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

First published November 2002


January …
Peter Bowles starred as the titular Irish army major turned magistrate in The Irish RM … C4′s first original sitcom No Problem! was also the first black-made comedy show created for British television … Derek Hobson chaired Jeopardy … and Gastank featured both new and old rock musicians in conversation and performance.

February …
Cheers began its 10 year run … while pre-pubescent wannabes sung and danced to contemporary hits in the notorious Minipops.

March …
Chips Comic was C4′s rather unique attempt at a genuine home grown children’s programme … while Switch showcased new and alternative music.

April …
Steve Taylor hosted youth-orientated discussion series Loose Talk … the award-winning Vietnam: A Television History traced the full story of the Vietnam War … magazine show Alter Images featured avant-garde and provocative performance art … The Late Clive James helped further the career of the ebullient ex-television critic … Graeme Garden challenged guests to Tell the Truth … for ultra-cheap sitcom Father’s Day John Alderton wore his own clothes to save money, while the production team brought props and scenery from their own homes … and acclaimed US comedy drama St Elsewhere portrayed the life of a Boston teaching hospital.

May …
Fred Harris introduced examples of Numbers at Work.

July …
Hot for Dogs promised cutting edge music and dance … while a plethora of word games was dispensed by Peter Purves in Babble.

August …
Jancis Robinson sampled the first of many potent bouquets in The Wine Programme.

September …
Adam Faith solved those niggling home video problems in Video Video.

October …
Produced by Mickey Dolenz and penned by Ruby Wax, For 4 Tonight was a spoof TV chat show based in the fictional town of Newton Barnes.

November …
Our Lives featured a series of profiles of East End life, beginning with a look at the memorable world of “The Knockers”.


Whatever You Want
The first big casualty of the channel virtually brought about its own demise thanks to the belligerent grandstanding of its host Keith Allen. After optimistically describing the show as “a magazine for young people”, Isaacs vetoed Allen’s choice of guest for the first show (Tony Benn), overruled the inclusion of an invocation by Allen for viewers to attend a local government rally, then axed a piece by a young activist demanding the unemployed “bring down Thatcher”. Allen walked in January 1983, the show briefly limped on as a music-only package, then disappeared for good.

Misc …

Robert Powell narrated the 26 part series The World – A Television History which ran from May … The Prisoner was shown in full throughout the autumn … the entire schedule was cleared on 9 October for the broadcast of Tony Harrison’s The Oresteia, a four and a half hour adaptation of classical Greek myths … and LWT’s An Audience With … transferred to C4 in December starting with a 90 minute special starring Kenneth Williams; it would only return to ITV in 1988.

On Screen

Jools Holland
While The Tube steadily established its personality and influence throughout 1983, the standing of its chief presenters varied dramatically. While Paula Yates doted on publicity and positively revelled in the platform the show provided her with, Jools Holland always gave the impression of turning up in spite of rather than because there were television cameras present. Yet he quickly became something akin to C4′s maestro in residence, seemingly qualified to front reports and ultimately whole programmes about any kind of music imaginable. Irritating and intriguing by turn, Holland undeniably helped cement The Tube‘s image and establish C4′s “youth” credentials. Even after he’d helped destroy the show in 1987 he still maintained a presence on the channel through programmes ranging from the woeful – The Groovy Fellas (1989) – to the sublime – Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush (1994 – 95).

Lambasted in the broadsheets for its “disturbingly explicit sexuality” and for contributing to “the slaying of childhood”, Minipops‘ biggest fault was arguably its woeful production values. The tackiness and amateurish feel amplified the faintly ridiculous content, and made the show appear tasteless and offensive rather than merely daft and embarrassing. Produced by Mike Mansfield, the series was actually preceded a number of months earlier with the documentary Don’t Do It Mrs Worthington, which revealed the audition process and profiled earnest starlets not that dissimilar in their ambition and character to the present-day Popstars. Nonetheless the response to pre-teen look-alikes singing Satisfaction and other nostalgic hits was enough to secure Minipops‘ near-immediate infamy and a swift demise.

