BBC100: The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (36&35)

After a sport and an incredibly popular kids TV programme last time, how about something different? This time we’ve got… oh.

36: Golf

(Shown 2487 times, 1938-2021)

The first piece of actual golf-related TV programming that I can find came in March 1937, with Golfers in Action. A mid-point between a demonstration and an interview, where Bernard Darwin embarked on a series of broadcasts where he would put(t) questions to professional golfers of the day. That chat would be accompanied with a demonstration by each golfer on “the miniature golf links in Alexandra Park”.

Given the programme title, that’s not something I’m going to count here – it’s more of a golf discussion programme, to be fair. The earliest qualifying content I’ve been able to find came on 12 November 1938, with the no-nonsense programme title ‘GOLF‘. This would be a practical demonstration of the sport, carried out by Ernest Bradbeer (“professional to the Calcot Golf Club”) rather than any live tournament coverage, because the prospect of someone lugging huge BBC-tv cameras around an entire golf course wouldn’t have been popular with groundskeepers.

With that very limitation in mind, demonstrations of the sport were the way to go for the next few months, until 1 June 1939. The main focus of that day’s golfing programme was another demonstration (this time by Archie Compston, Bradbeer presumably being lost in the rough somewhere) but this time the tutoring was accompanied by “part of the match between Reg Whitcombe and Bobby Locke”. A grand breakthrough, indeed.

A new era of sporting coverage that was, as we just saw with the history of Wimbledon, disrupted entirely by the war.

It took until 1946 for golfing coverage to return to BBC-tv (along with TV in general, of course), but there was very little in the way of true matchplay action. For the most part, cameras wouldn’t travel any further than the Alexandra Park Golf Course for a series of demonstrations. Archie Compston was still on hand to lead post-war Britain back onto the fairway, before handing tutorship duties to fellow pro Bill Cox.

1948 was a year completely devoid of golfing action on the Television Service, but in 1949 it looked like it might be coming back in a Big Way. BBC-tv teed up a chunk of a Saturday afternoon in January to the sport, with a one-off strand of Saturday Afternoon Golf, combining demonstrations with play at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes of the High Course, Ricksmanworth. Was golfing coverage about to spread across the schedules?

It most certainly was not. Between the remainder of 1949 and the whole of 1950, the closest golfing fans would get was a screening of ten-minute short film Rough But Hopeful starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Randolph Scott and ‘other Hollywood stars’ as they swipe their way around a golf course in California. It took until June 1951 for any homegrown footage of the sport the reappear under the BBC banner, with a demonstration on how to improve your short game airing as part of Television Sports Magazine.

That state of affairs lasted until June 1952, when the BBC broadcast full tournament coverage for the first time, with action from the awkwardly but accurately named Daks Two Thousand Pounds Tournament at Wentworth. This even warranted a mini-feature in that week’s Radio Times Talk of the Week pages:

Golf from Wentworth
On Thursday and Friday — and for the first time —television cameras will cover some of the play in the £2,000 golf tournament at Wentworth, an event which attracts a distinguished list of entries. The players taking part in this stroke play competition organised by the Professional Golfers’ Association include John Panton (last year’s winner), Henry Cotton, Frank Stranahan, Dai Rees, and Bobby Locke.
The qualifying rounds will be played on two Wentworth courses, and television cameras will cover the second hole of the West Course, known as the Burma Road because of its great length and jungle-like appearance. On Thursday viewers will able to see a special competition arranged for television in which many leading professional golfers will take part.

Talk of the Week, Radio Times Issue 1493, 22 Jun – 28 Jun 1952

Big time. This was the third edition of the tournament, where winner Fred Daly was awarded £400 (from a total prize fund of £2000), and was all over the schedules on 26 and 27 June 1952. Admittedly, two half-hour visits to Wentworth on the 26th and a further thirty minutes the following day (and subsequent five-minute update at 6pm “to hear the result of the tournament”) isn’t much, but it was a hell of a lot more than had been seen in previous years. Yet, the coverage only showed action on the second hole of one of the courses – a bit like only showing the second minute of a football match – but at least it showed the there was room for BBC cameras on a golf course during a major tournament.

BBC cameras returned to Wentworth in September 1953, this time for first ever television screening of the Ryder Cup, and coverage was expanded even further. Well, guests were coming over, it was only polite. Monday 28 September saw a special preview programme where “Henry Longhurst introduces members of both teams and discusses with Major Peter Roscow the organisation of this week’s golf match at Wentworth”. That was followed by 30 minutes of live coverage on the opening day of the tournament on Friday 2 October, with a whopping 90 minutes of live coverage on the second and final day.

