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: Film [xx] (The Film Programme)

(Shown 1873 times, 1971-2018)

SCREENCAP: Barry Norman hosting Film 86

You know, as in Film 88, Film 89, Film 90… I mean, I could go on.

So, who was the first host of Film XX? A few things to note: the programme was originally only shown in the London region, it started in 1971, and if it was the person in the photo above this text it wouldn’t be much of a question.

Indeed, the inaugural host of what would become the BBC’s flagship film programme, was actually journalist-turned-novelist Jacky Gillott. 

SCREENCAP: Jacky Gillott hosting Film 71

Jacky Gillott’s career started in newspaper journalism, but soon moved toward broadcast journalism, becoming ITN’s first female reporter.

She’d later give up reporting to concentrate on a literary career, with ‘Salvage’, the first of thirty novels to be written by her, published in 1968. Aside from novels, she’d continue to contribute written work to publications such as the Sunday Telegraph, Cosmopolitan and a role as regular book reviewer for The Times. With this in mind, she was chosen to cast her critical eye on cinema for the initial six-episode run of the BBC’s new series, and she would go on to return as host several times throughout the next few years.

In addition to fronting each episode of Film 71, she was a regular on Radio 4 art programme Kaleidoscope, as well as the station’s Any Questions? and Woman’s Hour. She’d also go on to make several appearances in Call My Bluff and book discussion programme Read All About It. Sadly, Gillott’s storied career was offset by back pain, insomnia and deep depression. She went on to take her own life in September 1980, a few days shy of her 41st birthday. After her passing, her former newspapers The Times and Telegraph printed thoughtful eulogies celebrating her warm, thoughtful and witty personality. A story sadly ending many chapters too soon.

SCREENCAP:  The Film 72 logo

Following the programme’s initial run, Film 71 returned in January 1972 (craftily retitled ‘Film 72’), with initial episodes hosted by a rotating line-up of hosts, starting with (a theme developing here) journalist-turned-writer (and subsequent long-time Cosmo agony aunt) Irma Kurtz.

From the sixth episode of the series, a new host took to the Film 72 chair: the one who would be most closely associated with the role for the next 27 years. That episode of the series saw Barry Norman (for it is he) carry out an interview with Peter Bogdanovich, director of the Last Picture Show, and cast his critical eye over Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Caine film Zee and Co. Still only airing in That London, the host’s seat for Film 72 was very much a hot one, with other hosts such as Joan Bakewell and Frederic Raphael also taking a turn, but it was Barry Norman who’d get to host the first edition of the show following an Oscar night, and get to chat with some of the lucky winners.

Before his stint as the BBC’s one-man Rotten Tomatoes, Norman had embarked on a journalism career that led him from The Kensington News through jobs at The Star in South Africa and Rhodesia’s Herald, then back to the UK for roles as gossip columnist for the Daily Sketch, showbusiness editor for the Daily Mail, and penning columns for The Observer and Guardian.

SCAN: Newspaper article on Barry Cryer, headlined "The Man Who Warmed Up David Frost", written by Barry Norman.
Daily Mail, Friday 17 Feb 1967

Our Barry didn’t just express himself journalistically. In amongst his newspaper endeavours, he found time to write a number of novels, including his third, ‘End Product’, set in a grotesque future dystopia where apartheid spread far beyond South Africa, and where new depths of inhuman cruelty become commonplace. A satire so biting readers should probably check it hasn’t drawn blood, it clearly being inspired by Norman’s spell covering events in South Africa and Rhodesia. More information on the book can be found at Ransom Note. Not a piece to be read while eating lunch, mind.

PHOTO: The front cover of Barry Norman's novel End Product.
End Product by Barry Norman, Quartet Books (published June 26, 1975)

So, having proved himself to be something of the critical polyglot, Barry Norman joined the rotating line-up for the BBC’s new film review series. It was a good fit. Norman’s father Leslie Norman had worked as a film director, with an oeuvre stretching from social drama (1961’s ‘Spare the Rod’) to B-movie sci-fi (1956’s ‘X the Unknown’) and several points in between. Barry himself had taken to television with appearances on Late Night Line-Up, and proved to be every bit as pithy in person as in print.

Not that he’d be restricted to covering cinema once his feet were under the metaphorical Film XX desk (unless in some years they actually had a literal desk, I’ve not checked). Barry Norman would go on to present episodes of Omnibus, several one-off documentary series for the BBC and ITV, and along with Elton Welsby, serve as main anchor for Channel 4’s coverage of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games.

SCREENCAP: Barry Norman hosting C4's Olympic coverage on a very TVam-ish sofa.
I know that’s a sentence that seems surprising now, but yes, really.

Aside from TV work, Norman could also be heard regularly on Radio 4, presenting Today, being the original chairman of The News Quiz, hosting travel series Going Places and even fronting early 1980s home computer series The Chip Shop. But, Film XX would be the programme most closely-associated with him. He would go on to host the series until 1998, when the big bucks of BSkyB finally coaxed him away from the BBC.

As a result, from Film ’99 onwards, Jonathan Ross held the presenting baton. Having previously helmed a number of shows on cult cinema for Channel 4 (including The Incredibly Strange Film Show, Jonathan Ross Presents for One Week Only and Mondo Rosso), having mainstream TV presenter Ross take up the gig was much more sensible than it may initially have seemed. He’d go on to hold the role until 2010.

SCAN: Photo of Jonathan Ross behind a director's chair

From 2010 onwards, the hosting gig passed to Claudia Winkleman, who had hosted Sky’s live coverage of the Academy Awards for the previous few years. Flanked by film journalist Danny Leigh, Winkleman’s tenure lasted until 2016, after which hosting duties went back to the Film ’72 standard, with a rotating line-up of hosts.

A variety of faces would go on to front the programme during that final flourish (such as Zoe Ball, Edith Bowman, Charlie Brooker and Clara Amfo), but by now the annual helping of episodes had been reduced from the doughy dollops of years past, to mere fun-sized episode orders in the early parts of 2017 and 2018. The final episode saw Al Murray hosting alongside critic Ellen E Jones and writer Deborah Frances-White, as Ready Player One, Isle of Dogs, Journeyman were the final films served up for their consideration.

GRID: Film XX broadcast history

44: A Question of Sport

(Shown 1933 times, 1970-2021)

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

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: Question Time

(Shown 1946 times, 1979-2021)

So, from a Question of Sport to Question Time. 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.

42: Late Night Line-Up

(Shown 1987 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.)

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.

6 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.”


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