The English Programme

From Broadcast for
Jump to: navigation, search
started20th Sep 1976
ended24th Oct 2003
last rpt14th Feb 2008
32 school years
duration25 mins & 30 mins
age rangeAge 13-16 & Age 16-19
languageenIn English

The English Programme is an ITV schools TV series from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, covering Books, Drama, Language, Literature, Media and Poetry for secondary school and further education students.

ITV's various programmes to support secondary schools English, drama and media studies lessons were united in the late 1970s into a single series called The English Programme. The series encompassed a wide range of individual units covering most of the secondary age range, but especially concentrating on CSE, O-level, (later) GCSE and related exams.

Common themes over the years include documentaries about books which are popular with examining boards and dramatisations of some of those books and plays, language programmes relating the work of professional writers to the writing that pupils have to do in school, and profiles of individual authors. Original programmes produced specially for The English Programme were shown alongside revised repeats of programmes originally produced for adults: documentaries, plays and even serialisations of feature films.

The English Programme also included a large number of media studies programmes, and during the 1970s and 80s took particular pride in taking television as a focus for media studies, later expanding to cover the more typical media studies subjects of newspapers and films. A series of units under the title Film Focus produced after the series transferred from ITV to Channel 4, took the series into the early 21st century.



The following guide considers each unit of The English Programme individually. Material covering 1977 to 1989 is closely based on a catalogue of past English Programme units prepared by the series producer Peter Griffiths and distributed by Thames Television in 1990. Throughout this guide episodes which are dramatised are flagged as "drama", and the remainder of the episodes are documentaries of some kind.


A variety of documentary films looking at experiences of being an outsider in society.

The first four episodes were shortened versions of adult programmes from Thames Television's Report series: Now That The Buffalo's Gone (18/11/1969) about exploitation of North American Indians, Black Man's Burden (14/09/1971) about poor and developing countries, Limits to Growth (06/06/1972) about ecological concerns such as pollution, and Sunday and Monday in Silence (29/05/1973), about deaf children. The remaining episodes were specially made for schools, including one dramatised Theatre in Education programme.

The first run of The English Programme in Autumn 1976 was an experimental pilot run shown only in the Thames Television region. It only lasted for eight weeks, with the children's programme Hammy Hamster taking over the slot at the end of November. Three of the original eight episodes were repeated throughout the country in Summer 1978 and Summer 1979 (Unemployment, Sunday and Monday in Silence and Now That the Buffalo's Gone) alongside a new episode on Migrant Workers.

A final repeat run of the unit had been planned for Summer 1980, in which the Migrant Workers programme would have been replaced (since the Our People unit introduced that year also had an episode about immigration) with a film called Wasted Lives about women who were locked in mental hospitals because they had illegitimate children (shown in Thames Television's This Week series on 19/10/1972). However the long ITV strike in 1979 lead to schedules being rearranged and the 1980 repeat of Minorities was cancelled, so Wasted Lives never became an episode of The English Programme.[1]

This unit was accompanied by a book published by Longman: The Minority Experience, an anthology edited by Michael Marland & Sarah Ray, ISBN 0 582 23389 5.

The Pressures of Life

Original dramatisations of two contemporary plays written for the screen. The Piano by Julia Jones concerns an old woman who refuses to move into a new bungalow unless she can take her grand piano with her. Speech Day by Barry Hines follows a boy in the lowest stream at school who is left to tidy up and serve refreshments while the higher-achieving pupils participate in a speech day. Both of these plays were originally produced for the BBC's Play for Today series (on 28/01/1971 and 26/03/1973 respectively) but completely new versions were produced for The English Programme.

The final episode is a documentary about Barry Hines, including a discussion between the writer and a group of pupils about his work, and extracts from screen versions of his stories Kes, Speech Day and The Price of Coal.

The unit was accompanied by a book published by Longman: The Pressures of Life ISBN 0 582 23329 1, including scripts for The Piano and Speech Day as well as two other plays, Reasonable Suspicion by Richard Harris (from the ATV series Hunter's Walk, broadcast 09/07/1973) and A Right Dream of Delight by Michael O'Neill & Jeremy Seabrook (aka A State of Welfare, I don't know when or if this was transmitted on television).


