Arts & Culture Film, Theatre & TV

50th Anniversary of Broadcasting Press Guild celebrate with 50 Landmark TV Programmes.

  • March 24, 2024
  • 5 min read
50th Anniversary of Broadcasting Press Guild celebrate with 50 Landmark TV Programmes.

On the 21st March the Broadcasting Press Guild celebrated their 50th Anniversary with this attached list of 50 Landmark TV Programmes. How definitive is it? Some years ago the BFI published a book listing the most influential and groundbreaking British TV programmes of the 20th Century. It was studiously astute. Clearly much internal debate went into its final publication. It became the ‘go to’ tome for students of Film & TV. In this Top 50 list, however, I am reminded of the first ever ‘Top 100’ show that was made for UK TV and Channel 4 in particular. It wasn’t called ‘Top 100’ as the Executive Producer thought that the name ‘Top 100’ wouldn’t work. How wrong he was. Chrysalis TV aka North 1 TV (later sold-off) went on to make a small fortune out of that particular branded TV franchise. Channel 5 carried on the trend with their dumbed down TV equivalents.

I was the Archival Producer on ‘Music Of The Millennium’ (The Top 100 Albums of The Twentieth Century). It boasted a Guardian Readers Poll and HMV Record Buyers Poll in order to justify it. In truth the outcome was decided upon by what ‘we’ could afford to license or ‘Fair Deal’. This had Channel 4’s former Lawyers and our TV Series Producers riddled with anxiety. Needless to say, the main criticism of this show was the public’s viewpoint, namely, “Who’s voting? And why?” The critics had a point.

The same could be said of this esteemed Poll, which is lacking in four areas.

Dramatised ‘one-off plays and films’ are missing with the notable exception of Jack Gold’s The Naked Civil Servant from Thames ITV from 1975. Single-slot one-off TV plays in series in the shape of BBC 1’s the Wednesday Play series (1960’s) later rebranded as Play For Today (1970’s and 1980’s) plus BBC2’s PlayBill 2 (1970’s and 1980’s) later rebranded as Screen 2 (1990’s). All omitted!. So, is ITV’s Armchair Theatre (1960’s) and Channel 4’s Film On Four (1982 till 1996). Later to become Film Four. A major player in contemporary cinema.

Next in the ‘missing’ stakes is the lack of Investigative Documentary series. Granada – ITV’s mainstay was World In Action, a half hour weekly series that ran for decades. In 1968 ABC-ITV morphed into Thames-ITV. They had a rival documentary series called This Week. Later rebranded as TV Eye, which then reverted back to This Week. Interestingly, a programme that led to This Week’s demise is cited in the shape of Death On The Rock at number 41. BBC TV had the ultra sharp single-slot documentary series Inside Story (1980’s and 1990’s), while Channel 4 had the incisive Cutting Edge series (1990’s) and also Despatches. The latter still survives. No listing of these in the Top 50 BGP Poll.

Arts series are all but forgotten. We have no mention of BBC1’s Monitor (1960’s) or Omnibus (1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s, 1990’s) or Imagine, which still runs, while not forgetting BBC 2’s Late Night Line-up (1960’s) and Arena (1970’s till present). LWT-ITV’s Aquarius (1970’s) and LWT-ITV’s The South Bank Show (1978 till 2010 + 2010 till 2023 on Sky Arts). All are overlooked. Kenneth Clarke’s BBC series Civilisation (1960’s) was possibly the greatest Arts series ever undertaken anywhere. Also forgotten. Robert Hughes BBC 2 Arts series The Shock of The New (1970’s) has never been matched. It isn’t even mentioned. Jacob Bronowski’s BBC 1 series The Ascent of Man (1960’s) was academic and epic. Sold internationally. Not an “Arts” series, but still overlooked here.

Music on TV also suffers in this 50 landmark TV Programmes 2024 Poll. Apart from Channel 4’s The Word, which is ‘in’ at number 40. Notably missing is the greatest live music series ever made for Rediffusion – TV, namely, Ready Steady Go! There is no mention of BBC 1’s Top of The Pops, which ran for decades. No mention of BBC 2’s The Old Grey Whistle Test (1971-1983) which later became Whistle Test (1983-1987) nor any of its 1960’s and 1970’s forerunners such as Colour Me Pop and Disco 2. Channel 4’s The Tube was groundbreaking and ran from 1982-1987. It is omitted, as are most of Channel 4’s 1980’s and 1990’s music series such as Wired, Big World Cafe, The White Room, and TFI Friday. What would Chris Evans say about all of this?

“Don’t Forget Yer Toothbrush?” (1991)

So who made these choices? Media Journalists! That’s who! Me? I’m off their Xmas card list. Print and be damned!

Perhaps the death of TV is upon us? Young folk hardly watch TV. The rest of us? Well, don’t forget to switch off your TV, and, they used to say every night on Scottish Television, “Unplug your TV at the wall!”

Broadcasting Press Guild’s Top 50 Landmark TV Programmes

1. 7 Up series – ITV-Granada + BBC, 1964-2019

2. Life On Earth – BBC, 1979
3. The World At War – ITV/Thames, 1973
4. The Office – BBC, 2001
5. Big Brother – Channel 4, 2000
6. Planet Earth – BBC, 2006
7. Have I Got News For You – BBC, 1990
8. I May Destroy You – BBC, 2020
9. The Singing Detective – BBC, 1986
10. The Day Today – BBC, 1994
11. The Royle Family – BBC
12. Our Friends In The North – BBC
13. I’m Alan Partridge – BBC
14. Boys From The Blackstuff – BBC
15. Blackadder – BBC
16. Strictly Come Dancing – BBC
17. The Thick Of It – BBC
18. Fleabag – BBC/Amazon
19. Only Fools And Horses – BBC
20. The Naked Civil Servant – ITV/Thames
21. Spitting Image – ITV/Central
22. Queer As Folk –-Channel 4
23. The Family – BBC
24. Monty Python’s Flying Circus – BBC
25. House Of Cards – BBC
26. Gogglebox – Channel 4
27. Goodness Gracious Me – BBC
28. The Crown – Netflix
29. Newsnight – BBC
30. Derry Girls – Channel 4
31. Brideshead Revisited – ITV/Granada
32. Chernobyl – HBO/Sky
33. Cracker – ITV/Granada
34. Blue Peter – BBC
35. Inspector Morse – ITV/Central
36. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – BBC
37. The Beatles: Get Back – Disney+
38. I, Claudius – BBC
39. Wallace & Gromit: A Close Shave – BBC
40. The Word – Channel 4
41. Death On The Rock – ITV/Thames
42. This is England – Channel 4
43. The Great British Bake-Off – BBC + Channel 4
44. Grange Hill – BBC
45. Pride and Prejudice – BBC
46. Pennies From Heaven – BBC
47. Desmond’s – Channel 4
48. The Big Breakfast – Channel 4
49. Parkinson – BBC + ITV
50. The Traitors – BBC

About Author

Henry Scott Irvine

The published author of Procol Harum's hardback Omnibus Press biography, Henry Scott-Irvine's writing began in the script departments of the British film industry. He continued as a Film & TV 'Music & Arts' researcher. He has a long background in published journalism. A radio producer-presenter since 2009 as well as a producer of the award winning documentary film Tales From Tin Pan Alley. He's a successful campaigner for securing listings and preservation for London's music & film heritage sites.

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