TV Cream offers its own string of bunting to be hung at BBC2’s 50th birthday party: a courageous* inventory of what we rate to be the channel’s defining stars, scars, flaps and flops of its first half-century.
*In the Jim Hacker sense
A is for…
“Ah dear, Pollicks, you have pressed too soon”
Signature tune to Ask the Family. A touch creepy, vaguely over-familiar yet damned impossible to forget. Welcome to BBC2.
One of a number of fucking atrocious episode titles to crop up during the otherwise unimpeachable This Life, along with The Bi Who Came In From The Cold, Milly Liar and Wish You Were Queer. Utterly sublime theme tune by The Way Out, lest we forget.
Fans of One Man and His Dog who tartly brushed the creases from their Rohan-trousered form to stand as one in protest when the show was axed as a regular series in 1999 after 23 years. Their complaints resonated with as much volume as a dog whistle.
Danced cheek-to-cheek with Joan Bakewell around the BBC TV Centre doughnut after a particularly lively edition of Late Night Line-up. Controller of BBC2 1965-69.
B is for…
‘Bear in mind I’ve given you a lot of machines’
Sir Jim’ll shows Louis Theroux his own version of a top-down reorganisation of the NHS. This was the year 2000, and it was all there, in plain, spangly-suited sight.
Best logo in the history of television
“They’re competing for the Joe Davis decanter”
Black and White Rag
Hectic honky tonk whose octave-tickling cut through any living room melee like a snooker cue through butter to announce the arrival of perennial ratings-rescuer Pot Black.
‘But this was a fantasy’
Catchphrase of documentary-maker and clippage-cobbler Adam Curtis, usually detonated immediately after a sequence of a Cold War politician gesticulating, a posh woman buying a frock and a giant reel of computer tape rotating first one way then the other, all to the sound of The New Vaudeville Band.
C is for…
Collapsible cuboid tossed at Brian Cant and other drama graduates by Play School leaderene Joy Whitby with the command: “Now row out at sea”. A recruitment policy recently revived at London Live.
Star turn of BBC2’s opening night. Snuffed it 24 hours later.
The theme from The Carpetbaggers
Breath-stealingly cool slice of jazz funk, whose farting brass and braying horns are forever associated by at least one generation with Sunday evening teatime and Valerie Singleton trying to make stagflation and consumer protection sound sexy on The Money Programme.
‘Chutney! Let’s do it! Let’s get on with it!’
Condiment-infused battle cry from the first (and best) series of The Apprentice.
D is for…
Mocking but accurate nickname for documentary series Man Alive, thanks to the proclivity of the titular Wilcox for poking his lens into the mucky tear-smeared face of a provincial down-and-out.
“He appointed Jill Chance general manager”
Did You See?
…what we did there?
Catchphrase from, and description of, The Adventure Game.
Often to be seen on BBC2 in various states of undress, sometimes half-clothed (Peter Davidson in A Very Peculiar Practice), sometimes with arse on display (Tom Baker in The Lives and Loves of a She-Devil, Matt Smith in Christopher and His Kind), though you’d have to retune to BBC4 to see it ALL on display (Christopher Eccleston in Lennon Naked).
E is for…
Hapless ovoid in need of weekly transportation, usually but not exclusively involving pipe cleaners.
F is for…
Alex Mitchell, 50, who died from laughing too much during an episode of The Goodies in 1975.
“Bom-bommm, bom-bom, bom-bommmm”
Floating neon bottle
You want one image that sums up the entire 50 years of BBC2? This is it.
Food and drink
Chilli chutney sandwiches (Red Dwarf), soggy leeks (Butterflies), oranges (…Are Not The Only Fruit), Bollinger (Absolutely Fabulous), scotch eggs (I’m Alan Partridge), turnips (Threads), waldorf salads (Fawlty Towers), livers (The Body in Question).
Food and Drink
Taught the nation how to sniff wine, grope fish, finger cauliflower and burnish tarts. Anything but consume the fucking things, basically.
Fry and Laurie arriving at BBC Television Centre
What’s not to love?
G is for…
Gargantuan personal dining room
What Aubrey Singer converted his new office annexe into while BBC2 controller from 1974-78. “It’s not my personal dining room,” he insisted to junior colleagues. “I don’t want that appearing in Private Eye.”
