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Ten shows that turned us on to Channel 4 over the last 40 years

It started with Countdown, so it is appropriate that the daytime quiz is front and centre as Channel 4 marks its 40th anniversary.

Countdown’s Richard Whiteley alongside Carol Vorderman
Countdown’s Richard Whiteley alongside Carol Vorderman

Sir Trevor McDonald and Baroness Floella Benjamin are among the famous faces who are guest hosting the show as the channel marks 40 years.

The quiz show was the first programme aired on Channel 4 when the broadcaster launched in November 1982 and remains the channel’s longest-running instalment. To celebrate the milestone, four broadcasters are taking on a week-long hosting stint alongside resident lexicographer Susie Dent and mathematician Rachel Riley.

Baroness Floella is up first this week, with TV judge Rob Rinder joining Dent as the guest in dictionary corner. She will be followed by Sir Trevor, celebrity vicar and Radio 4 presenter Reverend Richard Cole and broadcaster Moira Stuart.

Richard Whiteley and Carol Vorderman were the faces that became so familiar to fans in the early days of Channel 4. Whiteley presented the show for 22 years until his death in 2005. The seat was then taken up by Des Lynam, Des O’Connor, Jeff Stelling, Nick Hewer and now Colin Murray. A simple words and numbers game, it has managed to endure and also spawned the late-night anarchic 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown.

Other shows that have helped define the 40 years of Channel 4 include:

The Tube 1982-1987

Channel 4’s live Friday night music show with edge and attitude debuted on Bonfire Night in 1982, just three days after newcomer Channel 4 had taken to the air.

The first show featured Heaven 17, Bananarama, Duran Duran and The Jam, who used the occasion to surprise the nation by declaring they were splitting up.

It was presented by former Squeeze keyboard player Jools Holland and the late Paula Yates.

The Tube, filmed in Newcastle, was a respected live music show

Treasure Hunt 1982-1989

Exhausting all-action game show in which a contestant-controlled helicopter took Anneka Rice around Britain in search of cryptic clues..

The two studio-bound contestants shouted instructions to a heliborne ‘runner’ out in the countryside, in the hope that discovered – and correctly answered – cryptic clues would lead them to £1,000.

Accompanying runner Anneka was a fast-footed camera team.

Ex-newscaster Kenneth Kendall maintained gravitas and studio order along with Wincey Willis.

When Anneka moved on to the charity-benefitting Challenge Anneka in 1989, her place was taken on the show by former tennis player Annabel Croft.

Treasure Hunt sent Anneka Rice flying across the UK

Brookside 1982-2003

Brookside exploded onto British TV screens on the day Channel 4 began transmission. The resulting blast changed British soap opera forever.

Grange Hill writer Phil Redmond bought a set of newly built houses in a cul-de-sac in Liverpool, installing the latest TV equipment in them to film the soap.

Early signs weren’t good as viewers turned off, with one show mustering just 250,000 viewers. But after building strong characters and challenging storylines, it became a hit. The show was culled in 2003 and the homes put on the market for around £200,000 each.

Soap opera Brookside was set on a real street, which was sold off when it was axed

Saturday Live 1985-1988

Revue-style series for up-and-coming comedians was based on the American model of Saturday Night Live.

For the show, the cavernous Studio 1 at LWT’s complex on the South Bank of the Thames was filled with an audience, fairground rides and some of the most promising up-and-coming talent on the scene. It launched the careers of comedians including Jo Brand, Julian Clary, Craig Charles and Harry ‘Loadsamoney’ Enfield. It moved to Fridays for its final series.

Ben Elton hosted Saturday Live, which became Friday Night Live for its final series

TFI Friday 1996-2000

Chris Evans, fresh from Radio 1 breakfast show success, presented this youth-oriented Friday teatime show which featured pop groups, showbiz gossip and daft stunts and games.

The show was broadcast from the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, with a set that conveyed the impression of a nightclub below and the manager’s office above, from where Evans anchored the show.

Chris Evans transformed Friday nights with his anarchic live chat and music show TFI Friday

Big Brother 2000-2010

Stick strangers into a house and watch them self-destruct. Big Brother was unlike anything else seen on British television and it became a sensation.

When 'Nasty' Nick Bateman was kicked out for cheating, it made the TV news headlines and dominated the front pages. Newport builder Craig Phillips won the first series and the show made stars of Jade Goody and Alison Hammond.

After being axed by Channel 4 it found new life with Channel 5.

Big Brother’s ‘Nasty Nick’ Nicholas Bateman was kicked out of the house for breaking rules

The Last Leg 2012-present

Late-night live television talk/sketch show that originally ran alongside the 2012 Summer Paralympics every night following the main coverage on Channel 4. Anchored by Australian comedian Adam Hills and co-hosted by Josh Widdicombe and Alex Brooker, it carried on in lockdown with Hills presenting from his garage in Australia.

The Last Leg

Gogglebox 2013-present

A television show about people watching television. Favourites have included Bristol pensioners Mary Cook and her friend Marina Wingrove, who were filmed from their retirement home until Mary's death at the age of 92.

Review show Gogglebox has become a big Friday night hit

It’s a Sin 2021

Multi-award winning drama depicting the lives of friends during the HIV/AIDS crisis. All episodes were released to Channel 4's All 4, where it broke records by being viewed in its entirety more than 6.5 million times.

Olly Alexander in multi-award winning drama It’s A Sin

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