What Are Your Highlights of the BBC's 80 Years of TV?

By Gary Cutlack on at

It's 80 years ago today that the BBC began its first TV service. It was rudely interrupted by the war for a bit, but even so. Where would we be, as a nation today, without the Beeb to bring us together over football, weddings, disasters, Christmas Day blockbusters, fights between bald men in East London pubs and Del Boy falling through the bar?

The BBC's assembled a special site to commemorate its first 80 years of television broadcasting, revealing that its early days were a bizarre mixture of plays, exercise classes, cookery and lighthearted variety shows. It wasn't until several decades later that it became about hunky men taking their shirts off in costume dramas and fat people making a mess of dancing.

But what do you remember best from the BBC? Here, I'll do mine. Obviously they don't go back the full 80 years as I'm not quite that old:


The Last Episode of Blake's 7, 1981

Most of Blake's 7 was a bit rubbish, I discovered in the late 1990s when re-watching the DVDs, but as a child in the late 1970s and early 1980s it had it all. Spaceships, robots, villains with great costumes and, in the very last episode, the sort of apocalyptic conclusion that even today's US dramas would deem "a bit much," especially at tea time when there's children watching. Honestly, the mood in the playground the next morning. It was like everyone's mums had died.


Gazza Realising Something And Having a Cry, 1990

Football's not really my thing, but there always comes a time at national tournaments everyone starts watching, even nanna, because it's nation-against-nation, stirring, war-like stuff of great national importance. And, in the 1990 World Cup semi-final, when our footballers looked and performed like brave men instead of shaved popstars, it was the classic Us-Against-the-Germans conflict that, it seemed, we might win. I say "we". I mean "the England football team" as we have nothing in common with each other any more. Anyway we didn't but Gazza got sad and we all realised at the same time what it meant and it... seemed like something changed.


Doctor Who's 'Father's Day', 2005

Doctor Who's not really my thing either, but Billie Piper sort of is and it seemed like everyone had to watch the programme when it rebooted itself in 2005, so I did. Something strange happened here, too, where the way they put poor Rose in jeopardy every week had me genuinely scared to watch the programme -- in case I started crying. Billie Piper in distress made me want to cry. I've already said too much. I'll delete this bit later on.


World Athletics Championships, 1991

Remember when we used to be rubbish at running? When one man would maybe sneak a silver and would become a national hero for the rest of his life? This was classic BBC coverage from before athletics became headline sport. Hours of live TV, very early in the morning, of sports in a foreign country, because it felt... obliged? For whatever reason, I watched all of this, particularly the staggering long jump battle between Carl Lewis and Mike Powell that ended with the world record breaking. Not a particularly famous thing to have happened, but a fantastic, live story, that I thought I was probably the only person watching, that never would've been shown in its entirety anywhere else.


S-Express on Top of the Pops, 1988

I was well into house music, so this was amazing, a real clash of worlds, where the BBC, for historical reasons to do with keeping musicians employed, made dance music bands pretend to be playing their instruments live. It also, really, honestly, I actually promise you, was when my mum and dad had THAT conversation about how it wasn't even real music. Top of the Pops should've been listed or given some sort of protected status, as it's the most important measure of cultural progression we ever had.