Best bit of Working Lunch (yes, even better than you, Chiles).
Musical fancy trilled by Cook and Moore at the conclusion of each episode of Not Only… But Also…, and sarcastic salutation of BBC mandarins when ordering the archived destruction thereof.
Far and away the coolest of the two vegetable-themed giant-sized cards waved by the adjudicating audience at the conclusion of every edition of Ready Steady Cook.
H is for…
Liked “intelligent pleasure” but was “not opposed to romping”. BBC2 controller 2008-14.
“Yeah, you go an’ all… Maria… MARIA!”
What The Bureau was closed for.
Hullabaloo and Custard
Two cartoon kangaroos that were the original BBC2 logo. Axed by David Attenborough, who called them “demented”.
I is for…
What Claudius was.
‘I can’t believe there’s no hope’
Peter Kerrigan’s death-rattle lament for Liverpool at the end of Boys From The Blackstuff.
‘It was a maaaad year!’
Britt Ekland discharging the exposition in I Love 1971.
‘I’ve got a story to tell you – it’s all about spies’
Hwyel Bennett discharging the exposition in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
What everyone tried to “trace-route” in Attachments.
J is for…
Used to cut up issues of Radio Times as a child. Turned up late to meetings as he thought “that was what a channel controller ought to do”. BBC2 controller 1992-96.
K is for…
Had to go into hiding with security protection after Jerry Springer: the Opera in 2005. BBC2 controller 2004-08.
Fourway kiss-off from Not The Nine O’Clock News.
L is for…
Last thing at night
Still a slot crying out for a topical, daily, witty, must-see show. Late Night Line-up was almost it. The Late Show wasn’t late enough.
Forever bobbing to the surface of the BBC2 schedule cauldron like a skittish apple, you can trace this genre all the way back to the eponymous Lads, through Yes Minister, Colin’s Sandwich and Coogan’s Run to The Trip and Inside No 9.
M is for…
Needed a medical doctor to help him prepare for a press conference. BBC2 controller 1982-87.
Bob Monkhouse chatting to comics in a pretend front parlour
Possibly the finest Monday night alternative to Panorama ever.
N is for…
“And I know that your next band is Altern-8!”
Aka Norman Anderson, sometime Mr Janet Street-Porter, and the trendiest man ever to appear on BBC2. Dance Energy was also the liveliest thing ever to appear on the channel, while Dance Energy House Party – direct from inside your man’s titular crib – the most preposterous. Never dull, always entertaining, frequently unmissable. To whom else could the nation turn for a guide to the correct way to do a 1990-era handshake? Let arf!
O is for…
Remit-filling last resort. This fat lady has sung more times than a chorus in a Glenn Medeiros fade-out, including at least two complete multi-week performances of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Aubrey Singer’s Opera Month, Mike Smith attempting to popularise recitatives in The Opera Roadshow, and Jeremy Isaacs almost bringing down The House.
Paul Merton’s favourite description of Princess Diana on Have I Got News For You pre-1997. All these episodes are now buried underneath Television Centre along with all the Jim’ll editions of Top of the Pops.
P is for…
Convinced the nation that spaghetti grows on trees. BBC2 controller 1963-65.
‘The prime minister now stands to speak’
Sample BBC commentary on Westminster Live during the early years of the televising of the House of Commons. This was also when, like Elvis, you couldn’t show MPs below the waist.
Puddle of blood
Sprayed across the studio floor at Television Centre after Vivian Stanshall cut his hand on a glass of Bloody Mary during a Christmas episode of Up Sunday.
“Into this pond were flushed four million people…”
Puddle of mud
The most important thing BBC2 has ever broadcast.
R is for…
Described her favourite programmes as “culture snacks” from “the edges of life”. BBC2 controller 1998-2004.
S is for…
Turn up on BBC2 with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season. First came the never-ending Forsytes, all black-and-white bodices and clicking teeth. The Pallisers tried to repeat the trick in colour but flopped. Then came The Borgias (“They got nipples together”) and The Cleopatras with Richard Griffiths in drag. Our Friends in the North and In a Land of Plenty rescued the format, but Gormenghast wrecked everything and now nobody’s got any money. What a saga.