Viewpoint was a media studies series made by Thames Television and screened in Autumn 1975, an immediate precursor to The English Programme. It proved controversial because it was, as the title suggests, a series of viewpoints put forward by its writer and presenter Douglas Lowndes on mass communication in society, whereas Independent Television was legislatively bound to be impartial in its coverage of issues and provide multiple viewpoints! The Independent Broadcasting Authority refused to authorise any repeats of the original 10-episode series, however this revised and shortened version was approved for transmission in 1977.

The revised version of Viewpoint begins with a discussion programme in which two educationalists analyse the content of the original 10 programmes. Updated versions of four original episodes then follow.

The revised version was shown again in 1979, and although the original 10 programmes were not transmitted on TV again after 1975 they were made available for schools to buy on video during the 1980s and 90s. A follow-up unit, Viewpoint 2, was made in 1980.

Romeo and Juliet

A complete and unabridged recording of Shakespeare's play, originally presented as a stand-alone series in Autumn 1976 (see Romeo and Juliet) but repeated as part of The English Programme in 1978 and 1979. The dates given here are for the first transmission within The English Programme.

After the play there are two documentary programmes. In 1976 there was one discussion programme about the characters in the play and one film about theatre in Shakespeare's time. The discussion programme was dropped when the unit was shown as part of The English Programme and instead there was an extended, two-part look at Shakespeare and His Theatre.

This production of the play (as one long programme rather than 8 episodes, and without the follow-up documentaries) is available on DVD. Buy from Amazon


A unit encouraging pupils to think about the language they use and how it could be used more effectively. The programmes look at issues arising from everyday use of language, and cover dialect & jargon, the power of language, humour and literacy. A fifth programme looking at narrative was added when the unit was repeated in Autumn 1978, and a follow-up unit Language 2 was broadcast in 1983.

The unit was accompanied by a pupil's book, Language by Stephen Goldenberg, Peter Griffiths, John Lee & Margaret Sandra, published by Thames/Hutchinson in 1979 ISBN 0 091 40511 4.


An overview of prose-fiction study for CSE and O-level examinations. As well as sketches and dramatisations the unit includes interviews with authors including Roald Dahl, Jack Higgins, Barry Hines and Laurie Lee. Episode 1 looks at plot and structure, episode 2 characterisation, episode 3 what is a good book, episode 4, messages and meanings in literature, and episode 5 the publishing industry in general.

The first episode was previewed as a Next Year at School programme for parents and teachers on 7th December 1978.


Looking at ways in which culture can be understood in relation to a nation, a social class, a gender or foreignness. This unit was shown at the end of the school year and was intended to provide a general understanding of culture and society and a new way of thinking about all of the other English Programme units from the year.


Five television dramas on the theme of work as it is seen by young people, intended to provoke classroom discussion not just of the social issues raised, but also of the different ways of portraying them on TV.

The Boy with the Transistor Radio by Willy Russell is a play about a boy in Liverpool who is about to leave school, but is beguiled by a radio DJ who gives a fantastically positive view of reality, and has difficulty facing the reality of finding his first job.

Good Prospects by Charlie Stafford is about a girl starting her first job in an office, and the different pressures and attitudes that she has to get used to.

Strike by Yolanda Casey was the winning entry in an English Programme play-writing competition for teenagers. It follows four workers who are on strike from a factory the reactions of the women in their lives, and of the couple who run the local pub.

George and Mildred by Johnnie Mortimer & Brian Cooke is an episode of the popular situation comedy series (Just the Job, first broadcast 16/11/1978) in which George applies for a job as a traffic warden while Mildred prepares a dinner party.

Emmerdale Farm by Douglas Watkinson is an episode of the soap opera (episode 504, first broadcast 22/02/1979[2]) in which conservation interests interfere with work on the farm. As this is a serial drama the story does not neatly begin or end in this one episode. As Emmerdale Farm was produced by Yorkshire Television this was the first episode of The English Programme not produced by Thames Television.

The unit was accompanied by a book published by Hutchinson containing scripts to all five programmes, Working edited by David Self ISBN 0 091 41071 1.

Our People

Our People was a six-part documentary series for adults made by Thames Television and shown on ITV in the late evenings in early 1979 (11/01/1979-22/02/1979 on Thames, but a few days earlier in some other regions). It looks at topical issues concerning race and immigration. Three of those episodes were screened for schools as part of The English Programme, alongside a new discussion programme in which representatives of different organisations comment on issues raised in the preceding episodes.


