TV's jewels fail to shine in list of all-time
By Alison Boshoff, Media Correspondent. From the Electronic Telegraph, Saturday 7 February 1998
THE most popular programmes in the history of television were revealed yesterday to be a surprising blend of forgotten sitcoms, soap operas and even a beauty pageant.
None of the critically-acclaimed television series such as Jewel In The Crown, Brideshead Revisited or Our Friends In The North figure in the chart. In fact, few of the programmes featured in the top 100 have ever won any industry awards.
In their place on the roll of honour are the 1969 and 1970 Miss World coverage from BBC1, editions of Dallas and the Benny Hill Show.
A Christmas special from Mike Yarwood in 1977 outpaces any comedy offering from the intervening 20 years apart from the hugely popular 1996 Only Fools and Horses Christmas special.
Coronation Street dominates, holding half of the top 100 placings, although it has no entries in the chart from the period 1968-78.
EastEnders does not figure at all, while memorable sitcoms such as Minder, Last of The Summer Wine and Darling Buds of May have all also failed to find a way into the list.
The fourth run of Bread, however, is ranked at No 52 with 20.15 million viewers and another notable sitcom entrant is the critically-forgotten George and Mildred. An episode of that programme from 1977 drew 19.7 million viewers.
Steptoe and Son drew 19.7 million viewers in 1964. At the time, it was so popular that Harold Wilson wanted its transmission delayed lest it distract Labour voters on election day.
The only current affairs programme to make an appearance is Martin Bashir's 1995 interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, which comes seventh with an audience of 22.75 million.
The only sport to figure is the Torvill and Dean comeback at the 1994 Winter Olympics.
Programmes that now appear anomalous are revealed to have been among the greatest crowd-pleasers of all time. Three Royal Variety Performances from the 1960s are in the top 20 and the Miss World contests from the competition's pre-feminist heyday figure twice in the top 50.
To The Manor Born, which for many years was the highest rated programme, attracted 24 million viewers in 1979 for its final episode. Many of the top-rated programmes come from this era, when there were only three channels from which to choose and video recorders were a toy for the rich.
The chart was compiled by William Phillips, a ratings expert, from homes data before official monitoring and from BARB, which holds the copyright on the figures. It was first published in Television, the journal of the Royal Television Society.