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Moments in TV History

19 November 2013

Explore our timeline of some of the most memorable moments in British television history.

There are very few things in life that can evoke strong and wide ranging emotions in us: fear, love, anger and compassion – but the television set has been doing exactly that for over eight decades.

In collaboration with Arqiva, the communications infrastructure and media services company, we’re celebrating this humble yet revolutionary household item and the moments in television history that have brought communities together and defined cultures. In this timeline of British TV; we focus not only on a variety of programmes, from HRH Queen Elizabeth II’s 1953 Coronation through to recent coverage of the 2012 Olympics, but also on technological landmarks from the inception of broadcasting during the early 20th Century through to Arqiva’s completion of the digital switchover in 2012.

Share your personal highlights

We asked BAFTA members to vote for their favourite moment in British TV history, and they chose the lunar landings of July 1969 as their top moment. Browse the timeline and share with us your thoughts on the most significant moment to you. Tweet your favourite using @BAFTA and #TVmoments to be in with the chance of winning a signed ceremony programme from the Arqiva British Academy Television Awards in 2013. Find out more here.

BAFTA’s TV History:

The Guild of Television Producers and Directors was established in 1954, in which their first set of awards was held in October of that year. Upon merging with the British Film Academy to become the Society of Film and Television Arts in 1958, the film and television awards were born. In 1974, the organisation became the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, where four years later, television craft was recognised alongside film and television. The separation of the film and television awards occurred in 1997, followed by the separation of the television and television craft awards in 2000.


Party Broadcast In 1951, the party elections expanded from radio onto the small screens for the first time. Lord Samuel from the Liberal Party was followed by Conservative Anthony Eden and finally Sir Hartley Shawcross for the labour party in political broadcasts which lasted around fifteen minutes each.
Coronation Queen Elizabeth 1953 Coronation Queen Elizabeth II
56% of the British population tuned in to watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II live on the BBC. This historic moment spurred many to buy a television for the first time, caused many more masts to be built and geographically nationalised television.
Quartermass Experiment The serial broadcast was the first science-fiction production to be dedicated towards an adult television audience, and inspired much of the sci-fi television we know of today. The show acted as an influence for a number of films and television shows, such as Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Doctor Who.
The infamous red book became iconic of the biographical programme which was originally broadcast live. With both celebrity and non-celebrity 'victims' surprised, the show was hosted by Eamonn Andrews, Michael Aspel and then Sir Trevor Mcdonald for a one-off special edition in 2007 where music mogul Simon Cowell was featured. This is Your Life
Emley Moore banner
Crystal Palace transmitter
Emley Moor has been a transmission site since the earliest days of TV. The first permanent transmitter built there was for ITV, covering much of the north of England. The tower is the third antenna support structure to have occupied the site. The original lattice tower was erected in November 1956.
Arqiva promo
Patrick Moore, 1983 The Sky at Night
A monthly documentary programme focusing on astronomy, The Sky at Night was the longest-running show with the same presenter, amateur astronomer Patrick Moore, in television history from its inception to Moore’s death in December 2012.
Blue Peter
Blue Peter remains the longest running children’s TV programme. With facets of entertainment, arts & crafts and competitions, the programme maintains its popularity with the nation’s youth today. The coveted Blue Peter badge, awarded for various contributions to the show, has been a staple since its introduction by Biddy Baxter in 1963.
Blue Peter


Coronation Street Collage

Coronation Street

Conjuring much-loved moments including Hilda Ogden’s exit to Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye in 1987 and Reg’s waterbed nightmare in 1993, ITV intended the soap to run for only thirteen weeks when it began. In 1971, the 1,000th episode was broadcast and the show has now been running for 53 years. With 11 BAFTA wins and a further 16 nominations, the soap remains a popular staple in the nation's television schedule.

Doctor Who

From its debut in 1963 through to its revitalisation in 2005, Doctor Who has been established as one of Britain’s finest television programmes,having received a plethora of BAFTA award wins and nominations including the BAFTA award for Best Television Drama in 2006. The long-running science fiction show has become a staple of British popular culture, not only receiving recognition for its duration, but also as the most successful series of all time.

Doctor Who Collage

Bringing live music to prime time television, the very first episode of Top of the Pops showcased the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield and the Hollies. For 42 years the show offered viewers a weekly cabaret of the nation's favourite tunes. At its peak in the 1990s, the show was aired in nearly 100 countries. Top of the Pops banner
World Cup
It was a victory for English sport and a triumph for national television. It was the first time every match was filmed by a full camera crew with images shared between the BBC and ITV and the first time the competition was broadcast to certain parts of the world via satellite, including South America. With 93,000 in the stadium, 32.3 million watched in the UK with global viewing figures topping 400 million as England beat West Germany 4-2.
England World Cup

