Board and footballer-of-a-very-different-generation Tom Finney.

Monday evenings was where the programme would stay until 1981, save for a special Sunday World Cup edition at the end of May 1970, featuring captain Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Alan Mullery versus captain Johnny Haynes, Tom Finney and Stan Mortensen, and a brief flirtation with Thursday evenings in 1975.

By the time of 1981’s new Friday night peak 7pm slot, David Coleman had taken on hosting duties, with Emlyn Hughes and Gareth Edwards serving as team captains (and future captain Bill Beaumont in a guest spot in the first episode of the series). It then spent the next few years being booted about the schedules wherever there was a spare pre-watershed spot to fill, the programme appearing in Tuesdays in 1982, Wednesdays in 1983, back to Tuesdays in 1984, before landing in a regular Thursday night home from 1985 for a few years. From 1988, it was back to Tuesday nights, where it would stay until the mid-90s.

There’s a case for arguing that the 1980s marked the height of the series’ popularity (and not just because it was popular enough to be lampooned by A Bit of Fry & Laurie). From 1983, one-off Christmas specials of the series started to appear, starting with a tantalising line-up on 29 December that year: original captains ‘Enry Cooper and Cliff Morgan made a return, with showbiz guests Max Boyce, Georgie Fame, Lennie Bennett and Anita Harris.

SCAN: Radio Times listing for A Question of Sport

The 1984 Christmas Radio Times marked an episode of the series going out on New Year’s Eve, tucked into the early evening schedules between Blue Peter Review of the Year and film Treasure of the Yankee Zephyr, though it seems this may well have been closer to a regular episode, with the series returning less than two weeks into the new year. QoS had a higher profile the following Christmas, airing in a peak 8:30pm slot on Christmas Eve, sandwiched between Kenny Everett’s Christmas Carol and a festive episode of Terry and June. On top of the prime scheduling, celeb guests reappeared on the programme, with actors John Nettles and Ray Brooks joined by comedian Eddie Large and ‘comedian’ Stan Boardman.

SCAN: Radio Times listing for A Question of Sport Christmas special

Another celebrity line-up appeared in 1986’s Christmas special (between peak-era ‘Stenders and another new Kenny Everett special), with Les Dawson, Leo Sayer, Su Pollard and Leslie Grantham, who I really hope walked on set in the same outfit he’d just been wearing behind the bar in the Queen Vic. You know, for continuity purposes.

That’s certainly a much better line-up than the one that appeared in 1987’s Christmas Special. In descending order of merit, Roy Castle, Peter Howitt, ‘controversial cricket writer’ Frances Edmonds, every single speck of dirt in the studio, and Bernard Manning. I know, bloody hell, eh? You’d think they’d learn, wouldn’t you? And yet, in 1988 – on Boxing Day, no less – Manning returned to the QoS studio, along with Tim Rice, Frank Carson and Bread’s Gilly Coman.

And with that line-up, Celebrity Christmas editions of A Question of Sport would be no more, until quite a few years into the 21st Century. Which is probably for the best. But hey, at least it means that incoming new QoS host Paddy McGuinness won’t be the worst comedian to appear on the series, so that’s something.


43: Late Night Line-Up

(Shown 1992 times, 1964-1989)

PHOTO: Joan Bakewell conducting a Late Night Line-Up interview

Right from BBC-2’s (slightly belated) launch night in April 1964, the decision was made to open each evening with broadcaster Denis Tuohy offering those awaiting a televisual feast a ten minute glimpse at that night’s BBC-2 menu. This strand would be known by the gently unassuming title of ‘Line-Up’.

The intent was to showcase the rich variety of original programming on offer by the new channel. After all, this was an age where you’d have to get up, walk across the room and change the channel on the TV itself, meaning that many viewers just sat back and let a single channel entertain them for the evening. The actual effect was that viewers may realise there’s nothing they liked the look of until later on, and took the trouble to get up and change to another channel. And so, not for the first time, the lofty ideals of a new channel were to be cast aside for something less highbrow but more popular. It’s like ITV4’s launch including a full repeat run of The Larry Sanders Show.

