BABY BAB-AI! It’s the 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (22 and 21)

So close we can taste that top twenty.

22: Eggheads

(Shown 3049 times, 2003-2021)

Hang on, what’s a Channel 5 programme doing on here?

Admittedly, I really don’t know much about the series. Never watched it, and one time some work colleagues were thinking of taking part, and one suggested to me that they’d like me to become an Egghead with them. Given the person who’d asked me was bald, I was unable to immediately dispel the suspicion I was about to have my head shaved.

Anyway, let’s crack out ChatGPT and see if I can work out where it’s wrong using my own feeble human brain? Over to you, Chatty. If nothing else, it’ll distract it from destroying society for a few minutes.

“Eggheads” is a British television quiz show that first aired on BBC Two in 2003. The show is produced by 12 Yard Productions and is hosted by Jeremy Vine. The format of the show features a team of five contestants, known as the “challengers,” competing against a team of quiz experts known as the “Eggheads.”

Oh dear. Not off to a great start. Eggheads actually started airing on BBC One in November 2003. Look, here’s the Genome entry and everything. Not a bigtime slot or anything, tucked away in lunchtime between a new episode of Cash In the Attic and the 1pm News bulletin. But still, BBC One. Not Two.

It actually first aired on BBC Two in Monday 10 May 2004, going out at 2.55pm between an airing of 1955 Barbara Stanwyck vehicle Escape to Burma and a Flog It!, if you’re wondering.

My feeble human brain: 1, AI: 0

The original Eggheads team consisted of five members: Chris Hughes, Kevin Ashman, Judith Keppel, Daphne Fowler, and CJ de Mooi. Each member of the Eggheads team is a former quiz show champion, with several holding titles such as Mastermind and University Challenge champions.

Yep, I’ll give you that.

My feeble human brain: 1, AI: 1

The show quickly became popular and was moved to a prime-time slot on BBC One in 2008. The format of the show has remained largely the same over the years, with each episode featuring a series of rounds of general knowledge questions.

Well, it had mainly been a BBC One programme at first anyway. Of the first 70 broadcasts for Eggheads, 63 of them had been on BBC One. I’ll call for a steward’s enquiry over it quickly becoming popular, though. It took until 23 May 2005 for the ‘Heads to first arrive in the slot it’d be most closely associated with – weekdays at 6pm on BBC2, at which point it made a fleeting appearance in the weekly Barb Top Thirty for the channel – sneaking into the arse-end of the chart for the first couple of weeks in the teatime slot (between 24th and 29th place on the weekly lists for weeks ending 29 May 2005 and 5 June 2005, if you must know), but after that it disappeared from the Beeb ratings for BBC2 until August of that year, when a week of airings at 17:15 – a lead-in for a fresh batch of Weakest Links – saw it reach the BBC Two top ten for the first time. It wouldn’t return to that BBC2 top ten until the following May, and even then only for a single episode.

My feeble human brain: 2, AI: 1

Oh, and it never aired in a prime-time slot on BBC One, either. Don’t know where you picked that up from.

My feeble human brain: 3, AI: 1

The challengers are given the opportunity to select a category for each round, and the Eggheads team must answer questions on that topic. If the challengers answer more questions correctly, they win the round. If the Eggheads answer more questions correctly, they win the round.

I mean, yes that’s technically correct. But you’re not getting a point for saying how a quiz works.

My feeble human brain: 3, AI: 1 (Goal disallowed)

Over the years, the Eggheads team has grown, with several members joining and leaving the team. Some notable former Eggheads include Barry Simmons, Pat Gibson, and Lisa Thiel. The current lineup of Eggheads includes Kevin Ashman, Judith Keppel, Barry Simmons, Chris Hughes, Steve Cooke, and Lisa Thiel.

While the number of eggheads has indeed grown over the years, putting together a list of just three notable ‘former Eggheads’ that includes two people you then say are current Eggheads is poor form. For shame. Also: the current line-up of Eggheads doesn’t include Judith Keppel. She left in October 2022. Pfft.

My feeble human brain: 4, AI: 1

The show has been a success for the BBC, with over 2,000 episodes produced as of 2021. In addition to the main show, several spin-offs have been created, including “Celebrity Eggheads,” “Revenge of the Egghead,” and “Eggheads Jumbo Quiz.”

Not going to knock the claim of ‘over 2,000 episodes’, as that’s the reason it’s here, so well done there. But, (and feel free to correct me in the comments, fellow squashy human brain beings) there’s never been a thing called “Eggheads Jumbo Quiz”. Poor show, ChatGPT.

FINAL SCORE: My feeble human brain: 5, AI: 2


Yeah, right. Hey, Supposed AI Menace That Will Doom Us All, do a picture of you being outwitted by me, a genius.


