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

First published November 2002


January …
Matthew Kelly starred in the father-and-son sitcom Relative Strangers written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran.

February …
Technological matters were the concern of Tony Bastable and 4 Computer Buffs … Bill Cosby began his nine-year residence as avuncular head of the household in The Cosby Show … while ethical discussion show Credo moved to C4 from ITV.

March …
Erstwhile TV-am regular Barry Wilson hosted Farming on 4.

April …
The Max Headroom Show premiered … contemporary R’n'B and black music was showcased in The Soul Train … and Prunella Scales and Geraldine McEwan starred in the award-winning Mapp and Lucia.

July …
Saeed Jaffrey led the cast of East London-based Asian sitcom Tandoori Nights … US sitcom Family Ties starred Michael J Fox … and documentary series The Press Gang charted the fortunes of Britain’s regional newspapers.

August …
Gary Owens presented American staple The Gong Show … Muriel Gray fronted the ropey pop-meets-chat show Bliss … while Rainer Fassbinder’s 14-part epic Berlin Alexanderplatz set in 1920s Germany boasted a split second shot of an erection in its title sequence.

September …
Coping profiled practical solutions to personal and family crises … Tariq Ali and Darcus Howe launched ethnic investigative magazine show The Bandung File … and world music was explored in the 14-part Beats of the Heart.

October …
Roy Castle was the guest host in the first ever edition of children’s show Pob’s Programme … archive American newsreel footage was repackaged in the epic On the March … Bernard Levin marched in Hannibal’s Footsteps … while All Stitched Up tackled important knitting and crotchet issues.

November …
The political history of the 1970s was chronicled in the acclaimed Writing on the Wall … and Heather Couper introduced an in-depth guide to The Planets.


Loose Talk
The search for a durable youth-orientated magazine show – as opposed to music-based series like The Tube – severely tested the staying power of C4′s first team of commissioning editors. Turnover was alarming, but somewhat masked from the attention of the rest of the media thanks to the plight of TV-am becoming the top story throughout 1983 and ’84. Loose Talk lasted just two series before going the same way as programmes such as Ear Say and the woeful Trak Trix. Presenter Steve Taylor acquitted himself honourably, but was hindered by a remit that refused to gel into a consistent format. The show was frankly neither one thing nor the other, pitching up somewhere in-between a ragged discussion programme, over-earnest youth journalism and a somewhat embarrassing opinion forum. “Youth television” would take a couple more years to reach a more workable and lasting template.

Misc …

The 1960s were celebrated in It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, a two and a half hour long theme night on New Year’s Day … C4 secured its largest audience ever – almost 14 million – with the screening of Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Woman of Substance on 2, 3 and 4 January … Peter Sissons was the linkman for Europe in Concert, a trans-continental three and a half hour sequence of classical performances on 21 June … 30 years of ITV were commemorated in a special evening of archive programmes on 22 September … Spike Milligan made a one-off appearance on C4 in The Last Laugh Before TV-am in December … and the 30th birthday of Granada Television was honoured with a night of original programmes from the ’60s, including Bootsie and Snudge and a compilation of From the North, on 30 December.

On Screen

Max Headroom
Very much a collective creation – conceived by C4 commissioning editor Andy Park, record producer Peter Wagg, filmmakers Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, and actor Matt Frewer – the gibbering, ultra-arch, supposedly-computer generated Max Headroom initially only existed within a stand-alone one-off TV movie about media manipulation in the 21st century. C4 didn’t have enough money for a sequel and consigned Max to coyly linking music videos, but the striking technological gimmickry and Frewer’s smartalec verbalese rocketed the titular host into stardom. An effortless match of the innovative and the entertaining, Max Headroom was soon all over the place, whether hooking up with The Art of Noise or being re-incarnated as Roy Hattersley on Spitting Image. US networks later developed the original concept into a series, screened on C4 in 1989, but it’s as flippant front man that Max is best remembered.

Pob’s Programme
By 1985 Anne Wood had already helped bring Roland Rat to TV-am and produce The Book Tower and Ragdolly Anna; more recently she’d set up her own company, Ragdoll Productions, to develop a new children’s show for Channel 4. The result was Pob’s Programme, a memorable pot pourri linked by the eponymous Pob: a goblin-esque creature with over-sized ears and a pink and yellow striped jumper too big for him, and who got inside your TV to “interrupt” normal transmissions as and when he pleased. These items included Rod Campbell demonstrating various complex ways to open a surprise box, which was then always repeated (“Again?”); Czechoslovakian animations such as Maxi-dog; and Dick King-Smith strolling around the countryside accompanied by his dog Dodo. Special guests arrived in Pob’s garden via a long piece of string along which were attached various clues; visitors included Spike Milligan, Brian Blessed, Charlie Williams and Polly James. Best of all, though, was Pob’s distinctive means of introduction: “breathing” onto your TV screen then rubbing a hole in the “condensation” – an act which prompted Channel 4 to receive letters of complaint from angry parents accusing Pob of encouraging spitting.

