The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (28 and 27)
Yes, it took a long time to arrive at this next update. You can blame the ‘programme’ at number 27 on the list. Anyway, on with the next couple of entries on the list, which would have undoubtedly appeared much sooner if I’d refused to do commentary on them.
(Shown 2798 times, 1988-2021)
Earlier in the list, we found no-nonsense agricultural programme ‘Farming’ just outside the top sixty, airing 1488 times between 1957 and 1988. But what came next? Well, as eagle-brained readers may recall, it was this. But what was ‘this’?
Despite a long and storied history of spending Sunday lunchtimes offering a “weekly agricultural magazine for those who live by the land”, as the 1990s approached it was felt to be time for a wider look at rural affairs. The mission to launch the new programme fell at the muddy wellies of Michael Fitzgerald, Editor of BBC Pebble Mill’s Countryside Unit, who told the Sunday Telegraph how the purview of farmers was evolving. A lot of agricultural land was being set aside for things other than growing crops, and it was time more was done to bring that to the screen, along with covering other aspects of countryside life. Not that Fitzgerald was deserting the farming community with this new offering, vowing that new programme Country File would always keep “at least one wellie in the farmyard”.
That promise didn’t go down to well with a few members of the farming community, some sending angry letters to Pebble Mill – Fitzgerald remarking how one letter referred to the new show as a “bland, insipid programme” – but it seems most of their contemporaries (including the National Farmers Union) were content to wait and see what the new programme would bring.
Indeed, while the smell of pigswill remained in the nostrils of the new programme, early episodes certainly looked a little further afield, covering topics such as open-cast mining in Wales, canoeists campaigning for legal access to British waterways, or the shortage of low-cost village housing. However, not everything went according to plan – a planned film exploring the lives of crofters on the devout Presbyterian Scottish island of Lewis had to be abandoned when they discovered the film was to be aired on The Lord’s Day. Despite being filmed on a weekday (such was the production team’s desire not to cause offence), a pre-interview chat with crofter Neil Mackinnon led to the six-person film being sent packing before a single second of footage was shot, all because the film was to be broadcast on a Sunday.
Despite those early hiccups, the programme proved to be a success, and in July 1989 saw telly stalwart John Craven take over the hosting duties previously shared by Anne Brown and Chris Baines. The very fact that Craven would leave John Craven’s Newsround, a show regularly attracting six million viewers, for a niche lunchtime programme was certainly newsworthy. His name had been right there in the title, after all. And yet, after 17 years and 2,926 editions of the Children’s BBC news roundup, Craven shuffled his papers and bid an avuncular farewell for the last time. The day of Craven’s final Newsround – Thursday 22 June 1989 – was certainly a big day for TV farewells. A few hours after Craven’s Newsround swansong, Robin Day hosted Question Time for the final, erm, time.
At this stage, it certainly didn’t hurt viewing figures for Country File that rival channels offered less than scintillating competition. In 1990, it was usually pitted against Westminster Week, Police 5 and The Waltons on channels Two through Four. By 1992, the alternatives were generally Sunday Grandstand, ITN News/Waldon, and Little House on the Prairie. By 1994, the competing programmes were the same, save for black-and-white repeats of The Fugitive and The Phil Silvers Show on BBC2. Nevertheless, Country File was deemed a hit, and the programme duly received a commendation from the parliamentary Rural and Agricultural Affairs Advisory Committee. It would have been funnier if a bureaucratic error led to the commendation accidentally being awarded to repeats of The Waltons, mind.
By 1995, Country File was certainly popular enough to be lampooned memorably in the final episode of The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer, with John Craven portrayed as a sociopathic pest with a penchant for breaking into Dalek-speak, while Smell regulars Chris Bell, Tom Fun, Whisky and Brandy Bolland causing rural chaos in a series of segments.
The programme continued to attract a stable audience as Britain moved into a new century, and it’s fair to say it served an audience not really catered for away from the BBC. It’s a format hardly likely to pop up on Amazon Prime any time soon, after all. No, Clarkson’s Farm isn’t the same.
The show’s popularity even led to it moving into a Sunday evening slot from April 2009, with new presenters Matt Baker and Julia Bradbury joining Craven for the move. It proved an immediate success in the new 7pm slot, becoming the twelfth-most watched programme on BBC1 that week, with 5.69m viewers.
From that point on, CountryFile has continued to attract large audiences, often registering viewing figures north of eight million. The ratings high point for the series came on 7 February 2016, with a total of 8.78 million people watching Matt Baker visit a former Tyneside coalmine transformed into a country park, while Ellie Harrison looked at the restoration of Roker Lighthouse near Sunderland.
Because the BBC doesn’t want to just let a popular brand be, there were also a number of spin-off programmes. 2009 saw the first appearance of Country Tracks, which ran until 2012. 2010 saw a one-off special Secret Britain, which because a full series in 2015. And, from 2016, a series of seasonal Countryfile diaries aired, starting with CountryFile Spring Diaries, going out on weekday mornings.
It might not be the sexiest of television programmes and you’re not about to see it plastered across a digital billboard promoting iPlayer any time soon, but damn does it make for a warming Sunday evening comfort blanket.
27: Party Political Broadcasts (etc)
(Shown 2874 times, 1950-2021)
Well, contrary to what many might think, here’s a fun one. The following will help you understand the tone I’m using to express the word ‘fun’ in that sentence.
In theory, it’s a simple one. Look for programmes marked ‘Party Political Broadcast’ in Genome. And for good measure, ‘Party Election Broadcast’ before totting them all up. Sadly, it’s not as easy as that. For example, here’s a Labour local election broadcast from May 2004. Or is it?
Hidden away down there. I’m going to have to bloody well search for ‘party political broadcast’ to pick up all the instances within programme descriptions, aren’t I? Except, of course, that will also throw up a load of false positives, such as:
Sigh. So, I’ll need to vet results, to sort programme descriptions that contain (or are followed by) genuine party political broadcasts, from ones that merely refer to them. Fun. And hang on, what about stuff like:
That’s surely similar enough to warrant inclusion, especially in cases where stances on a topic are broadly split between party lines. Then, of course, you’ve got things like Budget Statements. Not a party political broadcast per se, but essentially a representative of a political party getting five minutes to point out how stupid and wrongheaded the other lot are, especially when it comes to what they’d like to do with your money. They’re little more than a PPB in accountant’s clothing. So, that’s added to the pile too.
So, in summary: for this entry I’m including pretty much everything where a politician or party is afforded a short, clearly highlighted programme slot to express an unchallenged opinion about how brilliant they – and everyone who agrees with them, which they hope includes the viewer – are. Hence the ‘(etc)’ right up there.
I’m going to be honest, the figure I’ve carved out here may well be slightly inaccurate, but there’s a point where you have to draw a line in the sand for the sake of your sanity.
ANYWAY. Some history.
Much as broadcasting didn’t begin with TV, neither did the art of using the airwaves to coax viewers into voting for your lot. 1924 saw the early British Broadcasting Company (as was) putting out the first party election broadcasts over the radio. This only came about due to no small amount of campaigning from Sir John Reith, who’d been lobbying then Postmaster-General Neville Chamberlain to allow politicians on air to make their case to potential voters in person. After initial protestations from Chamberlain that affording airtime to grubby opposition parties would be subversive, the initial proposal was temporarily dropped. However, Reith continued to lobby for their introduction, pointing out that the Post Office was happy to deliver manifestos to homes of Britain without charging for the service, and his proposal was merely a logical progression of that. Chamberlain relented, and in early 1924 the nod was given to allow the first election broadcasts.
There were just a couple of main rules that had to be adhered to. Each broadcast could be no longer than twenty minutes, and broadcasts must be unedited. That’s quite a lot of leeway for an act recently dismissed as subversive. Leaders of the three major parties – Herbert Asquith (Lib), Stanley Baldwin (Con) and Ramsey McDonald (Lab) – seized the opportunity to the max, taking full advantage of their allotted minutes to inform the public why they’d each be Britain’s brightest hope. It would be McDonald who’d win the election, forming Labour’s first-ever government, albeit a decidedly flimsy minority one.
It wasn’t to last – towards the end of that year, a fresh election had been called, and a manufactured political scandal did for the McDonald government. With the election date set for 29 October, Labour hopes of an increased vote share were roundly scuppered by a story published in the Daily Mail just five days before polling day. The gist: THOSE DAMN REDS ARE IN THE PAY OF THE SOVIETS! THEY’RE GOING TO GIVE OUR MONEY TO MOSCOW! IT’S TRUE, WE TELLS YA.
The supposedly smoking gun was a letter penned by Soviet official Grigory Zinoviev, a purported directive sent by the Communist International in Moscow to the Communist Party of Great Britain, the scheming Soviets dead set on installing a Labour government as part of a plan to radicalise Britain’s working classes.
Of course, the letter in question was completely fake, but the damage was done. Stanley Baldwin’s Conservatives duly romped home with a large majority. Newspaper dark arts aside, Political Broadcasts on the radio were now very definitely A Thing, and they were set to be broadcast exclusively over the wireless for quite some time to come.
Despite the monopoly on Election Broadcasts going to the BBC’s radio service, it wasn’t without some severe limitations. In 1947, a new formal agreement was reached between the three main parties and the BBC. The Government of the day would be able to use the wireless from time to time to explain legislation approved by Parliament (under the banner ‘Ministerial Broadcast’), provided it was delivered in a suitably dry and factual manner. Aside from that, twelve broadcasts were permitted each year (referred to in the 1952 BBC Yearbook as “controversial broadcasts”) for the three leading parties, divided up according to the vote shares at the most recent election.
When it came to cross-party broadcasts, MPs could be invited onto the radio to take part in round-table discussions on ‘controversial’ political matters, as long as they weren’t the subject of legislation at the time (i.e. topical, which negates the point somewhat). Furthermore, there was to be no discussion of issues within a fortnight of them being discussed in either House. To get a feel for that, try only listening to current affairs podcasts that are at least a month old. Not YouTube, though. This was still purely a radio-only genre, remember.
However, in the early 1950s they eventually arrived on the screens of televisually-equipped Britons. The very early 1950s, in fact. Now, a number of sources (including the Beeb’s own centenary sub-site) refer to the first televised Party Election Broadcast as airing in October 1951, where Viscount Samuel spoke on behalf of the Liberal Party, but I’m going to argue that they arrived a little earlier than that.
Saturday 4 February 1950 saw the first TV broadcast billed as an Election Broadcast, with a sound-only recording of then-PM Clem Attlee (Lab) giving a ‘talk’ airing after the (also audio-only) late night news broadcast. Subsequent broadcasts followed throughout that week, with a broadcast by Anthony Eden (Con) going out two days later, followed by Viscount Samuel (Lib) the following evening. James Griffiths (Lab), Florence Horsbrugh (Con) and Megan Lloyd George (Lib) were subsequently broadcast throughout the remainder of the week. Indeed, nightly election broadcasts aired right up until 18 February 1950, coming to a close a week before Polling Day for that year’s Election. Close your eyes now if you’re avoiding the result: it resulted in a slim Labour majority.
Now, admittedly, the Liberal Party’s minty Viscount was the first to appear in an in-vision Election Broadcast. The nightly ‘talks’ in 1950 were merely audio-only rebroadcasts of speeches given earlier in the evening on the Home Service. But still: a series of politicians afforded TV airtime to go on about how brilliant their mates all are. That’s a PPB, it was on the telly, so it counts in my book.
Still, everything would change in 1951. Eventually. A sound-only PPB aired on 13 October 1951, with Lord Woolton (Con) speaking to a nation presumably just trying to enjoy their Saturday night. But just two days later, the medium changed forever with the first official Television Election Broadcast (specifically billed as just that), going out in a plum 8pm slot. Sadly, any hardcore politicos hoping for something special to mark the occasion were greeted by… Lord Samuel flatly reciting his script as if he were on the radio, barely moving his gaze from the printed page in front of him. And, to cap it all, accidentally giving the prearranged signal to announce he’d finished, and duly getting cut-off in the middle of a sentence.
Of course, a camera being thrust in front of a Minister for Something merely resulted in production values that a YouTuber with a three-figure follower count would baulk at. A desk, a mic, some paper and (more often than not) a bit of nice wood panelling in the background. No wonder generations of kids kept asking if they could just go to bed early. This was purely by design – the filming was initially carried out by the BBC, and any sense that one party’s PPB was a bit livelier than the others would cause all kinds of kerfuffle.
