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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 May 2006, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
Forty years of The Money Programme
By Clive Edwards
Editor, The Money Programme

BBC 2 ident, The Money Programme
Back in 1966, it was a very different world

Forty years old. It's quite an age for a television programme.

In fact there's only a handful of programmes on British TV that are older - like Panorama, Horizon, Top of the Pops and the Sky at Night.

Grandstand has of course sadly just fallen at the last hurdle.

But then in the fickle world of British TV today you're lucky to make your fourth series, let alone your fortieth.

Striking oil

So what's the secret of the Money Programme's longevity?

The Money Programme logo 1966
In the past, many thought TV about money would be dull

JP Getty once summed up his formula for success: "Rise early, work late and strike oil."

In a way that's what we've done.

Over four decades, a lot of great journalists have risen early and often worked very late indeed to consistently produce the great journalism that has been the hallmark of the programme.

As for striking oil, our equivalent has turned out to be our subject matter.

Business and finance has proved to be surprisingly interesting to the TV audience and in fact has become a better subject for TV over the years.

You only have to look at the phenomenal success of the Apprentice and Dragon's Den to know that today's audience is fascinated by the drama of business as never before.

That's become our oil gusher and why I think we have a great future in front of us.

Absurd idea?

Back in 1966 it was a very different world.

The Money Programme logo
Bright colours and a fetching signature tune raised eyebrows

The first Money Programme was billed in Radio Times as "a new, weekly magazine about international business".

The idea for the Money Programme, according to first editor, Terry Hughes, was handed down in a grand memo from BBC Secretary Harman Grisewood: "Now is the time we should do something about the economy for the people".

Behind the scenes, the suggestion was not welcomed.

It was said that executives in the BBC felt "money was boring".

"The idea that there might be an audience for a regular TV programme on money struck producers as absurd."

Remote business

It certainly wasn't an easy time to make business and finance appealing to the audience.

The Money Programme 1974
During the 1970s, the oil crisis was a major economic story

Britain was saddled with debt and a huge current account deficit and sterling seemed to be in permanent crisis.

Indeed, the first ever Money Programme dealt with just that problem.

There was an extremely detailed explanation of just what currency trading involved, as if none of the audience had ever heard of teleprinters before - and most probably hadn't.

That's because business was remote from people's lives.

Captains of industry were distant authority figures in pin stripe suits and Rolls-Royces and only a tiny fraction of the population owned shares.

Hollywood power

The first programme featured one of those captains of industry who decreed grandly that there would be no devaluation.

Just 12 months later Britain devalued.

Money Programme logo
The programme has enjoyed several relaunches over the years

Never mind, getting it wrong is an occupational hazard in this business.

Or as JK Galbraith put it: "The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable."

Like any new TV baby, the Money Programme got off to a bit of a slow start with audiences of around half a million.

The critics were lukewarm, but they did notice one immediate success.

"The only bright spot," wrote one, "was the signature tune with its honking brass harmonica riff and whispering cymbals".

Actually, it wasn't harmonica, it was trumpet and trombone, but then critics can rarely tell one bit of wind from another.

The music, chosen by Terry Hughes, was called the Cat - appropriate for a series that has turned out to have rather more than nine lives.

It came from a blockbuster film called The Carpetbaggers.

As the movie guide book Halliwell's describes it: "A young playboy inherits an aircraft business, becomes a megalomaniac tycoon and moves to Hollywood in his search for power."

So spot on for subject matter then.

Sierra man

It was the beginning of a legendary association.

The obsession with sterling crises continued, as Brian Widlake, a reporter on the programme at the time, recalled:

Money Programme logo 1997
The programme helped wedge open the door to the world of business

"Every time the pound moved by about one thirty-second against the dollar we cleared the decks and I'd be shot off to Switzerland to interview people called the Gnomes of Zurich.

"We had a lot of sharp economists talking economic language. I should think the viewers probably didn't understand a word of it."

The first big lucky break was undoubtedly the arrival of Mrs Thatcher and popular capitalism.

Soon business became less of an alien world.

We all got to know Sid and laughed at Loadsamoney and there was a whole new audience for business programmes - the so-called Sierra man with his new fistful of utility shares.

Front page news

The Money Programme introduced a glossy new magazine format fronted by Brian Widlake and its first female presenter, the legendary Valerie Singleton.

The Money Programme logo 2006
The programme's latest image aims to be younger and punchier

Val brought accessibility and star appeal.

The programme targeted the new share-owning classes and audiences shot up.

Throughout the 1990s, the potential of business programming expanded fast.

Sir John Harvey-Jones on Troubleshooter showed how to bring out the inherent drama in business and it was soon followed by Trouble at the Top and Blood on the Carpet.

The Money Programme benefited from this in 2000 when it was moved out of current affairs into the same department as those successes.

It was re-launched as a single subject documentary, much more accessible and in tune with the audiences' needs. Immediately, viewing figures rose.

And now we're re-launching again to make the most of a new era where the wind has shifted even more in favour of business.

It's constantly front page news - Tesco's record profits, M&S's chances of a comeback or Philip Green's 1.2bn dividend.

Business is no longer the remote and alien world of the 1960s.

It affects all our lives.

Great shape

The latest run of the Apprentice, which climaxed last week, has only confirmed the potential.

The Money Programme 1966
Because business is not black and white

The winner was on the front page of six national newspapers and the final got 5.7 million viewers.

There's a tremendous opportunity to be seized here.

In parallel with that appetite for business entertainment, the audience wants to know how real business is operating and how real business actually works.

And that's what we do on the Money Programme.

In fact, we're the only series on television doing that.

We want to talk directly to that new audience.

That's why we've brought in two new presenters, Max Flint and Libby Potter, to give the programme a younger, punchier edge.

We've also commissioned new titles to re-enforce that snappier image.

But there are a couple of things we're keeping - the great journalism that has always stood the programme in such good stead and has resulted in six awards in the last three years.

And the music, which is and always has been one of the best signature tunes on the telly.

I think it's right to say we couldn't be in greater shape on this fortieth birthday and I'm sure the Money Programme will flourish for many years to come.

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