Britain’s Most Watched TV, Channel 4

by | Feb 7, 2005 | All, Reviews

What to say of you liked it

A confetti shower of TV gems to glory and indulge in, that cemented the symbiotic marriage between everyday life and that cute little box in the corner of our living rooms.

What to say of you didn’t like it

It was like seeing a blue whale trapped in a murky Birmingham canal near the local sewage works where the great leviathan has to swallow then filter out the sparse nutritious krill, in the comely form of classic shows, from the choking, toxic effluence of the rest of British television.

What was good about it?

• Tommy Cooper was revealed to be more than just a slightly funny magician whom your parents would eulogise; his physical routines especially had the same humour, spirit and wilful incompetence of Laurel and Hardy

• Some of the talking heads were excellent – the cultural encyclopaedia of Paul Morley; the shrewd expertise of Jonathan Dimbleby; and Jon Snow’s evocative wonder at the events in the 60s which encouraged him into journalism.

• Miss World 1967 (23.76m viewers) which would have been its usual diluted procession of depraved human beauty contested by faces so blank and vacuous they would be more familiar seen with a tomato stuffed in their mouths lying prostrate and dead on a banquet table, but for the feminist protest of screaming and flour bombs directed at bemused host Bob Hope.

• When JFK was assassinated, the BBC had blank screens for a while before someone decided to amusingly broadcast a jaunty comedy show. But such a show would be preferable to today’s barrel scraping interviews and tortuous conversations on 24 hour news channels (“John, we were with you five minutes ago. Is there any update?” “Well, no, George. But as I stand in this fine city, founded by the Roman Empire almost 2000 years ago, you can almost see the buildings themselves weep in sorrow at the day’s catastrophe…”).

• The London Palladium clip in which the show’s sole saving grace – host Bruce Forsyth – entered the shot chin first.

• The unintentional hilarity of host Michael Aspel’s Miss World script – “She’s an actress and a model; brown of hair and blue of eyes.”

• Footage of the damaged Apollo 13’s re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere when the TV crews didn’t know of they’d be broadcasting a jubilant salvation or a fiery tragedy.

• The curious reassurance of Blankety Blank with all the stock celebrity ciphers sat in the correct seats – Les Dawson as the front middle comic and Roy Hudd as the sober funnyman positioned at left back.

• The Question of Sport edition with Princess Anne and Emlyn Hughes giggling: “I wish I could put my arm around you, mate.”

• The Cure’s A Forest as the soundtrack to JR’s shooting in Dallas.

• The absurd mystery of the culprit for JR’s attempted murder which observed the film being brought into the country under armed guard.

What was bad about it?

• It was four long hours of very, very patchy television shows. The traumatic effect on the brain was like being stretched on a medieval torture rack. The 60s hour was fairly enjoyable as the limbs and joints were piquantly exercised; the 70s began well but the discomfort soon set in; the 80s was the time when the muscles started to tear and the bones dislocated from their joints; and the 90s was when our snapped ribs split the skin to protrude through our torso and our knees became so broken they could bend at 90 degrees in all directions of the compass.

• As with similarly grandiose shows like the biggest selling records, much of what was exhibited is usually only found in the yards of decrepit farmers with a surfeit of incontinent cattle.

• The appalling number of very bad toupees and nascent hair transplants.

• Dominik Diamond was visited in his padded cell in the Talking Head Asylum, a grotty edifice on a remote island inhabited by broadcasters who have lost the ability to talk to anything other than a TV camera.

• In 1968, 19.36 million people tuned in to watch the boat race. But perhaps we shouldn’t be too harsh as this was an era when serfs were legally bound to watch from the decaying cellars of their noble masters, usually to catch a fleeting glimpse of their master’s nephew on the riverbank quaffing champagne and battering a humble undergraduate with a broken oar.

• The Queen aspiring to prove she’s as normal as you and me in 1969’s The Royal Family, by driving through her endless estate in a land rover with a chirpy Prince Andrew in the back seat.

• ITV’s short-lived London-based soap Market In Honey Lane – the diabolic precursor of Albion Market.

• The footage of Sunday Night At The London Palladium – a show that has dated so badly it’s getting married to Liza Minelli – in which the mindlessly pappy Cliff Richard provided a compelling case for human vivisection.

• Danny Kelly, who we usually like, contributing as though a living, breathing, vomit and saliva spattered tabloid front page about the 1966 World Cup Final when he asserted the English tuned in “to see us stick it to the Hun” and that the “Russian” linesman (he was actually Georgian) gave the third goal because of the “20 million dead” in World War Two. Presumably, after the match the same official sang at a concert celebrating his countryman Joseph Stalin’s achievement of acing even the Nazis in the civilian butchery stakes.

• Commentators such as Michael Macintyre, not born in 1966, exaggerating the enmity between England and West Germany caused by World War Two. And we imagine the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish, who had also suffered terrible casualties, were singing in the pubs at the final whistle, too.

• Dominik Diamond asserting that The Sweeney was the blueprint for NYPD Blue and The Shield’s no-nonsense, slightly corrupt cops and the Americans had “ripped it off”. Of course, Dirty Harry must be a figment of our imagination.

• The use of Atomic Kitten’s Ladies’ Night to soundtrack Miss World – as indelibly draining as a vampire feasting on the aorta of humanity.

• Neighbours, with its asinine storylines and leaf litter characters, which in the late 80s posed as much of a threat to teenage well-being as the twin contemporary bugbears of obesity and irradiated mobile phones combined.

• The top shows of the 90s (HeartBeat, Auntie’s Bloomers, You’ve Been Framed, Birds of a Feather, Neighbours, the National Lottery and It’ll Be Alright On the Night) which were as a debilitating a diet to mental health as a breakfast, lunch and dinner made

from the waste from Richard Blackwood’s colonic irrigation and Jade Goody’s blubber would have on the bowels.

• Former Coronation Street executive David Liddiment claiming that introducing a third episode weekly episode of the grimy northern soap in the 90s was a “revolution”. But this “Soap Revolution” had the same crippling effect on the quality of British television as the Cultural Revolution had on China’s economy.

• James Whitaker – everything about this man makes our skin want to grow eight legs and frighten children from his haughty belief that Diana had made a mistake with the Martin Bashir interview to his snooty voice that sounds like a posh whining car alarm.

Britain’s Most Watched TV Top 20

1 – England’s 1966 World Cup win against Germany 32.3m

2 – Princess Diana’s funeral 32.1m

3 – Royal Family documentary (1969) 30.7m

4 – Den serves Angie with divorce papers in EastEnders (1986) 30.2m

5 – Apollo 13’s splashdown (1970) 28.6m

6 – Chelsea’s win against Leeds in the FA Cup final replay (1970) 28.5m

7 – Charles and Diana’s wedding (1981) 28.4m

8 – Princess Anne’s wedding to Mark Phillips (1973) 27.6m

9 – Alan Bradley killed in Coronation Street (1989) 26.9m

10 – Only Fools & Horses (1996) 24.4m

11 – Mark is HIV+ in EastEnders (1992) 24.3m

12 – The Royal Variety Show (1965) 24.2m

13 – News of JFK’s assassination (1963) 24.1m

14 – To The Manor Born (1979) 23.9m

15 – Torvill and Dean’s Olympics win (1994) 23.9m

16 – England v Argentina (1998) 23.8m

17 – Miss World (1967) 23.8m

17 – Miss World (1970) 23.8m

19 – Princess Diana on Panorama (1995) 22.7m

20 – The Royal Variety Show (1975) 22.6m

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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