But that wasn’t the end for Line-Up. Add a more intellectual edge to it, change it from a glorified programme menu to a discussion programme, and put it out live. Of course, this would need to go out after the 9pm watershed, in case discussions got a bit too feisty for tea time. And not just bang on 9pm, where the runway would need to be kept clear for big flagship programmes. Late at night, that’s best. Who doesn’t like seeing a great big argument while supping up your Horlicks and getting into your 1960s pyjamas?

Plus, with nothing following it in the schedule, if a discussion was getting really riveting, the channel could stick with it until it wraps up naturally. Within the confines of Postmaster General’s broadcasting regulations, anyway – BBC2 was only permitted a certain total amount of airtime per day, but it seems there weren’t any instances of the Late Night Line-Up plug being yanked out of the socket by a furious Postmaster General in dressing gown and curlers at 1.29am. Which is a bit of a pity, frankly.

SCREENCAP: A BBC2 programme slide for Late Night Line-Up

This had the added benefit of letting BBC2 stay up later than both BBC1 and ITV, who generally went to bed at about 11.45pm. 100% audience share of 2,076 viewers is still 100% audience share, after all. And so, from Saturday 12 September 1964, late night viewers were invited to “Round off the day with Denis Tuohy and Michael Dean” for the first time. As time went on, Joan Bakewell and Tony Bilbow would also go on to be key hosts of the programme.

Initially, discussion focused on one or two interviewees, but that remit soon drifted. Wikipedia has a splendidly comprehensive list of topics and interviewees featured on the programme year-by-year, and dipping into episode descriptions for those first few years highlights how Late Night Line-Up soon evolved:

In 1965, a chat with an individual figure appears to have been the norm, such as Robert Morley (18 March), Douglas Bader (17 September) and Tony Hancock (5 October). By 1966, the remit had opened up to take in particular topics alongside guests of interest. Episodes included: Line Up Rugby / Yugoslav TV Film / Shirley Abicair (1 January), Ivor Cutler / Clifford Davis Conjuring Tricks / TV Critics (13 January), and N. F. Simpson Interview / Jimmy Edwards’s Moustache / Breakfast TV / Donald Campbell Interview / Tonia Bern Interview (7 May)

When 1967 came along, the toe-tippingly popular music of the day became too big for the programme to ignore, though there was still room for discussion on other topics. So, episodes covered things such as: Discussion on building industry / Gladys Aylward (1 February), Jimi Hendrix Experience / Psychedelic Happening / Pierre Schoendoerffer (17 May) or Electronics And TV / The Rolling Stones / Discussion on the Canadian Film Industry (24 August)

By 1968, the theme seems to have navigated back toward single interviewees, though not exclusively. Episodes included: Lotte Reiniger / girls from Hammersmith County School give their views on public schools (9 March), John Peel (18 September) and Alfred Hitchcock (27 September)

SCREENCAP: John Peel being interviewed on Late Night Line-Up

By 1969, Line-Up episodes airing on Sundays offered “Late Night Line-Up’s weekly look at the cinema”, airing (and billed) under the banner Film Night, and featured stars of the screen such as Vincent Price (23 March) or Peter Finch (30 March), or individual films of interest, such as The Illustrated Man (22 June) or topical Hammer flick Moon Zero Two (13 July).

1970 saw an interesting mix of topics and interviewees, one standout in particular showing how daring this live, late-night programme could be. Episodes including Playgrounds (25 September), The Man Who Almost Won The National (29 October) and (yes, this is the standout one) Lenny Bruce Stand Up Routine (18 December). 1971 saw Saturday nights handed over to individual contributors in episodes branded One Man’s Week (or, much less often, One Woman’s Week). Weekday editions still found time to discuss other matters of the day, such as 22 October’s discussion regarding “A 4th TV Channel”.

