I found myself sipping champagne at a glitzy party thrown by
Yorkshire Television last week to celebrate 25 years of Emmerdale, ITV’s
It proved a perfect place to open up a discussion about the wisdom, let
alone point, of marking media anniversaries.
I asked one of Granada’s most senior executives who, thanks to the
takeover, will shortly assume responsibility for the thrice-weekly
strand whether the show’s 11 million viewers needed to be reminded of
how long Emmerdale had been running. Especially since ITV is currently
in a very unsentimental mood, in the middle of a 100-day rethink of its
This executive confided that media anniversaries were dangerous things,
not occasions for indulgence. They need careful thought if they are to
impinge upon the public in any way, and be used in building the
For example, when Coronation Street celebrated 30 years with a
pretentious lecture by Roy Hattersley applauding its role as a modern
day chronicler a la Dickens, Granada got it seriously wrong. The event
had managed to send out precisely the wrong sort of signals to the
younger audience it desperately needs.
If you are 16 would you want to watch a programme recommended by someone
the age of your grandfather? On the other hand, long-running dramas have
huge loyal audiences: anniversaries remind them of how favourite
programmes remain a constant in a changing world.
Emmerdale is not the only programme currently celebrating its
The BBC is going through something of an orgy of anniversaries: it is
celebrating 75 years of its first appearance as a radio service, 40
years of BBC Education, 40 years of the Natural History Unit, 40 years
of the Today programme, 30 years of Radio 1. This follows last autumn’s
celebrations of 60 years of BBC TV, BBC Children’s programmes, etc. If
these were just matters of private celebration perhaps it would not
matter. But they are very clearly meant to be marketing occasions
involving the audience, reminding us, as the BBC’s special CD-ROM says,
of its ’enormous contribution’ to our lives, cradle to grave.
The BBC’s anniversary is intruding onto the airwaves with special
compilations, repeats and discussions: all inevitably looking backwards.
There is even a four-part documentary, Auntie - the Inside Story of the
BBC. And this is perhaps the point at which the game is given away. The
documentary has stopped 11 years ago, and saved the current Birtist
regime from scrutiny - a very different standard to that applied to Alan
Clark’s recent History of the Conservative Party, which came bang up to
Anniversaries matter to institutions. A broadcaster as powerful as the
BBC ought to take care: too much controlled self-congratulation can be a