What do the following film genres mean to you?
- War films
- James Bond
- Carry On films
To me they all scream Bank Holiday TV. You may have had plans to go out somewhere, but an annoying drizzle meant that you’d rather stay at home and see what’s on the box.
But in fact, that’d be wrong.
Maybe the Bank Holidays of yesteryear were like this, but these days you’d be hard pressed to differentiate a Bank Holiday’s output from any other Monday’s programming. No longer do we get much in the way of specials, one-offs or film premieres. There’s relatively little live sport left on free-to-air TV, and instead, the regular daytime schedule is extended into the Bank Holiday regardless.
Is the family at home? Or are you having a bit of a lie-in? No longer do you get to feast your eyes on anything different. It’s the regular diet of Jeremy Kyle, Homes Under the Hammer, Escape to the Country and Loose Women.
Indeed flicking through the dreary line-up during the recent May Day Bank Holiday, I had to sense-check that I hadn’t somehow taken a standard day off work by accident. It was wet outside, and if I wanted some actual entertainment, it’d be either be a DVD or Netflix.
But perhaps I was wrong? Was Bank Holiday TV that good in the past? I decided to find out by exploring previous listings.
I’ve taken a look at the TV on Spring Bank Holidays – the last Monday in May – over the last forty years by looking at the Radio Times every ten years from 1977 to date. (I didn’t have access to the TV Times, so ITV and Channel 4’s listings only start in 1997.)
I said above that the last Monday in May is the Bank Holiday, but in 1977 the Spring Bank Holiday was the following week because this was also the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebration weekend. The Radio Times featured an embroidered image of the Queen on the cover of their Souvenir Issue.
BBC One’s daytime schedule was sport focused. Following a Laurel and Hardy film, it was one-day England v Australia cricket and then Frank Bough presenting a Bank Holiday Grandstand that also featured Powerboat Racing (Murray Walker on commentary duties), Racing from Chepstow and Athletics from Leicester.
BBC Two opened at breakfast for some Open University programming, before closing down at 7.55am. It opened again briefly for Play School (Julie Stevens and Brian Cant), before closing down once more. It only reopened after lunch for the film Holiday in Mexico, before showing the end of the cricket.
The BBC One early evening started with Disney Time presented by Noel Edmonds, a showing of the film Scott of the Antarctic, The Music of Morecambe and Wise and a regular Starsky and Hutch. After the news, it was Silver Jubilee: Fires of Friendship, featuring live coverage of beacons being lit spreading out from Windsor up and down the country. Raymond Baxter presented it, and the Radio Times carried a handy map of all the bonfire sites. The evening ended with the film I Start Counting starring Jenny Agutter and Bryan Marshall.
BBC Two was also showing a patriotic film that evening with Laurence Olivier’s Henry V. That was followed by Neil Diamond, an episode of Women at War and a short play under the banner of Second City Firsts.
In 1987, Noel Edmonds was the Radio Times cover as host of the SOS Star Awards on Saturday evening. But we’re going to concentrate on Monday’s TV.
For BBC One, that meant a Monday edition of Grandstand featuring England v Pakistan one-day cricket, the golf PGA Championship and coverage of The Milk Race cycling (with Phil Liggett and Hugh Porter on commentary duties).
BBC Two’s daytime saw You and Me, followed by several hours of Pages from Ceefax, before a Walton’s TV-movie spin-off, and continued cricket coverage took over.
Later in the evening, BBC One had Wogan, Bob’s Full House, Ever Decreasing Circles and then the film Staying Alive. After the news, there was an all-star celebration of 100 years of Hollywood.
BBC Two gave over the entire evening to the opera Turandot, broadcast live from the Royal Opera House and simulcast on Radio 3. It ended the evening with highlights of some the day’s earlier sport.
In 1997, the cover featured Lenny Henry.
BBC One had Herbie Goes Bananas, followed by Disney’s Robin Hood. After a brief visit to Ramsey Street for Neighbours it was three hours of Spartacus.
