Compiled by Steve Williams, Ian Jones and Jack Kibble-White

First published November 2002


January …
Dudley Moore teamed up with veteran conductor Sir Georg Solti to investigate the history of the Orchestra!Remote Control found hapless students being challenged on their knowledge of pop culture by Tony Wilson and Frank Sidebottom … while alternative lifestyles were analysed in The New Age.

February …
Amateur films were aired in the open access topical magazine series Free For All … and The Black Bag investigated issues within the Asian community.

March …
Straightforward horticultural tips were dispensed in Garden Club … while a rather more eclectic style of learning was practiced in Gazza’s Soccer School.

April …
The world of the private investigator was uncovered in Watching the Detectives … and ENG dramatised life in a fictional Canadian news TV station.

May …
Laurie Pike introduced Manhattan CableFriday at the Dome featured alternative comedy and music … British viewers had their first experience of Kabaddi … while Alex Langdon starred as the eponymous Teenage Health Freak.

June …
Alan Bleasdale’s GBH began … as did Family Pride, which examined life in three contrasting Birmingham families.

August …
Frank Skinner, Jenny Eclair and Henry Normal wrote and starred in Packet of Three … superior US comedy Dream On debuted … showbiz news and gossip were the ingredients of sixthirtysomething … and wheelchair basketball was featured in The Big 8.

September …
Classic Cars surveyed historic motors … Jools Holland hosted music and stand-up cabaret The Happening … while Paul Merton – The Series premiered.

October …
Magazine series South presented the work of filmmakers from the southern hemisphere … and Laurie Pike invited assorted celebrities to man the phones in Ring My Bell.

November …
Tony Slattery and Mike McShane failed to make a virtue of the fact they were making it up as they went along in S & M … while the highly-acclaimed Secret History kicked off its re-examination of crucial controversies from the past.


Channel 4′s three-week Banned season in April 1991 almost never made it to screen at all. Comprising numerous programmes and films tackling TV taboos, Banned had been conceived not just as a showcase for notorious topics but also as a larger statement about the censorship of broadcasting in the 1990s. The contents of the season, however, provoked discord amongst C4′s management team, the chief concern being whether the message would be lost amidst inevitable press controversy and potential legal fallout. So while Scum, Monty Python’s Life of Brian and Sebastiane were all transmitted, Jo Menell’s explicit film Dick was axed, Sex in Our Time had a short sequence of gynaecological photographs cut, while WR: Mysteries of the Organism had footage of intercourse layered with computer generated goldfish, starbursts and rainbows. Moreover, the resultant publicity did indeed overshadow more sobering items – such as the broadcast of an episode of Secret Society police had previously confiscated from the BBC’s offices – and Scotland Yard’s Obscene Publications Squad made headlines when they threatened the channel with prosecution. Veneration eventually came in the shape of an International Emmy for the film Damned in the USA, but that itself had been at the centre of a $6m lawsuit which it took C4 months to fight and ultimately win. Banned proved many points, but was a venture that could never be repeated.

Misc …

Michael Palin compèred 1001 Nights of TV on New Year’s Day … special late night editions of Channel Four News and early morning simulcasts from CNN were scheduled to cover the Gulf War … Frederick Wiseman’s six and a half hour documentary Near Death on life in a Boston intensive care unit was broadcast in full on 30 March … Tim Brooke-Taylor and Lisa Aziz hosted pilot quiz show QD – The Master Game comprising mental and physical challenges and which ran for five nights from 29 July … the theme night returned to C4 in the shape of A Night in Japan from 8pm to 6am on 14 September … and Raymond Briggs’ new cartoon Father Christmas premiered on 24 December.

On Screen

Laurie Pike
A native Long Islander and seasoned US TV reporter, Laurie Pike became an unlikely C4 face in 1991 thanks to two short-lived albeit highly influential productions. First came Manhattan Cable. Together with co-host Bill Judkins, Pike introduced a selection of clips from public access TV in New York. The random nature of the extracts usually meant there was something memorable in store, be it Taxi Talk, The Eric in His Underwear Show, Sing-A-Long-A-Lithuanian, or Voyeur Vision in which a half-naked woman invited viewers to phone in a fantasy for her to fulfil. The show also effectively profiled and popularised a culture and industry unknown and alien to British viewers. Later in the year, however, came Ring My Bell. Now on her own, Pike introduced a number of deliberately controversial celebrity guests, sat them in their own booth replete with a telephone, and invited viewers to call them up. Remembered fondly in hindsight, and pioneering in its crude “interactivity”, at the time Ring My Bell was a bit too disorganised for its own good. Laurie Pike made the most of it, though – and got herself, the shows and C4 noticed.

