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

First published November 2002


January …
Culinary matters were featured in Take Six CooksThe Heart of the Dragon traced the history of China … while Diverse Reports showcased deliberately biased and confrontational journalism.

March …
Originally aired on S4C, the cast of Night Beat News – a comedy lampooning the workings of a fictional TV station – taped each scene twice: once in Welsh and once in English … and Nicky Horne and Gary Crowley grappled with the art of fronting dodgy pop show Ear Say, and failed.

May …
Candid discussions and reports were aired in Sex Matters … after a one-off special in November 1983, Who Dares Wins … began its first proper series … while Alan Bleasdale‘s Scully starred Andrew Schofield, Jean Boht, Elvis Costello and Kenny Dalgliesh.

July …
Trak Trix misguidedly attempted to stage It’s a Knockout style japes on a miniscule budget on a freezing cold beach in the middle of nowhere.

September …
Listening Eye covered issues for the deaf and hard of hearing … and Simon Callow and Brenda Blethyn starred in the surreal, self-parodying sitcom Chance in a Million.

October …
Mavis Nicolson transferred her ITV afternoon magazine show across networks in the shape of A Plus 4 … Geoffrey Palmer took the lead in Fairly Secret Army … while The Business Programme investigated the world of finance.

November …
Hill Street Blues switched channels from ITV … sketch show Pushing Up Daisies made minor stars of Chris Barrie and Hale and Pace … and Irish chat institution The Late Late Show debuted on British screens.


The Friday Alternative
Transmitted every Friday at 7.30pm straight after a shortened Channel 4 News, The Friday Alternative had contrived to upset more or less the entire media establishment since it began just four days after C4′s launch. The show’s brief – to present news and current affairs reportage in an innovative, provocative and necessarily one-sided manner – had irked ITN, who lost 30 minutes a week to a show they believed deliberately sought to undermine their own output. Eventually Jeremy Isaacs was forced to give way to an angry C4 management board, and The Friday Alternative was replaced in January 1984 with Diverse Reports – from exactly the same production company (Diverse Productions). Somewhat symbolically, the motorbike that was due to deliver the last ever edition of The Friday Alternative to C4 HQ got lost, ended up at the BBC, and the show had to go out 24 hours late.

Misc …

C4′s first proper season of films, The British at War, began in October … LWT’s four hour drama-documentary The Trial of Richard III was broadcast on 4 November … while An Evening with Mary Tyler Moore on 10 December included episodes of St Elsewhere and The Betty White Show.

On Screen

Richard Whiteley
The way in which the host of Countdown evolved into one of C4′s most well-known and enduring “faces” recalls David Frost’s much-mocked “rise without trace”. At some point during the last two decades Whiteley stopped being the occasional host of one of a rotating number of teatime quiz shows and became something approaching a national icon. When exactly that moment occurred is a near mystery. However a turning point of sorts came in February 1984, when Whiteley enjoyed a trip to Monte Carlo to attend a special recording of Countdown‘s French antecedent, Des Chiffres et des Lettres. Unbeknown to Monsieur Twatly (as the French erroneously billed him), the excursion was merely a ruse to keep him occupied while Yorkshire TV bosses deliberated over whether to fire him in the light of Countdown‘s recent poor ratings. Right at the last minute, though, the axe was postponed when a new set of viewing figures revealed the show had made the C4 top 10 for the first time. A fax from Paul Fox, head of Yorkshire TV, proclaimed “business as usual” – and so it would remain.

Channel 4 News
After a visibly ropey first 12 months, complete with regular technological breakdowns, a horrendous garish set, and a palpable lack of confidence on the part of its presenters, Channel 4 News hit its stride in 1984. Much was to do with the yearlong miners strike and the manner in which the programme opted to carefully and even-handedly chart the course of the dispute; at last here was a topic that seemed to suit the hour-long format. But it was also due to the accomplishment of its original quartet of hosts and reporters: Peter Sissons, Trevor McDonald, Sarah Hogg and Godfrey Hodgson. The BBC had jeered when C4 mooted the idea of an extended news bulletin at 7pm – no-one would watch, it was too long, it would sabotage any chance of grabbing and sustaining a primetime audience. The personalities of Channel 4 News helped to overcome these and other more tangible problems; and from an embarrassing trough ratings quickly grew, hitting a record high on 22 August during an interview between Arthur Scargill and Ian MacGregor.

Off Screen

• In January the IBA turned down ITV’s plan to move schools programmes to Channel 4 – for now.
• Channel 4 technicians refused to black out programmes in support of striking colleagues at Thames Television in August.
• From 15 October C4′s output increased by 25%; weekday schedules now began at 2.30pm instead of around 5pm, and weekends opened at 1pm rather than 2pm.


“Trial by television – but no charges of contempt of court. Richard III, unavoidably absent, was put on trial for the murder of the Princes in the Tower. For four hours lawyers and witnesses debated his guilt or innocence. Two million watched. The jury acquitted.”
Jeremy Isaacs

“This is space age television. Ours is the most up-to-date newsroom in the world – no typewriters, no paper, so your story can’t blow out of the window.”
Peter Sissons, Channel 4 News, ITN

“If we are going to provide afternoon programming we might as well provide a complementary service. The reason it took so long was that until ITV were convinced they could actually make some money out of us, they were reluctant to part with their money.”
Sue Stoessl, Head of Marketing, C4

My Favourite Channel 4 Moment …

Last Day of Summer (1984)
This is what I know now. Last Day of Summer, which went out sometime in 1984, was part of Channel 4′s Film on Four series. Based on a short story written by Ian McEwan in his book First Love, Last Rites it starred Annette Badland as Jenny and Graham McGrath as Tom. But I only know that now.

It’s a drama I’ve seen just once so what is it that makes me pick out Last Day of Summer as as a specific Channel 4 memory? The film was about the close friendship that developed between Jenny, a nanny (or was she a tutor?) and her young charge Tom during a school summer holiday. It had a pleasing, private quality – that of letting you into a secret world shared only by the two characters. I want to apply the description “gentle” here, but the connotations would be all wrong.

In truth my memory of the drama as a whole is patchy, except for the final sequence. It’s the end of the summer and for some reason it’s Jenny and Tom’s last day together. The pair go out onto a lake in a small rowing boat. There’s laughter that the two have shared throughout, but it now becomes obvious that outside their guardian/ward relationship Jenny is desperately lonely – inadequate, even. The laughter turns into horrifically violent sobbing, and disaster as the boat capsizes. Tom swims around looking for Jenny, but she’s gone. She doesn’t want to be saved.

It’s hard to explain why this sequence has stayed with me. In part because it subverted my expectations about a drama that seemed at first winsome. It was like a fairy tale gone bad. The realisation that beyond the relationship the two characters shared was a pretty nasty world was also striking.

The drowning, the revelation – both were a neat and nasty trick. But somehow very Channel 4.
Graham Kibble-White