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Last Updated: Monday, 19 April, 2004, 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK
Forty landmarks from BBC Two
By Keily Oakes
BBC News Online entertainment

BBC Two celebrates 40 years of broadcasting to the nation on Tuesday. Here are 40 facts, figures and anecdotes about channel's four decades on air.

1) BBC Two launched on 20 April 1964 - to offer an alternative to BBC One and ITV - although launch night was eventually aborted due to a power cut.

Wimbledon
2) The first colour TV pictures were introduced on BBC Two, with Wimbledon tennis coverage in 1967 becoming the first colour broadcast in Europe.

3) Live snooker was originally hampered by being in black and white, but the introduction of Pot Black changed that. But there were not even enough professional players to start with and the audience had to be cajoled in from the BBC canteen.

4) This led to the infamously unhelpful quote from commentator Ted Lowe, who said: "Steve is going for the pink ball - and for those of you who are watching in black and white, the pink is next to the green."

5) Comedy legends Morecambe and Wise made the decision to sign to BBC Two because they wanted their shows to be in colour.

6) Anthony Minghella opted out of directing one of his scripts for Inspector Morse as his debut to concentrate on filming Truly, Madly, Deeply because he thought it would only get a small audience so it did not matter if it did not work. The film went on to win a Bafta.

7) Delia Smith's TV career got off to a not-so auspicious start. Her cookery series Family Fare was not recommissioned because the controller did not think she was "sexy" enough. Of course, Delia went on to become the UK's most famous TV chef.

8) In 1998, the new generation of TV chefs was born when Jamie Oliver was launched on BBC Two along with his catchphrase "pukka".

9) Oliver was told to take off his engagement ring while filming the pilot for the Naked Chef because executives wanted him to appeal to female viewers.

10) The Two Fat Ladies - Clarissa Dickson Wright and the late Jennifer Patterson - were far from great friends, with producer Patricia Llewellyn saying they did not even talk to each other.

11) In Japan, Two Fat Ladies was dubbed by men.

12) The Likely Lads began life as a training exercise for Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who wrote a sketch that was jumped on by executives

13) The Goodies first went out on BBC Two in 1970 past the 9pm watershed because it was not yet considered a family show. It then switched to a more family-friendly time on BBC One.

14) Match of the Day took the airwaves on 22 August 1964. Liverpool v Arsenal was the first featured game and attracted 20,000 viewers - less than half the number that attended the actual match.

15) The Talking to a Stranger mini-series won Dame Judi Dench her first TV Bafta award in 1966

16) The memorable Forsyte Saga won Susan Hampshire a best actress Emmy in 1970. Eric Porter had won a best actor Bafta for his performance in the series.

17) Wordy quiz show Call My Bluff, which began in 1965, refused to stay quiet, returning to BBC Two in 1997, and then meriting a later BBC One revamp with Fiona Bruce installed as chairman.

18) Playschool was the first proper programme broadcast on BBC Two, on 11 April 1964. The programme that shaped the lives of many a pre-school child was finally retired in 1988.

19) Hamble the doll was the only Playschool toy not to still be there when the show ended. She was replaced by a black doll called Poppy as the programme moved with the times. Apparently, Hamble was particularly unpopular with presenters because she would not stand up properly.

20) The original toys - Hamble, Jemima, Big Ted, Little Ted and Humpty - can be found at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford.

21) Yes Prime Minister was former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's favourite sitcom, who called it "truly my favourite programme".

22) Baroness Thatcher was such a fan that she roped in actors Nigel Hawthorne and Paul Eddington to perform with her a script she had written in the style of Yes Prime Minister. Her press secretary Bernard Ingham later admitted sharpening it up. Comic timing did not prove to be the PM's forte.

23) News Review in 1983 was BBC Two's Sunday evening round-up of the week's big stories - subtitled for the deaf. The catchy theme music was Roadwalk by bandleader Syd Dale.

24) The fierce Barbara Woodhouse started her TV career on BBC Two on Training Dogs the Woodhouse Way. Although she died in 1988 at the age of 78, her numerous books on animals are still available despite her techniques being criticised by animal welfare organisations.

25) In 1982, the gritty drama Boys from the Blackstuff was shown, penned by Alan Bleasdale. The Liverpool-set drama was hailed for capturing the mood of the early 80s. It won several Baftas including best drama and best actor for Bernard Hill, who played Yosser Hughes. The character's memorable catchphrase was "gissa job"

26) The anarchic Young Ones' debut on BBC Two was anything but aimed at its perceived middle-class audience. It went on to win a Bafta best comedy award.

27) But the crazy foursome of the Young Ones went on to form an unlikely partnership with Sir Cliff Richard for the charity single Living Doll in 1984.

28) The Bafta-winning disturbing adaptation of Fay Weldon's Lives and Loves of a She-Devil in 1986 is one of BBC Two's best remembered dramas. Hollywood's comedic version several years later, which starred Roseanne and Meryl Streep, was widely panned.

29) Sister Wendy was one of TV's unlikeliest stars, but her Odyssey art appreciation show reached cult status. She was originally featured as part of a documentary on the National Gallery and proved such a draw that she was given her own series. She now spends much of her time in seclusion at a monastery in Quidenham, Norfolk, speaking only to the prioress and spending the rest of the time in silence.

30) The cute BBC Two idents have attracted praise from viewers and the TV industry. They have become an icon for the channel and there are numerous websites devoted to them.

31) The Office won Golden Globes for both the show and its creator Ricky Gervais - leaving both America and Gervais stunned.

32) BBC Two was named best terrestrial channel at the Royal Television Society Awards in 2003.

33) BBC Two achieved its highest ratings on 25 April 1985 during the nail baiting snooker final between Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis.

34) This Life was credited with being one of the first credible British 20-something dramas in 1996, launching the careers of Daniela Nardini and Andrew Lincoln.

35) Chat show with a difference The Kumars at Number 42, devised and starring Sanjeev Bhaskar, has an impressive haul of awards including Baftas and two International Emmys

36) The Kumars proved such a hit that a US TV network bought the rights and made it in into The Ortegas, changing it from an Indian family to an Hispanic one. Its premiere is still to air in the US.

Education TV has changed a lot since Open University programmes like this one in 1974
37) Alan Rickman and Alfred Molina were the original actors cast in the Red Dwarf lead roles - eventually filled by the successful cult duo of Craig Charles and Chris Barrie as Lister and Rimmer.

38) Open University opened TV audiences up to the world of academia, with serious science presented by serious professors. BBC Two is still the home of OU programmes but with the onset of video recorders, the learning zones could be shown in early morning slots.

39) Gardener's World was launched in 1969 - decades before lifestyle programmes such a Ground Force and Changing Rooms turned the country into green-fingered and DIY know-it-alls. Gardener's World is now in its 37th series.

40) Hit comedy Absolutely Fabulous started life on BBC Two, winning two Baftas and an International Emmy. The idea for the show started as a sketch on the French and Saunders show before becoming a larger-than-life long-running comedy.

Happy Birthday BBC Two is being screened on the channel on Tuesday evening at 2000 BST, featuring people who have worked both behind and in front of its cameras over the years.


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