And now for something completely different: BBC2

Copyright: BBC This versatile '2' has been around in various guises since 1991!
Copyright: BBC
This versatile ‘2’ has been around in various guises since 1991!

It was fifty years ago today that BBC2 first took to the television screens. Envisaged as the home of ambitious programming it has had many guises over the years, finally finding it’s identity with the ‘2’ that has survived many a BBC ident change. It was also the first European television channel to broadcast regularly in colour, which it did so from 1st July 1967. With a former channel controllers alumni to die for including Richard Attenborough (yes… that one!), Alan Yentob (killer of Eldorado) and Mark Thompson (Think former BBC Director-General), there are moments where this is more than just a dumping ground for BBC1’s programmes when the BBC opt to screen Wimbledon on 1 during the summer. In fact BBC2 has given us many programmes that have become cult hits, or shows which have subsequently found a bigger audience on BBC1. Whilst more of its special interest programming now goes out on BBC4, BBC2 has provided a home for many hit shows – let’s take a look at some!

1. Red Dwarf

Rejected by Channel 4 as a ‘Film Four’ production in the late 1980s, this show quickly became a cult and massive hit on BBC2 throughout the 1990s. Unseen on the BBC since Red Dward VIII (which was arguably the weakest of all the series), it had some classic moments. From ‘Gunmen of the Apocalypse’ to ‘Kryten’ all the way to ‘Parallel Universe’ there are some episodes of Red Dwarf that are timeless. The success of the show also made household names of Danny John-Jules, Chris Barrie and Craig Charles. Let’s face it – it’s one of the few comedy shows deemed worthy for a revival, which occured on ‘Dave’ with Red Dwarf: Back to Earth (2009) and Red Dwarf X (2012) – and you can’t say that about many of the comedies Dave or GOLD repeat. And for those who have forgotten what a smeghead Rimmer is…

2. Have I Got News For You

It’s hard to remember this ever being on BBC2 – and even I had to double check! It made the move to BBC1 after the BBC shifted the Nine O’Clock news to 10pm with the first series of HIGNY making its first BBC1 appearance in 2000. It started on BBC2 in 1990. A panel show based on the week’s news stories, the BBC2 version was hosted by Angus Deayton (appearing on BBC1 until his sacking in 2002) with Paul Merton and Ian Hislop as team captains. There are far too many funny moments of HIGNY to share with you, so make do with this clip from 1993…

3. Never Mind The Buzzcocks

Another panel show, comedy gem from BBC2. On the air since 1996 and still going – its clearly past its best. Originally hosted by Mark Lamarr then Simon Amstell, then quite frankly whoever the hell they could get to host it that week – it can still be extremely funny. Notable exits from the show include Preston, who walked off when Amstell read some of his then wife’s autobiography (OK – she was a reality TV star) and the refusal of the BBC to air a Russell Brand episode of the show after the Sachsgate scandal. It did eventually air in 2011. I personally always love the identity parade round….

¬†4. Look & Read: Through the Dragon’s Eye

Couldn’t resist this. It maybe a long distant memory for some. Some may never have heard of this at all. However back in the day, BBC2 and Channel 4 used to screen schools programmes everyday between about 9am and 12 midday during term time. School children the whole country over would watch these programmes to enhance their education. School offices would have video recorders running like the clappers to record all of this. One notable show was the ‘Look & Read’ series, aimed at primary school children with a different story broadcast every term of ten episodes long. Amongst the favourites was Skyhunter, Dark Towers and Through the Dragon’s Eye. TTDE focused on three school children sucked into the world of Pelamar where their life force, the Veetacore had exploded. There were five missing ‘Veetons’ and the children helped rebuild and find the missing Veetons over the course of the series. Though of course it wasn’t all fun – every series has a villain to be vanquished – as this battle testifies….

5. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

OK this is not technically a BBC2 programme, it’s an import. Broadcast originally as apart of BBC2’s DEFII strand, this classic, dare I say now – cult comedy starring Will Smith (he of Independence Day, Ali and Men in Black (I, II & III)) has a catchy theme that most people over the age of about twenty one can still recite. Still broadcast on Viva!, MTV and Nickelodeon, the show stopped production in 1996 – 8 years before BBC2 stopped broadcasting repeats in 2004.

6. The Great British Bake Off

I was never going to leave this out. Due to move to BBC1 this year, which is hardly surprising given it thrashed¬†Holby City in the ratings last year in the Tuesday 8pm slot it is very much a surprise success. Take a number of amateur bakers, give them three challenges each week and eliminate one each week until you get a winner. Get Mel & Sue in to present, and two baking specialists – Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry – the show is notable because it has made household names of its judges; they weren’t particularly well known names to begin with. It also has a very homely feel – everyone wants to bake a good cake, or pie or something else of the rather waist-increasing variety and this show proves to us that its not just professionals – but we can all bake if we want.

7. This Life

Based on the life of five twenty-something graduates as they shared a flat in South London this show spanned two series and then came together for a reunion special in 2007 as well. With a Britpop soundtrack, a pushing of drug and sex broadcasting boundaries unusually for a two series British drama it has 33 episodes to its name with series 1 running to 11×50 minute episodes, and series 2 running to a whopping 21×50 minute episodes. The series is also notable for launching the careers of many respected actors such as Andrew Lincoln (Teachers, Love Actually, Walking Dead), Steve John Shepherd (EastEnders, Layer Cake, Plus One) and Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean, Smash, Coupling).

8. Play School

A pre-school children’s programme that actually became the first ever programme to be broadcast on BBC2 after a power cut knocked out its opening night on April 20th 1964. This was first screened at 11am, April 21st 1964 and ran on the channel until 1983 when it moved to BBC1. It ran until October 1988 when it was replaced by Playdays. There were many presenters over the course of Play School’s series including Brian Cant and Johnny Ball… fond memories!

9. Our Friends in the North

Regarded as one of the BBC’s most successful dramas from the 1990s over 9 episodes this told the story of four friends from Newcastle over a course of thirty-one years. Like ‘This Life’ it is credited for elevating the careers of its stars to new levels, most notably Daniel Craig (James Bond) and Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who). The show covered many of the social and political events that spanned 1964 to 1995 including the miner’s strike. It has received wide acclaim and is well worth a watch.

10. Beautiful People

I could go on forever with great shows BBC2 has produced. The Apprentice started on BBC2, Newsnight provides in depth current affairs to the nation every night at 10.30pm. Before Channel 4 poached the terrestrial rights (and axed Brookside to get the money to do so), BBC2 was screening ‘The Simpsons’ at 6pm every weekday. However I’m going to be self indulgent. This Jonathan Harvey written comedy only ran for two series in 2008 and 2009, and was primarily set in the late 1990s. It followed the life of Simon Doonan, a teenager in Reading – yes he was ever so slightly camp, yes he loved Eurovision, yes he loved Steps and the Spice Girls. At the end of the second series, Simon Doonan realised he was gay. This wasn’t a great surprise – the show was essentially a ‘flashback’ each week starting with twenty-something Simon (played by Samuel Barnett – History Boys) in the present explaining how he got a particular item or feature (i.e. How I Got My Water Feature, or Scar etc.). The show featured cameos from Danni Minogue, Elaine Paige and Francis Barber to mention but a few. The show also starred Olivia Coleman (think Broadchurch) as Simon’s Mother, Leyton Williams (think Bad Education) as Simon’s best friend Kylie and Meera Syal (does she even need an introduction?!) as Simon’s Auntie Hayley. In short it was camp, it was funny – I loved it… so here’s a clip – Happy Birthday BBC2!!