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Friday, 30 March, 2001, 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK
Channel 5 turns four
Keith Chegwin
Keith Chegwin's Naked Jungle caused a stir last year
Channel 5 - best-known for its films, sport and "adult" movies, celebrates its fourth birthday on 30 March. BBC News Online's Helen Bushby charts its progress since its much-vaunted launch by the Spice Girls.

Channel 5 appears to be on a roll - it attracted its biggest audience figures yet on Wednesday night for its coverage of the World Cup qualifier match between Albania and England.

The station averaged five-and-a-half million viewers for its coverage with almost eight million people tuning into the climax of the match, according to unofficial figures.

Its chief executive Dawn Airey described the figures as a "terrific result for both England and Channel 5 - a great way to celebrate our fourth birthday".

Four years ago, the UK's fifth terrestrial channel went on air on 30 March 1997, following delays the previous year due to technical problems.

Channel 5's build-up
1987: Fifth channel gets go-ahead after govt study
1990: Broadcasting Act, offering fifth terrestrial licence
1992: Thames Television's single bid rejected
1995: Bids by UKTV, New Century Television, Virgin TV, Channel 5 Broadcastin
1995: Channel 5 Broadcasting (United News and Media plc, CLT/UFA, Pearson plc and Warburg Pincus & Co) wins the bid
A 7,000-strong team travelled around 80% of the country re-tuning videos in nine million homes to accommodate the extra channel. This took rather longer than had been planned.

By its launch, up to 40% of viewers found they can see only a fuzzy screen or had bad reception.

For those who could see the channel, they were told to expect it to plug a gap for a "popular modern mainstream channel".

Its then director of programmes, Dawn Airey, said it would be aimed at a "slightly younger audience" than the other four channels, and would not have much to offer viewers over 40.

Kirsty Young
Kirsty Young won an award for her newsreading
Its £110m yearly budget meant money was tight - it would be spent on US drama, a daily late-night sports magazine programme, a personal finance series, 18 hours of original drama and 10 documentaries.

And the news was to be presented by 27-year-old Kirsty Young, a Scottish TV newsreader.

Although there were no news programmes on the channel's first night, Young interviewed Prime Minister Tony Blair the following evening from her colourful newsroom. She became famed for perching on the corner of her desk, rather than sitting formally behind it.

The channel, whose chairman at the time was Greg Dyke, now director general of the BBC, hit headlines from day one.


But it was not just the usual posturing of the Spice Girls which attracted attention - a teatime soap opera also showed a naked male bottom.

The shot, screened at 6.30pm on Family Affairs, was condemned as "unacceptable" by Tory MP Nicholas Winterton, but Airey was adamant there was "nothing wrong with a nicely shot and pleasantly toned naked botty".

"It is a mild and inoffensive scene and most people will find it aesthetically pleasing. It's in the best possible taste and very light-hearted."

Channel 5
Channel 5's Dawn Airey wants more cash for the channel
This was perhaps a taste of things to come, as Channel 5 has garnered a reputation for showing some rather risqué late-night programmes.

And a nude Keith Chegwin whipped up a storm by hosting a "gameshow for naturists", as he led male and female contestants - in a similar state of undress - through a series of demanding puzzles in a jungle environment.

In 1999, the channel was rapped by a TV watchdog for its series Sex And Shopping, which included explicit scenes which were "unacceptable for broadcast at any time".

The Broadcasting Standards Commission upheld complaints about six programmes in the series, saying they went "beyond acceptable boundaries".

But, of course, Channel 5 has many other has other strings to its bow.

Andrea Catherwood
Andrea Catherwood took over from Kirsty Young
Films and football are the channel's biggest draw, and last September, a European Qualifier game took a whopping 24% of the TV audience share, with 5,630,000 viewers.

Blockbuster film Independence Day also garnered 26% of the audience share when it was shown last year, with 5,408,000 viewers.


Also popular were 2000's Miss World contest, with 2,709,000 viewers, and a documentary on the Moors Murders, with 2,597,000 people watching.

Although these figures are not big by BBC or ITV standards, they still represent a 12% and 19% share of the overall audience.

And the channel has also won five awards, including an outstanding talent of 1997 prize for Kirsty Young from the Variety Club, plus four from the Royal Television Society for production and craft and design.

Not content with this, Dawn Airey, who replaced David Elstein as chief executive in 2000, said she wanted to take the channel up-market.

Earlier this month she said she would ask the Channel 5 board for tens of millions of pounds more each year to boost the channel's share.

"We're concentrating on ratings delivery between 7pm and 9pm, which is where the biggest gap exists between our current performance and the available audience," she said.

"We want to improve the quality and range of our programming and upgrade the movie stock."

"Big one-hour event shows are our forte," added Ms Airey, who cited reality TV shows The Mole, Touch the Truck and the new £1m game show Greed as examples of the type of shows she is after.

Until she gets her money, Airey will no doubt stick with her tried-and-tested formula, which, while not getting mass audiences, is certainly appealing to some.

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See also:

29 Mar 01 | TV and Radio
Channel 5 scores with football
13 Jun 00 | Entertainment
Channel 5 criticised in Commons
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Naked Chegwin show sparks debate
28 Mar 00 | Entertainment
Channel 5 cleans up its act
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Greed grips Channel 5
24 Feb 00 | Entertainment
Channel 5 'bags Home and Away'
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The axeman cometh for C5 family
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