Indeed, this approach still wasn’t the default for all political broadcasting. Sound-only recordings of talks given to the Home Service earlier in the evening continued for the next few years due to BBC guidelines (main parties allowed as many as six PPBs per year in audio, but a maximum of just two audiovisual broadcasts), but at least a little invention wasn’t too far away. 19 March 1954 saw the start of Radio Times billings that promised more than just “Lord Cyril Boring P.C. G.S.O.H Q.P.R.”. It’s all relative, of course, but “Meet The Labour Party: A Student’s Journey” sounded a least a little bit more interesting, as did the production credit “produced by the Labour Party Film and Television Unit”. You don’t get that sort of thing these days.
That was followed a week later by a similar attempt by Labour’s blue brethren, ‘Public Questions‘ promising a mass debate between “the Rt. Hon. Anthony Eden. M.C., M.P., Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, John Nixon Browne, C.B.E., M.P. (Govan, Glasgow), Peter Thomas, M.P. (Conway, Wales), Edith Pitt, M.P. (Edgbaston, Birmingham) and Ray Mawby (prospective Conservative candidate for Totnes)”. Is that your cathode-ray tube overheating, or just the white-hot heat of fiery political discourse? Oh, it’s the former. Turn it off at the wall.
This was a spell where, whatever else they may have been getting up to (and it certainly wasn’t winning elections), Labour had nailed the art of giving great titles for the PPBs. Such as “Conference of the World’s Press” (19 Nov 1957), “Question Time” (11 Feb 1958), “The Britain We Want” (29 Nov 1958) or “The Radical Alternative” (4 May 1960). Come on, you’d be at least ten percent more likely to tune in with a title like that.
The Conservatives later tried to take the same approach, but with less success. Well, unless you’re stirred by titles such as “The Town Hall and You” (4 May 1959), “Factory and Farm” (29 Sep 1959) or “It’s Your Council” (11 May 1960). The Liberal Party eventually had a go too, but “Get Britain Moving with the Liberals” (6 Mar 1963) just sounds like an especially boring exercise video.
As far as progress goes with the format, that was pretty much as far as it would go until Conservative Central Office got on the blower to Saatchi & Saatchi in 1979. The result: a series of five party political broadcasts that bore a closer bearing to television adverts than the staid Politician Behind A Desk format that was previously the inked-in norm. Given the fuel of James Callaghan’s infamous “Crisis? What crisis?” quote-that-he-never-actually-said, it was deemed that there was plenty to pack into those films, with spokesTory Humphrey Atkins only needing a brief cameo in the first ten-minute film, the rest being taken up by a series of strange tableaus, including a coughing planet, money frozen in ice, and a man under Union Flag bedsheets. It was hardly a ratings smash – the same week’s Labour PPB drew a larger audience – but the message seemed to resonate, and Britain was to fall into the iron grip of Conservative rule for the entire 1980s, and beyond.
Similar attention-grabbing tactics would soon ensue from other parties (though in fairness, if you were watching telly at the time you’d have to leave the room to avoid the damn things, as PPBs had to be broadcast simultaneously on all channels), the most notable perhaps being John Cleese’s SDP Broadcasts in 1987, and the most infamous being the same year’s Kinnock: The Movie.
Ah, Kinnock: the Movie. The Ronny Rosenthal Miss At Villa Park of Party Political Broadcasts? Or is it? It seemed such a cert to Labour campaign supremos Peter Mandelson and Philip Gould – Neil Kinnock’s personal popularity was faring much better in the opinion polls than Labour’s, so what better to throw focus on? Throw in Chariots of Fire director Hugh Hudson to make the thing, then just sit back and watch those polling numbers rise.
And, as it happens, it actually went down pretty well. Kinnock’s personal poll ratings rose further as a result. And so, Labour decided to use one of their remaining Party Election Broadcast slots to repeat the film. After all, things were going well for the party, as Polling Day drew closer some polls had Labour just a few percentage points behind the Conservatives, and Newsnight even predicted the whole shebang would end in a hung parliament. However, a huge marketing splurge by a panicked Tory party, who’d thrown Tim Bell in to grab the campaign reins late in the race, would ultimately lead to a victory, and a 102 majority, for Margaret Thatcher.
So basically, it’s arguable whether Kinnock: The Movie was really the disaster it was painted as, not least because the Conservatives duly copied the recipe in 1992 for John Major.
The cuddly documentary approach was refined yet further for 1997, this time with the ball batted back to Labour. The Conservatives, having pretty much realised the jig was very much up, went into full Nasty Tory mode with the comical New Labour, New Danger (which did at least inspire a great Harry Enfield sketch), while Alistair Campbell and documentary maker Molly Dineen spent months on a carefully crafted ten-minute portrait of Tony Blair. That worked. Trying to repeat the feat with a film on Ed Miliband a decade-and-a-bit later, not so much. Not sure why CCHQ didn’t try making a short film showing the real Boris Johnson in… oh, right.
Of course, your everyday general Party Political Broadcasts (and their higher stake Election Broadcast brethren) aren’t the only thing included in the broadcast total here. There are also local elections (“if elected, we promise more bin days”), Queen’s Speech Responses (“look what you’ve elected, you idiots”), Budget Responses (“look what you’ve elected, you broke idiots”), Mayoral Election Broadcasts (London only for the purposes of this list, the first ever broadcast of which seems to have gone to the Green Party), and Party Election Broadcasts for the European Parliament (in which millions of idiots voted for a party who wanted to abolish it, but whose MEPs happily pocketed their Brussels pay-packets and pensions despite doing very little actual participation in the European Parliament, then pretended that this proved some kind of point). There were also National Assembly broadcasts for the non-England nations, but those aren’t being included here.
And then there were the referenda. The most curious of which – at least to someone writing in the perspective of it all happening long before their time – was the 1975 EEC Membership Referendum. That deserves a longer write-up, but this piece has gone on long enough already, and you’re all keen to move onto the next programme in the list (which is surprisingly, and my database might have got corrupted here, Bobby Davro’s Public Enemy No 1), so I’ll just state that it seems to be a right old curio when viewed through post-Brexit eyes. Nearly the entirety of the national press supporting the ‘Yes’ campaign, with the largest No-backing paper being the Morning Star. The staunchly pro-Labour Daily Mirror pointedly using a front page to dub refusenik Tony Benn as the Minister of Fear. Referendum Campaign Broadcasts reportedly getting audiences of up to 20 million. Cats and dogs living together. All that.
After that, at least as far as UK-wide referenda go, it would be a long time before another referendum campaign kicked in. Much to the chagrin of The Referendum Party, James Goldsmith’s rabble of hoorays that stood in the 1997 General Election on the basis that if elected they’d hold a referendum on EU membership, act on the outcome, and then immediately dissolve as a political party. And they went all out in their attempts to reach that goal, outspending both Labour and the Conservatives on press advertising. Sadly for them, it all amounted to very little – in seats where the party was standing, they gathered an average vote share of just 3.1%. Though, y’know, lose the battle win the war etc.
The first actual national referendum after 1975 came about in 2011, with the Alternative Vote referendum. Cooked up as a fudge between coalition partners Liberal Democrats (partner in the Syd Little sense) and Conservatives (partner in the Eddie Large sense), with the former having really wanted true proportional representation on the ballot, and the latter just wanting to be left alone to get on with closing libraries, it didn’t really seem to satisfy many. In the end, only 32% of votes went to the Yes campaign, and we’re stuck with First Past the Post until the end of time.
Then there was 2016. But, y’know, ew. Also, due to the list using the default London region listings, the Greater London Authority referendum of 1988 is included. Look, nobody said all this was going to be interesting.
In short, Party Political Broadcasts are a format that will be with us for a long time yet. That’s despite the fact they’re becoming decreasingly effective, given falling audience figures for the channels that show them. With the remaining live TV viewing audience spread across more and more digital channels that have no obligation to show PPBs, and millions more largely ignoring broadcast TV almost entirely, the main focus on getting political messages ‘out there’ is via sponsored online content, which seems to mean (at least in some quarters) going straight for the scaremonger jugular even quicker and harder than ever before. And I say that as someone who remembers Party Election Broadcasts from the late 80s onwards, where a common tactic was shot-on-film dramatisations of Life After You Vote For The Other Lot, which invariably seemed to resemble the first twenty minutes of Threads.
To be fair, my usual reaction to seeing the exit polls at 10pm on Polling Day is generally a dismayed “they’ve only gone and bloody done it”, so it does all fit together.
Phew. It’s all over. It’ll probably be something a bit lighter next update. Or at least something that won’t take so much pesky research. So tune in again soon.
The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (30 and 29)
Into the Top Thirty we go, and a real treat in store for anyone hoping to see a picture of Ken Burras examining a Luffa. Kicking off with a programme promising to make the most out of new-fangled colour television.
30: Gardeners’ World
(Shown 2736 times, 1968-2021)
Borne out of Percy Thrower’s Gardening Club (526 episodes, 1955-1967), Gardeners’ World promised a fresh look at gardening for the colour TV era. It’s a format that made for ideal comfort viewing for many, perhaps making it no surprise it’s a programme that’s still with us today.
Gardener’s Club may have offered “a weekly date for enthusiasts to meet Percy Thrower and his gardening friends”, but Gardeners’ World set goals that were a little more lofty. Writing for the Radio Times in advance of the first episode on 5 January 1968, producer Paul Morby set out his stall. For the full effect, you may want to start listening to some Elgar… now.
For twelve years Gardening Club on BBC-1, with Percy Thrower and professional or top amateur guests, has served the nation with its gardening facts, techniques and inspiration. During my eight years’ association as producer, I have opened 100,000 letters which have said ‘thank you’ to the artists concerned.
I realise that we must have exasperated and disappointed, even insulted viewers on many occasions: the connoisseur breeder of orchids has little patience with a programme about polishing onions for the showbench. But our commission has been to serve all levels of gardener in the entire British Isles.
No hobby is practised here with greater devotion and skill than gardening. It is not just a ‘weekend pottering’; it is an Art as well as a Craft. Its exponents, who practise in all sizes and shapes of garden, on allotments, in backyards, patios, or window-boxes, will continue to be the audience we aim at.
After our opening feature from Oxford with Ken Burras, programmes are waiting on garden design and garden history, on carboys, cacti, and houseplants, on chrysanthemums, tomatoes, and dahlias, for the millions who fight every year to achieve ‘their best crop ever.’ Percy Thrower will be there for these programmes, and there will be film visits to some of the great National Trust and private gardens.
The British people have a right to be proud of their gardens, and of the enormous range of plants, introduced by collectors from every corner of the world, that will thrive in our climate. A plant that once grew only in the Himalayas now lives and brightens corners of Wapping, Wakefield, and Wick.
Those splendid amateurs who cultivate the finest vegetables and fruit are served by the professional skills of research stations, trial grounds, and top nurserymen.
There will be no limits to the plants and places covered by Gardeners’ World.Paul Morby, Radio Times issue 2303, 30th December 1967
Stirring stuff. Not that Gardeners’ Club was the first horticultural programme ever put out on the television service, of course. 21 November 1936, only a few weeks into the life of BBCtv, saw the first Gardening Demonstration by broadcaster (and “one of the most popular talkers on the air” according to the Radio Times) C H Middleton, and while the audience will surely have been tiny, the benefit of seeing an actual garden (albeit in 405 lines on a tiny screen) offered an immediate boon over any radio equivalent. And so, with Middleton’s demo of autumn pruning techniques, a distinctly British genre of television broadcasting was born.
(Aside: despite the lack of moving pictures, gardening tips had long been popular on the radio by that point, and had been running since the early days of the BBC. Ever since 2ZY Manchester broadcast Gardening Notes by P. Langford for the first time in November 1922, in fact. And even now, it’s clear Gardeners’ Question Time will outlive us all.)
Following those early Morby-helmed episodes, Gardeners’ World would go on to become a fixture in the BBC2 schedules (and an occasional visitor to the BBC1 daytime schedules in 1973, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1993 and 1994, if you’re wondering). In all that time, while broadcasting norms have evolved, from the days of the early BBC2 Colour service to modern-day HD widescreen, the content has remained the same: amiable presenters chatting about what to do with the things that grow in your garden, things you might like to start growing in your garden, and hey! get a load of these gardens. No attempt to focus on attracting a greater share of the 18-24 demo, no Top Gear-style rebrand, the only changes coming when someone like Alan Titchmarsh regenerates into someone like Monty Don.
It certainly hasn’t hurt matters that the show has been popular. Very popular, in fact. Looking at the publicly-available BARB viewing figures from 1998-2018, GW has been a hardy performer, being the most-watched BBC2 programme on 44 different weeks throughout that period, during its post-millennial peak posting the kinds of numbers that TV producers would strangle their nan for today. It has featured in BBC2’s weekly top ten no less than 482 occasions during that period. Given there were only (by my reckoning) 600 different episodes during that period, that’s an especially impressive feat.