21: Pebble Mill

(Shown 3137 times, 1972-2004)

In this age of ENDLESS TELLY, it’s a bit weird to consider that back when Britain just had a tiny handful of channels to keep us entertained, they didn’t even bother broadcasting throughout the daylight hours, let alone overnight. If you’d scored a day off school with some horrible 70s Scarfolk disease (probably mumps), you might settle down on your brown and orange sofa, pull up your warming if scratchy blanket (also brown and/or orange) to watch whatever might be on telly. Except: the daytime TV menu seldom contained anything other than “For Schools comma Colleges”, which was hardly fun. Maybe there’ll be something else on after that… oh it’s an hour of the test card. Or, if you’re lucky, ‘Interval’.

I always felt a bit cheated that I was born too late to see what the difference was between ‘Closedown’ and ‘Interval’. Presumably one of them had different music to the other. Anyway, it was all the fault of that ruddy Postmaster General, limiting the aggregate totals of hours in which TV can broadcast in a given week, meaning Britain’s TV companies sensibly opted to do so during hours where more people would be watching. If you were a daytime viewer, the occasional public service remit broadcast of Nai Zindagi Naya Jeevan (see list passim) or Dechrau Canu Dechrau Canmol (see a small part of a future list-part) might be all you get.

However, October 1972 brought a bit of good news for Sickday Britons – the GPO bigwigs loosened their grip on the broadcasting reins, affording the nation Proper Daytime Telly for the first time. Nothing new before noon during termtime, mind – those hours were still reserved for broadcasting programmes for schools and colleges, but at least the hours between the lunchtime news and the start of children’s programming around 3pm could be filled with something other than Test Card F. And so, from Monday 2 October 1972, BBC-1 viewers got to experience Pebble Mill At One for the first time.

Welcomed to the airwaves by the Daily Telegraph’s Richard Last as “one of the first genuinely new programmes to emerge from unrestricted daytime hours”, Pebble Mill At One offered up at least a couple of new things.

THING ONE: a daily jaunt to plucky upstart regional outpost, um, Birmingham. Hey, it was a novelty at the time.

THING TWO: The whole affair coming from the foyer of the titular (and for the period, pretty darned modern) Pebble Mill studios. For a nation used to the hard-hitting likes of Tonight, 24 Hours and Panorama, this was a much gentler affair under the auspices of editor Terry Dobson. No custard creams were in danger of being dropped into cuppas.

If nothing else, it was probably a relief to the BBC that the building was doing something to help earn its upkeep. Constructed at the cost of £6m and initially decried as a white elephant, by the time Pebble Mill at One came along, the studios themselves – all 6500 square feet of them – were often filled to capacity (which might explain the need to fill At One in the foyer), but it took a while to reach that stage, such was the concentration of TV talent in London during those early years.

…At One came about thanks to former manager of BBC Radio Leeds, Phil Sidey. By 1972, he’d found himself in the role of Head of Network Production Centre, Birmingham, and having previously worked on 24 Hours and Nationwide, he certainly knew his way around a daily live production. Using his contemporary Midlands location, he was able to offer viewers what was considered a “non-Metropolitan view” of British life, which certainly helped sell the concept to BBC1 controller Paul Fox. With their moneyed rivals over at ITV busily preparing their own daytime TV schedule, a thrifty Beeb was never going to have the budget to take on an ITV line-up containing the likes of Emmerdale Farm, Lunchtime with Wogan or Crown Court on their own terms. But it did have that innate BBC talent at putting together reliable live programming on a daily basis.

To front the programme, former newsreader Bob Langley was chosen, having been deemed suitably avuncular for the new programme. Throw in a theme tune and title sequence that made the whole thing look like a precursor to Dynasty, and Cup-a-Soup Britain would never be the same again.

As mentioned, it was certainly didn’t hurt that BBC Pebble Mill was finally being used frequently. Theoretically, given its status as a single entity, the BBC should have been freed from the multifranchise bunfight between the big ITV regions trying to get their own shows to a national audience. In reality, the BBC regions were having an equally tough time getting their content shown nationally, with niche shows turned breakout hits like Pot Black or Gardener’s World the kinds of exceptions that found regular audiences.

The hope was that this would change. Pebble Mill became home to an English Regions Drama department, headed by David Rose, original producer of Z Cars, with fare from the department including a series of Thirty-Minute Theatre plays, alongside provincial offerings for the Play For Today strand. Luckily, things soon worked out for the Pebble Mill Studios, with it going on to become home to (at least briefly) Top Gear, Doctors, Telly Addicts, Howards’ Way, Juliet Bravo amongst others.

