In a year jam-packed with broadcast birthdays, including 100 years of the BBC and 40 years of Channel 4, let’s take a moment to celebrate 25 years of Channel 5. 

Prefaced by teasers with the Spice Girls chanting “1-2-3-4-5”, Channel 5 launched in the white heat of the late 1990s. It came replete with everything Britain expected from a terrestrial broadcaster: a late-night chat show, The Jack Docherty Show (1997 to 1999), remembered for launching the career of Graham Norton; suburban soap opera Family Affairs (1997 to 2005); and an early evening quiz, the inventive 100% (1997 to 2001). 

Yet there was already a sense that the schedules were looser and riskier on the UK’s fifth channel, felt in ambitious fare and quirky successes like Night Fever (1997 to 2002), the rowdy karaoke game show hosted by Suggs.

The BFI National Archive has collected and preserved Channel 5 programmes since the beginning, and its curators have come together to reflect on just some of Channel 5’s great shows. Unsurprisingly, most of these are non-fiction programmes, for Channel 5 has a long history of documentary, factual entertainment and reality TV

Alas there is no space for favourites like The Wright Stuff (2000 to 2018), Extreme Fishing with Robson Green (2008 to 2011) or Rich House, Poor House (2017-). Meanwhile the recent increase in drama is palpable, with striking and popular shows like All Creatures Great and Small and Anne Boleyn signalling the direction of the channel’s next 25 years. Of course, the biggest and most enduring icon of Channel 5 is the one serving its littlest viewers: the indomitable Peppa Pig.

Elinor Groom

5 News (1997-)

5 News (1997-)

From the beginning, news on 5 was made to chime with the channel’s fresh approach. The first 5 news bulletins were noted for the innovation of having newsreaders stand, move around the studio or even sit on the venerated news desk to deliver the headlines. As the anchor of the evening bulletin, Kirsty Young was held up as the face of this change in making news broadcasting more informal and accessible. Other channels swiftly followed suit. 

5 News still feels more accessible than bulletins on other channels, with continued innovations like the recent introduction of a live engagement feature, which encourages viewers to send in messages via WhatsApp and social media. 

Lisa Kerrigan

Open House with Gloria Hunniford (1998 to 2003)

Open House with Gloria Hunniford (1998 to 2003)

1998 saw the arrival of a new live daytime magazine programme, Open House with Gloria Hunniford. The veteran presenter singlehandedly hosted the weekday show from 1998 to 2002, proving as comfortable on live television with a studio audience as on the radio. Open House provided an afternoon buffet of celebrity interviews, live music, cookery, consumer advice, phone-ins and gardening features, as well as heroic and inspirational stories from members of the public. Guests on the show included politicians, stars of stage, television and film, and sporting heroes.

The show ran until December 2002. Several ‘specials’ followed, dedicating a whole show to a single guest, including Lord Lichfield, Daniel O’Donnell, Lulu, Mo Mowlam, George Best and Sir Cliff Richard. In 2003 broadcasting legend Terry Wogan joined Channel 5 for a new daily morning magazine programme, co-presenting The Terry and Gaby Show with Gaby Roslin.

Kathleen Luckey

The Gadget Show (2004-)

The Gadget Show (2004-)

There’s no greater historical document of the 21st century’s consumer technology boom than The Gadget Show. It’s an ever-changing time capsule of gizmos. When launched in 2004 it was all set-top boxes and MP3 players, presented by Jason Bradbury, Jon Bentley and Suzi Perry in a manner nerdy enough for tech fans but accessible enough for everyday consumers. Now helmed by Craig Charles alongside Bentley, Ortis Deley and Georgie Barrat, The Gadget Show still cheerfully reports, reviews and tests the vanguard of gadgetry, only now the tech includes augmented reality and Alexa. 

The format has a loyal fandom, and when the show was revamped in 2012 a backlash caused producers to revert to the original mix of geeks and gadgets that made it so loved.  

Elinor Groom

Peppa Pig (2004-)

Peppa Pig (2004-)

Let’s face it, it’s Peppa Pig’s world and we just live in it. Since her 2004 debut in Channel 5’s pre-school Milkshake! slot, this headstrong four-year-old pig has conquered the globe, become the figurehead of a billion pound industry and distracted prime ministers.

Neville Astley, Phil Davis and Mark Baker built the show around the rare perspective of a young girl (pig) surrounded by family and a menagerie of friends in a colourful, geometric world. Intelligent use of CelAction computer software kept production affordable and in-house, with simple but ingenious designs that originated in Baker’s independent short animations. Quality writing and winning performances (including a variety of Peppas) have helped win millions of fans, sold countless merchandise and, most importantly, reminded us all of the pleasures of muddy puddles. 