In fact, who’d like to see a rundown of the ten most-watched Gardeners’ World episodes of the last 25 years? Because that’s what’s about to happen.
- Fri 27th Feb 2004 (4.57m viewers)
With spring around the comer, the team get started on the £20 flower border and meet a novice vegetable gardener, while Monty Don inspects the Berryfields garden after its first winter. With Chris Beardshaw and Sarah Raven.
- Fri 19th Mar 1999 (4.61m)
Gay Search helps viewers to gain inspiration in the first of six features focusing on design. Stephen Lacey visits an Oxfordshire garden rescued from ruin by the late interior designer Nancy Lancaster, while Pippa Greenwood offers advice on sowing vegetable seeds in her organic kitchen garden, and Alan Titchmarsh provides more timely tips from Hampshire.
- Fri 9th Apr 1999 (4.64m)
Gay Search’s garden-design course reaches the stage when she gives a guide to choosing flowers and foliage. Pippa Greenwood picks out tomato seedlings and sows carrots, parsnips and cauliflowers in her organic kitchen garden, while Stephen Lacey explores the garden rooms surrounding a former vicarage near the Norfolk coast. Alan Titchmarsh imparts advice from his Hampshire home.
- Fri 26th Feb 1999 (4.65m)
Stephen Lacey travels to sunny California to find the colourful horticultural antidote to the grey skies of the British winter; Pippa Greenwood plans ahead for a fruitful garden and a bumper harvest by giving her guide to planting fruit trees; and Gay Search visits the peaceful haven of a small cottage-style garden in Buckinghamshire.
- Fri 16th Apr 1999 (4.67m)
Gay Search concludes her Living Space features by looking at garden furniture and accessories. She also visits a spring garden in Clevedon, Somerset. Stephen Lacey takes in the spring bulbs at the public gardens of Highdown in the South Downs, and Alan Titchmarsh gives his weekly tips from his Hampshire garden.
- Fri 14th Aug 1998 (4.69m)
While Alan Titchmarsh offers topical advice on gardening jobs for the weekend, Gay Search visits a national collection of penstemons flourishing in Portland Bill, Dorset. Ceri Thomas views some exotic vegetables growing on Asian-run allotments in Handsworth, Birmingham, and Stephen Lacey visits Ireland to see a classically inspired shady garden in Dublin.
- Fri 26th Mar 1999 (4.72m)
Stephen Lacey explores the garden rooms surrounding a former vicarage near the Norfolk coast, Pippa Greenwood gives advice on sowing vegetable seeds in her organic kitchen garden, and Gay Search continues her guide to garden design with surveying and soil testing.
- Fri 7th May 1999 (4.76m)
Gay Search provides a simple design solution to transform a shady passageway, Pippa Greenwood builds a new compost bin in her organic kitchen garden and Stephen Lacey pays his final visit to Beth Chatto’s garden in Essex, where he explores the lush plants around the water gardens. Alan Titchmarsh provides more advice from his Hampshire garden.
- Fri 21st May 1999 (4.80m)
Dan Pearson shows how the domestic gardener can learn from plants in their natural habitats. Pippa Greenwood introduces pest controls to her test greenhouses and, following an appeal to viewers, the first spectacular small garden is featured. Back in his Hampshire garden, Alan Titchmarsh dispenses more tips and advice.
- Fri 19th Feb 1999 (5.87m viewers)
Alan Titchmarsh returns to present a new series full of horticultural hints. To mark its 30th anniversary there’s a look back at the programme’s history, while Stephen Lacey looks forward to the next millennium with reports from Paris and California on the future of gardening.
29: (The) Daily Politics
(Shown 2793 times, 2003-2018)
Now we’re definitely in an era of Too Much Politics (no? Just me? Should I stop looking at Twitter?), it seems almost quaint that it was once a thing that could be pigeonholed into occasional off-peak broadcasting nooks, generally on Sunday mornings when sensible people were busy sleeping. As we’ve previously established, for a long time the BBC’s main daily outlet for all things Westminster was, well, Westminster (aka Westminster Daily and Westminster On-Line). But come the dawn of the third millennium, politics wasn’t just safely contained within an old building on the bank of the Thames. Devolution had resulted in policy-making totems at Stormont, Holyrood and The Senedd. And so it was time for the BBC’s flagship political programme to broaden it’s horizons to other parts of the UK.
Well, okay. It still focused almost exclusively on Westminster, but it did get itself a new name and a bit of a refresh.
The start of the transition came about in September 2000, when Greg Dyke demanded a review of the Beeb’s political output. As a result of the subsequent review, the axe fell on a number of long running mainstays, such as On The Record (after 14 years), Westminster (after 31 years) and Despatch Box (just four years). The revamp came with an increased budget for political programming, which leapt from £18.5 to £23.5m per year. Think about that while watching BBC World News clumsily dumped on top of the BBC News Channel so they can stop paying half the newsreaders.
A new approach was demanded, and in 2002 some Big Changes were reported in the Guardian as being on the horizon. Changes such as a post-Question Time political roundup on Thursday nights, which became dignity-vacuum This Week with Andrew Neill, while Saturday mornings would see a new show targeted at “under-45s”, with potential presenters named as Rod Liddle, James O’Brien and Fi Glover. That programme seems to have become Weekend with Rod Liddle and Kate Silverton, which lasted for a total of… six episodes before freeing up the Saturday 9am slot for Repeats Of Old Wimbledons. Plus, perhaps inevitably given it was the dawn of digital TV, the promise of brand new interactive BBC service I-Can, reported as offering “direct participation between the public and decision-makers”. That seems to have quietly disappeared before any launch – the only other reference I can find to this on the entire internet is… the BBC press release that the Guardian article was gleaned from. I’m going to assume someone released that they could offer the same service much more affordably by just having an email address. If anyone does have any other details on I-Can, I’d love to know more.
At the centre of all this: a full relaunch and rebrand for Westminster, with a full two hour slot each Wednesday so that in-depth coverage can be provided of PMQs, with hour-long slots running, as before, each Tuesday and Thursday.
And so, on Wednesday 8 January 2003, The Daily Politics (which lost its definitive article somewhere along the way) made its debut on our screens, with Andrew Neil and Daisy Sampson at the controls.
(For the record, as this was billed as “the successor to Westminster”, I’m treating it as an individual programme, and not a continuation of Westminster/Westminster On-Line/Westminster Daily, because it was complicated enough as it was.)
The new approach proved to be a successful one, so much so that the programme moved from three to five episodes per week from April 2005, with hour-long episodes on Tuesdays and Thursdays reduced to half-hours, with new half-hour episodes on Mondays and Fridays. By 2012, these five episodes were complemented by a sister show each Sunday, with the appropriately-named Sunday Politics differentiating itself from the main show by incorporating regional opt-outs allowing for local political affairs to be covered in appropriate depth. (NOTE: I’m treating Sunday Politics as a distinct entity, by the way.)
All good things must etc, and in 2018 – after fifteen years on air – it was time for Daily Politics to be replaced with something fresher, or as the BBC press release at the time had it, “to improve its digital coverage, better serve its audiences, and provide more value for money”. Inspired by the pacier stateside approach of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and aiming to coax the wider range of people interested in politics via social media and podcasting back onto the legacy medium of TV, Politics Live vowed to be more discursive and conversational, and less beholden to topics MPs would prefer to be discussed. Plus, in a nod to the changing times, studio guests were given reusable branded plastic cups, rather than Daily Politics’ branded mugs.
And so, on Tuesday 24 July 2018, Daily Politics aired for the very last time, the final episodes coming with the promise of “a political jamboree on College Green”. And, following that political par-tay, The Daily Politics was dead, and in came Politics Live, fashionable lower-case lettering and everything.
If only they knew how busy the next few years of politicking would make them.
You’ll notice Daily Politics was only ever broadcast once on BBC One. If you’re wondering, that was on 13 July 2016: “Andrew Neil and Jo Coburn present live from Westminster as David Cameron conducts his final Prime Minister’s Questions before handing in his resignation.” Remember him? Seems so long ago, doesn’t it?
That’s that. A pair of programmes a tad less sexy than Top of the Pops (and Pointless), I’ll grant you. But get your hotpants ready for the next thrilling installment. Excitement is on the horizon: guaranteed.
The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (32 and 31)
Ooh, almost within the Top Thirty. And this time around, it includes two examples of Peak Beeb, so that’s nice. Here goes:
(Shown 2656 times, 2009-2021)
Yes! For the first time in ages, a programme I won’t need to do a lot of research on because I’ve probably watched most of the episodes. Oh, wait, my memory. Okay, I’ll do research as well.
For the uninitiated, the premise of the programme is quite simple. A hundred people have been asked a series of questions beforehand (generally either a standard general knowledge question, or of the ‘can you name a’ variety), and the results of each straw poll logged. During each episode, pairs of contestants are asked those same questions, the goal being to provide correct answers that were given by as few of that hundred as possible – the highest score at the end of each round sees a competing couple eliminated. If a contestant provides an answer that nobody from the hundred had thought of – a pointless answer (hey, like the title of the show!) – during the main part of an episode, £250 is added to the running jackpot. If they do so during the final round, they scoop said jackpot, and it’s reset to £1000.
Simple. Didn’t need do put together a flow-chart or anything. Which isn’t always the case for daytime quiz programmes. Remember Golden Balls? I n case you’re even more uninitiated about Pointless, it’s spent the majority of the last eleven-plus years in BBC One’s prime pre-news weekday 5.15pm slot. And it doesn’t look like shifting from that position any time soon – at the time of writing, the Celebrity spin-off of the series is going out on primetime Saturday night BBC One. It’s hosted by Alexander Armstrong (who, between this, Hey Duggee, Dangermouse and all his other stuff, seemingly features at least once on every BBC channel per day) and originally co-hosted by Richard Osman (a longtime gameshow schemer thrust onto the programme after impressing in a pitch of the show to the BBC), with the show currently co-hosted by a rota of guests while Osman builds his global media empire. Oh, and it was originally going to be called ‘Obviously’, which sounds exactly like a programme title that would run for 20 weeks at 2pm then disappear forever, so it’s probably for the best that it changed.
With Pointless such an integral part of the schedules, it’s strange to think how it was once just another BBC2 quiz programme that aired for a few months, then made way for something else. That first run on weekday afternoon Two ran from 24 August to 6 October 2009, after which it was off our screens until the following March, with that 4:30pm slot going to Ready Steady Cook, Cash in the Celebrity Attic, A Question of Genius and Ben Fogle’s Escape in Time. However, Pointless proved popular enough to see Xander and Richard set up shop on BBC1 in July 2011 – and in the prime pre-news slot just vacated by The Weakest Link. They’ve barely budged since.
It’s not just the host channel that made Pointless such a different beast from what we know now. Despite having the same 45-minute runtime as modern-day Pointless, the format initially found room for a fifth pair of contestants, meaning an entire additional elimination round to cram into each episode. To make room for that, chat between Alexander, Richard and the contestants was stripped back to the barest of essentials, with the whole affair feeling that bit more relentless to the latter-day Pointless enthusiast. The head-to-head round took a decidedly different approach, too. Instead of the now-familiar ‘best of three’, a single open-ended question is asked (such as ‘James Bond films’ or ‘England managers since 1966’), and turns are batted back-and-forth between couples, who must try to keep their accumulative score as low as possible. Once a couple reaches an aggregate score above 100 (at the end of a pass, and the other remains below 100), they’re eliminated.
There are other little differences in the early episodes, too. For one thing, Alexander’s little podium seems a lot more prominent in those initial outings. There are lots of cutaways to the studio audience, which is something we never see nowadays (which at least made it easier to hide where it switched to an audience soundtrack during lockdown). The big screen containing all the answers had a decidedly postmodern ovoid look to it. The list of potential topics for the final round saw unchosen topics roll over to the next episode, though finalists were only given a single criteria on that topic. And – I recognise this might just be me here – the closer shot of contestant’s faces during the countdown sequence feels vaguely intrusive. Plus, at least in early episodes, more minutes are eaten up by Alexander giving illustrative examples of how it all works during his introduction.
Other changes to the format would come later. The ‘bonus booster’ round would appear midway through the 23rd series, itself repurposing a previously-retired question format where six possible answers are displayed, leaving contestants to work out which two might be pointless, which two might be correct, and which are completely incorrect. New question formats would appear occasionally throughout the run, such as asking contestants to identify pieces of music, or identify parts of a particular item. A further change to the format was likely influenced by outside events – the 2020 pandemic coinciding with couples now being allowed to appear in three consecutive episodes without winning, rather than the previous two. I can’t help but feel that was partly influenced by the need to have fewer contestants required on set for each day of recording, and while that’s a boon for the show’s contestants, it does dramatically reduce my chances of ever appearing on Pointless. There’s no way I’ve got as many as three personal anecdotes worth broadcasting to the nation.
