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

First published November 2002


January …
Peter Curran presented media news in Wired WorldThe Decision followed people facing ethical dilemmas … Valerie Singleton presented the teatime quiz Backdate … and The Girlie Show filled the former Word slot.

February …
The staff of a holiday centre in Scarborough were the subject of Seasiders … Ardent Productions were behind the topical political comedy-drama Annie’s Bar … while The Mark Thomas Comedy Product and TFI Friday first appeared on Friday nights.

March …
Motor Mania celebrated the centenary of the car … Mersey Television produced the ’60s-set drama And The Beat Goes OnThe Greatest attempted to find Britain’s number one sportsperson, a survey won by Daley Thompson who coincidentally was a consultant on the show … and Tony Parsons reviewed the cultural scene in Big Mouth.

April …
The Gaby Roslin Show started its run on Saturday nights … An Inspector Calls took a wry look at those who enforce the rules … Flava showcased the lastest black music … the development of the personal computer was traced in Triumph of the Nerds … while Dennis Potter’s Karaoke was premiered on BBC1 and repeated on C4 the following evening.

May …
Zig and Zag’s Dirty Deeds saw the Big Breakfast stars graduate to their own sitcom … the life of a single mother got the sitcom treatment in Life After Birth … Dee and Hardy starred in Jack and Jeremy’s Real Lives, which began at 10.30pm and ended six weeks later at 1.20am … and Dennis Potter’s Cold Lazarus was premiered on C4 and repeated on BBC1 the following evening.

June …
Astronauts was the first ever look behind the scenes at NASA’s training scheme … another rarely-filmed institution came under the spotlight in Foreign Legion … 40 people from Leeds discussed topical issues in Beyond the Pale … while American Gothic premiered.

July …
Jenny Eclair and Germaine Greer outlined what would happen If I Were Prime Minister … and Susan Tully’s Genderquake discussed how the opposite sexes were swapping roles in the workplace.

September …
New directors got their first break in TalentspottingMoving People saw John Peel introduce video diaries of those relocating … Ian Hislop examined the history of the Church of England in Canterbury TalesNothing But the Truth debated topical issues in a courtroom setting with Paul Boateng MP as “judge” … Caroline in the City debuted on Friday nights … while Jane Horrocks got her own one-off comedy special, Never Mind the Horrocks.

October …
Richard Littlejohn presented the first series of Wanted … daytime saw the launch of cookery show Here’s One I Made Earlier … and Desire examined the fashion industry.

November …
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall visited members of the public as they cooked TV Dinners … Nigel Hawthorne starred in drama The Fragile Heart … while Black Box found out how air crashes occurred.

December …
Adult cartoon Pond Life began in the inconvenient timeslot of 5.45pm daily … and The Adam & Joe Show made its debut in a post-midnight slot.


The White Room
Since the ending of The Tube in 1987, C4 never really had a live music show of similar stature, most efforts either concentrating on one particular genre or mixing the bands with comedy or features (like The Word). By 1995, though, Britpop was in the ascendancy and it was felt the channel needed something to combat BBC2′s Later with Jools Holland. The White Room was more-or-less staffed by former Tube personnel, including executive producer Malcolm Gerrie, director Geoff Wonfor and producer Chris Cowey. The White Room of the title was the plain set that bands would perform in – the idea being that the music could speak for itself, without the distraction of chat or features, and as such presenter Mark Radcliffe simply introduced the bands as briefly as possible. Despite attracting many big names, it never really made it into the public’s affection, as could be seen from the scheduling – series one was at 10pm on Saturday nights, series two at 11pm, and series three at 11.35pm on Fridays in the middle of summer. Ironically former Tube frontman Jools Holland was the bigger draw, and eventually C4 dropped the show, arguing that TFI Friday was their platform for live music. Chris Cowey moved to produce Top of the Pops a year later.

Misc …

Stanley Baxter is Back and Stanley Baxter in Reel Terms saw the veteran comedian relive some of his classic sketches with guests Rory Bremner and Dawn French … Scott of the Arms Antics was a two-hour programme on Saturday night examining government sleaze, presented by Sheena McDonald, Rory Bremner and Paul Foot … seven weeks of programmes on the police were presented in the cleverly-titled Blue Light Zone … as part of Without Walls, William G Stewart presented a Fifteen-to-One special on the Elgin Marbles … from July, Countdown was broadcast all year round … Fame Factor was a series of programmes on celebrity, including memorable documentaries on Lynne Perrie, Brian Connolly and Blue Tulip Rose Read … Sharron Davies and Rick Adams were the new Big Breakfast team … and the Doctors and Nurses season included a day of live transmissions from Birmingham City Hospital on New Year’s Eve.