Remembering Michael Grade’s defence of his work at the BBC, in particular The Monocled Mutineer, Alan Bleasdale had been keen to engage the new boss of Channel 4 to realise his latest creation. Grade in turn ensured GBH would receive the largest ever budget allotted to a one-off drama series, and made it the centrepiece of his 1991 schedules. The results were breathtaking. There’s a case to be made for GBH being the best stand-alone production ever screened on Channel 4. It certainly gave the network the kind of high-profile appointment viewing it had been lacking for years. Its heady confection of tragedy, farce, passion and madness was blessed with a superlative cast headed by Robert Lindsay, Michael Palin, Julie Walters and Lindsay Duncan. Bleasdale himself described GBH as, “one caring, liberal madman’s odyssey through the vagaries of life in Great Britain in the early nineties, trying to make some sense of the place.” But the finished product also captured one of those rare moments when a writer, a director, a producer and a team of actors all reach the creative and artistic peak of their professions at exactly the same moment. The scope and scale of the piece were overwhelming, while its cumulative impact and emotional power still defies adequate qualification. As TV critic Patrick Stoddart concluded, “Words will never do GBH justice.”

Off Screen

• In August it was revealed that Channel 4 had lost £5m in the collapse of BCCI.
• Viscount Whitelaw, the Tory minister who had overseen C4′s birth, unveiled a commemorative plaque in September to mark the start of work on the channel’s new headquarters, designed by Richard Rogers, in Horseferry Road, London.
• The press had a field day in October when it was announced that Michael Grade had been paid half a million pounds to stay at C4 for the next five years.


“Michael Grade was a great champion of individual writers and their work. His style of patronage was definitely in the Theseus mould. He never read scripts or asked questions about casting. At my first meeting with him, he explained his approach: ‘It’s very simple, Peter. If I see real enthusiasm for a project in your eyes, I’ll give you the money. If I don’t, I won’t.’ He stuck to the bargain.”
Peter Ansorge, C4 Commissioning Editor for Drama

“The thrill of a great live gig, shoulder to shoulder with dried sweat, matted hair and body odour. Trainers soaking in puddles of piss. Twenty pound T-shirts that turn into confettit as soon as you put them on. The distorted belch from the stage which loses your interest sometime after the third number. A horrow show featuring unsympathetically presented bands and presentation.”
Martin Cunning, journalist, on Friday at the Dome

“You cannot legislate for popular taste. Schemes that bind Channel 4 to a certain view of the world or its audience will end merely by tying the channel to its own past. No set of public injunctions can ever encourage people to do more than get up every morning and ask: what will be important for people in a year’s time? Or in two years’ time? What will they want?”
Nicholas Fraser, C4 Commissioning Editor for Religion, Talks and European Projects

My Favourite Channel 4 Moment …

The Crystal Maze (1990)
Think of Channel 4′s past and you can’t help but think of long cozy winter evenings with Ted Danson, Roseanne Barr and Clive Anderson. But if there’s one particular moment that sticks in my mind, it’s a particular episode of The Media Show. With the supply/demand curve of entertainment news proving how devalued some topics have become recently, it’s difficult to imagine a time when a serious analytical look at the media was actually quite novel – with perhaps the exceptions of stablemate show Raymond Snoddy’s Hard News and the “why is this still going?” What the Papers Say.

And so it came to pass that a certain 16-year-old school boy was passing the time watching Emma Freud wistfully, when a report on a new trend of large-scale game shows came on the screen. There were the usual Tarrant-style clips of wacky Germans flying across a swimming pool using oversized butterfly wings, but there was also a location report from the set of a new show called The Crystal Maze. It looked big. It looked cool. I wanted to be there.

When the actual Maze series was broadcast a few months later, it wasn’t quite what I’d expected. The concentration on lots of small “room games” rather than the larger inter-zone excursions was a surprise – a nice one – and as I went to bed that first night I sensed ideas popping into my head for similar challenges. On the first show of the next series, my first Crystal Maze game was broadcast.

If it wasn’t for that Media Show report, my media career wouldn’t have started … and I’d be writing this article about Chip’s Comic instead.
David J Bodycombe