Off Screen

• David Dundas, composer of the four-note Channel 4 “theme”, won a court battle to retain all rights to his creation and £1000 a week in royalties in a settlement on 12 June.
• The IBA duelled with Jeremy Isaacs and his team over the broadcast of two films shown on Twenty-Twenty Vision. The first concerned MI5 phone tapping; the second was about Brazilian cinema, and which was banned twice.


“All three programmes have been running since day one at C4 and all have proved they have got legs. All three are really distinctive and they deserve to be there for ever and a day.”
Paul Fox, Managing Director, Yorkshire Television, on Channel 4 News, Countdown and Film on Four

“15 hours and 20 minutes of degradation deemed art.”
Time magazine on Berlin Alexanderplatz

“Arts coverage always conjures up for me an image of a grey-green tarpaulin descending over living art. Our programmes aim to uncover and discover art, to let art shape television, not vice versa.”
Michael Kustow, Commissioning Editor for Arts Programmes, C4

“Originally we did actually try using real steam coming from a tube fitted to Pob’s mouth, but the slightly drawback was that the puppet turned out to be too hot to hold. In the end we settled for a well known spray polish sprayed from both sides onto the glass.”
Robin Stevens, puppeteer, Pob’s Programme

My Favourite Channel 4 Moment …

Comedy Zone (1984)
Prior to Channel 4, there was always the feeling that British TV was the best in the world. And it was, really. Conversely, American TV was by far the worst – we all knew it. We had quality stuff like Upstairs, Downstairs and I, Claudius. They had nothing better than Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (not including the rare exception, like Roots – never let a good prejudice stand in the way of facts.)

Yet now, most media-savvy people will tell you that British television is in crisis and that if you really want to see the best drama or comedy, it’s the good ole USA you have to look to. The West Wing, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Oz, Sex in the City, Frasier … whereas in Blighty we’ve had Spooks and Coupling and sod-all else for years.

We first became aware of the discrepancy in the received wisdom of our elders when Channel 4 took the brave move to make Friday night their comedy night. Brave? Well, BBC2 seemed to have that slot sown up for years – 9pm was their primetime laugh-a-minute slot, and all of their shows were British (all the American imports were vintage shows like Bilko or I Love Lucy, which were shoved into filler slots). Channel 4 began challenging this with their own home-grown stuff like It Came From Somewhere Else (which starred Pete McCarthy) and Dream Stuffing (with a theme by Kirsty McColl).

Into that mix, they also included American sitcoms as if they were as worthy as our own stuff (the heresy!) First off the blocks was a little-remembered show called Love Sidney, which starred Tony Randall as a middle-aged man living with a single mom (and it’s taken ’til now for me to realise that Randall’s character was gay – the 12-year old me never picked up on that). And of course, that paved the way for The Golden Girls, Cheers, Frasier, Cybill (as in the famous continuity announcer gaffe “In half an hour, the Comedy Zone starts with a new episode of Friends … but first, Cybill.”)

That decision to open up our minds to American comedy opened the floodgates. Suddenly, we were getting Hill Street Blues, St Elsewhere and all those other MTM productions. And as a consequence, we started seeing our own dramas take on a different form – The Bill and Casualty came about as a direct response to these American interlopers.

In early 2002, a letter appeared in the BBC’s internal magazine Ariel boasting that BBC1 doesn’t show a single American show in prime-time slots … which just shows how out of touch the Corporation actually is. It’s funny that now, we have the irony that the BBC feel comfortable to keep trotting out the same old lies – that they can’t afford to make sci-fi that competes with American shows like Angel or Star Trek; shows that, before Channel 4, would have been used as schedule filler instead of ever being offered a prime-time slot. At least BBC2 seems to be getting the message – Twin Peaks, Buffy and 24 have been able to find homes there. But there’s still a sniffy air about imported shows that we don’t seem to find on C4. So long as those imports remain of the quality of HBO’s finest, that suits me just fine.
Jim Sangster