SCAN: TV listing for 10.35 Late Night Line-Up. With Kenny Everett.
The tape of that’s not going to survive, is it? Boo.

1972 saw the (regular) series draw to a close, but not without packing a lot into those final months. Including: Welcome Little Kangaroo – Eight Years of BBC2 (21 April), Cable Vision (9 August) and Sir Hugh Carleton Greene (18 October). Plus, as a grand finale on 14 December, a discussion of BBC2 in general, with Michael Dean, Tony Bilbow, Sheridan Morley And David Attenborough

SCREENCAP: Paul Jones and Spencer Davies being interviewed on Late Night Line-Up

As might be expected from a live, late-night, free-range discussion show from the late 1960s/early 70s, not much of it still exists in the BBC’s library, and even less of it is available to view. A few clips are up on iPlayer, but it’s YouTube that really delivers, offering several entire episodes. For instance, here’s an interview with Paul Jones of Manfred Mann and Spencer Davis (19 Jan 1966), an interview with Magic Roundabout creator Serge Danot (13 Dec 1966), a discussion about the two-part ‘Man Alive’ report on homosexuality in Britain (14 Jun 1967).

Arguably the most infamous Late Night Line-Up discussion of all, A Serious Talk About Comedy (7 Jan 1966) is also on YouTube, thanks to the ever-excellent BBC Archive account. The panel includes comedy writers Marty Feldman, Ian La Frenais, Johnny Speight, John Chapman, Richard Waring and comedy producer Duncan Wood. The clip however starts with an intervention by comedy writer and playwright John Antrobus, who… clearly wasn’t invited. But that wasn’t about to stop the writer of the The Bed-Sitting Room having a good old go at getting involved. The remainder of the discussion is no less spirited, aided by it being a noticeably smoke-filled and drink-fuelled one.

SCREENCAP: John Antrobus being led off the set of Late Night Line-Up

That wasn’t the end of the Line-Up, however. A new live episode of the programme aired as part of the Festival 77 season on 1 August 1977, with guests David Frost, Dennis Potter and Christopher Morahan. The programme returned for a full week as part of BBC TV’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 1986, with Michael Dean, Tony Bilbow, Joan Bakewell and Sheridan Morley as guests. In 1989, a package of series highlights was screened as part of BBC2’s 25th anniversary hullabaloo*. Finally, and not qualifying for the total here, BBC Parliament’s Permissive Night (26 May 2008) included a one-off comeback episode, with Margaret Drabble, Peter Hitchens, Michael Howard MP and Lord Robert Winston discussing the liberalising legislation of the 1960s.

(*First person to leave a comment saying “no, that’s the other kangaroo” wins a shiny shilling.)

42: See Hear!

(Shown 2014 times, 1981-2021)

Right at the start of the Moving Pictures era of the entertainment industry, deaf people were on an even footing with everybody else. Picture houses showing the latest flicks by Chaplin, Keaton or Lloyd could be enjoyed by hearing and hard-of-hearing alike, with inter-title caption cards explaining dialogue to the entire audience.

Then, The Jazz Singer came along. Al Jolson’s “You ain’t heard nothing yet” signalled the start of the end of that equal footing, where deaf audiences would start to need a strong lip-reading game to enjoy the latest cinematic hits.

The situation for deaf people hoping to take part in popular culture didn’t improve with the advent of television. For those early pioneers of the tube, it was enough of a challenge throwing hours of live content into thousands of cathode-ray tubes each day, providing verbiage to match would have proved an insurmountable task. And, for the most part, it would continue that way for several decades.

Not that there was nothing. Starting in 1952, Jasmine Bligh introduced For Deaf Children, where sign language was used to include deaf children in the fun and games. But, it was hardly a regular helping of fun, totalling just a single twenty-minute programme per month. In January 1955, monthly children’s programme Monday Magazine launched, with the RT listing highlighting the programme’s suitability for deaf children. That at least meant there was now only a two-week gap between programmes for deaf children, but still very little for them once they left childhood.