Back to 1972 and the studio’s daytime mainstay, and the Times didn’t seem particularly enamoured with the new programme, with TV reviewer Stanley Reynolds referring to it as “aggressively lower brow” and (it’s still 1972 there, this wasn’t as much of a cliche then) something that “makes Blue Peter look like Panorama”. He’d waited until December to write that, too.

Despite that stinging broadsheet rebuke, Pebble Mill at One went on to because a resolute rock within BBC-1’s daytime schedule, gradually picking up a fiercely loyal audience. Plus, it didn’t exactly hurt that it saw plenty of Golden Age of Light Entertainment stars popping in for a lunchtime chat.

And, this being something I have to mention as it always pleases me, if circumstances led to it going out at a time other than 1pm sharp, the programme title was occasionally amended accordingly:

By 1974, the programme was popular enough to warrant its very own Christmas specials. Still in the daytime schedule (on 23 and 24 December, mind), but they’re using the word ‘spectacular’ in the listing, so something big must have been going on. Not big enough to let them borrow an actual studio, but still.

In 1976, Pebble Mill at One was considered such a safe pair of weekday hands, the decision was made to make a Saturday night spin-off of the programme. As such, Saturday Night at the Mill roared into life at 11.30pm on 6 March 1976, pretty much as post-watershed as it was possible to get. So, what debauchery could an audience who’ve just tumbled in from the Dog and Trumpet with a belly full of Watneys expect? Well, the Daily Mirror’s preview of the programme promised a programme every bit as “bland, folksy and fairly predictable” as the daytime counterpart. Indeed, the safe pairs of hands Bob Langley and Donn MacLeod were on hosting duties, with the premiere episode featuring guests Michael Bentine, Elaine Delmar and Buddy Greco. There was also time for “a nostalgic look at British films and television of twenty years ago”.

Not going to lie, that’s probably preferable to The Jonathan Ross Show on ITV.

While it hardly set the TV schedules ablaze at the time, Saturday Night at the Mill certainly proved a sturdy weekend outpost for BBC1, running until July 1981. The final episode saw hosts Bob Langley and Jenny Hanley joined by Honor Blackman, Griff Rhys Jones and Edward Woodward. Not a bad way to bow out. And at least they’d finally settled on a co-host for Langley by that point. Previous co-hosts had included Hayley Mills, Liza Goddard and writer Anrianna Stassinopoulos, none of whom apparently proved a success. The latter reportedly failed as a result of her Greek accent proving impenetrable to the parochial ears of the viewing public – Stassinopoulos lasted just five episodes.

Additionally, if nothing else, Saturday Night… led to one of the great Not Quite The Right Names Of The Programme listings in 1977:

28 Dec 1977

Back at the day job, O.G. Pebble Mill at One would continue all the way through to 1986 (despite having their special ‘Pebble Mill at Ten‘ celebration in 1982 kicking off with the Black and sodding White sodding Minstrels), but by then it was time for BBC1’s shiny new daytime schedule to take over. Out went the old guard (mainly Programmes For Schools and Colleges, which shuffled over to BBC2), and in came the new Daytime UK line-up. At the hand of then-BBC1 Controller Michael Grade, Pebble Mill at One made way for a new One O’Clock News bulletin, and in October 1987 the Pebble Mill at One chat-and-chicken-soup remit was to be fulfilled by brand new early afternoon chat show ‘Daytime Live’. Which came live each lunchtime from… Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham.

By 1990, the fairly bland title of Daytime Live was abandoned for the equally unmemorable ‘Scene Today’, which really sounds more like a regional news bulletin. And so, with no small sense of inevitability, 1991 saw Pebble Mill returned to Britain’s screens, this time shorn of the ‘at One’ suffix. The regular set within the lobby of Pebble Mill Studios was retained, but by now the likes of Bob Langley had been replaced with Alan Titchmarsh, but the regular recipe of light chat and light music was retained.

Then, in 1996, this happened.

Clearly, things had got badly out of control. In March of that year, the final regular edition of Pebble Mill aired on BBC1.

And that was it. Save for a single retrospective programme on Pebble Mill, made to mark the closure of the storied studios in 2004.

Phew, we got there. Sorry this was a bit of low-energy effort this time. A proper piece of Heavyweight BBC Programming in the next update, however. See you next time, armchair Britain.

2 responses to “BABY BAB-AI! It’s the 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (22 and 21)”

  1. Marvellous overview of Pebble Mill, from an a fellow PM historian. Just out of interest, where would PM have come in your listing if you included Daytime Live and Scene Today? (I understand you might never find the time to answer this.)


    • I’ve just checked (really, how could I resist the temptation), and I make it a total of 3,674 broadcasts if you treat them as the same entity. That would put them at 17th on the list. Annoyingly, Genome lists *loads* of Daytime Live broadcasts with the precursor “News, Weather followed by”, so it’s hard to be exact.


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