Over on BBC Two there was Steve Rider presenting the PGA Championship from Wentworth for much of the day. But there was still time for Teletubbies, The Phil Silvers Show, and the film Rancho Notorious.
ITV was basically showing films all day. A fantasy film called Master of the World, starring Vincent Price and Charles Bronson (together at last?), Captain Ron with Kurt Russell, and then a true classic in Rio Bravo.
Channel 4 had a series of repeats including Bewitched and The Crystal Maze, before the film Challenge to Lassie and then Racing from Sandown Park. They did find space for Fifteen to One and Countdown.
Channel 5’s schedule looked more normal than most with regulars like Leeza, The Bold and the Beautiful, Family Affairs and Sunset Beach. But it did have the premiere of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III in the afternoon (Strong competition for that I’m sure).
Into the evening and BBC One had Red Nose Awards, Auntie’s TV Favourites, and Here and Now, with Sue Lawley interviewing The Spice Girls. A regular Eastenders was followed by Radio Times cover star Lenny’s Big Amazon Adventure and the start of a new series of Birds of a Feather. Following a later than usual news, it was the premiere of the film Staggered with Martin Clunes. Carry on Camping rounded off the evening.
BBC Two had Computers Don’t Bite with Carol Vorderman and Adrian Chiles, Mr Bell Goes to Westminster following Martin Bell taking on Neil Hamilton in Tatton, The Antiques Show with Francine Stock and Tales from the River Bank. The big film was Lorenzo’s Oil with Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon.
ITV had regular episodes of Wish You Were Here…? and Coronation Street. Then it had A Royal Gala for the Prince’s Trust, hosted by Sir David Frost and Joanna Lumley and featuring Gary Barlow and Jennifer Aniston.
Channel 4 was celebrating Sitcom Weekend all that evening, including Desmond’s, George and Mildred, Rising Damp, Father Ted, Cheers, and the film Up Pompeii.
Channel 5’s evening saw the premiere of, er, Revenge of the Nerds IV: Nerds in Love, and an episode Jack Docherty’s chat show.
In 2007, Daniel Craig (as James Bond) was the cover star, and the magazine included a free “Giant Springwatch Wallchart.” It also asked the question of the latest Doctor Who episode: “Is this the scariest episode ever?” (Talking about the episode Human Nature).
By now, the schedules were feeling a little less special. BBC One had a morning of Animal Park, Homes Under the Hammer, To Buy or Not to Buy, Cash in the Attic and Bargain Hunt. Not that different to 2017 in some respects. After lunch it was old episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo!, Keeping Up Appearances and Murder, She Wrote. Then we got films of The Parent Trap and Father of the Bride Part 2.
BBC Two began with blocks of CBeebies and CBBC programming before running the popular TV movie High School Musical. This was followed by the John Wayne film, The Comancheros, followed by regular episodes of Living in the Sun, Escape to the Country, Flog It!, Eggheads and Weakest Link.
ITV was also now running a nearly normal schedule of The Jeremy Kyle Show, two episodes of 60 Minute Makeover, Loose Women, half an Inspector Morse repeat (part one had been the previous Friday), and For the Rest of Your Life. At 4.00pm it ran the 1983 film, Agatha Christie’s Sparkling Cyanide.
Channel 4 broke up its regular morning block of sitcom repeats with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: the Movie, a Pirates of the Caribbean 3: T4 Movie Special and the film Alaska with Thora Birch and Charlton Heston. It ended the afternoon with Countdown, Deal or No Deal and The New Paul O’Grady Show.
Channel 5 was showing a standard set of The Wright Stuff, Trisha Goddard, House Doctor, House, and then the films/TV movies, The Madness Within and Perry Mason: The Cast of the Lost Love.
BBC One’s evening was basically a standard issue Monday evening with Celebrity Masterchef, an Open All Hours repeat, EastEnders, Panorama, New Tricks and Not Going Out.