The BBC1 17:15 weekday slot wasn’t exclusively the domain of Xander and Richard since Pointless arrived on BBC One, however. in July 2018, the Beeb decided to eschew repeats of Pointless and place episodes from the third series of Rick Edwards quizzer Impossible in that slot. That folly lasted until the end of the 2018 summer holiday period, and from the start of September Pointless would return to its rightful place. I’ve checked Hansard and can’t see any record of backbench fury in the Commons about this, but I presume that’s just a filing error in Westminster.
Pointless would also be bumped out of the pre-news slot for a couple of weeks in 2019, where the first few weeks of that year’s Strictly – It Takes Two leapt into the slot, Pointless having been bumped back to a 4.30pm home. Since then, however, the 5.15pm slot has remained Pointless, whether it be repeats or first-run episodes.
One curious thing I’d forgot about Pointless’ move to BBC1: the initial episodes were actually preceded by the first-ever episodes of Pointless Celebrities (which, for the record, had aired 524 times by the end of 2021, and which I’m not including in the broadcast count for regular flavour Pointless). 4 July 2011 saw “episode 1 of 5” of the celeb-based spinoff, with Julia Bradbury and John Craven among the participants. It wasn’t until a week later on 11 July 2011 that the regular Pointless would appear.
There is of course one major mystery about the series. Basically: who are the hundred people they ask all these questions to? Presumably it’s largely the same hundred people each time, rather than some luckless runner being sent out onto the high street with a clipboard the day before filming, but some of the responses do make one wonder how many of them function as a human being. I mean, I can’t bloody stand Private Eye’s ‘Dumb Britain’ column, which mocks members of the public getting general knowledge questions wrong whilst under bright studio lights and on camera, but The Pointless Hundred are presumably in a more relaxed environment. And yet – using an example from a few days ago – when asked ‘[which] anti-apartheid leader and future South African president was jailed for life in the Rivonia Trial[?]’ 67% of them said something other than ‘Nelson Mandela’. I do wish there were some kind of Pointless Patreon people could subscribe to, where you’d be sent a full .csv dataset of responses to each question.
I think part of the appeal of the series is that it really eschews the current trend for throwing large potential payouts at episode winners. Over on ITV, The Chase (which is very good, but must ONLY to be watched when BBC One are showing repeats of Pointless, of course) offers a potential – if tremendously rare – prize purse totalling six figures. With Pointless, the jackpot rarely creeps above £10,000, and only then if competitors in the previous ten episodes had been unable to land a winning answer in the final round. But, it’s not really about the money. It’s about getting that Pointless trophy for winning an episode.
And while I’m comparing the Whizzer of Pointless to the Chips of The Chase, I’ve got to mention the disparity between the two celebrity variants of the programmes. On Pointless Celebrities, the famous contestants are battling amongst themselves to win a pot of cash for their chosen charities. On The Chase: Celebrity Special, the premise of the programme means you’ve got an employee of the programme doing their very best to prevent £20,000 going to a children’s hospice (or whatever). While that is the entire point of the show, it’d quickly get boring if the Chasers clearly weren’t trying, still: ouch.
[UPDATE: With thanks to Guy Barry for pointing this out in the comments, there’s some information on how the “we asked 100” people are chosen on Pointless. Den of Geek has the goods.]
31: Top of the Pops
(Shown 2725 times, 1964-2021)
Another one that was always going to feature, it was just a matter of where. Plus, it’s a programme that may well have the richest history of any programme in this list. And not just because they happened to have Britain’s most notorious sex case hosting the first ever episode in 1964, and then – despite his reputation – asking him back again to co-host the last ever regular episode in 2006.
Anyway, now we’ve addressed the shellsuited elephant in the room, let’s look at Top of the Pops. A programme popular enough to have been broadcast on Christmas Day BBC1 almost every year since the 1960s (well, until 2022), but unpopular enough to have spent at least a decade at the end of its regular life gradually sliding down the dumper.
But, back to happier days for The World’s Longest-Running Weekly Music Show. Everyone (well, everyone over the age of thirty) has ‘their’ own era of TOTP, that period where it all felt a bit more personal to them, where it introduced them to so many songs they’d be straight off to Woolies to buy on Saturday morning. Where the presenters seemed the epitome of cool, and where the most thrilling place on earth to be was amongst the TOTP audience. These people can now be divided by those who still keenly tune into the TOTP repeats on BBC Four each Friday night, and those who’ve long dismissed the repeat run as being ‘past its best’ and who long for the manna of the Edmonds years.
Of course, anyone who really remembers the early years of ver Pops will be left wanting, as the Beeb famously failed to keep recordings of many episodes, because pop music was clearly A FAD and skiffle is due a comeback any year now. My spec script for a Doctor Who episode where The Doctor travels back to 1964 and strangles the blustery colonel behind that decision has been sent to Russell T Davies and I assume it’s currently in pre-production. As it turned out, the show initially conceived as a short-run series, ultimately ran for way more than 2,000 episodes. Pretty conclusive proof that the pop kids were right all along. Take that, squares.
When devising the original programme, Pops creator Johnnie Stewart carved out the long-running commandments that would serve the series so well. RULE ONE: Each episode must end with that week’s number one record, which is the only record permitted to appear two weeks in a row. RULE TWO: Each episode should include that week’s highest new entry, plus (providing it hadn’t featured the previous week) the highest climber. RULE THREE: Any song travelling down the charts will not be played.
For much of ‘Pops lifetime, those rules were to be obeyed. At least most of the time – there were some exceptions, such as a reformed Sex Pistols taking centre stage at the end of an episode in 1996, rather than that week’s number one single. Some of those rules needed to be disregarded later in the run, too: by the mid 1990s, aggressive pricing (CD singles £1.99 or less on the week of release, £3.99 thereafter) and heavy pre-release airplay ensured that most singles’ peak position in the charts would be their debut position. As a result, singles rising up the charts were a true rarity, meaning falling singles would also need to get an airing if they were able to fill a half-hour each week.
From the initial 1964 line-up of hosts (Alan Freeman, Pete Murray, David Jacobs, J**** S******, plus Simon Dee, and Samantha Juste on disc-spinning duty in subsequent years), the host roster was boosted in 1967 following the launch of Radio 1, including familiar names like Tony Blackburn, Kenny Everett and John Peel. The late sixties also saw the first celebrity guest co-hosts, such as Lulu and Alan Price, plus Monkees Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones.
The 1970s saw further new additions to the presenting line-up, including Noel Edmonds (from 1972), Kid Jenson (from 1977), Power Powell (also from 1977) and Dave Ni- I mean Simon Bates (from 1979). Giving my age away a bit here, but the Imperial Phase of TOTP arrived in the 1980s, along with a return to hosting duties for the peerless John “Depech-ay Mode” Peel, along with scouse sidekick Janice Long, Tommy “gravitas-on-legs” Vance, Gary “the mid-80s-on-legs” Davies and Mike “Keep Me Off the BBC4 Repeats” Smith.
During the 1980s, ITV tried to get in on the act with Tyne-Tees’ nationally-networked facsimile The Roxy, which threw everything it could at the screen (such as the first ever TV performance of Pet Shop Boys’ It’s a Sin) the first but TOTP was far too ingrained in the national psyche for it to stand a chance. Any pop-based programming on rival channels needed a different approach to stand a chance, such as C4’s The Chart Show (later ITV, of course) or BBC2’s roaming pop travelogue No Limits.
When it came to the 90s (The Roxy, coincidentally, having been cancelled within about ten minutes of launching), the show decamped to Elstree and saw the production team accidentally leave the Radio 1 hosts behind, so they quickly ushered in a fresh line-up of hosts: Mark Franklin, Tony Dortie, Claudia Simon, Adrian Rose, Steve Anderson and Femi Oke. Viewers weren’t especially impressed by most of the new presenters, and by late 1992 only Dortie and Franklin of the new intake remained. However, this period did see a new wave of Guest Co-Hosts, with Smashie and Nicey, Bob Geldof, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott and, erm, Mr Blobby getting a go at ‘helping’ Dortie and Franklin. A taste of things to come.
Over at Radio 1, new controller Matthew Bannister was transforming the station, mainly by bringing all his old mates over from GLR, and that meant new R1 faces Lisa I’Anson, Wendy Lloyd, Claire Sturgess and Jo Whiley subsequently got a go at hosting The Pops. BUT, a much bigger change came in 1994 (as BBC Four viewers are set to soon re-live), with The Golden Mic Era – a period where celebrity guest hosts took centre stage, with only the occasional episode hosted by Radio One stalwarts.
That particular era seems to get particularly short shrift from TOTP purists, but I must admit I bloody loved it. Why would anyone in their right mind rather have Simon Bates over Punt & Dennis, Jarvis Cocker, Harry Hill or even a returning John Peel? Even Lee and Herring got to host a couple of episodes, meaning at some point over the next year we’ll all get to see if Stewart Lee does a Mike Smith and blocks the repeat broadcasts of his episodes, probably just to annoy Richard Herring. Unfortunately, there was some absolute cackhandedness when it came to picking a few of the hosts, most obviously Gary Oh For Fuck’s Sake Glitter. But, that aside, it does make for a perfect time capsule of the period: Dennis Pennis, Jas Mann, Julia Carling and Louise Wener. Yep, 1996 in a nutshell. Plus, Hale & Pace hosted an episode in 1995, which I’d like to think was a promotional push for legendary misfire h&p@bbc, but that came years later – h&p were still firmly @itv back then.
Anyone want to see a table of who hosted the most often during that Golden Mic era? Because you know I’m about to drop that information on you.
By the year 2000, the idea of the guest presenters had fallen by the post-millennial wayside, and a more rigid roster of hosts took the TOTP reins. The firmest grip on said reins was Richard Blackwood, fresh from Channel Four, along with Jayne Middlemiss, Jamie Theakston and Gail Porter. Theakston would soon become main presenter of the series, but guest hosts would also make occasional appearances alongside the main hosts, including Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Mel B, Ben Elton, Vernon Kay and – oh bloody hell, J**** S******.
At this point, despite the show slipping in the ratings (and being scheduled opposite Coronation Street really didn’t help matters), in 2002 efforts were made to strengthen the brand by launching Saturday morning spin-off Top of the Pops Saturday, a clear attempt to arrest the runaway success of ITV’s hit chart show CD:UK. Even after a rebrand to Top of the Pops: Reloaded, the spin-off failed to find much of a foothold, and it seemed that the only reason it was kept around for four whole years was that nobody could think of anything better.
The main show wasn’t doing much better at this stage. To try and overhaul the programme, former Broom Cupboard resident Andi Peters was given the exec producer gig and tasked with rescuing the show. In came former MTV jock Tim Kash as main host and a more focused approach, but it all counted for little. In November 2004 came the announcement that Pops would be moved to a new slot on BBC Two, and a new night – Sunday nights immediately following the announcement of each week’s Top Forty. While the intent was that it would bring a fresh energy to the show, it would have surely proved a bit awkward for any acts booked to appear who’d just found they’d landed outside the forty that week.
This was clearly TOTP’s death spiral. At the time of Tim Kash’s debut in 2003, viewing figures were at a respectable 5.65m. Within a few weeks of the move to BBC Two, they’d slumped to just 1.5m. New exec producer Mark Cooper gave the guest presenter tactic another airing in 2005. However, a strange mix of guest hosts clearly designed to grab as many eyeballs as possible (Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, Sharon Osbourne, Peter Kay as Brian Potter) did little to delay the inevitable. And so, 30 July 2006 saw the last ever ‘regular’ episode of TOTP, with a selection of presenters both past and present returning for one last gig. Unhappily, it included – y’know, him. An undignified end to a pop institution.
Not that this was truly the end. Spin-off series TOTP2 would broadcast highlights of previous episodes for several more years, and Top Of The Pops itself would return for annual Christmas episodes each December 25th, along with occasional New Year episodes, with Fearne Cotton on hosting duties for pretty much all of them. However, history appears to be repeating itself, with a festive special of the show missing from BBC One’s Christmas schedule for 2022. Instead, an ‘end-of-year review show’ appeared on BBC Two on Christmas Eve. Is this the end of Ver Pops? I guess we’ll find out in December.
