To celebrate World Television Day we take a look at some of the key TV moments throughout history. Invented by Scotsman John Logie Baird, the first television broadcast took place on 25th March 1925. For a long time the preserve of a metropolitan elite, the television signal was switched off at the start of WWI and gained in mass popularity after the war. The broadcast of Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation in 1953 encouraged many to buy a set with 56% of the British population tuning in to watch it. As recently as the 1970’s it was commonplace for homes to have a TV set but no indoor toilet.
1. The Moon Landing (1969)
A subject of many a conspiracy theory, over 500 million people globally watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon. It wouldn’t be a TV moments countdown without Neil. The BBC delivered a total of more than 24 hours of televised coverage for the occasion. It was covered in the UK by all three channels (BBC1, BBC2 and ITV) from 16th – 24th July 1969. Presenters used large models on set to demonstrate different stages of the rocket’s journey. The landing on 20/21 July was the first ever all night British TV broadcast. Although the images were very unclear by today’s standards, for many people they were astounding at the time and turned a new generation onto science.
2. Live Aid (1985)
Broadcast to 150 countries, transatlantic charity concert Live Aid was viewed by over 1.9 billion people. This TV moment had the biggest television audience to date and its unlikely to ever lose its title. The event raised £150 million for poverty relief in Ethiopia. The spectacular – which was broadcast live by the BBC in its entirety – was organised by Midge Ure of Ultravox and Bob Geldof of Boomtown Rats. 75,000 people were in the audience at London’s Wembley Stadium whilst 100,000 attended Philadelphia’s John F Kennedy stadium. Phil Collins performed at both concerts flying by concorde between the countries. His Philadelphia set drumming for Led Zeppelin has gone down in pop culture history as one of the most disastrous televised performances of all time. The band and Collins disagree about who’s fault it was and Led Zeppelin have barred the footage from ever being shown again.
3. Football World Cup (1966)
In the year of England’s historic football world cup win the final had viewing figures of over 400 million globally. England hadn’t held the World Cup before and the victory was all the more sweeter happening on home turf. This marked the first time every match was filmed by a full camera crew and the first time images were shared between two channels; BBC and ITV. Despite only 15 million homes having TV sets, 32.3 million people watched the TV moment of England’s 4 – 2 win against West Germany. This bought neighbourhoods together with everyone gathering around the few sets in the street. England’s world cup win remains the most watched British TV broadcast. The funeral of Princess Diana in 1997 holds the second highest viewing figures at 32.1 million closely followed by a Royal Family documentary aired in 1969 to 30.69 million people.
4. Life on Earth (1979)
Beloved Broadcaster and Naturalist David Attenborough is the only person to win a BAFTA award in black & white, colour, HD and 3D. Life on Earth introduced this national treasure to the nation. The series showcased pioneering wildlife filming techniques assisted by improved film stock, which enabled them to capture the sharpest wildlife images to date. One of the most TV memorable moments is Attenborough’s encounter with a Gorilla. He had originally intended to get close enough to talk about the Gorilla’s human like thumbs, but attracted a female’s attention when crawling towards the group. He delivered an improvised whispered speech to camera about the animal’s similarities to humans.
Attenborough had an interest in natural history from an early age. He attained a Cambridge scholarship at the end of the second world war to study geology and zoology. Following two years of national service he began working behind the scenes in television and making nature documentaries on the side.
5. Blue Peter (1958)
The world’s longest running children’s TV programme Blue Peter was first transmitted in October of 1958. The show’s name and nautical theme is a reference to it being a ‘voyage of adventure’. At the time it was launched blue was considered to be a popular colour among children and most would have a friend called Peter. The core components of a Blue Peter episode haven’t changed since its first TV moment and include the audience setting challenges for the presenters, celebrity interviews, performances and tutorials for making crafts from ordinary household items like toilet roll tubes and washing up liquid bottles. The highly coveted Blue Peter badge is a big part of the series and ex-Presenters are an exclusive club of fearless, fun people who hold a special place in the hearts of those who grew up watching them.
6. Top of the Pops (1964)
Weekly music chart show Top of the Pops was first aired in 1964. The Rolling Stones, the Hollies, the Beatles and Dusty Springfield appeared on its first episode and TV moment. At the height of its popularity in the 1990’s the format was used in almost 100 countries. Before the widespread production of music videos professional dancers would choreograph routines to the tracks. It was very common for bands to mime until the 1990s. The programme ran for more than forty years finally ending in July 2006. Some specials have been aired since. Top of the Pops managed to weather the storm of music channels like MTV but began to fade in the public consciousness in the early 2000’s. Its likely that it met its demise due to an increasing habit for accessing entertainment and music when you want online rather than to a TV schedule. Other music shows have suffered a similar fate.
7. Newsround (1972)
Originally titled John Craven’s Newsround after its co-creator and presenter, Newsround is a news programme aimed at children. Undeniably a key TV moment, the show was one of the first in the world to specifically target children. Without patronising their audience presenters convey the news in a way that younger people can digest. The series won an International Emmy Award in 1996 in the Children & Young People category. It has produced a number of specials designed for children to gain an understanding of more complex issues than those presented in news bulletins. In 2002 it won a Best Factual Programme award at the Children’s BAFTAs for a special about children living in Afghanistan after the war.
8. London Olympics (2012)
Having previously hosted the Olympic games in 1908 and 1948 London hosted the event for the third time in 2012. The lavish opening ceremony was a TV moment in its own right, directed by Danny Boyle who is known for ‘Trainspotting’ (1996) and ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ (2008). The city defeated Moscow, New York City, Madrid and Paris in the bidding process. Infrastructure around sites taking part in the games was greatly improved in the run up to London 2012 and its staging was accompanied by initiatives encouraging children into sports and general fitness. £1bn was invested in youth sport for five years beginning in 2012 60% of which was focused on 14 – 25 year olds, an age group who had been identified as particularly lacking interest and opportunities in sports. Nearly 1,000 sports facilities and leisure centres were upgraded nationwide.
9. Royal Wedding (1981)
The wedding of HRH Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer had an estimated worldwide TV audience of 750 million. Only 20 years old at the time, Diana’s iconic wedding dress boasted the longest train of any royal bride and she dispensed with the line about ‘obeying’ in her marriage vows. The bride’s visible nerves captured the public’s imagination and hearts. Following her tragic death in 1997 Tony Blair would call her ‘the people’s princess’, a title she’d earned through tireless humanitarian work and bringing a modern accessibility to the Royal Family. In the UK its an unusual grandparents’ home if it doesn’t include a commemorative 1981 royal wedding plate!
10. Eastenders episode Who Shot Phil? (2001)
An estimated 22 million people tuned in to watch the whodunnit climactic Eastenders episode ‘Who Shot Phil?’ Like an elaborate game of cluedo, the storyline was fascinating. It was accompanied by online games and plenty of press. Bookmaker William Hill took around 50,000 bets on the outcome and writers were escorted by security. Soap Operas are a big part of British TV so its no surprise that Eastenders (1985 – ) would rake in such huge viewing figures for an episode. The UK’s longest running soap is Coronation street which aired its first episode in 1960. Other than a year’s break in 2004, Phil Mitchell has consistently appeared in Eastenders since 1990. He arrived with his brother Grant (who together are imaginatively known as ‘the Mitchell brothers’) to open repair garage The Arches.