A production of Shakespeare's play by the Royal Shakespeare Company, directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Judi Dench and Ian McKellen. It was first transmitted on ITV as a two-hour long evening play on 4th January 1979, and reportedly many English teachers contacted The English Programme asking for a repeat of the production during school hours. Trevor Nunn advised on the editing of this six-part serialised version which was finally broadcast for schools in Autumn 1980, effectively replacing an advertised English Programme unit on Set Books which had been intended to include several different works (a Set Books unit was eventually made in 1982).

This production of the play, in its original television format as one long programme, is available on DVD. Buy from Amazon

Viewpoint 2

A new media studies unit, following the original Viewpoint series, looking at media representations of four different groups: young people, black people, workers in industrial disputes, and welfare claimants. The bulk of each programme is a documentary film written and narrated by Stuart Hall. In the final few minutes of each episode there are interviews with executives from the ITV companies, the BBC and newspapers on the week's topic.

This unit was originally planned for transmission in Spring 1980, but the long ITV strike in autumn 1979 meant that schedules were changed and this unit eventually went out in the autumn.

A softback pupils' booklet called Viewpoint 2 was originally distributed by Thames Television to accompany the broadcasts. It was modified slightly and published by Cambridge University Press as a book called Viewpoint ISBN 0 521 28588 7.


Five different kinds of writing and the people who use them professionally. The unit sets out to show the link between the writing that pupils have to do in schools and the practical application that it may have later in life.

The programmes look in detail at editing in lyric writing and playwriting, accuracy in letter writing and minute-taking, personal expression and autobiography, technical writing and the Plain English Campaign, and journalism.

One World Documentaries

Jonathan Dimbleby visited three countries in South America for a documentary series called South America shown in primetime on ITV in May and June 1979. These three films were shown as part of this English Programme unit, accompanied by a new introductory programme in which Dimbleby talks about his own documentary-making and the general mass media approach to reporting on the third world.

The schools broadcasts went out in the order listed here - Brazil, then Bolivia, then Peru - whereas order of the original evening transmissions was Bolivia, then Peru, then Brazil.

Poetry - I See a Voice

A unit covering writing and reading poems and offering a diverse range of poems read by actors and poets, and some written by pupils.

Thames Television organised a poetry competition to accompany the first transmission, in which teenagers were asked to compose poems on the topic of each episode. An anthology called The Winners & Runners-Up was distributed by Thames in 1982.

A separate accompanying pupil's book called I See a Voice ISBN 0 091 46861 2 was published by Hutchinson and written by Michael Rosen, who also presented the episode on Images of Dockland.


Five plays, new to television, looking at different kinds of power struggle.

A Little Patch of Ground by Geoffrey Case is about an old man who refuses to sell his smallholding to a quarrying company.

The Protectors by Cherry Potter is about three girls in a remote cottage who are visited by three soldiers. The drama is interrupted by some fantasy sequences and TV captions, and a Brechtian ending.

Power by the Ludus Dance-in-Education Company is a dance-thriller about a woman who works at a nuclear plant in the USA who discovers that she has been contaminated with radiation.

My Sister's Eighteenth by John McGrath is about two girls from a council estate who visit a stately home and encounter the son and daughter of the house and a rock singer and his roadie, who all have power in different ways.

Pantomime by Derek Walcott is a stylised theatrical drama about race relations in which the white owner of a guest house in Trinidad persuades his black employee to act with him in a pantomime version of Robinson Crusoe. The TV play is taken from the first act of a theatre play, which was also broadcast on BBC radio in January 1979.

A different play, a drama-documentary called A High Priority by John Bowen, had been described in the English Programme teacher's notes in place of A Little Patch of Ground, but this was not produced for TV.

Scripts of all five plays (or, in the case of Power, a series of photographs) were published in a book called Power in the Studio Scripts series by Hutchinson, edited by David Self and Andrew Bethell, ISBN 0 091 46771 3.

Set Books

Documentaries designed to introduce and support the study of four set books which were popular for study in CSE and O-Level examinations.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is covered in two programmes filmed in the author's home town and featuring excerpts from the 1963 film version starring Gregory Peck.

Joby by Stan Barstow has an extensive interview with the author and clips from Yorkshire Television's dramatisation of the book, broadcast in January 1975 and starring Patrick Stewart.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck is based on an interview with the author's authorised biographer, Jackson Benson.