Saturday nights devoted to seasons of subtitled films or Amnesty International concerts
BBC2 c. 1987-92 (see Alan Yentob)
Co-writer of Ruby Murray’s 1955 number one, Softly Softly. Real name Robin Scutt. BBC2 controller 1969-74.
Subject of a gargantuan dose of doublet and hose by way of the Beeb’s Bardathon from 1978-85, during which adaptations of every single play were shown on BBC2. A very mixed endeavour. About the only consistent things were the straw on studio floors and close-ups to disguise the fact the sets looked crap. The Shakespeare in Perspective spin-off shows were better, with the likes of George Melly, Clive James, Dennis Potter and Barry Took doing chipper “study guides” designed to appeal to sitcom characters played by Penelope Wilton.
Star of Face the Music.
Number of English towns visited by Alec Clifton-Taylor; number of wives taken by Henry VIII.
Any BBC2 programme in the 1960s with these numbers in its title meant you were in for a treat. Jazz 625 was pretty much the channel’s first proper hit, and still looks ace today. Theatre 625 was BBC2’s “alternative” to 30 Minute Theatre, where Nigel Kneale, Alun Owen and John Hopkins could run amok with scarves, sauce and socialism.
…of depressed pandas, recalcitrant popes, pontificating pilots, sex, old women, Soviet politicians, toffs, drugs, English villages, housewives, working class oiks, mad medics, rock’n’roll, boffins, Ronald Reagan… and Ferdinand de Bargos. Look: a Ukip parody!
First person rung up by Alan Yentob after he was made BBC2 controller. DEF II and Normski (qv) was the result.
T is for…
“…But no one was available for interview.”
Home of Newsnight, now and forever. Probably.
The best thing about bank holidays in the early 1990s. Top five: TV Hell; Granadaland; Goodbye to Lime Grove; One Day in the 60s; Radio Night.
Axed This Life because he didn’t understand it. Sold BBC Television Centre. Owns a solid gold house. BBC2 controller 1996-98.
What Bob Peck got turned into at the end of Edge of Darkness.
Centrepiece of Michael Peacock’s daffy Seven Faces of the Week idea for the inaugural BBC2 schedule. Tough shit if Tuesday was your night for babysitting duties: you’d a whole evening of educational series for company. You should’ve picked Thursday: an entire night of shows about obscure hobbies.
U is for…
University of the air
Original name for the Open University, as dreamed up by Harold Wilson.
V is for…
One part tedious, two parts terrific strand of do-our-job-for-us programming that threaded its way through the early 90s, both as full-length documentaries and five-minute snapshots. Swearing, homelessness, drinking, posh people and yoofs abounded. Major’s Britain as full-colour Canon fodder.
W is for…
Responsible for two multi-part, multi-cameo blockbusters documentaries, both of which were only just over by Christmas: The Great War and Cold War. See also The World at War, nicked off Thames for a repeat run in the 1990s, and recent stellar-cast-list sit-and-chats on Yugoslavia, Israel and Iraq.
“We’ve had 12 straight hours of meatball surgery!”
Wednesday evening, 9pm
“…it’s time for this week’s episode of M*A*S*H.”
Fond of wearing a raincoat and lying on his desk. BBC2 controller 1978-82.
A character in Live and Let Die who gets squashed by an inflatable sofa; a particularly awkward type of lunch endured by Larry David and Richard Lewis; and a presentational decibel level popularised by Bob Harris.
Former home of the BBC archives, which gave half its name to the original – and best – of the Beeb’s bran tubs of old clippage, brusquely hosted by a freshly de-Rantzenised Chris Serle.
…specifically, About Us. More specifically, about us on Kodachrome given a spit and polish up by BBC Bristol.
Worst logo in the history of television
X is for…
Well, it was this or xylophone. Often self-evident in Moviedrome, crepuscular film slot introduced by first Alex Cox then Mark Cousins.
Y is for…
Inordinately fond of rewriting Radio Times billings. Inordinately not fond of Eldorado. BBC2 controller 1987-92.
Z is for…
Spy satellite, subject of an episode of the 1987 documentary series Secret Society that was notoriously pulled from air just before transmission after [sentence redacted following issue of a government D-notice on grounds of unsubtle satirical purposes]