In 2017, a kind-of Pops did return to the BBC One Friday night schedule, perhaps emboldened by the success of music-based programming on BBC Four on that night – the focus of which being week-by-week (Yewtree permitting) Pops repeats – with Sounds Like Friday Night promising to reintroduce live music into the nation’s homes. However, it wasn’t much of a hit, and it disappeared after just two series.
Well, at least we’ve still got the repeats on BBC Four.
I’d expected writing about a pair of programmes I’ve watched hundreds of times to be easy. I was wrong. But which pair of programmes will be next in the rundown? TIME WILL TELL.
The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (34 and 33)
Here comes the next bit. Look out, Britain.
(Shown 2582 times, 1957-1992)
Heeeeeeeeere’s, um, Cliff Michelmore!
Yeah, so nothing to do with The Tonight Show, but rather billed (repeatedly) in the Radio Times as “a topical programme for all the family”, the initial incarnation of Tonight arrived on the screens of teatime Britain on 18 February 1957. Tonight appeared just a few days after the official abolition of the Toddler’s Truce, a Postmaster General-sanctioned telly-free zone between 6pm and 7pm each night, so that children could be put to bed away from the watchful gaze of the cathode-ray cyclops.
After cries of “we don’t have any children!”, “tellies do have an off-switch, you know” and “we’re only going to spend that time talking about tonight’s telly” from the viewing public (plus “please, our potential revenue” from ITV franchise holders), the Truce was finally done away with on Saturday 16 February 1957. On Saturdays, the spot was filled with the pop-pickin’ Six-Five Special. On Sundays, the blank space remained in the schedules because God. And on Monday to Friday, a brand new current affairs television programme was to air. While the slot would later be associated with cosy old Nationwide, the new programme would go on to be described as something that “helped to shape the national mood in an age of change and growing mistrust of authority”.
It was a commendable commission by the BBC, who’d seemingly been perfectly content with that truce being in place – great, an hour each night that we don’t need to fill with expensive programmes – so to throw a team of experienced producers (such as future BBC1 Controller Donald Baverstock and future DG Alasdair Milne) along with a team of storied reporters such as Alan Whicker, Fyfe Robertson, Kenneth Allsop, Chris Brasher, Julian Pettifer, Brian Redhead and Polly Elwes was a true statement of intent. Plus, placed in the main presenter’s chair, a tyro Michelmore, fresh from two years fronting uncompromising current affairs show Highlight.
In a piece for the Radio Times in December 1957, as Tonight prepared to move from 6:15pm to 6:45pm, producer Donald Baverstock considered some audience feedback on the series, both good and less-good:
“It’s always so topical, isn’t it, so up to the minute.”
Well, not really. Without trained cameramen, and television reporters with fast cars in every world capital, topicality must remain an aim not a claim, Consider two alternatives. This afternoon at 5.0 p.m. a government White Paper on, say, agricultural instruments has been published. Last week there might have been riots in South America. Which would you prefer in the programme tonight-three minutes of someone giving you a précis of the government paper, or an interview with the first man to return to this country after having seen the riots a week ago? The production team faces this kind of choice every day-a wordy but unremarkable reference to an important event, or a human revelation of something already passed over, perhaps, by the newspapers.
We prefer to describe our present aim as relevance rather than topicality. The items we like to see in the programme are on subjects that we can safely assume are already in the viewers’ minds.
This does not mean that they will necessarily be in the headlines of the papers. Health, money, food and great religious issues are always in people’s minds. They are always relevant, but only in a very general sense, topical.
“That programme, Tonight, is being controversial again…”
NOBODY on the Tonight programme deliberately sets out to stir people up.’ You won’t see us pacing up and down our offices, pursuing hunches. We never dramatically snap our fingers and say, ‘If we do it this way, it’ll get ’em.’
No staged rows are ever arranged. There’s no point in doing so. Among the large number of people who appear on Tonight, even in the course of a week’s programmes, there are bound to be some who have strong opinions on important subjects. We don’t dissuade them from speaking honestly. Nor do we exhort them to speak with false passion. Perhaps it is this attitude behind the programme which leads people to call it controversial.’
“What we tike about it is that everybody — Cliff Michelmore especially — seems so relaxed.”
RELAXED. yes, but we hope not slovenly. When you appear on television in front of millions of eyes, you would be a fool if you hadn’t prepared yourself first. To do the kind of jobs that Cliff does (and Geoffrey and Derek as well) have to know all the complications so well that coping with them becomes instinctive. In front of those cameras you’ve first got to be competent; only then can you start being confident.
“Tonight, which you can describe as a mosaic of bits and pieces”
How do you define a bore – a person who when asked how he is proceeds to tell you? Night after night our chief problem is to avoid boring you (and incidentally boring ourselves). All the time we have to remember that to you at home. Tonight is a one-way conversation, an endless monologue. Our instinct, therefore, is always to offer too little rather than too much.
“Tonight is based on American models, isn’t it — “the see-it-happen, let’s be-spontaneous-at-all-costs sort of thing”
WE think the programme very British. The Americans, as everybody knows, have been doing regular daily programmes for a long time. But the British viewer, I think, would find them very slow and wordy. The Americans have not aimed, as we have, for compression of ideas, nor for the pace with which a variety of items can follow one another.
I sometimes think ordinary Americans would find the Tonight programme night after night, just a little too fast to comprehend. But so far we’ve had few complaints from Britain.Radio Times issue 1781, 27 December 1957
Proof, were it needed, that even if it found itself needing to fill a programme five nights per week, it was far from flung together. Plus, it’s nice to know the host certainly wasn’t slovenly.
The programme would become such an institution that Michelmore even devised his own snappy sign-off at the end of each episode. “That’s all for tonight, the next ‘Tonight’ will be tomorrow night. Until then… good night!”. Lovely stuff.
The formula was certainly a popular one. The Times’ Radio and TV Supplement was effusive in its praise for the programme, writing in August 1957 that it was “one of the happiest exercises in casual presentation yet to be seen on English television”. The paper wasn’t alone in pouring praise on Tonight – in 1958, the Guild of Television Producers and Directors awarded Michelmore a gong for Personality of the Year and the production team behind the show won the title for Best Factual Presentation.
The programme notably offered a regular outlet for Guyanese actor, musician, writer and poet Cy Grant, who would regularly appear to perform a ‘topical calypso’, likely making Grant the first black person to be featured regularly on British television.
The production team’s dedication in getting the programme to air was tested in April 1961, when an electricians’ strike threatened a broadcast of the show. With no studio lighting on offer, the cast and crew of Tonight made the decision to present that night’s edition from a fire escape at the back of Lime Grove studios, using a combination of evening sunlight and light from the Metropolitan District railway opposite the fire escape. According to the press reports at the time, despite rainy conditions during the broadcast, Cliff Michelmore didn’t even wear a coat. Nails. November 1963 also included an unexpected turn for an edition of Tonight, but in a very different way. It was during the edition airing on Friday 22 November that news broke of the Kennedy assassination, with Michelmore taking on the task of informing BBC viewers about events in Dallas.
Tonight’s popularity even resulted in a weekly ‘highlights’ programme, The World of Tonight (“The world and its events as the Tonight team reported them last week”), which enjoyed a short run on Sunday afternoons between 1964 and 1965. All good things must et cetera, however, and on Friday 18 June 1965, the final edition of Tonight v1.0 would air. That’s despite news of a series refresh coming a month prior to that finale – promising a later slot, more on the-spot reports, plus live satellite link-ups to America and other parts of the world. As it would turn out, that refresh turned out to be a completely different programme – Twenty-Four Hours would launch in October of that year, and run until 1972.
However, that wasn’t the end of the Tonight brand. It would re-emerge in September 1975, just over ten years after the end of the original version, this time with the hosting triumvirate of Nationwide’s Sue Lawley, Late Night Line-Up’s Denis Tuohy and Newsnight-in-the-future’s Donald MacCormick. This time, the remit was to “listen to the people whose lives are affected and invite your opinions on the events of the moment”, aided by BBC correspondents around the globe, and more locally using the Tonight Outside Broadcast Unit.
As if to cement the update’s Not Like The Old One credentials, the first edition of the programme promised “a correspondence column of the air”, alongside a profile of former-child-star-turned-US-ambassador-to-Ghana Shirley Temple. No, I had no idea, either. Reporters for the series included John Pitman, Richard Kershaw, David Lomax, David Jessel and Michael Delahaye, while Ludovic Kennedy, Robin Day and a young Jeremy Paxman would later appear to man the hosts’ desk.
The revamped version of Tonight proved to be a suitably sturdy format for BBC-1, running for a total of 756 editions between 1975 and 1979, and (unlike OG Tonight) at least received a special send-off billing in the Radio Times, with “Tonight: Goodnight Tonight” airing on 5 July.
However, that wasn’t the last we’d see of Tonight on the BBC. 24 July 1979 – yes, just a few weeks after the purportedly final episode – saw a one-off special hosted by Valerie Singleton for a studio panel discussion on the preceding programme, Rachel Billington’s Play For Today film Don’t Be Silly, which offered an uncompromising portrayal of domestic violence.
February 1982 saw a one-off special to mark 25 years since the original incarnation of Tonight, with Cliff Michelmore returning to help “illustrate what the programme stood for, how it worked and what it led to, with the help of those who worked on it”.
Finally, in 1992, BBC Two’s Black and White in Colour season included a screening of a 1963 edition of Tonight. West Indians, directed by Jack Gold, examined the troubles facing working-class Afro-Caribbeans in Britain at that time, and came with commentary from Barbadian poet and writer George Lamming.
33: Ready Steady Cook
(Shown 2633 times, 1994-2021)
There have been quite a lot of cooking shows on the BBC. In fact, since the Television Service launched in 1936, a total of 5,970 programmes have been broadcast on the Beeb with the word ‘cook’ somewhere in the title. Some of them have introduced new styles of cooking to the nation, such as the very earliest examples Cook’s Night Out (1937) and Foundations of Cookery (1939), both presented by French chef, restaurateur and author Marcel Boulestin. Others have taken a no-nonsense approach to making more from less, like Cookery (1947) introduced as rationing reduced the amount of ingredients on offer and demanding a much less glamorous title. A few others just happen to have the word ‘cook’ in the title, like a documentary on Alistair Cooke – Postcards from America (2003) and thrillingly-titled flick Robin Cook’s Formula for Death (1998), so you can bet I’m not even going to mention those. Bugger.
Out of all the cookery shows ever aired on the Corporation, nothing has aired as frequently as the next item on the menu, taking up 44.1% of all programmes ever aired on the BBC that have the word ‘cook’ in the title. Now, there’s a stat. Ready Steady Cook (sometimes billed with commas, sometimes not) was indicative of the Great Celebrity Chef Surplus of the mid-1990s. By October 1994, the problem had become so grave, the government had to pick one of two options. Option one: a daily cookery show that would see a pair of celebrity chefs compete in a cook-off, cramming double the amount into each episode, and providing the nourishing exposure they so dearly require. Option two: the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Celebrity Chefs would have to announce a mass cull.
Luckily, John Major chose envelope ‘A’.
The show was based on a cooking competition format, where two professional chefs competed against each other to create the most delicious meals that a £5 ingredient budget could allow. An additional twist was that the ingredients for each dish were chosen by the studio audience, who brought in a selection of items from their own kitchens. Oh, for a time when Britain didn’t need so many food banks, eh?
From 1994 to 2000, Fern Britton hosted the series, before she scarpered off to ITV to seize the controls of This Morning. From 2000, the most well-known of the participating chefs (also actor, half of comedy double act The Calypso Twins and unlikely ‘pop star’ with same) Ainsley Harriott took over hosting duties. Having been the resident chef on the BBC One’s failed-but-lasted-longer-than-you-think This Morning knock-off Good Morning with Anne and Nick, Harriott was certainly no stranger to television, and indeed, before getting the main Can’t Cook gig, he’d hosted a one-off special episode of the series to mark the tenth anniversary of Red Dwarf in 1998. Which came with the depressingly inevitable title Can’t Smeg, Won’t Smeg.
Under Harriott’s stewardship, the original series would continue to be produced until 2010, though such was the programme’s popularity repeats of existing episodes would continue until 2014.
You can’t keep a good format down (or a food format, for that matter), and as such the series made a return to Britain’s screens in March 2020, this time with Rylan Clark-Neal at the helm. The programme reboot had actually been announced the previous September, but happening to air during a period when the British public suddenly had to stop going out for chef-crafted meals, the option of being able to prepare them at home suddenly became that bit more tempting. Assuming, of course, viewers could get an online shopping delivery slot to avoid the queues at your local Tesco. And not fall foul of the Replacement Item Curse.
It was a very weird time, wasn’t it?