Jez Stewart

The Hotel Inspector (2005-)

The Hotel Inspector (2005-)

Launched in 2005, The Hotel Inspector quickly became one of Channel 5’s biggest hits. Hotel expert Ruth Watson visited a variety of guesthouses and hotels and, with a critical eye, aimed to help the owners transform their businesses into appealing (and profitable) accommodation. Alex Polizzi took over the role in 2008 and has since hosted a range of spin offs. 

This type of format – where a troubleshooting expert piles on criticism before revealing a successful makeover – had its heyday in the late 2010s with presenters including Mary Portas and Gordon Ramsay. The Hotel Inspector combines the appeal of all of these programmes, dealing as it does with interior design, customer service, cleanliness and food preparation – with occasional similarities to Fawlty Towers (1975 to 1979). It remains an entertaining watch, particularly now that – in the age of Tripadvisor and AirBnB – we are all hotel inspectors.

Lisa Kerrigan

Big Brother / Celebrity Big Brother (2011 to 2018)

Celebrity Big Brother (2011 to 2018)

Channel 5 gave Big Brother a second life, and rarely has a Hail Mary pass been so triumphant (let’s not mention Neighbours). It seemed unfathomable that the broadcaster could salvage the reality TV icon, given the impact of its first run on Channel 4 and the popularity of outgoing presenter Davina McCall, yet Channel 5 succeeded. While still bringing big drama, the Channel 5 era of Big Brother felt more intimate, with a supportive and friendly vibe cultivated by the presenters, particularly Emma Willis who burst with affection for the series. 

Special mention goes to beloved Rylan who won Celebrity Big Brother in 2013 and continued hosting sister show Big Brother’s Bit on the Side. Somehow the good feeling travelled through walls and into the house: the last winning housemate, teenage superfan Cameron Cole, memorably came out as gay on the show in 2018.

Elinor Groom

Suspects (2014 to 2016)

Suspects (2014 to 2016)

Created by some of the people behind Family Affairs, Suspects appeared after an eight-year drought of original drama on Channel 5. Damien Molony, Clare-Hope Ashitey and Fay Ripley starred as diligent police investigators working on major crime cases with meticulous focus.

On its face a standard crime procedural, Suspects revealed itself to be quietly innovative in style. The case of the week was relayed through short, brisk scenes shot with documentary realism. The exhilarating pace of the drama was down to the shoot – a few days per episode – and the script: the cast were given a narrative breakdown but improvised much of their dialogue, including the police interrogations shot from the perspective of CCTV cameras. The result was compelling and intense.

Elinor Groom

Cruising with Jane McDonald (2017-)

Cruising with Jane McDonald (2017-)

Channel 5 cruised to their first BAFTA with this charming travelogue series helmed by Jane McDonald. McDonald, who originally made her name on the 1998 BBC docu-soap The Cruise, is the perfect host as she shares tips from her days as a crew member and explores new destinations every week with friends she’s made on board. 

Contemporary television is awash in celebrity travelogues, but Cruising had the edge, with Jane as an industry insider turned enthusiastic tourist. With episodes including visits to Vietnam, New Zealand and Cuba, the series was wide-ranging in the destinations it covered, but a tour around the Inner Hebrides was a particular highlight. McDonald brought her brand of Wakefield wisdom to cruise ships all over the world, so it’s a shame she bowed out after four series. 

Lisa Kerrigan

The Abused (2019) 

The Abused (2019)

Kelly and Hazel suffered horrendous violence at the hands of their partners, and The Abused followed their journey from 999 call-outs to preparations for trial. Unflinching but not at all sensationalised, the documentary weaved together police cam footage with interviews with the two survivors, who bravely recounted their experience to raise awareness of domestic abuse. The Abused continued the tradition of empathetic first-hand documentary on Channel 5, and received nominations for RTS and BAFTA awards.

After The Abused first aired in 2019, Channel 5 immediately followed with a programme soberly titled How to Leave Your Partner Safely. In 2020 it broadcast How to Leave Your Partner Safely in Lockdown, rightfully garnering appreciation for providing vital assistance to sufferers of domestic violence trapped with their abusers in the pandemic.

Elinor Groom

All Creatures Great and Small (2020-)

All Creatures Great and Small (2020-)

All Creatures Great and Small was an inspired choice for Channel 5. Capitalising on the broadcaster’s well-established love of Yorkshire and vets, it brought glossy period drama to a locked-down nation yearning for the countryside. The memoirs of James Herriot had previously been memorably adapted for the BBC. The newer version is beautifully made, and its cast – including Samuel West, Anna Madeley and Nicholas Ralph – are as charming as newborn lambs.

It’s not the only scripted drama recently introduced to Channel 5; programming director Ben Frow has presided over a slate of prestige works, often shot in God’s own country. However, it’s arguably the most successful, with a worldwide fandom that has seen it recommissioned for multiple more series. It’s set to keep Rightmove ablaze for years to come.

Elinor Groom