Finally Lord of the Flies by William Golding is led by the author himself and includes clips from the 1963 film version.

Language 2

A replacement for the original Language unit from 1978 as well as the Writing unit from 1981, drawing on similar linguistic themes and covering accent & dialogue concentrating on the Black Country, attempts to develop anti-sexist language, conversations in a department store demonstrating negotiation, conflict & power, narratives in story-telling about the Falklands conflict, and the connection between writing in school and adults writing professionally. Teachers were advised to preview the programme about the Falklands if any of their pupils' family or friends were involved in the conflict.

The Language book published in 1979 ISBN 0 091 40511 4, which accompanied the first Language unit, was also billed in support of Language 2 as many of the topics are the same.

Nuclear Issues

Two sets of programmes selected from adult series and repeated for schools in Summer 1983 and Summer 1984.

The Bomb is a shortened episode from the documentary series The World at War (24/04/1974) concentrating on the atomic bombs detonated at the end of World War II.

Protect and Survive? is an episode of the current affairs series Northern Scene made by Tyne Tees Television (20/11/1980) about civil protection from nuclear war in Britain.

Apocalypse Now? is an episode of the LWT religious affairs series Credo (29/11/1981) covering the morality of military nuclear strategies.

What a Terrible Waste is another episode of Tyne Tees' Northern Scene (14/02/1980) made immediately after a plan was revealed to use the local Cheviot Hills for dumping nuclear waste.

A Day in May is a documentary made for the Greater London Council and distributed by Contemporary Films, recording the activities of a London rally at the 1983 International Women's Day for Disarmament.

Woman to Woman is a film from the Channel 4 documentary series People to People (27/11/1983) in which campaigner Helen John describes her activities in peace campaigns.

The War About Peace is a documentary made by Central Television (21/04/1983) at the height of controversy about Britain's role in nuclear defence, in which Max Hastings gives a personal view on how society is trying to cope with the bomb.

Thames Television distributed an anthology called Nuclear Issues, edited by Nikki Haydon and Jim Mulligan, to accompany all 8 programmes.

Understanding Television

A media studies unit aiming to turn the attention of a discipline usually focussed on newspapers, advertising and film towards television.

The episodes look in turn at the choices that go into choosing images and sound for a TV drama (a short scene about a jogger on Hampstead Heath written specially for the programme by Geoffrey Case); behind the scenes production of an extended live rock music programme (A Midsummer Night's Tube, made by Tyne Tees for Channel 4 and transmitted 24/06/1983); the history and structure of British television; television executives' and producers' perception of their audience and the view of members of the audience (in relation to the Minder episode The Bengal Tiger, 10/12/1979); and the organisation of television in the Netherlands.

Thames Television distributed a pupil's book to accompany the unit written by Julian Birkett and Roy Twitchin.


Four plays about identity in terms of class, sexuality, physical handicap and race.

Derek by Edward Bond is a satirical play with songs, originally written for the Royal Shakespeare Company's Youth Theatre Festival but specially adapted for The English Programme by the author, about a brain transplant between a sharp Cockney teenager and a slow-witted upper class boy.

Audition by Alma Cullen is about a 15-year-old girl on the day of auditions for the school play, and the challenges she faces as she becomes increasingly aware of the sexuality of herself and those around her.

Lindsey by Stephen Bill is about the decisions faced by a couple whose newborn baby has spina bifida. It was originaly presented as a single hour-long ITV Playhouse episode (22/07/1980).

The Rainbow Coloured Disco Dancer, adapted by John Godber from a play by C. P. Taylor, is a hard-hitting play about a girl coming to terms with her mixed-race parentage.

Thames Television distributed a pupils' book to accompany the unit, edited by Gill Goldenberg and Steve Goldenberg, including the scripts from all four plays.

Class Readers

A unit of documentaries and dramas about five contemporary books and their authors, hoping to encourage and extend study of these classroom readers.

Rosa Guy discusses the historical context of her novel The Friends, about a girl who moves from the Caribbean to Harlem in the 1950s, and introduces dramatisations of some scenes from the book.