This time, the BBC aimed for coverage from five of the eight matches taking place in the morning, and from six of the eight from afternoon play. As it turned out, that may have been too lofty an ambition – mist caused a delay of eighty minutes on the morning of day two, likely scuppering the BBC’s live coverage. Oh, and the USA won, because they always did until Britain gave in and asked the rest of Europe to help.

1954 didn’t see a single slice of golf airing on the BBC, but it was back in a big way for 1955. Friday 20 May saw BBC cameras trundle up to a Scottish golf course for the first time, as coverage began of the amateur Walker Cup at St Andrews – another Anglo-American match-up – with the subsequent schedule dominated by golfing action. On the opening day alone, live coverage of the tournament’s foursome matches ran from 10am-1pm, 3.30-5pm, as part of the Children’s Television strand(!) running from 5-5.55pm, then from 5.55-6.15pm. That was followed by highlights of the day’s play at 10.15pm.

With that much time to fill, you’d better hope there’s more than a solitary camera pointing at the second hole. Luckily, BBC engineers’ newfound confidence when it came to covering golf really paid off. Only four cameras were in play, but crucially two of them were mounted on a specially-constructed sixty-foot tower inside the course’s famous ‘Loop’, from which at least eight holes could be caught on camera. In order to power the cameras, 1.5 miles of GPO-supplied cable was permanently put in place, to allow for coverage of future events. To cap it all off, generators were installed to power the lot, having been specially engineered to avoid distracting the golfers.

From that point on, golf would become a major part of the BBC’s sporting portfolio, coverage that continued to expand as technology’s perpetual progress provided smaller and more mobile cameras. Even the figures below don’t tell the full story of how large a part golf played in BBC Sport’s output, with much of the coverage folded into Grandstand, Sportsview other multi-event envelopes. On top of that, midweek coverage was routinely combined with that of other similarly all-day events, such as cricket, snooker, horse racing or tennis. If we were counting those, you can add a further 274 broadcasts to the total.

Further to that, there was a wealth of golf-adjacent programming. The most famous of these is probably Pro-Celebrity Golf (1975-1989, 141 episodes), famously responsible for the brilliant sporting fact that the longest televised putt in British golfing history was by Terry Wogan, but there were other curios like Challenge Golf (1965-66, 26 episodes). This was a filmed series in which Arnold Palmer and Gary Player were challenged by pairs drawn from “the elite of America’s professional tournament circuit”. That led to spin-off show Big Three Golf (1967, 4 episodes), which followed four matches between Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, where a $25,000 purse was up for grabs. 1975 saw a British adaptation of Challenge Golf, which saw Tony Jacklin take on Peter Oosterhuis in three matches, at three different courses, to try and land the Formica Trophy and £6000. I’m not counting any of those in the overall figure, by the way.

Even in modern times, a point in TV history where all the big sporting events are snaffled up by subscription sport channels, golf still retains a major sporting presence on the Beeb, albeit often just the highlights of tournaments broadcast live elsewhere.

35: You and Me

(Shown 2554 times, 1974-1995)

Sesame Street. A series that practically everyone in the UK has heard of, despite it not being shown on British broadcast TV in the last twenty-plus years*. Indeed, it’s a bit of a televisual anomaly. What with the programme geared heavily toward teaching American-English, lots of bespoke versions of the series have cropped up around the world, but there was never a version of Sesame Street made for (mainland) British audiences. We have our own educational programmes, thank you very much.

(*Except, that’s not quite true. Northern Ireland had its own version – Sesame Tree – in 2008, which aired on BBC Two NI and nationally on CBeebies, running for a considerable forty episodes. On top of that, a Sesame Street film (Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird, featuring turns by Sandra Bernhard, John Candy, Chevy Chase and Waylon Jennings, aired twice on BBC One, in Jan 1989 and April 1992. Also, lockdown mini-episode ‘Elmo’s Playdate‘ aired on CBeebies and BBC One in May 2020. So, it’s basically never been off the telly. But ignore all that and roll with the narrative I’m trying to present here.)

But Sesame Street was huge here before 2001, right? Well, Sesame Street’s road to UK audiences was actually (but fittingly, because Britain) beset by potholes. The BBC passed on showing the programme, due to its focus on American-English, eschewing the option of having each instance of “Zee” overdubbed with a stern “Zed”. ITV’s interest in the series involved an unusual amount of due diligence, the network first commissioning “A Report from the Independent Television Authority in Association with the National Council for Educational Technology, London Weekend Television, HTV, and Grampian Television” called Reactions to Sesame Street in Britain**. The end result of which was basically: British educators hated it, but test audiences of children and parents loved it. And as a result, it was shown in various ITV regions throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

(**Sadly, the report isn’t online anywhere that I can find, despite a few online academic papers citing it as a reference. However, you can request a physical copy of the report from the National Library of Australia, if you’re a member of that. And are in Australia.)

