tue 16/07/2024

Listed: Television's long-runners | reviews, news & interviews

Listed: Television's long-runners

Listed: Television's long-runners

Doctor Who isn't the only senior citizen on TV. We doff a cap to the other shows with staying power

The classic lineup: Peter Purves, Petra, Lesley Judd, Jason, Valerie Singleton, John Noakes, Shep

In the past weeks there has been a frenzy of publicity about the timelessness of a Time Lord. Through sundry incarnations (and one sizeable moratorium), Doctor Who has been on television screens for 50 years. But it's by no means the only show possessing what a football pundit once called stickability. In this edition of Listed, we celebrate the shows which have been knocking around for what feels like forever, nearly half of them for even longer than the good Doctor.

There's something here for everyone: soaps, sport and satire, royalty and Casualty - with an inevitable bias towards the BBC. Enjoy the carefully selected videos. On page two we list those shows that came along after Doctor Who. But we begin with those which have been around for even longer. (Sorry but we left out Emmerdale.)


Panorama (1953)

The Corporation's flagship current affairs show has been going in various incarnations for a remarkable 60 years. Two Dimbledys and Robin Day have presented it, though now it does without one. Its reputation for pulling no punches - naming the Omagh bomb suspects. for example - is undimmed even if its most famous single stories involved an April Fool about spaghetti growing on trees and Martin Bashir's fearless grilling of Diana Princess of Wales (Got a spare hour? Watch the full love-in here). Last year it seemed to take some internecine pleasure in exposing Newsnight's failings in the Jimmy Savile story. Still the best theme tune. Jasper Rees

The Sky at Night (1957)

In 1975, my dad and I visited Patrick Moore at his home in Selsey Bill, from where the later episodes of The Sky At Night were recorded. Moore's programme was manna from heaven for amateur astronomers. What was important was that he, too, was an impassioned amateur, not a prof-with-attitude like Brian Cox. Moore leaned more towards what we could discover about the universe by observation and involvement, rather than theoretical dogma. He gave us advice on buying a telescope. His observatory was in the garden; we could just see it through the heavy fog. That day, there was a group of choirboys in attendance. They left, and he gave us a glass of sherry, and me some signed books. He was eccentric, like an old Doctor Who, and his parts are non-replaceable. The show will go on, but on BBC Four. He must be replaced by another amateur eccentric. Are there any of them left out there? Tim Cumming


Blue Peter (1958)

The world's longest-running children's show has come round twice for many of its viewers, first as children and then as parents (and sometimes even as grandparents). Its magazine format has proved astonishingly durable: animals (see video), badges, sticky-backed plastic and, for presenters, squeaky-clean lapsed primary teachers with a taste for adventure. Blue Peter was the making of pretty much all of us, though less so for a lot of its stars, few of whom made the grade as broadcasters for adults (exceptions include Richard Bacon and Matt Baker) while some have been thwacked about by the tabloids (Anthea Turner, John Leslie, while Valerie Singleton is now best-known as one of half of a puerile urban myth). John Noakes lasted longest at 12 years, Peter Purves and Konnie Huq stuck it out for 10. This year the show signed up for the zeitgeist when presenter no 36 Lindsey Russell became the first to be voted into the job by Blue Peter's viewers. Jasper Rees


The Royal Variety Performance (1960)

Contrary to popular opinion Bruce Forsyth did not host the first Royal Variety Performance in 1912. But he has appeared more recently, as have stars from Marlene Dietrich and Julie Andrews to The Beatles. John Lennon famously quipped that those in the cheap seats could clap, the rest could rattle their jewellery (see video below). A typically eclectic bill in 1971 included Sid James and Stephane Grappelli. Britain's Got Talent winners might now tread boards once glided over by Sammy Davis Jnr, but at least the RVP embraces change. In 1966 England's triumphant World Cup team appeared - that is unlikely to reoccur for the foreseeable future. Bruce Dessau


Coronation Street, ITV (1960)

