What’s your favourite show to have aired on BBC2?
“The Young Ones. It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. That’s the show that made me a fan of television and comedy and all those things. It’s an extraordinary piece of television that couldn’t have happened anywhere else but on BBC2.”
What are you doing for BBC2’s 50th birthday celebrations?
“I’m joining comedian Dara O’Briain as co-host of All About Two, a quiz about the channel’s history. There are two celebrity teams, one captained by Hugh Dennis and the other by Brian Cox. Hugh’s got Deborah Meaden and Gareth Malone on his team, while Brian’s joined by Dave Myers from the Hairy Bikers and Meera Syal [who’ll next month be seen reuniting with the cast of Goodness Gracious Me for a special episode as part of the channel’s celebrations]. And then we have lots of famous faces from BBC2’s past coming on to help us out with rounds – it’s a really good, fun quiz.”
Do the celebrations include BBC2’s nightmare launch?
“We go into the whole opening night schedule… BBC2 was the third UK television station to be launched, but its opening night on 20 April 1964 was wrecked by a power cut caused by a fire at Battersea Power Station. So, its few first night viewers were treated to people apologising for all the problems. The actual schedule was postponed to the following evening – and it’s quite spectacular. It wouldn’t pass muster these days, but it’s very interesting.”
The channel had a better result when, in 1967, it became the first in Europe to broadcast in colour, didn’t it?
“We beat the Germans by eight weeks. Germany wanted to make a huge thing about it and have their Chancellor there, whereas the BBC just had a bunch of bright men and women who got on and did it. So we won that race.”
And the channel has won a lot of viewers with its reputation for screening powerful dramas over the years. And it’s launched the careers of a string of celebrity chefs!
“We do a whole section of the quiz on cooking and it’s an area where the channel’s always been strong. There was Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Rick Stein, while more recently it launched The Hairy Bikers and Lorraine Pascale. Paul Hollywood comes on the show towards the end and I can exclusively reveal that cakes are involved!”
Why do you think we should all celebrate BBC2’s birthday?
“It’s a slightly cheeky younger brother to BBC1 as it doesn’t have its big brother’s responsibilities to be mainstream and inoffensive. BBC2 has been a place where programme-makers have been given more of a free rein. And blimey that policy’s paid off because it’s produced some amazing shows.”
What’s the channel’s best performing programme ever?
“The greatest moment of BBC2 history was at half past midnight on 28 April 1985, when 18.5 million people, including myself, watched Dennis Taylor beat Steve Davis 18-17 in the final of the World Snooker Championship. Dennis Taylor is a guest on the quiz and that night in 1985 is one of those moments that will live on in the cultural memory forever.”
All About Two, BBC2, Easter Sunday, April 20