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What were the highs and lows of TV is the Eighties

01:00 Mon 11th Feb 2002 |

A.� It was an important decade which shaped the television we watch today. Time diffferences meant for the first time television could bring pictures of earthquakes in South America before the rest of the continent was out of bed. The events in Tiananmen Square were screened live, and there was more coverage of disasters than ever before - the Zeebrugge ferry sinking, the Flaklands War, the Hillsborough tragedy were all covered by TV crews and reporters as news broke.

There was also more television as Channel 4, daytime and breakfast TV arrived.

Derek Granger at Granada spent nine years making his version of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, and it was described then as "the best piece of fictional television ever made". Inspired, the same company, travelled to India to make 'The Jewel in the Crown' which was a ratings triumph.

Central television came up trumps with Auf Wiedersehn Pet. The 13-part� comedy drama about a group of Geordie building workers on the lump in Germany was one of the most successful programmes of its day, and a new series is being put together a decade on. By February 1984, the series was challenging Coronation Street at the tope of the ratings.

Michael Grade, nephew of Lew, returned to Britain after working in America and took on the job of restoring quality to the BBC. It was an exciting time for BBC from then, as it aired Tenko, Big Deal, Only Fools and Horses, Just Good Friends, and schedules were rewritten so Wogan went out at 7pm instead of 10pm and plays returned to Tuesdays.

As BBC1 shows began filling the Top Ten, BBC2 risked dramas which tried to make sense of life in the depressing 1980s. Boys from the Blackstuff was famed as a metaphor for the economic scrapheap. Edge of Darkness, a tale of nightmare, death and doom, was so popular, it was switched to BBC1.

It was also the decade of hero cops. Cagney and Lacey and Juliet Bravo joined The Bill and MTV's Hill Street Blues. British policemen took part in fly-on-the-wall documentaries such as Police, Operation Carter and Flying Squad. Crimewatch, with Nick Owen and Sue Cook, took off.

Chat shows began filling the airwaves. With more hours to fill, series such as Kilroy, The Time the Place, the LWT agony column A Family Affair and Thames Television's late night counselling programme A Problem Aired all started.

�Granada launched two new soaps to compete with EastEnders. The �3 million Albion Market began in August 1985, but a year later was wound up after a hundred episodes. The Practice, a medical soap, was started in a blaze of publicity but stopped a year later. Dempsey and Makepeace, starring Michael Brandon and Glynis Barber, failed to spark any real interest.

Q.� What about comedy

A.� The early Eighties saw the start of Yes, Minister, short sketch shows with Victoira Wood and Julie Walters, and 'young' perfromers such as Rowan Atkinson, mel Smith, Griff Rhys Jones, lenny Henry and Alexei Sayle, began to make their mark.

Q.� When did charity TV kick off

A.� This was the decade that saw the birth of charity fund-raising on year. Live Aid, then Comic Relief and regular 'telethons' began. Esther Rantzen's That's Life was enjoying its heyday, and on ITV Roger Cook became a real-life Equalizer tackling child pornographers, badger baiters and protection racketeers.

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By Katharine MacColl

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