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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 October 2005, 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK
Ronnies recall TV's golden age
By William Gallagher
BBC News

The Two Ronnies symbolised the success of Saturday night family viewing in the 1970s and 80s. Saturday night then lost its way - but is it now becoming must see TV again?

The Two Ronnies
The Two Ronnies rivalled Morecambe and Wise in the popularity stakes
The original Two Ronnies show with Ronnies Barker and Corbett spanned a period often referred to as the "golden age" of Saturday entertainment television.

While it ran for an impressively long time - from 1971 until 1987 - it was the later years that fixed the show firmly in our minds as one of the great family series.

At its peak in 1980, The Two Ronnies scored 18.6 million viewers in the UK. They were neck-and-neck with Morecambe and Wise, whose most popular show that year attracted 18.7 million.

But the significance of these shows is more than just numbers - viewers held them close to their hearts.

Not only were they very funny, but they also came to be something you could rely upon.

The term "family entertainment" has arguably come to mean shows that children like and their parents are willing to tolerate.

The Mike Yarwood Show
The Mike Yarwood Show was also a huge hit in the 1970s
But in the late 1970s and well into the 1980s, these shows were genuinely enjoyed, looked forward to and talked about by all the family.

Along with less well-remembered hits like The Mike Yarwood Show - which was the joint top programme of 1977 with Morecambe and Wise - these shows became what channels would now call "event television".

When families sat down to watch The Two Ronnies or Morecambe and Wise, there was a sense that the entire nation was doing exactly the same - especially at Christmas.

Yet within a few years, that feeling dissipated and Saturday nights sank in the ratings.

It may have been because people had more disposable income and could go out more.

It certainly had something to do with the choice available on new stations like Channel 4 and then the myriad satellite and cable broadcasters.

Cilla Black
Cilla Black's Blind Date was a firm favourite on ITV in the 1980s
The video industry boomed too, going from nothing to 25,000 sale or rental outlets in 1982.

Then in 1985, ITV bought a little-known US format called Love Connection, renamed it Blind Date and reignited the fortunes of both presenter Cilla Black and Saturday night entertainment as a whole.

Michael Barrymore's Saturday Night Out followed in 1988 and, while that particular show only lasted for a year or so, it launched a sequence of Barrymore hits.

Still, only Blind Date really came close to the ideal of a show for all the family that everyone talked about afterwards.

But since 2000, broadcasters have really tried to reach back to the Saturday evening family audience to reclaim that en masse event feeling.

Saturday morning stars Ant and Dec moved to prime time and have struck gold with ITV1's Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway.

Simon Cowell in X Factor
The X Factor has succeeded in catching the nation's imagination
For the first time in many years, a Saturday evening show was a critical success and a growing popular hit - and signalled a possible return to the golden age.

Ironically, some of that return is down to the revival of 1970s shows - the transformed Doctor Who and Strictly Come Dancing.

But the new format doing the best job of getting the family sitting around the TV set is perhaps ITV1's The X Factor.

While all TV audiences have steadily fallen since the 1980s, The X Factor pulled in 8.6 million viewers on Saturday.

It may not match peak ratings of The Two Ronnies - but it was seen by almost half of all those watching TV at the time, and is regarded as a triumph in the modern TV age.


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