BBC Two’s evening was also standard fare, with a new series of Springwatch, the third in a documentary series Power to the People and only The Pledge with Jack Nicholson being an unusual film addition. At midnight viewers could spend two hours with Springwatch Nightshift.
ITV’s evening was mostly identical to any other, with Emmerdale, Coronation Street, Airline, more Coronation Street, and then the film Ocean’s Eleven. The evening was rounded off with The Championship featuring play-off highlights.
Channel 4 at least had a film in early peak with the premiere of Star Trek: Nemesis before the documentary Brits Get Rich in China. Then it was ER, Sport’s Dirty Secrets and late night repeats of Sex and the City.
Channel 5 had Airplane! Before highlights of the cricket (long gone from free to air TV), Fifth Gear, Paul Merton in China, Prison Break and the film Anaconda.
Which all brings us right up to date, and I’m embedding some of my patented* (*they’re not patented) annotated Radio Times pages into this blog. This week’s edition has a The Beatles and Sgt Pepper because, er, there’s a re-issued CD boxset out?
(Click through if you can’t read what it says)
This is near enough a completely usual Monday. All the daytime staples are there. The tiny amount of sport consists of highlights packages. The PGA golf, long a Bank Holiday tradition, now finishes on a Sunday like every other tournament, and is live on Sky, like every other tournament.
Only Channel 5 actually makes an effort, running a classic film in the afternoon (The Searchers), and launching their new mini-series sequel on The Kennedys.
The only way you’d know it was a Bank Holiday from these schedules would be to notice that the news is either shortened or completely missing from the schedules. Otherwise, it’s as you were.
The shift away from holiday programming to regular scheduling hasn’t been a fast one, but in recent years it feels like it has sped up.
In the 70s and 80s we didn’t really have daytime TV – indeed channels might actually shut down for a bit. But that left space for sport, for which there was no satellite competition. And the end of the football season meant that there was a range of sport available. There have always been films, but truth be told, they’ve not always been great. There have been some titles here that the best film critic would need to go away and look up.
Yet today, we’re almost at a point where the most you can expect is that the news might get shortened a little, BBC Two might run a film in place of Newsnight, and that’s about it. We don’t get special events, or one off specials any longer. Daytime and evening schedules run year around, and make little to no account for anything else. Certainly, if I’d been examining the May Bank Holiday, I’d have included the World Snooker Championships, long a staple of BBC TV over the period. But it feels like schedulers don’t really make the effort any longer.
Undoubtedly, Britain’s Got Talent and Springwatch are big draws for their respective channels, but there’s not even a non-soap drama to be found (unless you count Channel 4’s Loaded which is more drama-comedy).
It is true to say that we don’t get nearly as many repeats as we used to (a curious Guardian piece recently asked if the age of repeats was at an end. I would argue that this has long happened). Most drama on the main channels is first run in primetime. Even massive hits like Line of Duty or Poldark don’t get peaktime repeats.
And it’s also true that we have more access to entertainment. In the seventies, you’d have to wait until ITV showed Jaws before you got a chance to see it. Only with the rise of VHS, satellite TV, DVD, downloads and Netflix, did the audience gain control. However, ITV will still run one-off Maigrets, while the BBC and Channel 4 can have premieres of some of the films they’ve backed.
We’re said to be in a golden age of television; indeed “peak TV.” There’s so much good stuff, or “must-see TV” that we struggle to keep up. Are you watching the new seasons of House of Cards? Or The Leftovers? Or American Gods? Or Twin Peaks? Or The Americans? Or Doctor Who?
Season 7 of Game of Thrones is coming soon, perhaps you want to binge watch the previous six seasons? Or seven seasons of The Walking Dead?
Instead of moaning that ITV hasn’t bothered to change its Bank Holiday schedule from a normal one, perhaps I should understand that they know beyond their regular audience, anyone else watching TV will be doing so on their own terms. Watching iPlayer, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, ITV Hub, Now TV or Walter Presents boxsets.
Bank Holiday TV is a thing of the past.