New Initiatives on Channel 4 

2 November 2022


Cover of Television & Radio 1985

From Television & Radio 1985, published by the Independent Broadcasting Authority in December 1984

In its first years of operation Channel 4 has made important contributions to education through television. Over eight hours weekly are classified as ‘educational’, in addition to the wealth of general output which has significant educative value. The channel’s educational policy is formed by Naomi Sargant, Senior Commissioning Editor for Education, with the advice of the IBA and its Educational Advisory Council. A major feature has been the determination to create and distribute a vast array of support literature, sometimes itself stimulating further activity, and to publicise material in advance through the channel’s lively journal See 4.

Early in 1985 HTV’s new thirteen-part history of Wales comes to Channel 4. The Dragon Has Two Tongues starts from the premise that history without bias does not exist, and that any one version of history is inevitably prejudiced by the personal viewpoint of the presenter. Wynford Vaughan Thomas, the eminent writer and broadcaster, and Professor Gwyn A. Williams, a Marxist and one of Wales’ leading historians, offer their own contrasting perspectives on the nation’s history. Equal weight is given to the facts and interpretations presented by these two exponents of very different historical approaches. The series aims to turn passive viewers into active participants in the search for an understanding of the past. Packs of source material are available, enabling individuals and viewing groups throughout the UK to take an informed critical position which may be distinct from that of either presenter. No neutral referee leaps into the ring in the thirteenth round to announce a ‘winner’; the viewer is left to make a personal judgement.

An ornate title page of a book

The Dragon Has Two Tongues. Documentary evidence available to viewers of this new series which aims to provide an impartial insight into Welsh history. Ch.4/HTV

This is just one instance of Channel 4’s continuing commitment to a strand of history programming. Similarly, arts education has been a strong feature of the channel’s policy. A Love Affair with Nature (TVS) is a series of six films which link the painting, architecture and design of Britain to suggest a pattern of artistic achievement over five centuries. A book and leaflet are planned to accompany the series. Among Channel 4’s distinguished contributions to arts and crafts, Design Matters: Are They Shaping Up? (Malachite) considers the work of young designers today. On a practical level, a third series of Making The Most Of… (Yorkshire), supported by a useful free booklet, promotes a variety of activities which may inspire viewers to make more of their free time.

Channel 4 has gained a commendable reputation for its coverage of health issues. A third series of Well Being (Holmes Associates) continues to take a frank and practical approach to keeping fit. One special programme in this series follows a group of volunteers through the year-long Sunday Times experiment on different forms of exercise, both aerobic and non-aerobic. Food for Thought (Illustra), supported by a Health Education Council booklet, aims to promote a better understanding of the complex role of food and diet in our lives, in the hope that better eating habits will lead to significant improvements in health.

Children are also provided for on Channel 4. An example is Chips’ Comic (Verronmead) which, besides providing general entertainment, aims to stimulate the interest of slow-learning children by use of vivid images and music, and each week presents a topic to help children understand everyday events. The series is supported by a book and audio-cassette which may be used by teachers or parents to reinforce ideas from the programme or recall songs or verses.


A man stands next to a futuristic motorbike

Design Matters: Are They Shaping Up? The shape of things to come – John Evans with his streamlined motorcycle. Ch.4/Malachite


Channel 4’s educational programmes, of which the above form merely a sample, are commissioned and scheduled in order to attract and retain the interest of a wide range of viewers looking for (and finding) new initiatives in television.


A crowd of runners

Well Being. ‘Getting in Shape’ on the Sunday Times Fun Run. Ch.4/Holmes


People at easels

Making The Most of… Ashley Jackson shows budding artists how they can enjoy making more of their leisure hours. Ch.4/Yorkshire


A studio piled with food packages

Food for Thought. A lifetime’s food supply for just one person. Ch.4/Illustra


A man, a man dressed as a dog and a woman

Chips’ Comic. Gordon Griffin (left) and Elsa O’Toole with the series’ roving canine reporter Rover (Andrew Secombe). Ch.4/Verronmead


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