Friedrich by Hans Peter Richter about a boy in Nazi Germany who joins the Hitler Youth, and the Jewish boy Friedrich who lives upstairs. The programme looks at Germany in the 1930s and 40s and includes personal comments from people who were involved and readings from the book. Hans Peter Richter was originally meant to take part in the programme, but ultimately declined as he did not wish to appear on television[3].

Seeing a Beauty Queen Home is a dramatisation by Bill Naughton of his own story from the collection Late Night on Watling Street. In the 1920s cocksure young Wally dances with a local beauty queen called Maggie and later accompanies her home and arranges to be invited to stay the night.

A Passage to the East End is a programme written and presented by Farrukh Dhondy which considers how the author's experiences led to the writing of his story Salt on a Snake's Tail, from the Come to Mecca collection. The story covers racist harrassment of Asian families in the East End of London during the 1970s, and was dramatised by BBC TV in 1983 (and then repeated as part of the BBC schools series Scene from 1985). Clips from the BBC dramatisation are shown in the programme.

It's My Life by Robert Leeson is a book about the pressures and influences on a teenage girl whose mother leaves home. The programme covers a theatre-in-education workshop about the book in which scenes are dramatised on stage, and a discussion between the author and the class about the themes of the book.


A topical unit beginning with a programme analysing George Orwell's novel 1984, followed by four programmes picking up themes from the novel. This was first broadcast as a series in its own right in Spring 1984. It was repeated in Spring 1985 as part of The English Programme.

Three of the episodes are documentaries based around specific people: Plenty follows the American comedian Eric Bogosian, Peace is based around the Czech campaigner Zdena Tomin, and Truth is led by journalist Phillip Knightley.

Love is a science fiction drama written by Christopher Priest and set in the future, where a man has invented montioring devices so small and undetectable that they allow ubiquitous surveillance.

Sex Equality

Documentaries about male and female roles, using material from earlier programmes.

A Woman's Life - What's New is a follow-up to a Thames TV This Week called It's a Woman's Life (30/07/1970). The presenter Juliet Mitchell reflects on changes in the 15 years since that programme was transmitted, with extracts from the original programme.

Through Our Eyes is a documentary from the Channel 4 series People to People (13/11/1983) showing how Asian women in British society suffer from both racism and sexism.

A Man's Place is a documentary made by Central Television (12/10/1982) about images of masculinity in the mass media.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle

A full-length dramatisation of Bertolt Brecht's novel in six episodes, with lots of well-known comedy actors, and a specially-written introduction by Professor Raymond Williams.


A unit exploring different approaches to comprehending a text.

The Writing of 'Spitting Image' follows Rob Grant and Doug Naylor to show how their work on the satirical series is written.

To Reason Why offers a wide variety of different views on the poem The Charge of the Light Brigade, to show that work can have different meanings for different people.

Mummy's Tomb is a spoof horror film written by Andrew Nickolds, in which two heroes have to examine the ingredients of a letter (plot, language, tone and so on) in order to solve a mystery.

Tray, Pattern, Order and Cloze suggests four ways of playing games with a piece of writing (the poem A Polished Performance by D.J. Enright) in the classroom to better understand it.

Today in Prison shows pupils investigating the social and historical background to the poem Today in Prison by Dennis Brutus.

Poets International

A series of programmes about and starring several contemporary poets.

Ted Hughes introduces and reads five of his own poems; British-Caribbean poets including James Berry, Benjamin Zephaniah and Grace Nichols put on a concert; and the Czechoslovakian poet Miroslav Holub presents an exploration of some of his poems.

The unit also includes a two-part dramatisation of William Luce's The Belle of Amherst, about the life and work of the poet Emily Dickinson. This adaptation, starring Claire Bloom, was very successful, it won the 1987 International Emmy Award for Best Performing Arts Programme, and was repeated for an adult audience on ITV in 1987. It was also later repeated in The English Programme separately from the Poets International unit, in a set of TV dramas also including South and The Snow Queen.

Understanding Television 2

Four more programmes, added to the original Understanding Television unit, taking television as a focus for media studies work.

These programmes take a detailed look at a sequence from the drama series Widows; a study of the characters and narratives in the soap opera Brookside; consideration of the guidelines and restraints affecting three programmes about the police on Channel 4; and show the views of a group of 16-year-olds on an hour of peak-time television transmissions in 1986.

The pupils' book written by Julian Birkett and Roy Twitchin which accompanied the first Understanding Television unit in 1983 was reissued to accompany this unit, as the programmes were thematically linked.