The rebooted series went out in a late afternoon BBC One slot throughout March 2020, with early morning repeats airing on BBC2. The programme was deemed enough of a success to return to the BBC the following March, this time running until mid-April. But, that was to be it for the format, with the September 2021 announcement that the second series of the Rylan-era was to be the last. Though I suspect not too many will fall off their chair with shock were a further reboot to be announced.
That’s all for this edition, see you next time for an edition that DEFINITELY won’t need to be hastily edited a few days later. At least that picture of Kilroy-Silk has gone. For now.
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.
(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 WentworthTalk of the Week, Radio Times Issue 1493, 22 Jun – 28 Jun 1952
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.
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.
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.
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:
On top of that, The Guardian also reported on the, erm, report:
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.
BBC100: The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (38 and 37)
Current status of More Frequent Updates: okay, a bit of a delay while I had to type in a load of listings by hand. But all worth waiting for, especially if you’ve a 1930s tennis coverage-shaped knowledge gap in your brain.
(Shown 2304 times, 1937-2021)
Okay, bit of an arguable one here. If other single-sport coverage is lumped together, shouldn’t this be lumped in with ‘Tennis’? Well, no. It’s all about the programme title, and this particular tennis tournament is billed as Wimbledon. For the record, standalone Tennis coverage places 117th in the list, with a total of 744 broadcasts on BBCs One and Two.
Now, as far as Genome goes, BBC Television coverage of Wimbledon began in 1939. Which to me, felt a bit ‘late’. And indeed, there are a number of weeks of Radio Times missing from Genome for those very early years – including the fortnights of Wimbledon from 1937 and 1938.
Now, of all sporting events, Wimbledon would be an obvious target for the early Television Service. Even one static camera would have done the job, really. Plonk it in place on Centre Court, and capture what’s happening in front of it. Not even a lot of travelling involved. Plus, as mentioned in 1938’s BBC Yearbook, 1937 saw “a new field […] opened up with the purchase by the BBC of a mobile television unit, constructed by the Marconi- E.M.I. Television Company Ltd., which made television possible from practically any point within 20 miles or so of the transmitting station.” Only 20 miles? Well, given the size of London, maybe live coverage from Wimbledon wouldn’t be possib-
Ooh, okay. (Yes, radio signals generally don’t use the A406, but it’s a nice coincidence. So shush, you’re ruining my thing)
But, sadly, with those key issues of the Radio Times missing from Genome, there’s no way of confirming any early airdates.
…Is what a loser would say. To the press archives!
Okay, back in the inter-war years, neither TV listings nor newspapers were what they are now, but here’s a page of The Times from Friday 25 June 1937:
The incredibly eagle-eyed may have spotted something of interest right in the bottom-left corner of the page. And that’s the first ever TV coverage of Wimbledon.
Curiously then, there wasn’t any standalone programme covering the action, but rather viewers would be whisked from any planned programming between 3pm and 4pm in those first few days to enjoy “short relays” from the All-England Lawn Tennis Club Championship Meeting. Even this limited coverage (seemingly) came on the fourth day of that year’s championships, but that was to soon change.
On Friday 2 July, TV listings included the first standalone programme consisting of coverage from Wimbledon:
However, the first televised coverage most likely came about on the first day of the tournament. A report on the history of televised Wimbledon coverage on the Wimbledon website refers to a match between Bunny Austin and George Lyttleton Rogers being the first to be televised, with coverage running to 25 minutes in total. That match certainly took place on the first day of that year’s Wimbledon – Monday 21 June 1937 (as confirmed with a glance at the following morning’s newspapers). And yet, it certainly wasn’t billed in the television listings for that day.
There’s certainly little doubt that the Wimbledon.com report is correct – it adds additional details on the event, and most telling of all, the Lost Media Wiki hosts an off-screen photograph of that very match between Austin and Rogers.
However, as mentioned, the published television listings for that day don’t make any mention of tennis coverage. Here are a couple more listings from that same day.
So, what does this mean? Well, while the full issue of the Radio Times from that week is missing from Genome, there is a helpful snippet on the superb History of the BBC subsite. It seems that BBC engineers were still a little wary of how their sporting experiment would fare, and as such their inaugural Wimbledon coverage wasn’t fully featured in the Radio Times. However, there was a little info-box informing viewers of the potential for coverage.
And, as it turned out, the experiment paid off. There’s no great mention of the coverage in the subsequent BBC Handbook, but the image hosted on Lost Media Wiki confirms it was at the very least a partial success.
It’s a bit of a shame that such a landmark didn’t warrant a mention in the Television Service listings for the day. After all, how would viewers have known to tune in for it? The closest viewers of the day without that week’s Radio Times would have had to an EPG was asking their butler to phone Ally Pally to ask for details then scribble down the name of the next programme on a piece of card.
[EDIT: Dr Steve Arnold of the splendid Radio Times Archive has posted a comment below this article with additional information about that very H.W. Austin v G.L. Rodgers match, plus the Radio Times’ treatment of television in general at the time. A very worthwhile detour, I’m sure you’ll find.]
As it was, as far as billed standalone Wimbledon coverage goes, I’m taking 2 July 1937 as the inaugural Wimbledon broadcast. Live coverage was also offered, in the same 2.30pm slot, on the following day, meaning (most likely) viewers were able to enjoy action from both the Women’s and Men’s finals.
For 1938 – again, with coverage falling into a Genome gap, but another one filled by looking at newspaper listings of the time – the television coverage was a little more generous, with action totalling at around two full hours per day – even if it was rationed to a few days at the start and the final three days of the tournament.
For 1939, we’re able to go back to Genome data, which makes it easier to spot the occasional Wimbledon-adjacent curio. Tennis itself had been broadcast on the nascent Television Service from February 1937, albeit the table-based variant of the sport (“An Exhibition Re-Play of the Finals of the English Open Championship (Men’s) as played at the Empire Pool and Sports Arena, Wembley”). Table tennis would receive a few more airings on BBC-tv before appearances of its outdoor cousin became commonplace, but this was hardly the wall-to-wall coverage the Corporation would later become known for. Aside from Wimbledon matches (along with occasional Davis Cup footage from… Wimbledon) tennis fans only had a few other chances to enjoy hot man on court action (and, as far as billed matches go, it seems to have been a Men Only affair). For example, 12 April 1939 saw a single fifteen-minute “Tennis Demonstration” by W. T. Tilden.
To be fair, that wasn’t the worst introduction to the sport for the casual viewer. American “Big Bill” Tilden had been the world’s number one amateur tennis player between 1920 and 1925, and went on to become the top-ranked professional between 1931 and 1933. By the time of that particular demonstration, Big Bill’s star might be been shining a little less brightly, but by then he did have three Wimbledon championships under his belt, putting him joint-tenth in the current all-time list of men’s Wimbledon champions. Not too shabby.
Elsewhere (and away from SW19), tennis offerings appeared such as ‘Indoor Professional Lawn Tennis’ televised direct from the Empire Pool, Wembley, beaming footage of the singles and doubles matches between W. T. Tilden, Ellsworth Vines, Donald Budge and Hans Nusslein.
With 1939’s Wimbledon looming the Corporation prepared to ramp up coverage even further. Not that there wasn’t time for at least one more Tennis Demonstration for the channel, with the schedule for Saturday 3 June promising a demonstration from none other than ‘Dan Maskell, Head Professional to the All-England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon, and coach to the British Davis Cup team’, who would later go on to become the BBC’s very own Voice of Wimbledon.
And so, on 1 July 1939, the main event hit the screens of Britain’s (well, Greater London’s) televiewers, for the last time before concentrations drifted toward mainland Europe. But before that opening match, coverage of, actual tennis was preceded by a tantalising taster to whet the appetite.
Yep: Percy Ponsonby Goes to Wimbledon. A comedy short featuring Charles Heslop’s talkative barber character, written by Reginald Arkell, who’d seemed primed to be television’s first comedy star. The Radio Times promoted the third of his comedy shorts In The Barber’s Chair with the following:
Sound radio has produced any number of ‘characters’, people like Mrs. Feather and Mr. Walker, but until the arrival of Charles Heslop as Percy Ponsonby television could make no claims at all. Percy has been well worth waiting for, however, and it is hoped that he will be in his shop with his lather and brush at regular intervals.Radio Times, Page 14, Issue 809, 2nd Apr 1939 – 8th Apr 1939
It’s that level of popularity that led to a special episode of Percy going into the first round of Wimbledon 1939, itself a sequel to another topical outing for Ponsonby: June 1939’s Percy Ponsonby Goes to the Test Match, which aired just after live coverage of England vs The West Indies, proving the character had a life outside of his barber’s shop. That was followed by a couple of other themed episodes, Percy Ponsonby Packs for Bank Holiday airing in time for the August Bank Holiday, and Percy Ponsonby Catches the 9.15 airing in August 1939.
Sadly, for fans of the character, a few weeks after Percy Ponsonby caught the 9.15, the Television Service was suspended due to the outbreak of war. When television returned in 1946, Ponsonby didn’t. Not that that was the end of the road for the man behind the character – Charles Heslop would continue to appear on television – plus in a variety of film roles – until shortly before his death in 1966, including featuring in Marty Feldman-scripted Comedy Playhouse ‘Nicked at the Bottle’ and Norman Wisdom flick ‘Follow a Star’.
This, I’ll admit, is a bit of a distraction from talking about Wimbledon. But after having a nose at the Wikipedia entry for the character, and seeing it close with the faintest of praise on the entire internet, I felt compelled to keep Percy’s spirit alive a little bit more.
Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah, Wimbledon 1939. After those first couple of years, there was vastly increased coverage for the tournament. Pretty much as much coverage as the BBC Television Service could reasonably muster, in fact, promising that the action “will be televised from the Centre Court every day except Sunday”, the Sabbath still being a no-go area as far as the television was concerned at the time.
Even better, an upgrade from the previous two-camera system, with “a new camera position giving an end-on view of the court, instead of the oblique one you can see above, should give even better results than last year.”
And as such, with a camera position still used today, and live coverage (almost) each day, the modern era of Wimbledon TV coverage had truly started.
Just a blasted shame about that whole war thing, really.
As time went on, Wimbledon would be the launchpad for more British TV landmarks. It was one of a select few programmes welcoming (non-test) colour television in the UK in July 1967, which changed the landscape of television forever.
Wimbledon was also chosen to debut the BBC’s first foray into 3D broadcasting in 2011. This changed the landscape of television for about eight months, but well done for trying.
NOTE: You may notice the massive shortage of Wimbledon coverage from 1948 and 1949. That’s because the BBC’s limited outside broadcast capabilities couldn’t cover the Test Match from Lord’s and Wimbledon at the same time, so a compromise had to be found:
Plus, part of the coverage (presumably with tennis highlights captured on film) was billed as “Cricket and Tennis”, which DOES NOT COUNT HERE.
(Shown 2433 times, 1999-2012)
The first truly big show for the then-new CBeebies channel, and as proven by the position on this list, also enjoyed a mammoth run on the legacy BBC channels. Now most frequently remembered for, um…
Well, that. At the time though, Will Brenton and Iain Lauchlan’s creation was astonishingly popular with the pre-school audience (if less so with their parents).
Even thirteen years after first airing, it remained popular enough to become the thirdmost CBeebies popular programme on a given week. As was the style at the time, it grew an audience away from CBeebies — it originally started on BBC1 and BBC2 in 1999 — but repeats of the shows 390 (crikey) episodes were essential for the fledgling digital channel, and the original digital TV generation of young viewers lapped it up.
The popularity of the show even troubled the pop charts — five spin-off singles reached the UK Top 20 between 2000 and 2002 — leading to inevitable appearances on Top Of The Pops. Look out for those on BBC Four in about 2027. In fact, there was an entire mini-multimedia empire based around Bella, Milo, Fizz and Jake.
You had several CD-ROM titles (look, it was the dawn of a new millennium),
Way too many VHS tapes:
And even a PlayStation game:
Which didn’t exactly push Sony’s hardware as much as Wip3out or Gran Turismo, let’s say.
For kids with an incredibly high headache threshold, there was even a set of (unofficial) Windows 98 themes
The programme event warranted a number of spin-off series on the BBC. Tweenies Christmas Countdown was a daily advent calendar airing throughout December 2001, each short episode presenting a daily treat all the way up to the big day. 2002’s Tweenies Songtime ran alongside regular episodes of the series, and saw the loveable characters  perform a traditional children’s ditty (think legacy agriculturalist Old McDonald) in front of an animated background for a few minutes. 2003 saw Tweenies Count to Christmas, which was the same as Christmas Countdown but with a different name. Finally, 2005’s Be Safe with the Tweenies saw Bella, Milo, Fizz and Jake offer friendly advice to dangers inside and outside the home, such as matches, roads and canals.