There were also occasional one-off or short run programmes catering for deaf viewers. January 1963 saw a production of The Magic Shoes featuring members of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf Mime Group, a programme arranged in co-operation with the Royal National Institute for the Deaf. Later that year, a couple of multi-part Sunday Stories included “interpretations for the deaf” by Joan Turner as Cyril Fletcher read for viewers – ‘The Childhood of Helen Keller’ ran from 17 March until 14 April 1963, while ‘Ambassador in Bonds’, a story of blind missionary to Burma William Jackson, ran from 24 November to 8 December of the same year.

For Deaf Children certainly had a good innings, running until 7 February 1964, but a month later came a key change in the way programming for deaf children was presented. Vision On arrived in the slot vacated by For Deaf Children – 5.35pm on Fridays – but now aired fortnightly. And that wasn’t the only change. Surveys had shown that one of the favourite BBC-tv programmes for deaf viewers was Top of the Pops. Pops’ fast-moving format made it feel like viewers were part of the coolest party in town, and deaf viewers were still able to enjoy the lower frequency notes of those swinging sounds of the sixties. That livelier approach was at odds with the sedate pace used in For Deaf Children, and producers Ursula Eason and Patrick Dowling set about making things a bit livelier with Vision On.

The new programme’s remit was entertainment over education – hey, it’s Friday evening, after all – and the need for subtitles or sign language was drastically reduced by making the action within the new programme almost entirely visual. Noises were, to all intents and purposes, off. The new programme would encourage viewers to dive into their imagination by serving up sequences both sensible and silly, and while the approach was likely to attract the attention of a wider audience, the goal was always to serve deaf viewers.

The programme was a major success, running until 1976, hoovering up awards, and helping introduce a number of names that would become key to children’s television over the next few decades, such as Tony Hart, eccentric inventor Wilf Lunn, Silvester (then ‘Silveste’) McCoy and the work of a certain company later known as Aardman Animations.

And yet – despite the wider (and likely more cross-generational) appeal of Vision On, deaf adults were left wanting (aside from Saturday evening News Reviews on BBC2, which “for the deaf and hard of hearing” were afforded “a commentary [that] appears visually”. Y’know, subtitles.

For those with deep enough pockets to procure an early teletext-capable set, subtitles were already a common option for deaf viewers. The birth of Ceefax in 1974 allowed for text-based accompaniment alongside TV programmes, though it took until 1975 for the first Ceefax-subtitled programme to appear. Appropriately enough, that first-ever subtitled programme was This is Ceefax, a late-night documentary presented by Angela Rippon, looking into the new service that remains an amazing innovation for the time.

Initial audiences for Ceefax subtitles were limited. Indeed, that initial audience for those inaugural subtitles: one household. Specifically the household of Ceefax editor Colin McIntyre, location of the country’s only privately-owned teletext set at the time. That kind of limited launch may well have been for the best – at this early stage, subtitles had to be keyed in live, transmitted at each punch of the enter key, which combined with the far-from-comfortable keyboards at Ceefax HQ, made for very hard, unforgiving work. Much more information about those early days in this entertaining post by Adrian Robson, part of the initial editorial team of Ceefax, and the person who’d put out those first ever subtitles.

Then, eventually, 1981 happened. And so did See Hear!, a new weekly (weekly!) programme for people with hearing issues. And it was set to run for at least twenty weeks. No wonder the programme’s title felt the need to append itself with an exclamation mark – this was big news for the underserved community.

From this point on, while there’s certainly no real scope for criticising the BBC’s earlier output for people with hearing problems (save for their lack of frequency), See Hear! really did offer a fresh perspective. Broadcast with open subtitles and in BSL (by Martin Colville), and hosted by deaf presenter Maggie Woolley, promising to cover news, views and entertainment, and generally cramming in as many genres as the budget would permit. Well, to be fair, the team behind the programme had a lot of time to make up for.