Voices in the Dark

A two-part drama about the effect of the parents' divorce on a teenage girl. In the first episode Carol's parents' marriage is breaking down. The second episode is set over a year later when Carol is still feeling the effects.

Voices in the Dark was originally transmitted for general audiences in January and February 1985, the two-part drama followed by four discussion programmes exploring different points of view on divorce. The English Programme took the drama and the first discussion programme, in which young people whose parents are divorced compare their experiences to Carol's.

The original transmissions for adults were accompanied by a book by Gillian McCredie and Alan Horrox, published by Unwin paperbacks ISBN 0 046 49037 X, and a pamphlet written by Gillian McCredie and distributed by Thames Television.

Oral Communication

Four programmes demonstrating and analysing the oral skills relevant to GCSE pupils.

The first three programmes look at people who earn their living from oral communication, including songwriter Sandra Kerr and broadcaster Anna Raeburn; a group of high school students who produce and audio magazine for blind people; and expert tips offered to school pupils after they have given talks on subjects that interest them. The final programme, A Question of Talk, takes the form of a quiz show about what makes a good talker and a good listener, chaired by Robert Robinson with team captains Janice Long and Bill Oddie.

Of Mice and Men

A five-part serialisation of the American TV movie of John Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men, starring Robert Blake and Randy Quaid. The final episode also includes an afterword by Cora Kaplan, encouraging students to think about both the film and the novel.


An original play featuring two young characters from the Liverpool-set serial drama Brookside who visit London for the first time looking for new opportunities. The drama was written by Frank Cottrell Boyce specially for The English Programme, and examines the differences between and stereotypes of northern and southern England, and general social problems faced by young people.

GCSE Literature

An examination of three novels and three short stories which were popular GCSE texts.

The episodes covering Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor, Brighton Rock by Graham Greene and A Chip of Glass Ruby by Nadine Gordimer are based around interviews with the authors. The episodes on Animal Farm by George Orwell and Odour of Chrysanthemums by D.H. Lawrence are led by experts on the authors and the context of their work. The episode on Five Stories of an Hour by Kate Chopin presents five different screen versions of the story all (but one) of them starring Zoe Wannamaker. This last example most clearly demonstrates the unit's core message that narratives can have more than one meaning.

Zoe Wanamaker also takes on a variety of roles in the programme on Odour of Chrysanthemums, which also features Jack Shepherd playing D.H. Lawrence.

Models of Writing

Programmes looking at four different kinds of writing through the eyes of adults who write professionally. There is an emphasis on the technical processes of reserarching, writing and editing the work. John Pilger looks at reporters including contemporary newspaper journalists, war reporters, and his own approach. Terry Jones talks about the weekly pieces that he writes for the Young Guardian newspaper. Jaci Stephen shows how she goes about writing a review of the Hale and Pace television series. Guide book authors Mary Peplow and Debra Shipley describe ways in which they collect and present information and instructions.

Understanding Newspapers

Three new media studies programmes looking at newspapers in terms of the values of reporters from different papers covering the same event, different news photographs of the same event, and the business and political background to newspapers. The unit also includes a repeat of the What's News? programme about local newspapers from the 1981 Writing unit.

Television Plays

A romantic drama set in Budapest, in which two British soldiers fall for the same Hungarian girl. The film covers the contemporary turbulence in Eastern Europe.

The Television Plays unit in Spring 1990 also included repeats of #South and The Belle of Amherst.

Knowing About Language

Four diverse programmes about different aspects of language. A study of how the accents and dialogue of Essex residents change when they leave the area; an exploration of the differences between talking and writing by the comedian Mark Hurst; the variety of language used by teenagers in South London; and a look at changes in the way Bible stories have been told over the past 1,000 years.

Wider Reading

A unit aiming to introduce pupils to a variety of authors and books that they might enjoy. Each programme looks at a different theme: extra-ordinary people; humour; social issues; and sicence fiction & fantasy.


Three programmes for teachers, commissioned by the National Curriculum Council, giving ideas to promote language and literature in the classroom.

It is this site's convention not to include teachers' programmes in the count of episodes in a series (in the box at the top of the page). However if these three episodes are included in the count then The English Programme has exactly 301 episodes from 1976 to 2003.