I mean, all credit for that last one, and hopefully it did help save lots of tots from disaster, but an entire generation missed out on being shit-scared by grainy film PIFs, and that’s a shame.
Attempting to watch an entire episode of Tweenies for the first time (I became a parent in 2015, by which time the show had fallen out of the CBeebies schedules), I can probably sum it up with the following phrase: bloody hell, Hey Duggee really needed to happen.
There we go, another installment safely filed. Next up on the list… another sport that has been airing continuously since at least 1938, and another long-running kids TV series.
I might just change my name to Phil Connors.
The 100 Most-Broadcast BBC Programmes Of All Time (40-39, plus 100-41 again, especially 42)
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.
The Mega-Meldrew Point (Updated 9 Jan)
Happy New Year! Now, who wants to feel old?
You may have heard of a Twitter account called Meldrew Point. If you haven’t, the account’s bio sums it up nice and succinctly: “to reach Meldrew Point, you must be 19,537 days old: the same age as Richard Wilson when episode 1 of One Foot In The Grave was aired”. The main business of the account generally involves pointing out when various public figures have reached that age (most recently Ice Cube, Peter Dinklage and Jacob Rees-Mogg), highlighting how bloody old we’re all getting.
Taking that idea and running with it*, here’s a new thing to point your bleary 2023 face at: equivalent data for a further 200-or-so British sitcom characters through the ages. A long list of characters, sorted by the age of the actor who played them on the broadcast date of each character’s first appearance. Simple. Time-consuming, but simple.
(*Actually, it was part of an idea I’d worked on a few years ago which ultimately didn’t go anywhere. It’s good to recycle.)
For why? Well, if you want to be shaken by the fact you’re now somehow older than the Vicar from Dad’s Army, or just express surprise at Miss Jones from Rising Damp being the same age as Gary from Men Behaving Badly, or that Trigger from Only Fools and Horses was younger than Dave from The Royle Family in their respective s1e1’s, here you go. Enjoy!
(And please note: yes, the age of the actor who played each character. I know some people were playing much older characters – a relief to anyone the age Clive Dunn was for the Dad’s Army opener – but hey, if nothing else it’s something to look at as your biological clock ticks inexorably closer to your final tock.)
[NOTE: This is going down well. I’ve now added a bunch more to the list, so if you’re wondering how you measure against characters from Colin’s Sandwich, Porridge, Going Straight, Peep Show, Citizen Smith, Are You Being Served?, Hi-Di-Hi, Sorry!, Yes Minister, Yes, Prime Minister, The Vicar of Dibley, Detectorists, Stath Lets Flats and Ghosts, read on.]
[UPDATE 9 JAN 2022: This got mentioned in the B3TA newsletter (yay etc), which handily pointed out that I bloody well forgot to include Last of the Summer Wine, which is pretty shameful on my part. Added that now. Also added: 15 Storeys High, Dear John, In Sickness and in Health, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Keeping Up Appearances, Not Going Out, Rab C. Nesbitt, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, Terry & June and Till Death Us Do Part. You know, for all the people who want to ruin their day by realised they’re now older than Alf Garnett.]
16 Years Old
Raymond from Going Straight (Nicholas Lindhurst)
18 Years Old
Anthony from The Royle Family (Ralf Little)
20 Years Old
Rodney from Only Fools and Horses (Nicholas Lindhurst)
22 Years Old
Private Pike from Dad’s Army (Ian Lavender)
23 Years Old
Ben from I’m Alan Partridge (James Lance)
Ddave Lister from Red Dwarf (Craig Charles)
Philip Smith from Rising Damp (Don Warrington)
Gunner “Nobby” Clark from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (Kenneth MacDonald)
24 Years Old
Damien Day from Drop the Dead Donkey (Stephen Tompkinson)
Maria Recamier from ‘Allo ‘Allo! (Francesca Gonshaw)
Rik from The Young Ones (Rik Mayall)
Punkah Wallah Rumzan from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (Barbar Bhatti)
25 Years Old
Big Suze from Peep Show (Sophie Winkleman)
Bob from Blackadder (Gabrielle Glaister)
Joy Merryweather from Drop the Dead Donkey (Susannah Doyle)
Lukewarm from Porridge (Christopher Biggins)
Vyvyan from The Young Ones (Ade Edmondson)
Gunner Nigel “Parky” Parkin from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (Christopher Mitchell)
26 Years Old
Daisy Steiner from Spaced (Jessica Stevenson)
Percy/Cpt Darling from Blackadder (Tim McInnerny)
27 Years Old
Alan Moore from Rising Damp (Richard Beckinsale)
Arnold Rimmer from Red Dwarf (Chris Barrie)
Cat from Red Dwarf (Danny John-Jules)
Gerrard from Peep Show (Jim Howick)
Graeme Garden from The Goodies (Graeme Garden)
Ken from Men Behaving Badly (John Thomson)
Lennie Godber from Porridge (Richard Beckinsale)
McLaren from Porridge (Tony Osoba)
Mike Watt from Spaced (Nick Frost)
Queen Elizabeth I from Blackadder (Miranda Richardson)
Shirley Johnson from Citizen Smith (Cheryl Hall)
Sophie from I’m Alan Partridge (Sally Phillips)
Walter Henry “Wolfie” Smith from Citizen Smith (Robert Lindsay)
Daisy from Not Going Out (Katy Wix)
28 Years Old
Barbara Good from The Good Life (Felicity Kendal)
Bernard Ludwig Black from Black Books (Dylan Moran)
Edmund Blackadder from Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson)
George from Blackadder (Hugh Laurie)
Holly from Red Dwarf (Hattie Hayridge)
Kitty from Ghosts (Lolly Adefope)
Linda Patterson from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (Sally-Jane Spencer)
Lord Melchett from Blackadder (Stephen Fry)
Richard Richard from Filthy Rich & Catflap (Rik Mayall)
Snide/Various from Hancock’s Half Hour (Radio Series) (Kenneth Williams)
Rita Rawlins from Till Death Us Do Part (Una Stubbs)
29 Years Old
Alison Cooper from Ghosts (Charlotte Ritchie)
Bill Oddie from The Goodies (Bill Oddie)
Cassandra from Only Fools and Horses (Gwyneth Strong)
Dean Townsend from Stath Lets Flats (Kiell Smith-Bynoe)
Dobby from Peep Show (Isy Suttie)
Eddie Catflap from Filthy Rich & Catflap (Ade Edmondson)
Father Dougal from Father Ted (Ardal O’Hanlon)
Mark Corrigan from Peep Show (David Mitchell)
Miss Shirley Brahms from Are You Being Served? (Wendy Richard)
Neil from The Young Ones (Nigel Planer)
Sophie Chapman from Peep Show (Olivia Colman)
Tim Bisley from Spaced (Simon Pegg)
Twist Morgan from Spaced (Katy Carmichael)
Gunner “Atlas” Mackintosh from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (Stuart McGugan)
30 Years Old
Alice Horton from The Vicar of Dibley (Emma Chambers)
Anthony Aloysius St John Hancock from Hancock’s Half Hour (Radio Series) (Tony Hancock)
Dermot from Men Behaving Badly (Harry Enfield)
Gary from Men Behaving Badly (Martin Clunes)
Herr Otto Flick from ‘Allo ‘Allo! (Richard Gibson)
Jeffrey Fairbrother from Hi-Di-Hi (Simon Cadell)
Jeremy “Jez” Usborne from Peep Show (Robert Webb)
Lennie Godber from Going Straight (Richard Beckinsale)
Mike Cooper from Ghosts (Kiell Smith-Bynoe)
Mimi Labonq from ‘Allo ‘Allo! (Sue Hodge)
Muriel from Sorry! (Marguerite Hardiman)
Ruth Jones from Rising Damp (Frances de la Tour)
Stath Charalambos from Stath Lets Flats (Jamie Demetriou)
the Balowskis from The Young Ones (Alexei Sayle)
Tim Brooke-Taylor from The Goodies (Tim Brooke-Taylor)
Tony from Men Behaving Badly (Neil Morrissey)
Warren from Porridge (Sam Kelly)
Mary Nesbitt from Rab C. Nesbitt (Elaine C. Smith)
Bombardier “Solly” Solomons from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (George Layton)
31 Years Old
Dave Charnley from Drop the Dead Donkey (Neil Pearson)
Dorothy from Men Behaving Badly (Caroline Quentin)
Ken Mills from Citizen Smith (Mike Grady)
Michelle Dubois from ‘Allo ‘Allo! (Kirsten Cooke)
Peggy Ollerenshaw from Hi-Di-Hi (Su Pollard)
Raquel from Only Fools and Horses (Tessa Peake-Jones)
Sally Smedley from Drop the Dead Donkey (Victoria Wicks)
Jeffrey Fourmile from George and Mildred (Norman Eshley)
Betty Spencer from Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em (Michele Dotrice)
Errol Spears from 15 Storeys High (Benedict Wong)
32 Years Old
Alan Partridge from I’m Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan)
Bill Kerr from Hancock’s Half Hour (Radio Series) (Bill Kerr)
Deborah from Men Behaving Badly (Leslie Ash)
Griselda from Hancock’s Half Hour (Radio Series) (Hattie Jacques)
Joan Greengross from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (Sue Nicholls)
Marlene from Only Fools and Horses (Sue Holderness)
Mike from The Young Ones (Christopher Ryan)
Mrs Doyle from Father Ted (Pauline McLynn)
Mrs Miggins from Blackadder (Helen Atkinson-Wood)
Private Helga Geerhart from ‘Allo ‘Allo! (Kim Hartman)
Kate from Dear John (Belinda Lang)
33 Years Old
Filthy Ralph from Filthy Rich & Catflap (Nigel Planer)
Granville from Open All Hours (David Jason)
Harry Fenning from Citizen Smith (Stephen Greif)
Jenny Anderson from Colin’s Sandwich (Louisa Rix)
Kryten from Red Dwarf (Robert Llewellyn)
Nick Swainey from One Foot in the Grave (Owen Brenman)
Ollie Reeder from The Thick Of It (Chris Addison)
Richie Rich from Bottom (Rik Mayall)
Yvette Carte-Blanche from ‘Allo ‘Allo! (Vicki Michelle)
Mike Rawlins from Till Death Us Do Part (Anthony Booth)
34 Years Old
Denise from The Royle Family (Caroline Aherne)
Eddie Hitler from Bottom (Ade Edmondson)
Fran Katzenjammer from Black Books (Tamsin Greig)
Frank Baker from Sorry! (Roy Holder)
Helen Cooper from Drop the Dead Donkey (Ingrid Lacey)
Jeff Heaney from Peep Show (Neil Fitzmaurice)
Nurse Gladys Emmanuel from Open All Hours (Lynda Baron)
Patrick Trench from One Foot in the Grave (Angus Deayton)
Polly Sherman from Fawlty Towers (Connie Booth)
Spike Dixon from Hi-Di-Hi (Jeffrey Holland)
Barbara from Not Going Out (Miranda Hart)
35 Years Old
Basil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers (John Cleese)
Colin Watkins from Colin’s Sandwich (Mel Smith)
Manny Bianco from Black Books (Bill Bailey)
Margo Leadbetter from The Good Life (Penelope Keith)
Super Hans from Peep Show (Matt King)
Ann Fourmile from George and Mildred (Sheila Fearn)
Ingrid from Going Straight (Patricia Brake)
Gran from Till Death Us Do Part (Joan Sims)
Rab C. Nesbitt from Rab C. Nesbitt (Gregor Fisher)
36 Years Old
Baldrick from Blackadder (Tony Robinson)
Lieutenant Hubert Gruber from ‘Allo ‘Allo! (Guy Siner)
The Vicar from Dad’s Army (Frank Williams)
Captain Jonathan Tarquin “Tippy” Ashwood from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (Michael Knowles)
37 Years Old
Ann Bryce from Ever Decreasing Circles (Penelope Wilton)
Geraldine Granger from The Vicar of Dibley (Dawn French)
Gladys Pugh from Hi-Di-Hi (Ruth Madoc)
Harold Steptoe from Steptoe and Son (Harry H. Corbett)
Lynn Benfield from I’m Alan Partridge (Felicity Montagu)
Mr Wilberforce Claybourne Humphries from Are You Being Served? (John Inman)
Paul Ryman from Ever Decreasing Circles (Peter Egan)
Pippa Trench from One Foot in the Grave (Janine Duvitski)
Trigger from Only Fools and Horses (Roger Lloyd Pack)