Wimbledon newspaper
Tennis moments
Wimbledon banner
BBC2 broadcast live coverage from the Wimbledon Championships, becoming Europe’s first colour TV broadcaster, although still in an experimental stage. While Australian John Newcombe won the men's singles, Billie Jean King was named Champion of the women's singles, women's doubles and mixed doubles. On 2 December colour television was officially launched on BBC2.
195 Event: Wimbledon
Dad's Army
Running for nine series until 1977, the British sit com about the Home Guard during the Second World War regularly gained 18 million followers and is still repeated on television. Written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft (pictured), the pair won a BAFTA Special award for their work in comedy in 2008.
Jim Perry and David Croft
TV Archive: Princess Anne, Eric Morecambe Morecambe and Wise banner
The comic double act initially starred on Two of A Kind before stapling their careers through The Morecambe and Wise Show over the course of fifteen years; their most successful endeavour. The duo during that time received multiple wins and nominations from BAFTA within the Light Entertainment categories.
Lunar Landings banner
BBC1 provided the first all-night broadcast of the Apollo 11 lunar landing on 20 July 1969. Delivering over 24 hours of extensive televised coverage across all British television networks, there were approximately 500 million viewers worldwide who watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon, stating his famous epigram.
Lunar Landings [members vote winner]

Monty Python 1969

Monty Python banner
World-renowned comedy troupe Monty Python redefined entertainment through their unique comedy sketches and writing styles, which they developed through working in various shows and acts before Monty Python’s Flying Circus, such as The Frost Report. In 2009, marking their contribution to comedy and visual arts for 40 years, the group received a BAFTA Special Award for their outstanding impact on television and film.
Monty Python Special Award
BBC and ITV Broadcasting in Colour TV base Arqiva


Newsround Collage

Newsround banner

Informing the nation’s youth of the latest global news and current affairs in early evening weekday slots and offering short bulletins throughout the day, Newsround also offers ‘specials’; insights for 6-16 year olds into topics including the 2012 Presidential election, life for British troops in Afghanistan and an exploration into life for children with dyslexia. Originally John Craven's Newsround - who presented from 1972-1989, the programme received a BAFTA Special Award at the 2011 British Academy Children's Awards.

John Craven

Porridge banner
Considered one of Britain’s greatest sitcoms, Porridge was best known for Ronnie Barker’s light entertainment performances, for which the comedian won a BAFTA Television Award for his talents in 1978, having won and been previously nominated for his work alongside Ronnie Corbett.
Ronnie Barker
Monty Python Special Award Fawlty Towers
Co-created, co-written by and starring John Cleese, Fawlty Towers was named the best British television series of all time in a list drawn up by the British Film Institute and voted for by industry professionals in 2000. The sitcom, which comprised twelve episodes across two series, has won three BAFTA Television awards with a further two nominations.
Life on Earth
Groundbreaking in introducing the natural world into the nation’s living rooms, David Attenborough’s Life on Earth was the first series of what was to become a staple of the BBC’s natural history offerings. Attenborough remains the only person to have won a BAFTA in black and white, colour, HD and 3D
Sir David Attenborough

Sir David Attenborough


Winner: Special Award

Children in Need banner

BBC1 introduced two annual charity telethons during the 1980s in the form of Children in Need and Comic Relief, founded in 1980 and 1985 respectively. As of October 2013, both charity telethon events have collectively raised approximately 1.5 billion pounds, with Children in Need raising over 650 million, and Comic Relief raising over 900 million pounds.

Wedding of Charles and Diana banner

While 3,500 took their seats in St Paul’s Cathedral and 600,000 lined the streets, an estimated 750 million watched around the globe as the couple said their vows. In 2011 the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton was estimated to reach a global audience of up to 2 billion, although, in practical terms, this is hard to measure.
Arqiva Royal Wedding Promo

Royal Wedding William and Kate

Craft07: David Jason 2

Only Fools and Horses banner
With six BAFTA Television Award wins and a further 12 nominations, Only Fools and Horses has marked its territory as one of the most popular British comedy series of all time. David Jason was awarded the BAFTA Fellowship in 2003.

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Television Awards Photo Shoot 2013: Jon Snow
Blackadder banner
Created by Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson, the BBC period British sit-com has had much critical success, winning three BAFTA Television Awards and propelling the likes of Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Tony Robinson into our living rooms.
The Bill banner
Throughout its twenty-seven year run and by the time of its finale, The Bill was among the longest-running of any television series, especially as a police procedural drama. The programme has achieved a number of awards within its time, receiving multiple wins and nominations from BAFTA.
Continuing Drama - The Bill
EastEnders banner
The dramas of life in Albert Square have occupied our screens for over twenty five years. Known for tackling many controversial and taboo issues on mainstream television, EastEnders has won six BAFTA awards and currently attracts on average between six and eight million viewers per episode.
Live Aid banner

With highlights including Queen’s act - voted the greatest live performance in the history of rock music - and David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ dedication to ‘all our children, and the children of the world’, the BBC’s European live feed of the Wembley concert reached roughly 24.5 million Britons and 1.9 billion viewers in 150 countries; the biggest television audience yet. The BBC took an unprecedented move and cleared their schedules for 16 straight hours to allow complete coverage of the shows and Live Aid raised £150 million for poverty relief in Africa. Sir Bob Geldof was consequently knighted and won a BAFTA Television Award for Originality in 1986.