Off Screen

One in Five, a late-night profile of homosexual lifestyles broadcast on New Year’s Day, and The Eleventh Hour: Veronica 4 Rose, which featured two schoolgirls discussing lesbianism, garnered C4′s most extreme criticism to date – and prompted Tory MP John Carlisle to try and get the channel banned.
• ITV bosses supposedly hatched a plot during the festive holiday to persuade the IBA to sack Jeremy Isaacs and then transmit old black and white episodes of Coronation Street across the C4 schedules. “ITV chiefs do not meet or confer over Christmas,” retorted Isaacs.
• C4 was censured by the Advertising Standards Authority in March for promoting their music output with the slogan: “Warn your neighbours they could need ear plugs.”
• In an effort to cross-promote the new channel, ITV gave over the bulk of its evening schedule on 7 April to what was billed as ITV’s Channel Four Showcase – a mixed bag of both current and upcoming C4 programmes, including, bizarrely, the fifth episode of Father’s Day.


“Now listen, you’ve got thirty seconds to justify this preposterous title. I don’t want any of our programmes called ‘The … anything’.”
Jeremy Isaacs to Andrea Wonfor, Founding Producer, The Tube

“Storm over IRA film on Channel 4″
The Mail on Sunday

“A ‘storm over …’ is a conversation between a journalist and a Member of Parliament in which the journalist tells the MP something he does not know, and the MP calls for the banning of something he has not seen.”
Jeremy Isaacs

Vietnam – A Television History is simply the best series of this kind ever made, including The World at War.”
David Elstein, Director of Programmes, Thames Television

“Despite the low ratings, the word is quietly spreading in the advertising world that Channel 4 is becoming something of a success. While ITV’s viewers are predominantly elderly and downmarket, Channel 4 is reaching more young people from upper socio-economic groups; in other words the kind of people who, instead of spending all their leisure time in front of the box, go out and buy things too.”
Sue Summers, Evening Standard, 24/06/83

My Favourite Channel 4 Moment …

Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in (1983)
Being only seven years old when Channel 4 was launched it would be a lie to say that it leapt on my consciousness early on. It must be said to begin with that none of the channel’s early fare made it on to my parent’s schedule of desirable programming and consequently my experience of its very first days are confined largely to memories of the floral continuity cards that peppered its commercial breaks during the early afternoon when commercials seemed rather thin on the ground. Nothing on show, however, was to prove alluring enough to draw my attention away from the children’s output of the BBC or ITV. That was not to last, though.

At some – inevitably – rather indeterminate stage the channel decided to screen programmes that can’t have been seen on British television for many years: Bewitched, The Dick Van Dyke Show and the one that grabbed my attention by far the most, the tremendous Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.

I can’t pretend that I understood most, or indeed any, of it so perhaps it was the extraordinary luridness of it all in its gloriously stereotypical ’60s psychedelia that caught my junior eye to begin with. Whatever the reason, it became the first show on Channel 4 that was appointment viewing for me as I insisted to a baffled mother that I wanted to watch it and shun the usual early evening offerings. I soon became addicted to the dreadful puns, the strange characters, the “way-out” cast of regulars (most particularly Rip Taylor and his confetti act, which remains baffling to this day). Most especially I loved the wall from which the likes of Goldie Hawn and Henry Gibson would appear and throw their terrible jokes at Dan and Dick and the frequent appearances of Sammy Davis Jr and his “Here come the judge” schtick. So I was suitably mortified when it was finally removed from the schedules and the show was replaced with something considered a little more appropriate for the new burgeoning identity of the fledgling channel.

I have not the slightest notion of what criteria were set which lead to the transmission of the Laugh-In (although I think it is reasonable to speculate that in the early ’80s the shows would have been less than expensive) although of course the station has subsequently became synonymous with US import comedy. But whatever the reason it was the show that brought me to Channel 4.

Say goodnight, Dick …
Chris Diamond