On Screen

Gaby Roslin
1996 should have been a triumphant year for the golden girl of breakfast television, but it didn’t all go to plan. Roslin left The Big Breakfast in January, but signed a new exclusive deal with Channel 4, who were pleased with her success fronting The Real Holiday Show. The first fruits of this new contract was The Gaby Roslin Show, a series that took its cue from Parkinson to provide in-depth celebrity conversation on a Saturday night, and was co-produced by her own Black And Blonde production company. However despite the hype the programme proved to be a huge disaster, with Roslin appearing woefully out of her depth and a procession of dull, uninteresting guests for her to interview. Most weeks Gaby was left chewing the fat with a D-list American actor or little-known comedian. The programme also seemed hugely out of place on Channel 4, with Gaby coming over as a complete innocent who was too nervous to ask any pressing questions. After 10 weeks the series was axed, and Gaby returned to The Real Holiday Show (and spin-offs The Real Wedding Show and The Real Christmas Show) before moving over to the BBC in 1997 and her more natural home fronting light entertainment.

Father Ted
Father Ted started in 1995 with little publicity and an unpromising premise: the adventures of three priests exiled on a deserted island off the coast of Ireland. However those who discovered it were soon won over by the sheer invention of Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews’ witty script, and the great comic performances of Dermot Morgan, Ardal O’Hanlon and Frank Kelly – all of whom were virtual unknowns in the UK before the series began. The programme actually started life as an unsolicited script that the writers sent to Hat Trick Productions, one of the few shows to make it to the screen from this route. The first series was rerun in January 1996 after picking up a number of awards, but it was the second series in March that really saw the programme reach critical mass. Extended from six to 10 episodes, word of mouth soon spread that here was one of the freshest new comedy series of the decade, and after more success (at the BAFTA awards amongst others) it was rewarded with an almost immediate repeat in August. A 70-minute festive special on Christmas Eve picked up its highest audience yet and proved that it was now reaching “national treasure” status. Only one more series followed in 1998 – an artistic decision to stop it getting stale. Dermot Morgan’s death immediately after filming was completed ensured that every episode of Father Ted will be treasured for years to come.

Off Screen

• After 14 years, C4 finally changed its logo in November. The multi-coloured four became plain white, and was used as part of a scheme that included four circles, each said to represent a different aspect of the channel.
Brass Eye was scheduled to run on Tuesday nights from 19 November, but was postponed shortly before transmission due to worries over some of its content.
• The channel was forced to apologise when an edition of The Big Breakfast was proceeded with a C4 ident showing Mark Little firing a gun at the camera – less than 24 hours after the Dunblane massacre.
TFI Friday had to abandon live transmissions after Shaun Ryder said “fuck” 13 times while singing The Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant.


“After spending a year of our lives, and £1 million, we are very keen that this thing be shown.”
Peter Fincham, Executive Producer, Brass Eye

“Part of the problem is that Mark Little considers himself the star of the show.”
The Sun on The Big Breakfast

“One of the strongest features of Eurotrash is its celebration of a polymorphous sexuality. It’s never been a laddish breast-fest.”
David Stevenson, C4 Commissioning Editor for Entertainment and Youth

My Favourite Channel 4 Moment …

As It Happened: The Killing of Kennedy (1993)
Transmitted on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, As It Happened: The Killing of Kennedy was Channel 4 documentary making at its very best. The basic premise, a minute-by-minute account of the events of 22 November 1963, was rooted not in any bombastic narration or half-hearted reconstructions but the eloquent testimonies of scores of eyewitnesses. What made their stories and memories all the more affecting, however, was the way they were left to speak for themselves, sometimes at length and in their own time, articulating their emotions while very visibly coming to terms with the legacy of the tragedy 30 years earlier.

The featured interviewees ranged from the lowliest of passers-by to high-ranking military and authority figures, yet all came across equally sincere and heart-felt. The cumulative impact was to leave you almost overwhelmed not only by the poignancy but also the nobility on display. Archive photographs, news reports and press cuttings sketched out a context within which the speakers’ words took on a greater resonance. But maybe the programme’s greatest achievement was avoiding mawkish sentimentality. This was no mystery story, we all knew how the day in question ended, but the restrained tone of both the contributors and the overall production turned what could’ve been a grisly melodramatic diagnosis into an unforgettable evocative anthology of personal grief and remembrance. Here was a human dignity rarely captured on film.
Ian Jones