When you draw a line in the sand, it’s too bloody tempting to kick that line away and draw a new one. In short: I simply don’t know when to just leave things alone.
What happened is, when writing the entry for a programme that appeared to have set for number 36 on the list, I did what I usually do, and extracted a list of broadcasts by year. And annoyingly, there was a gap. A big gap. This is a programme that had swiftly become a household name (and not just in the UK, this was a global BBC phenomenon) – precisely the sort of thing that would be broadcast daily, yet it appeared to have fallen off the air completely for two years, right in the middle of its imperial phase.
This has happened previously on the list, mind you – odd omissions in broadcast history. When it had, I’d scamper to the BBC Programme Index, do a full search, and laboriously fill in the gaps. Usually, it would be that a programme had been billed slightly differently for a while, or that it was part of a strand (the strand being afforded the ‘programme title’ in Genome, and the actual programme title relegated to the programme description). As we get closer to the top of the list, with number of broadcasts growing ever upwards, this was going to be a right old pain in the arse to continue with. But more importantly, it meant the data I’m using really wasn’t complete. Grr.
Luckily: I worked out a way to extract all the programme data from such strands without having to do it manually. For this you will need: a freeware macro recorder, Excel and Notepad++ with the multiline find-replace plugin. Oh, and quite a lot of patience. It added about 60,000 programme entries! Added those. And I found some duplicated programme entries amongst the dataset now rapidly nearing 900,000 individual programmes. Removed those. And so, I duly recompiled the full list OH BLOODY HELL SEVERAL PROGRAMMES ARE NOW IN DIFFERENT POSITIONS.
That includes the programme that kicked all of this off. It had been set to appear at number 36. It’s now at 23. And will be revealed in due course.
All of which means a couple of things. THING ONE: A tweaked Top 100. I’ve now updated all the other entries on the site accordingly. THING TWO: A programme that was about to appear at number 39 on the list has slipped down slightly. It’s now at number 42. Which is annoying, as we’re now about to reveal number 40 on the rundown.
As such, and to save you from having to go back to all the other sections to play Spot the Difference, the list thus far now looks like this…
100: Five to Eleven (Shown 883 times, 1986-1990)
99: Saturday Kitchen (Shown 890 times, 2001-2021)
98: Final Score (Shown 897 times, 1971-2021)
97: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is (Shown 917 times, 2008-2021)
96: Z Cars (Shown 920 times, 1962-1998)
95: Sportsnight (Shown 934 times, 1968-1997)
94: Fimbles (Shown 937 times, 2002-2010)
93: Rugby Special (Shown 976 times, 1966-2005)
92: For the Children (Shown 983 times, 1937-1952)
91: Postman Pat (Shown 998 times, 1981-2012)
90: Strictly – It Takes Two (Shown 1006 times, 2004-2021)
87: Nai Zindagi – Naya Jeevan (Shown 1010 times, 1968-1982)
87: QI (Shown 1010 times, 2003-2021)
87: The Simpsons (Shown 1010 times, 1996-2004)
86: Laurel and Hardy (Shown 1046 times, 1948-2005)
85: ChuckleVision (Shown 1055 times, 1987-2012)
84: Murder, She Wrote (Shown 1065 times, 2002-2011)
83: Dad’s Army (Shown 1069 times, 1968-2021)
82: The Magic Roundabout (Shown 1070 times, 1965-1985)
81: In the Night Garden (Shown 1106 times, 2007-2012)
80: The Phil Silvers Show (Shown 1107 times, 1957-2004)
79: Doctor Who (Shown 1138 times, 1963-2021)
78: Watchdog (Shown 1141 times, 1985-2019)
77: Wogan (Shown 1142 times, 1982-2010)
76: University Challenge (Shown 1175 times, 1994-2021)
75: Great British Menu (Shown 1184 times, 2006-2021)
74: Tom and Jerry (Shown 1188 times, 1967-2003)
73: The Sky at Night (Shown 1201 times, 1957-2013)
72: Call My Bluff (Shown 1208 times, 1965-2005)
71: Grange Hill (Shown 1244 times, 1978-2008)
70: Mastermind (Shown 1265 times, 1972-2021)