The first soap on UK screens is now the world's longest-running continuing drama. Following in a theme set by its creator Tony Warren, much of the show's success lies in its strong female characters and its rich seam of northern humour. In recent years Weatherfield has had more than its fair share of murder, melodrama and mayhem – often to the show's detriment – but with more realistic storylines, such as the current one about Hayley Cropper's (Julie Hesmondhalgh) terminal cancer, the quality of Corrie's writing and acting come to the fore. Moves to a new custom-built set in the New Year. Veronica Lee


University Challenge (1962)

On ITV from 1962 to 1987 under the courteous and scholarly chairmanship of Bamber Gascoigne, University Challenge was revived by the BBC in 1994, and fronted, inevitably, by Jeremy Paxman. Paxman brings the whiff of bloodsport, though the programme has still given us some of our most improbable celebrities in contestants like Gail Trimble. The show’s enduring popularity surely owes more to nostalgia than any genuine interest in Icelandic sagas or the flags of central Asia. It’s cult viewing among some 20- and 30-somethings, who love to show how much more they know than they did at university, then wonder what’s happened to their lives since. Matthew Wright



Match of the Day (1964)

Drawn into the limelight after England’s World Cup victory in 1966, with a regular audience of 12 million for much of the Seventies, Match of the Day was a pioneer of sports broadcasting with a slew of technical firsts, and under Jimmy Hill and Des Lynam it was a rock in the schedule. Familiarity has bred what it often does, though, and many viewers complain that a fatally anodyne, golf-club chumminess has descended over the current panel’s debate. Sky has become more incisive, while MotD also faces competition from numerous online sources of the increasingly technical, statistical analysis of the game that’s not even a twinkle in Alan Shearer’s eye. Matthew Wright

Overleaf: The story since Doctor Who

Above: Angus Deayton, back in the day

Pobol y Cwm (1974)

EastEnders meets The Archers in the answer to the question: what is BBC TV's longest-running soap? Pobol y Cwm (= People of the Valley, pr. Pobol uh Coom) was created in answer to the call for more Welsh-language television, and moved to S4C when it was set up in 1982, where give or take the odd rugby show it remains the most watched programme. It is set in the fictional Carmarthenshire village of Cwmderi, where the pub, the school, the farm and the chippie (Sgod a Sglod) and so on are the focus for the usual array of soap plots. The most famous alumnus is Ioan Gruffudd (see video). Jasper Rees


Arena (1975)

Unlike The South Bank Show the BBC's towering arts documentary strand has always basked in the luxury of being able to privilege quality over quantity. Its appearances are sporadic and substantial. Arena's founding father was occasional guest writer for theartsdesk Humphrey Burton, but really established its enduring identity from 1979 onwards when he handed on to Nigel Finch (who died in 1995) and Anthony Wall, still the programme's editor. Highlights include studies of the infamous Chelsea Hotel and Desert Island Discs, trilogies on Graham Greene and Peter Sellers and, most recently, a two-parter on the National Theatre. Never afraid to be sociologically quirky, Arena once submitted a study of the Ford Cortina, and another on bananas. The atmospheric opening montages still float in from the 1980s. Jasper Rees

Top Gear (1977)

With our road usage increasingly curbed by eco-threats, speed bumps and sheaves of EU diktats, anyone might conclude that the sinister powers-that-be want to stamp out motorists altogether. All that stands between those of a petroleum-inclined persuasion and extinction (or so Jeremy Clarkson would have you believe) is Top Gear, a freakishly successful and long-lived hymn to the joys of speed, exotic supercars and laddish four-wheeled idiocy. It's hard to believe the show began in 1977 as a monthly half-hour presented by Angela Rippon, or that at one stage it was fronted by Kate Humble. Harder still to credit that the BBC cancelled it in 2001, only to revive it hastily the following year after Channel 5 mischievously nicked its previous presenters to launch Fifth Gear. This was when the Clarkson/James May/Richard Hammond triumvirate was created, and they have powered on remorselessly towards twin-carb, turbo-boosted, road-safety-lobby-defying testosterone-nirvana ever since (see clip in which they race from Palm Springs to the Mexican border). Adam Sweeting