Frank Spencer from Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em (Michael Crawford)
Kirk St Moritz / Eric Morris from Dear John (Peter Blake)
38 Years Old
Carole Collins from Stath Lets Flats (Katy Wix)
Dave from The Royle Family (Craig Cash)
Gus Hedges from Drop the Dead Donkey (Robert Duncan)
Mr James/Dick Lucas from Are You Being Served? (Trevor Bannister)
Sonja from I’m Alan Partridge (Amelia Bullmore)
Thomas Thorne from Ghosts (Mathew Baynton)
Tom Patterson from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (Tim Preece)
Mrs. Carey from Till Death Us Do Part (Pat Coombs)
Ralph Dring from Dear John (Peter Denyer)
Lee from Not Going Out (Lee Mack)
39 Years Old
Alan Johnson from Peep Show (Paterson Joseph)
Boycie from Only Fools and Horses (John Challis)
George Dent from Drop the Dead Donkey (Jeff Rawle)
Harry, Prince of Wales from Blackadder (Robert East)
Mary from Ghosts (Katy Wix)
Michael from I’m Alan Partridge (Simon Greenall)
Mr Cuthbert Rumbold from Are You Being Served? (Nicholas Smith)
Mr Mash from Are You Being Served? (Larry Martyn)
Patrick ‘Pat’ Butcher from Ghosts (Jim Howick)
Private Walker from Dad’s Army (James Beck)
Alf Garnett from Till Death Us Do Part (Warren Mitchell)
Ella Cotter from Rab C. Nesbitt (Barbara Rafferty)
Vince Clark from 15 Storeys High (Sean Lock)
Timothy Gladstone Adams from Not Going Out (Tim Vine)
Gunner/Bombardier “Gloria” Beaumont from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (Melvyn Hayes)
La-De-Dah Gunner “Paderewski” Jonathan Graham from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (John Clegg)
40 Years Old
Captain Hans Geering from ‘Allo ‘Allo! (Sam Kelly)
Dave Clifton from I’m Alan Partridge (Phil Cornwell)
Dr Stewart Pearson from The Thick Of It (Vincent Franklin)
Jamie McDonald from The Thick Of It (Paul Higgins)
Mrs Pike from Dad’s Army (Janet Davies)
Ted Bovis from Hi-Di-Hi (Paul Shane)
Gunner “Lofty” Harold Horace Herbert Willy Sugden from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (Don Estelle)
41 Years Old
ARP Warden Hodges from Dad’s Army (Bill Pertwee)
Dan Miller MP from The Thick Of It (Tony Gardner)
Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses (David Jason)
Holly from Red Dwarf (Norman Lovett)
Sidney Balmoral James from Hancock’s Half Hour (Radio Series) (Sid James)
Sqdn-Ldr Clive Dempster DFC from Hi-Di-Hi (David Griffin)
Tom Good from The Good Life (Richard Briers)
42 Years Old
Alan Hunter from Colin’s Sandwich (Nicholas Ball)
Bernard Woolley from Yes Minister (Derek Fowlds)
Brian Topp from Spaced (Mark Heap)
Des from Colin’s Sandwich (Mike Grady)
Herr Otto Flick from ‘Allo ‘Allo! (David Janson)
Hugo Horton from The Vicar of Dibley (James Fleet)
Sybil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers (Prunella Scales)
Wally Carey from Till Death Us Do Part (Hugh Lloyd)
43 Years Old
Andy Stone from Detectorists (Mackenzie Crook)
Arkwright from Open All Hours (Ronnie Barker)
Barry Stuart-Hargreaves from Hi-Di-Hi (Barry Howard)
Father Ted from Father Ted (Dermot Morgan)
George Roper from George and Mildred (Brian Murphy)
Norman Stanley Fletcher from Porridge (Ronnie Barker)
Rene Artois from ‘Allo ‘Allo! (Gorden Kaye)
Robin from Ghosts (Laurence Rickard)
Terri Coverley from The Thick Of It (Joanna Scanlan)
Battery Sergeant Major Tudor Bryn “Shut Up” Williams from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (Windsor Davies)
Chai Wallah Muhammad from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (Dino Shafeek)
Fred Johnson from In Sickness and in Health (Ken Campbell)
44 Years Old
Maggie from Detectorists (Lucy Benjamin)
Manuel from Fawlty Towers (Andrew Sachs)
Nora Batty from Last of the Summer Wine (Kathy Staff)
45 Years Old
Mr Barrowclough from Porridge (Brian Wilde)
Nicola Murray MP from The Thick Of It (Rebecca Front)
46 Years Old
Julian Fawcett MP from Ghosts (Simon Farnaby)
King Richard IV from Blackadder (Brian Blessed)
The Captain from Ghosts (Ben Willbond)
John Lacey from Dear John (Ralph Bates)
Onslow from Keeping Up Appearances (Geoffrey Hughes)
47 Years Old
Elizabeth Perrin from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (Pauline Yates)
Jerry Leadbetter from The Good Life (Paul Eddington)
Malcolm Tucker from The Thick Of It (Peter Capaldi)
Rupert Rigsby from Rising Damp (Leonard Rossiter)
Jamesie Cotter from Rab C. Nesbitt (Tony Roper)
Foggy from Last of the Summer Wine (Brian Wilde)
48 Years Old
Bernard Woolley from Yes Minister (Derek Fowlds)
Florence Johnson from Citizen Smith (Hilda Braid)
Lance Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army (Clive Dunn)
Lance Stater from Detectorists (Toby Jones)
Mrs Fox from Dad’s Army (Pamela Cundell)
Norman Stanley Fletcher from Going Straight (Ronnie Barker)
Emmet Hawksworth from Keeping Up Appearances (David Griffin)
Rita Rawlins from In Sickness and in Health (Una Stubbs)
49 Years Old
Hilda Hughes from Ever Decreasing Circles (Geraldine Newman)
Howard Hughes from Ever Decreasing Circles (Stanley Lebor)
Jimmy Anderson from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (Geoffrey Palmer)
Mildred Roper from George and Mildred (Yootha Joyce)
Reginald Iolanthe Perrin from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (Leonard Rossiter)
Bert Reed from Till Death Us Do Part (Alfie Bass)
Rose from Keeping Up Appearances (Shirley Stelfox)
50 Years Old
Albert Steptoe from Steptoe and Son (Wilfrid Brambell)
Martin Bryce from Ever Decreasing Circles (Richard Briers)
Mr MacKay from Porridge (Fulton Mackay)
Mrs Betty Slocombe from Are You Being Served? (Mollie Sugden)
Owen Newitt from The Vicar of Dibley (Roger Lloyd-Pack)
Sir Humphrey Appleby from Yes Minister (Nigel Hawthorne)
Timothy Lumsden from Sorry! (Ronnie Corbett)
Daisy from Keeping Up Appearances (Judy Cornwell)
51 Years Old
Genial Harry Grout from Porridge (Peter Vaughan)
Cllr David Horton MBE FRCS from The Vicar of Dibley (Gary Waldhorn)
Les from Men Behaving Badly (Dave Atkins)
Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves from Hi-Di-Hi (Diane Holland)
52 Years Old
Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army (Arthur Lowe)
Captain Stephen Peacock from Are You Being Served? (Frank Thornton)
Charlie Johnson from Citizen Smith (Tony Steedman)
Jim Hacker from Yes Minister (Paul Eddington)
Nursie from Blackadder (Patsy Byrne)
Terence ‘Terry’ Medford from Terry and June (Terry Scott)
Cyril from Last of the Summer Wine (Michael Bates)
Clegg from Last of the Summer Wine (Peter Sallis)
Toby from Not Going Out (Hugh Dennis)
53 Years Old
Rt Hon Peter Mannion MP from The Thick Of It (Roger Allam)
Victor Meldrew from One Foot in the Grave (Richard Wilson)
Sir Dennis Hodge from Terry and June (Reginald Marsh)
Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Arthur Digby St John Reynolds from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (Donald Hewlett)
Bearer Rangi Ram from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (Michael Bates)
54 Years Old
Barbara from The Royle Family (Sue Johnston)
Charlie Johnson from Citizen Smith (Peter Vaughan)
Gertrude, Queen of Flanders from Blackadder (Elspet Gray)
Joyce from Colin’s Sandwich (Annette Crosbie)
Rt Hon Steve Fleming MP from The Thick Of It (David Haig)
The Verger from Dad’s Army (Edward Sinclair)
June Medford from Terry and June (June Whitfield)
Richard Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances (Clive Swift)
55 Years Old
CJ from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (John Barron)
Margaret Meldrew from One Foot in the Grave (Annette Crosbie)
Min Reed from Till Death Us Do Part (Patricia Hayes)
Rose from Keeping Up Appearances (Mary Millar)
56 Years Old
Father Jack from Father Ted (Frank Kelly)
Hugh Abbot MP from The Thick Of It (Chris Langham)
Sergeant Wilson from Dad’s Army (John Le Mesurier)
Sir Humphrey Appleby from Yes Minister (Nigel Hawthorne)
58 Years Old
Fred Quilly from Hi-Di-Hi (Felix Bowness)
Jim Hacker from Yes Minister (Paul Eddington)
Else Garnett from Till Death Us Do Part (Dandy Nichols)
Compo from Last of the Summer Wine (Bill Owen)
59 Years Old
Henry Davenport from Drop the Dead Donkey (David Swift)
Jim from The Royle Family (Ricky Tomlinson)
Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Warden from Keeping Up Appearances (Josephine Tewson)
Alf Garnett from In Sickness and in Health (Warren Mitchell)
60 Years Old
Phyllis Lumsden from Sorry! (Barbara Lott)
Wendy Adams from Not Going Out (Deborah Grant)
61 Years Old
Hyacinth Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances (Patricia Routledge)
62 Years Old
Edith Melba Artois from ‘Allo ‘Allo! (Carmen Silvera)
63 Years Old
Colonel Kurt von Strohm from ‘Allo ‘Allo! (Richard Marner)
Jean Warboys from One Foot in the Grave (Doreen Mantle)
Jim Trott from The Vicar of Dibley (Trevor Peacock)
64 Years Old
Sidney Lumsden from Sorry! (William Moore)
Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses (Buster Merryfield)
Seymour from Last of the Summer Wine (Michael Aldridge)
65 Years Old
Frank Pickle from The Vicar of Dibley (John Bluthal)
Frank from Not Going Out (Bobby Ball)
66 Years Old
Grandad from Only Fools and Horses (Lennard Pearce)
Monsieur Alfonse from ‘Allo ‘Allo! (Kenneth Connor)
Arthur from In Sickness and in Health (Arthur English)
67 Years Old
Sammy from Hi-Di-Hi (Kenneth Connor)
Wally Batty from Last of the Summer Wine (Joe Gladwin)
68 Years Old
Mr Ernest Grainger from Are You Being Served? (Arthur Brough)
Geoffrey Adams from Not Going Out (Geoffrey Whitehead)
70 Years Old
Major Gowen from Fawlty Towers (Ballard Berkeley)
71 Years Old
Private Frazer from Dad’s Army (John Laurie)
72 Years Old
Letitia Cropley from The Vicar of Dibley (Liz Smith)
Private Godfrey from Dad’s Army (Arnold Ridley)
74 Years Old
Mr Partridge from Hi-Di-Hi (Leslie Dwyer)
76 Years Old
Truly from Last of the Summer Wine (Frank Thornton)
78 Years Old
Else Garnett from In Sickness and in Health (Dandy Nichols)
So, there we go. A list of ages. Which characters am I the same age as? It’s too depressing to think about, quite frankly.
Still, I won’t panic.
[UPDATE: Want to see the full dataset, including each character/actor’s age at the start of each individual series? Well, here’s a CSV of the entire dataset for you. You’re welcome.]
ARCHIVE TV ADVENT CALENDAR DAY TWENTY-FOUR: 24 December 1989
We made it! What better preparation for the big day could there be than the culmination of yet another series of daily December posts by me that prove to be really unpopular but which I bloody-mindedly see through right to the bitter end in the face of almost total indifference. Have a mince pie.
So, to round things off, here’s the episode of Maid Marian and Her Merry Men that aired on Christmas Eve 1989: “The Whitish Knight”. The final episode of the first series for the Children’s BBC series par excellence.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
ARCHIVE TV ADVENT CALENDAR DAY TWENTY-THREE: 23 December 1988
Nearly at the finish line. Here’s a 23rd December (and also the final) episode of The Last Resort. Jonathan Ross and guests Peter Cook, The Del Rubio Triplets, Nick Lowe, Paul Merton and Dr Martin Scrote. With original ads, thanks to @NeilSmiles