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

First published November 2002


January …
Mike Smith introduced handy hints on furniture restoration in As Good as NewStarting Out comprised eight plays centred round life in a Midlands youth club … consumer issues for the over-60s were explored in Ten Million … following a one-off special in January 1985, the first proper series of Saturday Live began … and the history of classical music was charted in Man And Music.

February …
Long-running US sitcom Kate and Allie began … while Gary Olsen starred in the high profile 12-part drama Prospects set in London’s docklands.

March …
The Isle of Sark was the setting for surreal drama Mr Pye featuring Derek Jacobi … cultural matters were dissected in Voices … and contemporary jazz, rap and fusion artists performed in Club Mix.

April …
Phil Redmond’s comedy drama What Now? followed the fortunes of Merseyside school-leavers … music videos were counted down in The Chart ShowThe Marketing Mix taught you how to promote your own product … while The Pocket Money Programme endeavoured to popularise aspects of teenage finance and lifestyles.

May …
Open the Box, the brainchild of future BBC2 controller Jane Root, examined attitudes towards the production and watching of television programmes … contrasting local communities were analysed in People to People … and cutting-edge dance music was featured in Streets Ahead.

June …
Lesley Judd looked at animals in general but Pets in Particular … while children were encouraged to learn more about cookery in Kids Kafe.

July …
Anthony Minghella wrote the acclaimed drama What If It’s Raining? … and C4 gained its first regular science strand in the shape of Equinox.

August …
Enduring US hit sitcom The Golden Girls reached British screens.

September …
Grampian Television was responsible for the eight-part history of the production of Oil … while the history of traditional forms of British music was traced in Chasing Rainbows.

October …
Fly on the wall documentary Redbrick followed 10 weeks in the life of students at Newcastle University … the Grampian Sheepdog Trials were broadcast at teatimes … and Worzel Gummidge and The Waltons helped expand C4′s Sunday morning schedules.


Party Conference Live
The only time Channel 4 normally opened up before lunchtimes on a weekday was to provide live coverage of party conferences. It wasn’t just political conferences that were broadcast; both the TUC and CBI annual congress were aired, usually with a suitably pithy yet informative commentary from Peter Allen. But for a number of reasons – both financial concerns and anticipated scheduling issues (specifically the impending shift of schools programmes from ITV to C4 in ’87) – in July 1986 Jeremy Isaacs decided the channel could no longer devote such a portion of its airtime to these regular events. The response was immediate. Another “storm over” developed, as protests rained down from all sides of the political spectrum, compounded by threats from the TUC of “appropriate” industrial action. But C4 refused to give way, and come September a 30-minute report preceding the Channel 4 News was all the coverage it gave to party conferences of any kind. A couple of years later, that too was quietly dropped.

Misc …

Phil Nice and Arthur Smith hosted a 90-minute compilation of Channel 4 archive highlights in January … What a Way to Run a Revolution – a musical version of the 1926 General Strike – aired in May … a marathon five and a half hours were given over to The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald on 23 November … and Soap Aid was a special one-off show on 15 December featuring the casts of Coronation Street and Brookside raising money for the starving population of Ethopia.

On Screen

Muriel Gray
Formerly Assistant Head of Design at the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh, it was her membership of the rock group The Von Trapp Family which landed Muriel Gray a presenting job on The Tube. Though initially second banana to Paula Yates’ flirting and Jools Holland’s gurning, it was the patronage of Janet Street-Porter that won Gray a real place in the limelight and ultimately the honour of being C4′s most prominent female “face” come the mid-1980s. Bliss was a typically Street-Porter ramshackle effort, a testing ground for both original and second-hand ideas in pop programming – never mind a forum for the television debut of Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Nonetheless it allowed Gray’s idiosyncratic interview technique (half-insult, half-gossip) to flourish and be noticed. From there it was a startlingly quick jump to becoming C4′s resident “trendy-yet-intelligent” woman host, fronting everything from The Media Show to The Munro Show where she happily filmed herself climbing the highest mountains in Scotland.