Poetry and the Making

Examinations of a wide range of poetry, showing how poems can have a range of different meanings with the aid of performance, recital and other media.

Have Fun

A rites-of-passage drama directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Kate Hardie, about a girl who sets off on a round the world trip but ends up getting stuck in Spain. A longer, 90-minute version of the film was screened for adults on Channel 4 under the title Under the Sun (24/02/1994).

Women Writers

Documentary profiles of three contemporary authors and their work.

Nadine Gordimer was also profiled in the 1996 unit on Five Authors.

Powerful Texts

Five starting points showing how texts and, especially, media can be provoking. Looking at the book and film of Christy Brown's My Left Foot, Alice Walker's short story Nineteen Fifty-Five, the impact of satire, the magazine Just Seventeen, and the power of war photographs.

Writing Non-Fiction

Looking at the problems and opportunities presented by different forms of non-fiction writing. The programmes are based around professional writers including Sue Townsend (Essays), Lucy O'Brien and Annie Lennox (Biography) and Dia Birkett (Travel). The programme about Letters is based in the Sainsbury's letters department.

Somewhere to Run

A drama about two teenage runaways, examining why they ran away and their experiences on the run.

Somewhere to Run was originally broadcast as a film on ITV (11/07/1989) as the centrepiece of a season of programmes about running away from home co-ordinated by Thames Television.

The Glittering Haze

A media studies unit on advertising and society, looking at different ways that advertisers try to influence consumers. The individual programmes look at advertising in general; advertising towards youth; the work of an ad agency; regulation of advertising, especially cigarette advertising; and the use of stereotypes, gender and nationality in adverts.

The Channel 4 Anthology

A poetry anthology, introduced by Tony Robinson and with a diverse selection of readers including Simon Callow, Lenny Henry and Neil Kinnock.

After the original transmission of the first five programmes viewers were invited to send in their own poems for The Channel 4 Anthology School Poetry Competition. The winning entries were performed in a sixth episode added in Autumn 1995.

The poems from the anthology were published in a book called Visible Voices edited by Michael Jones ISBN 1 899 21405 4.

Hobson's Choice

A serialisation of the 1954 film version of the play by Harold Brighouse, directed by David Lean and starring Charles Laughton.

Reel Truth?

A media studies unit looking at the early history of documentary cinema, beginning with illusions created by fairground showmen, the trickery employed in first world war propaganda, the use of film by politicians and royalty, and the very limited choice or influence that working class people had over their appearances in films. The final episode, about ordinary people, was also known as At the Edge of the Frame.

Five Authors

Each programme in this unit looks at an author and one of their key works, and examines how the work was authored. Programmes cover autobiography in various poems by Sylvia Plath; the language of Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas; different adaptations of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens; performance of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou; and the context of July's People by Nadine Gordimer.

Modern American Poets

Examining the work of American poets from different generations within the Twentieth Century, who are not particularly well known in the UK.

Irish Writers

Five contemporary Irish authors discuss their work and the background experiences which influenced them.

These programmes were originally presented as a series in their own right, Irish Writers in Summer 1993 and repeated as such several times. They were shown as part of The English Programme in Autumn 1996, as a precursor to the new unit on Scottish Writers.

Mirad, a Boy from Bosnia

A harrowing play starring Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cuasck, about a 13-year-old boy in Bosnia in 1993 whose father, a Muslim, has been killed, and mother, a Serb, abducted. The story by Ad de Bont was originally produced as a stage play, and the television version for The English Programme includes explanations and discussions covering the background of the civil war in Yugoslavia.

Not As Good as the Book

An introductory to five pre-Twentieth Century texts, beginning with film and television adaptations which pupils may be familiar with, but with critics and actors making arguments about what makes each story stand the test of time in print or visual form, and what features there are of the original books which are not present in the screen adaptations.

Scottish Writers

Profiles of five contemporary Scottish authors, in which the subjects discuss their own choices of theme and language, showing the social context that they come from and their individual writing processes. There are also stylised presentations of their work in the studio.

Gulliver's Travels

An American mini-series adaptation of Jonathan Swift's story starring Ted Danson, which was screened by Channel 4 in 1996. It was then split into four 45-minute episodes and broadcast for schools as part of The English Programme (whose episodes were otherwise invariably 25-30 minutes long).