The format proved to be a success, leading to special editions of the show coming from the nations and regions, plus topical specials themed around the 1983 General Election, technology and education. In 1984, the line-up was bolstered by the introduction of Clive Mason, who would go on to be the programme’s longer-serving presenter, and who would become a major part of the programme’s regular Christmas and pantomime specials.

By 1990, the brand had even grown beyond the main programme, with each morning’s signed-and-subbed BBC2 rebroadcast of the previous hour’s BBC1 Breakfast News bulletin going out under the title See Hear Breakfast News. This also proved a success, with the practice becoming a true simulcast of the BBC1 7am bulletin from 1995.

In later years, the provision of programming for people with hearing problems was greatly expanded, providing viewers were willing to record overnight Sign Zone broadcasts. However, that did little to dampen the success of See Hear!, with the programme currently (at the time of writing) in its 42nd series. That said, perhaps as a result of Sign Zone’s longevity (plus iPlayer allowing for more user-friendly scheduling of signed content), See Hear! output has fallen since 2013, and the series is now back to going out on a monthly basis. That’s a shame, but See Hear! really did so much show how much more television can do to help keep the hard-of-hearing community informed, entertained and included. Long may it continue.

41: Town and Around

(Shown 2044 times, 1960-1969)

Nominally “a daily presentation of news and views from London and the South-East”, but this was more than just local news. Thankfully, or I’d have to remove it and renumber the entire list. This is more of a magazine programme, and therefore CAN be included in the rundown. Phew.

So, what was Town and Around? Well, other than the standard write-up in the Radio Times – “a news magazine for South-East England” – it’s not especially easy to find out. In fact, of all the programmes I’ve covered so far, it’s been the hardest to find any information on. It doesn’t help that the cruel hand of fate placed my birth several years after the programme finished, so I’ve no personal memory to draw on.

Here’s what I have been able to find out, accompanied by some best-guesses that will be disproved in the comments within an hour of this post going live.

What with it going out in the regional news slot in London and the South-East (it making the list because, at the time of pulling all the data, that was the region used for the listings in Genome), it makes a kind-of sense that it would be less newsy than the regional news in other parts of the UK. After all, with That London being the focal point of the majority of current events going on in the UK, all of the capital’s newsworthy events had just been covered in the national news bulletin. And so, despite only needing to full a short ten- or fifteen- minute slot, it seems there was room for other non-news content.

What sort of content? Well…

PHOTO: Front cover of the book Town and Around Recipes (BBC Publications, 3 shillings)

Cooking was certainly one of the topics covered. Enough cooking to generate not just one cookbook containing 100 recipes, but a follow-up containing a further hundred. And it wasn’t even billed as a cookery programme.

PHOTO: Front cover of the book 100 More Town and Around Recipes (BBC Publications, 4 shillings)

When it comes to compiling these entries, there are a few sources I consult for some added information. No, not Wikipedia. Only sometimes Wikipedia. The obvious starting point is the BBC Genome website. But also, the scans I’ve accumulated of elderly Radio Times issues, a variety of books on television history, several newspaper archives and a collection of BBC Yearbooks. Here’s the net sum of what I’ve gleaned from those sources for Town and Around:

SCAN: Front cover of the BBC Handbook 1960

From the BBC Yearbook 1960: “The year saw two notable developments in regional broadcasting – the introduction of Television News for north-east England from the Newcastle studio and Town and Around’ the magazine programme for London and south-east England.”

A good start in a section on regional broadcasting. With it being a daily programme focused on the capital of Britain, it’ll surely get regular mentions each year, right? Right?

Yes. By which I mean: no. The next reference to it comes in the BBC Yearbook 1965.