Arqiva Live Aid promo
TV 07: Casualty, Continuing Drama Casualty banner
Now the longest-running emergency medical drama in the world, Casualty has won three BAFTA awards and been nominated a further nine times. With spin-off sister show Holby City broadcasting since 1999, the show has been a staple on our weekend evening screens for twenty-seven years.
Red Dwarf banner The sci-fi sitcom created by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor has spawned ten series, four best-selling novels, a radio version, tie-in books, magazines and other merchandise.
House of Commons image House of Commons banner
In 1989 television took an unprecedented move and broadcast from inside the House of Commons for the first time. Today, the green leather seats make a regular appearance on our news programmes bringing the public closer to the live debates and actions of the nation's leading political figures.


Internet broadcast banner

The first 'broadcast' on the internet from ABC World News. 'Internet television' has continued to evolve with YouTube becoming not only the place of home-grown cat videos, but of long-form content produced by brands and broadcasters alike. Since then catch-up TV, Smart TVs, on-demand and streaming services have become the norm.
Vicar of Dibley

Vicar of Dibley banner
Created by one of Britain’s most established comedy writers, Richard Curtis, Vicar of Dibley, starring Dawn French, proved that it was amongst the most successful shows within the digital era of television between 2004 and 2007. With the show receiving multiple BAFTA television award nominations, Curtis received a BAFTA Fellowship for his creative work with his films and comedic creations, including the Vicar of Dibley.
Father Ted banner
Set on the fictional Craggy Island, the trials and tribulations of Father Ted Crilly and fellow priests entertained us for over three years with 25 episodes spread across three series. The show received three BAFTA Television awards with a total of five nominations.
Archive: Geoffrey Perkins TV Awards
Leading Actor: Colin Firth BBC's Pride and Prejudice banner
The BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice made Colin Firth a household name through his depiction of the broody Mr. Darcy. Pulling in viewing figures topping ten million, the success of the series encouraged the production of other period costume dramas such as Vanity Fair and Our Mutual Friend.

BBC News 24 Banner
Now known as ‘BBC News’, the channel was launched as part of the BBC’s new direction towards digital domestic television, competing with the likes of Sky News. Overtime, with growing improvements in digital television technology, BBC News 24 has been able to broaden out their horizons and diversify their content.
Huw Edwards
Royal Family The Royle Family banner
With multiple BAFTA nominations and wins under their belt, The Royle Family are known for their 16mm film usage and their single camera production style, enabling editor Tony Cranstoun to receive a Television Craft award in 2000 for his work on the sitcom.


Big Brother banner

Who would have thought that when ten people went into a house filled with cameras in the summer of 2000, British television would be revolutionised by reality? We are still enjoying an age where shows including I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, The Only Way is Essex, Made in Chelsea and My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding dominate our TV screens.

Davina McCall Big Brother
Simon Cowell TV History Popstars banner

The early 2000s introduced a new concept of reality television with the launch of Popstars. First aired in January of 2001, the new format became a precursor to shows such as Pop Idol and Fame Academy, which lead to bigger and more highly-acclaimed contests such as The X Factor, and The Voice, respectively.

The Office Banner
Regarded as one of Britain’s greatest recent situation comedy shows, The Office has been awarded for Ricky Gervais’ comedy performance as David Brent continuously from 2002 to 2004 by BAFTA, alongside receiving awards for the sitcom itself.
Ricky Gervais The Office
Peep Show
The cult British sitcom is widely known for its ‘point of view’ shots and comedic performances from duo David Mitchell and Robert Webb; in which the former received a BAFTA Television Award in 2009 and has been nominated numerous times for his contributions.
Peep Show


Sherlock banner
Since 2010, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss's contemporary reworking of the classic Arthur Conan Doyle stories have been met with critical acclaim. Compromising of modern adaptations and interpretations of tales such as ‘A Study in Scarlet’, through to 'The Final Problem', the two series have received recognition from BAFTA, winning seven awards to date.

1055006 Low Res Sherlock Vertical

Downton Abbey Originals

Downton Abbey banner
Since 2010 Julian Fellowes' period drama has won two BAFTA awards with a further 11 nominations and has become one of the most widely-watched programmes in the world. Watch a clip from the show and Fellowes' screenwriting lecture delivered in 2012.

London Olympics banner
From Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony through to Super Saturday and the Closing Ceremony, London 2012 showcased Britain to the world. The BBC delivered almost 5,000 hours of coverage and other material; creating a full and comprehensive insight into the Games with both Clare Balding and Hamish Hamilton winning BAFTA Special Awards for their achievements in television, epitomized by their Olympic coverage. Watch Clare Balding receive her BAFTA.

Olympics promo Arqiva

Digital Switchover Arqiva collage Digital Switchover banner

A significant development in TV history was the conversion of Britain’s analogue terrestrial services into digital television services. The switchover was concluded on the 24th October 2012, in which within that time, new digital channels such as BBC Choice – later BBC Three – ITV3, and E4 were launched. FACT – Arqiva built new masts at five separate locations including the Belmont mast that is 100ft taller than the Eiffel tower in Paris.

Arqiva digital switchover promo