69: Athletics (Shown 1295 times, 1946-2021)
68: To Buy or Not to Buy (Shown 1313 times, 2003-2012)
67: Casualty (Shown 1336 times, 1986-2021)
66: Pingu (Shown 1395 times, 1990-2013)
65: Top Gear (Shown 1396 times, 1978-2021)
63: Antiques Road Trip (Shown 1449 times, 2010-2021)
63: Natural World (Shown 1449 times, 1983-2021)
62: Diagnosis Murder (Shown 1472 times, 1993-2011)
61: Farming (Shown 1488 times, 1957-1988)
60: Tomorrow’s World (Shown 1510 times, 1965-2003)
59: The Money Programme (Shown 1514 times, 1966-2011)
58: Scooby-Doo (Shown 1522 times, 1970-2012)
57: Westminster (Shown 1567 times, 1970-2001)
56: Have I Got News for You (Shown 1578 times, 1990-2021)
55: Animal Park (Shown 1639 times, 2000-2021)
54: Coast (Shown 1644 times, 2005-2021)
53: Twenty-Four Hours / 24 Hours (Shown 1684 times, 1965-1972)
52: Holby City (Shown 1701 times, 1999-2021)
51: Breakfast Time (Shown 1727 times, 1983-1989)
50: Racing (Shown 1741 times, 1946-2012)
49: Points of View (Shown 1753 times, 1961-2021)
48: Antiques Roadshow (Shown 1762 times, 1979-2021)
47: Arthur (Shown 1776 times, 1997-2012)
46: Film [xx] (The Film Programme) (Shown 1873 times, 1971-2018)
45: Question Time (Shown 1910 times, 1979-2021)
44: A Question of Sport (Shown 1933 times, 1970-2021)
43: Late Night Line-Up (Shown 1992 times, 1964-1989)
42: SEE BELOW
41: Town and Around (Shown 2044 times, 1960-1969)
And so, here are the details of the programme at Number 42:
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 Arbuckle could be frequented and enjoyed by hearing and hard-of-hearing alike, with inter-title caption cards explaining any dialogue to the entire audience.
Then, The Jazz Singer came along. Al Jolson’s famous “You ain’t heard nothing yet” signalled the start of the end of that equal footing, where deaf audiences would start to arrive at the picture house packing a strong lip-reading game to enjoy the best of Tinseltown.
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 live subtitles of caption cards to match would have proved an insurmountable task. It would continue that way for several decades.
Not that there was nothing. From 1952, the BBC’s Jasmine Bligh introduced For Deaf Children, where sign language was employed 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 ‘The Childhood of Helen Keller’. This ran from 17 March until 14 April 1963, while ‘Ambassador in Bonds’, a story of blind missionary to Burma William Jackson, employed the same tactic, running 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 would be broadcast 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 able to join that party, enjoying the lower frequency notes of those swinging sixties sounds. 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, for all practical 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 primary 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 an small company that would later be known as Aardman Animations.
And yet – despite the wider appeal of Vision On, deaf adults were left pretty wanting. Despite TV now being a household default rather than a luxury for the wealthy, if you weren’t able to hear words uttered by your telly box, you had little reason to tune in aside from Saturday evening’s News Review on BBC2, in which “the deaf and hard of hearing” were afforded “a commentary [that] appears visually”. Y’know, subtitles.
Speaking of luxuries for the wealthy, those with deep enough pockets to procure an early teletext-capable set, subtitles were a common option for deaf viewers by that point. 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 will forever remain an amazing innovation for the time.
Initial audiences for Ceefax subtitles were limited. Indeed, that initial audience for those inaugural set of 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 punched out those first ever subtitles.
Eventually, 1981 happened. And so did See Hear!, a new weekly (weekly!) programme for people with hearing issues (of all ages!). 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 a desperately underserved community.
From this point on, See Hear! really did offer a fresh perspective. Broadcast with open subtitles and in BSL (provided by Martin Colville), and hosted by deaf presenter Maggie Woolley, it came with a remit of covering news, views and entertainment, and generally cramming in as many genres as the budget would permit. 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 longest-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 BBC1’s 7am Breakfast bulletin from 1995.
In later years, the provision of programming for people with hearing problems was greatly expanded, at last 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.
And so, onto the next part of the list. Now we’re in the Top Forty, I’m going to post updates containing two programmes at a time. This will hopefully mean updates can be posted more frequently – you won’t need to wait until I’m writing up five programmes at a time before getting to read them. Enough bluster, here’s number forty.
(Shown 2144 times, 1964-2021)
Earlier in the list, we saw how The Sky at Night arrived to meet the needs of those fascinated in what other worlds may be out there. Starting in 1964, Horizon arrived with a very similar-sounding mission statement: to look at “our changing view of the universe”. However, it wasn’t going to set out an exploration of what’s out there, but rather what’s within our own floating sphere within the cosmos.
That grandiose mission was laid out in a little more detail in the BBC Yearbook for 1965. Seemed safe to say Horizon set the bar pretty darned high for itself:
Scientists themselves see science as more than an organised body of knowledge. On BBC-2 a new science magazine `Horizon’ sets out to explore the scientific attitude. This programme is more concerned with the ideas and philosophies of science than with techniques or even with new discoveries. Only when a discovery has very far reaching implications will it qualify for a place in this programme.BBC Yearbook 1965, section “The Communication of Science” by Aubrey E. Singer, Head of Outside Broadcasts Feature and Science Programmes
A lofty goal indeed, and one duly satisfied by the debut episode of the programme. ‘The World of Buckminster Fuller’ (not to be confused with the 1974 documentary film of the same name) considered the storied career of the American architect, systems theorist, writer, designer, inventor, sailor, philosopher, futurist and inventor of the geodesic dome.
Fuller was a man who brought the worlds of art and science together in a way that few in history had done before, and as such proved a suitable focus for a programme which aimed “to present science as an essential part of our 20th century culture, by continuing growth of thought that cannot be subdivided”. A world away from Gogglebox, isn’t it? And, thanks to the superb BBC Four Collections subsite that went online before the channel was stripped for parts, that opening episode is available to watch in full on iPlayer.
That desire to restrict the programme to topics with far reaching implications meant that it would air just once per month, initially on Saturday nights, later on Monday nights. By 1965, the torrent of scientific progress proved there was enough material to justify an episode each fortnight. From 1968, the rapidly expanding scientific clusterfact provided ample material for the programme to air on a weekly basis.
The dawn of the space age certainly provided a lot of fuel for the programme. 1965 episode The Stargazers looked at plans to launch new observatories into space itself, to discover more about the universe than had previously been possible, but 1966 episode Man In Space (also available on iPlayer) provided viewers with the inside story of America’s quest to send man into space – even going as far as having reporter David Lutyens climb into a Gemini spacecraft to give viewers a rudimentary lesson in controlling a manned space vehicle.
Not that Horizon was unwilling to look at scientific breakthrough back on terra firma, of course. 1967 saw a broadcast from a Montreal operating room as a patient underwent a procedure to treat their lung cancer.
Horizon didn’t merely report on a future packed with curing all human ills while whizzing about in space. 1968 episode Once a Junkie considered the seemingly-successful liberal approach taken in the UK to heroin and cocaine addiction (namely, addicts having their fix safely provided by the NHS), and looked at the different approach taken in the USA, where the problem had become a far more pressing concern. The episode in question was picked out by Daily Mail TV reviewer Barry Norman (yes, that one) as highlighting a topic of grave concern.
However, the programme could still occasionally find time for a little levity. One early episode, airing the night before 1 April 1965, was billed as being every bit as weighty as one would expect from the programme: a tribute to architect, astronomer, geologist and meteorologist Robert Hooke, a report on attempts to elucidate the baffling structure of plant cell walls, plus a Hungarian film-maker takes a wry look at man’s attempts to accelerate with a commentary by Anthony Smith. But there was one additional item in that episode which wasn’t included in the Radio Times listing.
As the Daily Telegraph would report the following day, a live TV experiment was broadcast, fronted by Professor Samuel Tolansky of Royal Holloway College, London University. The experiment saw Prof Tolansky explain how scents could be broken down into molecules tiny enough to be transmitted over the airwaves. If his theories were correct, just a few lines of a television picture could be enough to provide an aroma detectable within six feet of a viewer’s cathode ray tube. And, in order to test that theory, (you’ve guessed it) the world’s first broadcast of ‘smellovision’ was to be carried out that very night, with viewers invited to get in touch with the broadcaster if they were able to successfully detect the smell of onions from their set. Well, it was going out on the swanky 625-line BBC-2, it was a brave new world of broadcasting in general.
Tellingly, viewers were invited to report their findings by “midday on April 1”. Prof Tolansky would later explain that the real purpose of the experiment was to see how many viewers would report details of their pungent placebo effect, though I’m not aware how many viewers fell for the hoax.
Remember, “only when a discovery has very far reaching implications will it qualify for a place in this programme.” But hey, everyone needs a day off sometime.
39: Cash in the Attic
(Shown 2232 times, 2002-2017)
To add a little more detail on this one, I’ve employed the services of a Chat AI bot. Here’s how that went.
Me: Explain the BBC TV programme Cash in the Attic
Chat AI: Cash in the Attic is a British television series that was broadcast on the BBC. The show, which ran from 2003 to 2012, featured people who were trying to raise money by selling items that they had in their attics or other areas of their homes. The show’s hosts would help the participants find items to sell, and then take them to a specialist dealer or auction house to sell the items. The show was popular with viewers and ran for nine series.
Me: Sounds a bit taken-from-Wikipedia, that response. Write me an episode of BBC TV programme Cash in the Attic.
Chat AI: In this episode of Cash in the Attic, we meet Jane, a busy mother of two who is looking to raise some extra money for her family. She has heard about the show and is hoping that the hosts will be able to help her find some valuable items in her attic that she can sell.
As the hosts, Paul and Jules, arrive at Jane’s house, they are greeted by her friendly but chaotic family. Jane shows them to the attic, which is packed with boxes and old furniture. Paul and Jules start rummaging through the boxes, looking for anything of value.
After a thorough search, they find a number of interesting items, including an old record player, a set of vintage china, and a painting that Jane’s grandmother had given her. Paul and Jules explain the value of these items and offer to help Jane sell them at a local auction house.
Jane is excited at the prospect of raising some extra money and agrees to let Paul and Jules take the items to the auction. At the auction house, the items are examined by the expert and given a valuation. The painting is particularly valuable, and when it goes up for auction, it sells for a high price, much to Jane’s delight.
In the end, Jane is able to raise a significant amount of money from the items in her attic, thanks to the help of Paul and Jules. She is grateful for their assistance and is thrilled with the extra money she has earned for her family. The episode ends with Jane and her family enjoying the fruits of their hard work and the valuable items they were able to sell.
Me: Well done. Write me a Christmas episode of BBC TV programme Cash in the Attic
Chat AI: In this special Christmas episode of Cash in the Attic, we meet Mary, a retiree who is looking to raise some extra money for the holidays. She has heard about the show and is hoping that the hosts will be able to help her find some valuable items in her attic that she can sell.
As the hosts, Paul and Jules, arrive at Mary’s house, they are greeted by her friendly and festive family. Mary shows them to the attic, which is filled with boxes and old decorations. Paul and Jules start rummaging through the boxes, looking for anything of value.
After a thorough search, they find a number of interesting items, including an old set of Christmas ornaments, a vintage nativity scene, and a collection of vintage Christmas cards. Paul and Jules explain the value of these items and offer to help Mary sell them at a local antique shop.
Mary is excited at the prospect of raising some extra money for the holidays and agrees to let Paul and Jules take the items to the shop. At the antique shop, the items are examined by the expert and given a valuation. The vintage Christmas cards are particularly valuable, and when they go up for sale, they sell for a high price, much to Mary’s delight.