SCAN: Front cover of the BBC Handbook 1965
Scan of page listing some BBC Books : 
"IN PREPARATION, TO BE PUBLISHED SHORTLY, PRICE TO BE ANNOUNCED:Recipes from 'Town and Around' by Zena Skinner. A collection of recipes, some old, some new, but all with a difference, from home and abroad."

And again in the 1966 yearbook:

SCAN: Front cover of the BBC Handbook 1966
Scan from BBC Yearbook 1966: "`Home Cooking' (2s 6d); `Town and Around Recipes' (3s); `Everyday Cookery' (ls), and 100 More Town and Around Recipes (4s) are booklets which offer a wide variety of menus from traditional English dishes to Continental cookery."

But, in the 1968 yearbook – a reference to the series isn’t about cooking!

SCAN: Front cover of the BBC Handbook 1968
Scanned page text: "The outlets served by these resources make a sustained demand throughout the twenty-four hours. In television they include all the scheduled news bulletins, `Town and Around' and equivalent magazine programmes of the other regions on BBC-1, together with `Made In Britain', a weekly programme reflecting Britain's export effort."

…admittedly, it’s not about much at all. But wait, in the BBC Yearbook 1969, a bit of a revelation:

SCAN: Front cover of the BBC Handbook 1969
Text from book page: "ZENA SKINNER'S FIFTH BOOK OF RECIPES - A further hundred recipes from `Town and Around' on BBC-1. 4s."

A fifth book containing a hundred recipes by Zena Skinner? Fair dues, she was carrying that show.

Other than that, there’s very little out there. My hopes were raised when a Google search threw up an article in America’s Journal of Marketing Research (Vol 6 No 2, May, 1969). Sure, I needed to register with ‘digital library for the intellectually curious’ JSTOR to take a peek, but this would be worth the trouble.

Here you go, stats fans.

A printed table marking "Observed and Predicted Duplication Between Monday and Tuesday BBC Programs". It's some programme titles and bunch of numbers that really don't explain a lot.
Yeah, good luck picking the bones out of that.

So, what have we learned? Well, for one thing, I really should have tried to claim this programme was too news-adjacent to include in the rundown. That would have saved me a lot of trouble. But mainly, an appreciation for the work ethic of Zena Skinner.

PHOTO: Zena Skinner pictured with Leslie Crowther and Peter Glaze in a promotional picture from Crackerjack

Well done, that lady.

Oh, also Nigel Kennedy appeared on it when he was seven. Thanks, Radio Times 16-22 July 2022.

SCAN: Programme listing for Nigel Kennedy at the BBC on BBC Four.

And – here’s one out of left field – thanks to the Mustard Project website, a “TELLEX Transcript of interview with Pro-Vice-Chancellor, ‘TOWN & AROUND’ Monday 20 May 1968: 5.55pm”. So, one extreme to another. Starting with photos of some cookbooks from eBay, ending up with actual internal BBC documents. Full document here if you’re curious.

So, in short – nobody reading this is about to pick Town and Around as their specialist subject on Mastermind, but at least you got to see some covers of BBC Yearbooks. So, that’s not nothing.

Phew, that took a long time to research and write. Hope you enjoyed it, and let’s hope the next bunch of programmes don’t include any that haven’t aired within the last fifty years. Toodles!

Until that next update, if you want to take a peek at some BBC Yearbooks, the World Radio History website has got you thoroughly covered.

8 responses to “BBC100: The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (45-41)”

    • Thanks! And I’d say both are at least equally valid, though ‘dues’ is more applicable here. [Taken from StackExchange…] According to the Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed., fair do’s is “something that you say in order to tell someone that you think something is fair.” Fair dues is about equally common but has a different meaning, akin to “give him his due.”


  1. Hi Mark. Any idea of when we’re likely to get the next instalment? I’ve been eagerly awaiting the top 40 for some time. I’ve got a pretty shrewd idea about what’s likely to be at the top of the list and I’m dying to know whether I’m right!


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