December 10, 2023

This Morning, Thunderbirds and Top Gear on British TV

It’s back to five entriesin this new entry of the A-Z of British TV, featuring programmes beginning with the letter T. This once is all about mundane daytime television in This Morning with Richard and Judy, inspired daytime television in This Morning with Richard not Judy, serious espionage surprises in Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, the Thunderbirds puppets saving the world and the strangely appealing hijinks of Top Gear.

This Morning with Richard and Judy (ITV: 1988-2001)

Let’s nip this in the bud early: daytime TV is rubbish. Due to the restrictions of what is decent and an audience that are either very young, elderly or don’t have a job it’s a difficult demographic to target. So it’s a case of watching people buy homes, sell antiques or an all encompassing light entertainment show presented by two cheery types. ITV’s This Morning, the latter example, is synonymous with traditional midday blandness on the box.


Fair enough, it is boring but This Morning, with Richard and Judy, was extremely popular in its day. The husband and wife couple of Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan obviously had an on screen chemistry that was somewhat lacking in comparable chat shows. After leaving in 2001 the pair have found reasonable success on other networks but will be best remembered for their ITV stint. This Morning, without Richard and Judy, is still very much a fixture of the daily ITV1 schedule.

This Morning with Richard not Judy (BBC Two: 1998-1999)

While being one of the more obscure entries in this entire article series and although there have been more important and acclaimed comedies beginning with T (The Thick of It being the prime example) none of them were broadcast live at noon on Sunday, lodged in between religious programming and soap omnibuses.

Created by and starring Stewart Lee and Richard Herring, This Morning with Richard not Judy (or terumwinjer, for those who know) was an extension of their cult Fist of Fun series and featuring more bizarre sketches, deconstructions of popular culture, the actor Kevin Eldon and curious citrus fruits. Lee and Herring were not only on top form for this but it also remains as perhaps the only live Sunday lunchtime show that contained an intentional use of strong language. Yeah, Ricky Gervais can’t say that.

Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy (BBC One: 1979)

Set in a post-war Britain, Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy was a story of betrayal in an age where subterfuge and double agents were rife. Based on John Le Carré’s 1974 Cold War thriller of the same name, it saw Alec Guinness in impressive form as George Smiley, an intelligence expert called out of retired to seek out a Soviet mole.

Most modern dramas could learn a thing or two from its use of storytelling (mainly in the form of interlocking flashbacks) and subdued acting. Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy was enough of a hit to spawn a sequel, Smiley’s People, with Guinness returning in the lead role.

Thunderbirds (ATV: 1965-1966)

At one stage in childrens’ television puppets were everywhere: The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Joe 90, Rainbow and Sooty & Co. Most, like the previous examples, were based around marionettes slogging around a house and not doing very much. Thunderbirds on the other hand was a fully fledged action adventure programme, from the minds of married couple Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.

Sure, the scrapes the International Rescue team got into might look dated by today’s standards but it’s an amazing feat of model based effects and attention to detail that’s lost in the age of CGI. However, it doesn’t stop new generations of youngsters being hooked by the stories of Scott, Virgil and the rest stopping The Hood’s evil plans. The level of parodies and spoofs proves the enormous reach of Thunderbirds.

Top Gear (BBC Two: 1977-2001, 2002-)

As the BBC’s main car magazine programme of the last 30-something years was the go to place for many viewers for opinions and developments in the motoring industry. The original Top Gear format of car news and reviews has was altered in 2002 during a re-launch to a more entertainment focused show with more time devoted to challenges, explosive stunts and celebrity interviews.

Despite the presenters (Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May) becoming caricatures of themselves and the content morphing into zany shenanigans Top Gear is visually one of the most beautiful programmes on television. Every shot and angle looks painstaking edited and well crafted that you can almost forgive it turning into a bad sketch show. Still very popular, mind.