The BBC preferred to open up its own route to teaching Sesame Street’s target audience, with a concerted Corporation attempt at producing a very similar series. Inspired by research taken by the Children’s Television Workshop to devise Sesame Street, it used academic research papers to determine how best to serve a target audience of British four- and five-year-olds. The programme that resulted from all this research was (yes, I’m about to finally arrive at the point) You and Me.

At this point, it really does become quite clear how hauntology is a distinctly British thing. For example, here’s a reminder of the line-up for Sesame Street in the mid 1970s:

All fine, friendly and cute. Meanwhile, here’s one of the hosting duos for You and Me. Presenting Vicki and Duncan the Dragon.

Duncan the Dragon (left), Vicki (right). Maybe Original Bungle wasn’t so uniquely terrifying after all.

If you’re jigging on the pin-tip of the cultural zeitgeist like I am, the above image may remind you of the ‘QTV’ videos put out on YouTube under the same of Quentin Smirhes. If you’re not aware, it’s basically an unsettling fictional television channel located somewhere on the dial between ‘unsettling fever dream’ and ‘the year 1974’, and where you’ll find stuff like this:

It’s brilliant, and considering the “Don’t You Start” spoof educational programme in one video, includes a nicely observed pastiche of BBC Schools educational output of the time, especially You and Me. Not that it’s a parody many people would pick up on, I suspect. At least, the only reason I made the connection is finding the following snippet from a You and Me offcuts compilation on YouTube, which includes a seconds-long clip of one-time framing device for the series Herbert The Handyman, along with puppet robot Mr Bits and Pieces.

But what actually was You and Me? The Wikipedia entry for the series is useful, but hardly packed with information. A lot of people reading this will likely associate the series with puppet characters Cosmo and Dibs, by far the most fondly-remembered characters from the programme, but preceding them were (going by Wiki) the aforementioned Herbert The Handyman (played by Tony Hughes), slightly unsettling stop-motion animal duo Crow and Alice (both voiced by Nigel Lambert, who’d later go on to narrate the first series of Look Around You), and (as pictured above) Vicki and Duncan the Dragon.

Later episodes saw the return of Duncan The Dragon alongside new human companion Sam. I’d wager that making him smaller is an attempt to make him less threatening to the audience of under-sixes, but just look at him. There’s no way of shaking the suspicion that the second the camera stops rolling, he’ll be flapping this way out of the window to try and eat a Smurf.

That information aside – and given the clips I’ve been able to find, the above all seem to be from between 1979 and 1983 – it’s not as easy to find any details on the contents of the programme before then. Not without looking into the BBC Handbook 1974, that is.

From there, we can see that the remit of the programme was as follows:

In response to an increasing recognition of the importance of the early years in a child’s education, the BBC has begun to provide school programmes for the four and five year olds. In television, the series You and Me is designed for children in reception and nursery classes but it is also suitable for viewing at home or in playgroups and it is hoped that it will act as a bridge between home and school. The programmes aim especially – though not only – to help in the development of language skills, and a picture book, with a simple text, has been published to accompany the series. Playtime on radio is planned to meet a need expressed by a great many teachers with reception classes, nursery classes and playgroups, for an active programme of music, movement, rhymes, stories and poetry. It sets out to en- rich the vocabulary and imagination of the 4-5 year old children, to further their physical and emotional development and to help them adjust to the communal life in the classroom.

The off-their-time hosting segments linking constituent parts of the programme aside, it’s easy to see how You and Me did help to paint a picture of the wider world for a target audience stuck in a 1970s living room. Filmed footage of families going off and doing things (often kids off doing something outdoorsy with Dad, or indoorsy with Mum, because it’s the olden times), often in a way that helps illustrate the meanings of key words befitting the theme of each episode, coupled with recitals of nursery rhymes and fairy tales. And, like in Sesame Street, there would often be animated sequences to further illustrate key points. Even if the animation budget wasn’t quite at the same standard as the Children’s Television Workshop.

Indeed, modest BBC budgets were never going to make You and Me a true peer of Sesame Street. For one thing, Sesame Street usually had a whole hour for each episode, and while segments would routinely be re-used, I don’t recall ever complaining about seeing the pinball cartoon about numbers for the thousandth time, because it was a treat. You and Me tended to have a running time of around twelve minutes, but it made up for that discrepancy by offering British kids something Sesame Street never could – a relatable world the recognised and felt comforted by. A world where Lyon’s Maid lollies cost 5p, where School signs adorned pavements not sidewalks, and where nobody would spell ‘colour’ without a ‘u’.