Question Time (1979)

Set up in the year Mrs Thatcher became PM to see out the last weeks of Robin Day's contract, this was a televised (and initially London-based) version of Radio 4's peripatetic Any Questions, chaired in lofty style by Day, who never lost an opportunity to put MPs in their place (see opening of first ever episode below, with Michael Foot and Edna O'Brien). He stayed for a decade. Peter Sissons was miscast as his replacement in 1989, since when for nearly 20 years David Dimbleby has been the patrician MC. On his watch a fifth panel member was added so that the token non-politician would look less isolated. The show has increasingly allowed the public have a say (both in the studio and on Twitter), and the wheel came full circle when FiveLive started broadcasting Question Time live. Jasper Rees


Newsnight (1980)

The BBC's news and current affairs operations used to be hailed as being part of "what it does best", though latterly doubts have been creeping in. Current affairs "flagship" Newsnight began in January 1980, and has seen a phalanx of noble names (albeit mostly male) in the anchorman's hotseat - Peter Snow, Charles Wheeler and former chairman of theartsdesk John Tusa, to name but three. The current incumbent, Jeremy Paxman, joined in 1989, and has created a unique persona as TV's most irascible, aggressive and patronising interrogator. But Paxman himself, though renowned for his scourging of politicians (see classic clip below), has deplored falling standards in television, and has rounded angrily on his own paymasters over cuts to programming budgets and the bloatedness of the BBC bureaucracy. The failure of Newsnight to broadcast its own story on the Jimmy Savile scandal (see Panorama, above), letting ITV bag the scoop, and the programme's crass misidentification of Lord McAlpine as a child abuser, have dealt crippling blows to its credibility. Adam Sweeting


EastEnders (1985)

The soap's early success was due to a clear vision of its talented creators – Julia Smith and Tony Holland – and some extraordinary writing and acting; who can forget the show's first two-hander episode, in October 1986, between warring couple Den and Angie Watts (Leslie Grantham and Anita Dobson)? Over the past decade, though, it has become a caricature, with unbelievable storylines, lazy dialogue and ropey acting. Yet soaps have an amazing ability to regenerate themselves and it's possible that, with the right production team and some actors who can actually act, it will achieve those heights again. Veronica Lee


Casualty (1986)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away – OK, 1986, BBC Bristol – Jeremy Bock and Paul Unwin did create a planet and they did name it Holby. Despite its remarkable similarity to Bristol, this parallel universe was home, later, to spin-offs Holby City and less than successful police force Holby Blue, but its most dedicated, medicated soap is Saturday primetime fave Casualty – 28 years and counting. All human life (and, eventually, all of Equity) is here: Kate Winslet, Orlando Bloom and Ray Winstone all had dealings with an A&E cubicle before they were famous. But their efforts pale beside the programme’s own Fred’n’Ginger: Charlie and Duffy aka Derek Thompson and Cathy Shipton who, unaccountably, are still awaiting BAFTAs.  David Benedict


Have I Got News For You (1990)

Now in its 46th series, HIGNFY still tops the Friday-night non-soap ratings with about five million viewers. Formerly presented by Angus Deayton, who was fired when a series of tabloid allegations about his private life made his position as a satirist untenable, since 2002 it has amusingly deployed guest presenters from all walks of public life. The show’s choice of guests has always been bold, including a rogues’ gallery of disgraced politicians, and several criminals, most recently the convicted felon Conrad Black. Entertainer-politicians have tended to thrive, and his blustering HIGNFY appearances are sometimes credited with creating Boris Johnson’s cuddly media profile. With a knack for the strong visual joke - the tub of lard, or Neil and Christine Hamilton’s payment on air with a fatly stuffed brown envelope - it also remains one of the few places in broadcasting where serious comedy and light-hearted politics mix before a mainstream audience. Matthew Wright

Overleaf: watch the full Panorama interview with Diana Princess of Wales in 1995



It's hard to believe the show began in 1977 as a monthly half-hour presented by Angela Rippon

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters