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

First published November 2002


January …
Gaz Top hosted Tube wannabe APB (All Points Between) … the workings of the city were explained in The Stocks and Shares Show … William G Stewart made his debut in front of the camera as host of superior quiz show Fifteen-to-One … and the day-to-day events in Westminster were documented in The Parliament Programme.

February …
Charlie Gillett and Vivien Goldman introduced live music, film and drama every Wednesday in The Late Shift.

March …
Jimmy Mulville, Rory McGrath and Neil Pearson lampooned Roman Britain in sitcom Chelmsford 123.

May …
Music, issues and reportage were mixed in C4′s latest youth TV effort, Wired.

June …
The big budget documentary Korea – The Unknown War traced the history of one of the 20th century’s most notorious conflicts … while Ray McAnally starred in the superlative political drama A Very British Coup.

July …
Donald Trelford hosted Running Late, an 11-part sports magazine … Pat Rowlandson demonstrated exercise routines for the over-50s in Easy Does It … and True Stories showcased the work of film-makers from around the world.

August …
Jonathan Ross explored cult movies in The Incredibly Strange Film Show.

September …
Brown Sugar charted the fortunes of black female vocalists of the 20th century … Channel 4 went through the night to cover Olympics ’88 … Judith Chalmers presented the housing show Hot Property … and the first suggestions from the audience were canvassed for Whose Line is it Anyway?

October …
The Oprah Winfrey Show began its long residency in the schedules … C4′s first arts strand, Signals, became a Wednesday night fixture … Halfway to Paradise featured live music and entertainment from Glasgow … Lesley Judd offered various religious representatives a Time to Talk … while Stephen Fry starred in doorstepping documentary pastiche This is David Lander.

November …
Patchy compendium series Eurocops featured one-off police dramas from across the continent … and Brian Redhead chaired the ethical discussion programme Not on Sunday.


Mavis on 4
Inherited from ITV, this post-prandial talking shop went through various name changes during its remarkably long existence, mutating from Good Afternoon to Afternoon Plus, then to A Plus 4 when it switched channels, until finally ending up blessed with the moniker of its chief host and interrogator. The bare bones never altered, however: Mavis Nicholson would hold forth on a pressing issue of the day, before asking questions of her largely female guests that merely revealed more of her own obsessions. When Michael Grade took over Channel 4 he deliberately held off appointing a proper director of programmes as he wanted to personally bring the “general standard of programmes up to scratch.” This inevitably meant, as it did during his first months at the BBC, a cull of dead wood. And top of the list was Mavis herself. The official reason was that room needed to be found for upcoming live coverage from the House of Commons. In reality the show was an anachronism, a relic from another age, and had no place at the new model Channel 4.

Misc …

The first Opera on 4 season began with an epic four hour performance of Wagner’s Parsifal in April … Thames Television’s Waldheim: A Commission of Inquiry took up the whole evening on 5 June to investigate the history of the alleged Nazi conspirator … marathon charity rock concert Human Rights Now! was aired on 10 December … Brookside ran for five nights a week over Christmas … and Bill Cotton’s legacy at the BBC was honoured on 30 December in The Cotton Collection, an evening of archive Beeb classics including Frost Over England and Dad’s Army.

On Screen

Harry Enfield
Saturday Live remains justly commended for its role in boosting the careers of many up-and-coming alternative comedians, not least that of its principal host Ben Elton. But it also made a name out of someone who, rather than having spent years mixing performing with writing, had found most success as a voice artist on Spitting Image. Harry Enfield benefited incredibly from the exposure of Saturday Live, but it was its 1988 successor, Friday Night Live, that seemed to propel him up into the heady ranks of bonafide TV star. His comic creations – Greek kebab seller Stavros, and particularly greed-obsessed Loadsamoney – struck a cultural nerve. Loadsamoney almost changed from being a figure of ridicule to one of bizarre charm, while Enfield disproved the notion of the … Live franchise being an ensemble. Ultimately, having served his time profitably on C4 Enfield joined his colleagues in a mass exodus to the BBC at the end of the 1980s – one that also included Elton, Fry and Laurie and The Comic Strip team.

A Very British Coup
A candidate for one of the best television dramas of the 1980s. The story of how a left-wing Prime Minister had his ideals thwarted by shadowy establishment treachery could so easily have become a vehicle for hollow and somewhat tedious political dogma. Instead, thanks to compelling direction, atmospheric filming and a snappy script by Alan Plater (adapted from the novel by Labour MP Chris Mullin) A Very British Coup was a masterpiece from start to finish. The crowning element was the performance of Ray McAnally as Prime Minister Harry Perkins. Subtle, humorous, engaging, McAnally’s portrayal effectively personalised the key themes of the whole production, and rendered the cornerstone issues and dilemmas in stark, arresting, individual terms. He even seemed to raise the calibre of the supporting cast, including – remarkably – Keith Allen. McAnally died shortly afterwards; a more fitting and dignified farewell to screen acting would have been hard to find.