However, in 1983 the gap between You and Me and its illustrious American counterpart closed considerably. The programme was retooled to bring it into the 1980s, and alongside a new version of the theme tune by UB40(!!) came two new lead puppet characters: Cosmo and Dibs. Much friendlier than the likes of Duncan, the pair were created by Lucasfilm and Jim Henson collaborator Timothy Rose, whose career ranged from Admiral Ackbar to Howard the Duck. The new presenters were an instant hit with children, or at least the ones I grew up with. While earlier episodes were still being shown, there was a very distinct feel to the programme following the introduction of Cosmo and Dibs, throwing the earlier episodes with Duncan into pretty sharp relief.

Now, alongside teaching children about words and real-world experiences, there seemed to be more emphasis placed on emotional knowledge. The lead puppets were certainly much friendlier, but the focus of the show wasn’t afraid to handle topics that earlier series of the show may well have shied away from. Topics such as bullying, conflict resolution, sharing, unhappiness or simply just being silly would be covered by the twosome, along with a wider range of human helpers.

Cosmo and Dibs, along with Bill Owen, Jeni Barnett, Gary Wilmot and Indira Joshi

Perhaps the most notable of these is the (now infamous) ‘Harry’s Cousin’ episode from 1987. One of five special episodes on the theme of Keeping Safe, this episode saw presenter Harry spot Cosmo telling his address to a stranger. This resulted in a firm warning that while it’s nice to be nice, people aren’t always kind, while reassuring Cosmo that saying no if you don’t feel safe is a perfectly good response. And while you can’t shake the feeling that some may now view that episode with a detached post-Brass Eye Special LOL NONCES smirk, who knows how many kids were helped by that very approach. Far from well-meaning but occasionally hectoring public information films of the era, Cosmo had become someone the audience could truly identify with, and had become someone they learned alongside, rather than learned from.

The range of education offered by You and Me was so comprehensive it now takes several different series to cover the same ground. Alphablocks, Numberblocks and (now) Colourblocks are doing precisely the kind of thing earlier episodes of You and Me would do, Bing helps younger kids come to terms with expressing and acting upon their feelings, while Hey Duggee helps kids find ways to express themselves creatively. In short, it’s a bit like how Radio One needed to hire five DJs focused on new music to replace the late John Peel.

Or, if you prefer, it simply had Lots and Lots For You To See.

UPDATE 21:18 29 JAN: Thanks to Twitter’s UKPRES1 for posting some parts of that “Reactions to Sesame Street in Britain, 1971” mentioned up above. And so, here you go:

3. This report is based on some of the reactions to Sesame Street which this more participatory approach has made possible. It conveys the views of parents, the responses of children, and the doubts (or enthusiasms) of experts. In analysing the responses of children, it provides data which should be useful to producers of British programmes interested to educate children in the psychologically critical years of three to five.
4, Readers who scan the table of contents for a chapter of conclusions will not find one. Sesame Street and its sequel is a continuing story, and like many research reports, this one has been overtaken by events described in Chapter 6. In this country as in a number of others, Sesame Street has served to galvanise activity in television programming for pre-school children, a practical consequence which viewers will be able to judge for themselves from the Autumn of 1972 onwards, when several British pre-school productions will be on air.
5. In mounting the investigations on children's responses, we thought it important that they should not be designed and supervised by broadcasters, but by independent experts. Fortunately, the Director of the Primary Extension Programme, Mr. Frank Blackwell, welcomed the opportunity to organise the 'monitoring exercise' as it was called, as part of his work under the auspices of the National Council for Educational Technology. The Authority is most grateful to him for playing this role so willingly. The report that follows is drawn from the monitoring exercise and on other less formal exercises in feedback. It is chiefly the work of a team working under Frank Blackwell's general direction - Peter Lewis and Peter Dammheisser (ITA), Sue Stoessl and Angela Ward (IWT), Marplan, together with Gerwyn Morgan and Clare Mulholland (ITA), Francis Coleman (IWT), David Alexander (HTV) and Sheena Young (Grampien). In addition to the appendices included with this report, a supplementary volume of detailed tables (Part II) is available for readers with a highly specialist interest.

Brian Groombridge Head of Educational Programme Services June 1972
[Original Twitter reply here]

On top of that, The Guardian also reported on the, erm, report:

[Original Twitter reply here]

Thanks again to UKPRES1!

That’s it for now. Next update soon, where there’s actually be a pair of programmes that are neither sport nor children’s TV. I know, wow.

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