The Chart Show
Initially designed as a stopgap while The Tube was on holiday, The Chart Show eventually ended up a permanent fixture and a convincing weekly rival to Top of the Pops. Overseen by former promo directors Keith MacMillan and Phil Davey, the strictly video-only production revelled in its amusingly amateurish on-screen “icons” which when clicked revealed exclusive information about tour dates, releases and a singer’s favourite pasta dish. One of the show’s finest moments, the regular dip into what became known as the “Video Vault”, only came about because MacMillan had to give the name of one featured act to TV Times in advance so they could include a picture alongside the listings. There was plentiful confusion for the discerning shopper, moreover, thanks to the programme’s use of the MRIB chart as opposed to the BBC’s preferred and industry-owned Gallup rundown. A move to ITV at the start of 1989 secured The Chart Show‘s status as an institution, where it remained until its untimely demise in August 1998.

Off Screen

• The first ever advertisement on British television for a sanitary towel – Dr Whites – was broadcast on C4 on 10 March.
• C4 announced the introduction its famous “red triangle” on 21 August to “indicate certain late-night feature films for which special discretion may be required”. The first film to be honoured with the triangle was Themroc, transmitted at 11.30pm on 19 September. The device was subsequently phased out within 12 months.
• From Saturday 18 October the channel began broadcasting at 9.25am at weekends rather than 1pm.


“It’s not good enough to slap on a warning symbol and then indulge in sadistic madness of this kind.”
Mary Whitehouse on the broadcast of Themroc

“We’re not really a chart show, we’re a new release show. We’ve got the indie charts and the dance chart, we’re not just doing the majors; we’re very careful to make that mix work very well, the music and visual placing. What’s wrong with Top of the Pops is they’ve been stuck with the Top 40 for so long, so any change is going to cause grief with their audience. Also, on TOTP, they can be shoe-staring indies or they can be Simply Red and they all look the same, really, from a televisual point of view.”
Keith MacMillan, The Chart Show

“I realized when I got down to Newcastle what sort of interview it was going to be because there were four hundred dreadful young people there in horrible attire. Even when I got to the stage of having a screen test I had no intention of taking it.”
Muriel Gray on getting a job on The Tube

My Favourite Channel 4 Moment …

Saturday Live (1986)
In 1986 I was 13 and perhaps at the peak of my comic powers. My friend Damon and I would spend a lot of our time at school trying to be funny. Thankfully our English teacher regularly asked our class to write short plays based on the latest novel or Shakespeare production we were reading. Invariably Damon and I would take this opportunity to be as amusing as possible and show off to the rest of the pupils. It remains well documented that on at least one occasion, rival playwrights in our class actually stole some of our material. We, of course, stole all of our material from the only comedy programme that used to matter back then.

I can’t remember how I got in to watching Saturday Live. It might have been that my elder brother watched it, or perhaps that we happened to come across it one Saturday evening sat in front of the television. What I do recall though is witnessing a comedy programme specifically catered to my needs. My own personal favourites were Fry and Laurie, but I also used to enjoy Ben Elton’s stand-up spots, Harry Enfield as Stavros (although never as “Loadsamoney”) and even Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson’s Dangerous Brothers (although this particular act would not bear repeat viewing as Bottom would later demonstrate).

Between waiting for my favourite regulars to turn up though, Saturday Live would – in a most public service way – introduce me to comic turns that I was previously unaware of. Of course, many would leave me cold but on the odd occasion someone baffling, bizarre and funny would appear. In particular I remember one act that consisted of some guy presenting a slide show. Of this two slides stick in the mind – the first one was of three owls, and the second was of a rocket taking off. The comedian made a comment about the second slide that for its humour relied on the image looking a bit like a pair of jeans. Bizarrely it worked. The strangeness and hilarity of this act in particular has always stayed with me.

Of course, the one rule of great comedy is that it never lasts. Saturday Live changed to Friday Night Live, Fry and Laurie departed and the whole thing became rubbish. Consequently, I was never funny again.
Jack Kibble-White