In the end, Mary is able to raise a significant amount of money from the items in her attic, thanks to the help of Paul and Jules. She is grateful for their assistance and is thrilled with the extra money she has earned for the holidays. The episode ends with Mary and her family enjoying the festive season and the valuable items they were able to sell.
Me: Well done, you. Okay, write a body horror episode of BBC TV programme Cash in the Attic.
Chat AI: I’m sorry, but I am not able to fulfill your request as it goes against my programming to write about violent or disturbing content.
Me: Aw. Write me an episode of BBC TV programme Cash in the Attic starring a sassy penguin.
Chat AI: In this episode of Cash in the Attic, we meet a sassy penguin named Penelope who is looking to raise some extra money for her penguin colony. She has heard about the show and is hoping that the hosts will be able to help her find some valuable items in her attic that she can sell.
As the hosts, Paul and Jules, arrive at Penelope’s house, they are greeted by the feisty penguin and her colony of playful penguin friends. Penelope shows them to the attic, which is filled with boxes and old trinkets. Paul and Jules start rummaging through the boxes, looking for anything of value.
After a thorough search, they find a number of interesting items, including a collection of seashells, a set of hand-carved penguin figurines, and a vintage map of Antarctica. Paul and Jules explain the value of these items and offer to help Penelope sell them at a local flea market.
Penelope is excited at the prospect of raising some extra money for her colony and agrees to let Paul and Jules take the items to the market. At the flea market, the items are examined by the expert and given a valuation. The map of Antarctica is particularly valuable, and when it goes up for sale, it sells for a high price, much to Penelope’s delight.
In the end, Penelope is able to raise a significant amount of money from the items in her attic, thanks to the help of Paul and Jules. She is grateful for their assistance and is thrilled with the extra money she has earned for her colony. The episode ends with Penelope and her penguin friends enjoying their newfound wealth and the valuable items they were able to sell.
Me: I’m sensing a theme here. Still, good work, Chatty.
Chat AI: Thank you! I am a large language model trained by OpenAI, and my purpose is to assist with general knowledge and provide accurate information to the best of my ability. I am glad that I could help you.
Me: How much longer do you think I can drag this out?
Chat AI: I think you’re pushing your luck already. Cut to the Broadcast History.
There we go. You don’t even want to know how long this update took, and that’s even after clearly cheating on one of them because I really don’t care about Cash in the Attic. Chris Kamara didn’t even host the BBC version.
The next one shouldn’t take as long, except one of the two programmes is something that has been airing on the BBC for 82 years. Erk.
Reader Guy Barry mentions in the comments that there’s one other addition right near the start of the list, with Fimbles making a surprise appearance at 94, but not getting a mention here. Guy is, of course, quite correct – here’s that entry now, so save you hunting it down.
(Shown 937 times, 2002-2010)
As if to heavily underline the sheer volume of episodes you need to produce if you want a daily slot on pre-school TV (Bagpuss wouldn’t get away with only ever making about three episodes in this day and age), Fimbles ran from September 2002 to September 2004, and in that time clocked up 200 episodes. Two hundred! Even thinking about the person who typed up the end credit text for all those episodes is quite tiring. Still, the antics of Fimbo, Flurrie and Baby Pom proved popular enough, with the programme running on CBeebies for almost the entirety of the channel’s first decade, making the nascent channel’s weekly BARB top ten on 136 occasions. And it didn’t fare too badly on the main BBC channels either, becoming a fixture on BBC2 for the best part of a decade.
2 responses to “The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (40-39, plus 100-41 again, especially 42)”
Thanks very much for doing this! Two minor points: I note that “Fimbles” has appeared in the list at number 94, when it wasn’t in the old list, which means that people might have missed the write-up; and shouldn’t “Cash in the Attic” be at number 39 rather than 38?
Both fair and accurate points – well spotted! I’ve corrected the numbering for Cash in the Attic, and appended the entry with the write-up for Fimbles. Admittedly, I’ve just repurposed the write-up for that from the CBeebies article I’ve already written on the site, and as it’s a very short one, I didn’t think it was really worth placing here, but on reflection it should really have been included here.