Off Screen

• Michael Grade became the new boss of C4 on 1 January.
• Liz Forgan became the channel’s first official Director of Programmes on 19 April.
• Government proposals to transfer both BBC2 and Channel 4 onto satellite were scrapped in July just six weeks after first being raised.


“They said I would dumb down Channel 4, but in the very same week I was appointed there was a series called The Far Pavilions in which Amy Irving, a white Hollywood star, actually blacked up to play an Indian princess. I could just imagine the headlines if I had agreed to such an artifice – I would have been accused of importing a version of the Black and White Minstrels onto the cultural channel.”
Michael Grade

“Television chat show host Jonathan Ross is heading for controversy with a new Channel 4 series containing scenes of cannibalism, explicit nudity and the degradation of women.”
The Evening Standard on The Incredibly Strange Film Show

Saturday Live brought to the screen a whole new generation of performers. Most notably Ben Elton – a brilliant writer and deliverer of polemic. It also showed Geoff Posner’s ability to create a studio event and to direct it with extraordinary fluency. I was, in fact, the director of programmes at LWT when Saturday Live was being developed.”
John Birt

“I missed Michael Grade defending This is David Lander to Bob Wellings on Open Air, an event reported to me by producer Paul Mayhew-Archer. It seems Bob Wellings, whom I’d always imagined to be a person of superior understanding, said, ‘I saw David Lander and wasn’t very sure about it.’ To which Grade tartly replied, ‘Yes, that’s why you’ve got your job and I’m doing mine.’”
Stephen Fry, 01/11/88

My Favourite Channel 4 Moment …

Club X (1989)
It was June 1989, and I was a student living in Reading, sharing a house with three others. Two of us (the blokes, of course) had decided to follow in the footsteps of Rik, Vyvyan et al of The Young Ones and rent a video from Granada TV Rentals in Broad Street. We also took out a membership of a video store down Wokingham Road. At last I had a chance to do some home taping.

I had been a fan of Victor Lewis-Smith for just over a year, and his regular five-minute slot on Radio 4′s Loose Ends series, presented by Ned Sherrin on Saturday mornings. There I would sit, with a blank cassette in the tape recorder, to record his comedic output. I would also have to sit through “Neddy Baby”‘s incessant fawning over his showbiz buddies, the references to “Nice Mr Gardhouse” and the Society for the Authentication of Tall Tales. So I was already a veteran of wading through mud to find the proverbial piece of shiny glass and had a cassette-full or two.

Then I discovered that Lewis-Smith had made the switch to television, and a similar slot on a show called Club X. Broadcast for two hours on a Wednesday evening (9 – 11pm if I remember right), Club X was an arts magazine show which aimed to be trendier than, say, The Late Show on BBC2 which ran at the same time. It came out of the Network 7 stable and of course was transmitted live, with a theme each week (the Futurists, or dadaism for example). The shtick was that the show was presented from a nightclub by a collective of cool, hip young presenters. It ran for one series in the summer of 1989.

Into this, sticking out like a sore thumb, sat Lewis-Smith’s section called “Buygones”, a featurette that had started on the R4 tapes and had already been published as a book co-authored with Paul Sparks. This was a nostalgia show, but one which ended in the early 1970s so a lot of the items on it were unfamiliar to me (this was the 1980s after all, so Brother Beyond were still current). I had no recollection of the Pac-a-Mac, the Heinkel Bubble Car nor of Dan Dare’s Space Communications Set, for example, though I had heard of and consumed products such as Cydrax and Lucky Bags. Delivered at breakneck narration speed by Lewis-Smith himself and featuring a small cast of actors, “Buygones” was a direct lift from his radio shows, although having been vetted by C4′s legal team, many of the pictures and scenes shown were blanked out – such as the item on colostomy bags, and that on tonsillectomies (remember them?)

Each minute-long segment of “Buygones” was preceded by an ITV Schools clock on speed with an amusing caption below such as “Fun with the Newly Departed” or “If you can read this you must be using the pause button”. My favourite slot was the “Buygone Television Logo of the Week” which would feature such chestnuts as the Scottish TV logo from the 1960s complete with pipes, the old interference-pattern Harlech logo and obviously the seminal LWT “College Scarf” effort. Anyway, week after week for about six weeks I would faithfully record these and endure probably one of the worst shows ever inflicted on an unsuspecting public by C4. The presenters (especially the one called Fou Fou, some kind of overgrown fairy queen character) were awful, always missing links, talking inanely to the guests, and displaying almost zero charisma or on-screen chemistry between each other or the subject matter, which to be fair would have been interesting but for the presentation. The live format did not help at all in giving anything but barely-organised chaos on screen; for example, on one “Buygones” episode, the link to the next item cuts in some 15 seconds before the feature ends (“Napalm”).

Actually I was not very good with the pause button and managed to miss some bits. But I still have some of the links before or after “Buygones” on the tape, which I kept to this day. Occasionally I watch those scraps again and still find them funny – the links, that is. Thinking back on it now, “Buygones” kindled my fascination with all things connected with television and consumer durables from my childhood, which I have continued to this day. Thanks, Victor.

And thank you too, Channel 4. You won’t be surprised to learn that Club X was not commissioned for a second run.
Bruce MacDonald