William Wordsworth

A single programme on the life and work of the poet William Wordsworth, broadcast to mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of his Lyrical Ballads. Modern poet Tobias Hill makes a lively exploration of the social and cultural background to various poems.

Science Fiction

Two programmes looking at the genre of science fiction, first in the Nineteenth Century through the work of H.G. Wells, and then in the Twentieth Century through the work of authors who have been influenced by Wells and the difference that films have made to science fiction writing.


A unit covering specific poets and poems which had been selected for the Northern Examination and Assessment Board's 2000-2001 anthology, produced in association with that examining board. The poets themselves discuss their work and there are readings by well-known actors.

Behind the Scenes at the RSC

A look at the craft involved in mounting theatre productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company, in particular a production of Made to Measure directed by Michael Boyd. The first programme covers the set, props and paint, and the second the costumes, wigs, weapons and make-up.

Dark Tales

An examination of three specific literary themes through various Nineteenth and Twentieth Century texts. The first programme looks at outsiders including S.E. Hinton's Motorcycle Boy, the second at Charles Dickens' portraits of London at night as well as later authors' and film makers' treatment of cities at night, and the third at transformation and disguise including Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Batman.

Film Focus: The Making of a Blockbuster

Three programmes looking at the entire production process of the James Bond film The World is Not Enough, including casting and location hunting, ways of filming some significant scenes, editing and marketing the finished film. These were the first of many media studies units in The English Programme going under the title Film Focus.


Dockers was a feature-length TV drama written by Jimmy McGovern and starring Ken Stott and Ricky Tomlinson, shown in the evening for adults on Channel 4 (11/07/1999). It is based on the plight of 500 Liverpool dock workers who were sacked in the mid-1990s and their struggle to win back their jobs.

The drama was split into three episodes and broadcast for schools as part of The English Programme, accompanied by two documentaries following the development of the script from the earliest idea, through writing workshops with several of the dockers involved in the dispute, to the casting and production of the drama.

Film Focus: The Films of Baz Luhrmann

Two Film Focus programmes which hoped to exploit the glamorous appeal of box office hits to deliver all the ingredients for serious media analysis[4].

These programmes look at two films by the director Baz Luhrmann - Strictly Ballroom and Romeo + Juliet - including interviews with various production personnel and actors.

These programmes had originally been planned for transmission in Autumn 1999 immediately prior to the Making of a Blockbuster unit, but they were postponed until Summer 2000.

Writers from Wales

A look at five contemporary Welsh authors (who write in English), following the earlier units on Irish Writers and Scottish Writers. The writers featured are Lucy Gough, who writes for the television series Hollyoaks and film-maker Ed Thomas; short-story writer Mike Jenkins and Catherine Fisher's novel Berlin's Hill; poets Labi Siffre and Gillian Clarke; journalist Peter Morgan and essayist Robert Minhinnick; and theatre writers Frank Vickery and Ian Rowlands.

Classic Short Prose

A unit introducing pupils to three shorts stories: The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe, Superman and Paula Brown's New Snowsuit by Sylvia Plath, and Your Shoes by Michele Roberts. Each programme is based around a complete reading of the story by a distinguished actors, interspersed with commentary on the author and discussion of the text.

The Gift of the Gab

The novelist Glenn Patterson talks to a wide range of Irish writers about their craft.

The episodes feature Graham Linehan (Father Ted) and Enda Walsh (Disco Pigs) talking about screen writing, Ursula RaniSama and Darragh Carville on playwriting; Stuart Bailie and Jenny McCartney on journalism; Frank Ormsby and Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill on poetry; and Claire Keegan & Glenn Patterson himself on prose.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The classic Middle English (the language rather than the schools TV programme) poem about a chivalrous knight who undertakes a dangerous challenge for King Arthur, is retold in a half-hour animated film.

Film Focus: Animation

A set of media studies documentaries looking at the production of content of different types of animation: the English Programme version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; two adverts using 2D and 3D animation; and the Disney film Lilo and Stitch.

The Disney programme was never released on video (making it one of the only English Programme episodes since the original Minorities unit in 1976 not to be distributed to schools on video) but the whole unit was repeated several times.

Film Focus: 21st Century Bard - The Making of Twelfth Night

A behind-the-scenes study of Channel 4's contemporary film version of Twelfth Night (05/05/2003).

Sources & references

The guide to English Programme units & episodes on this page is based an a wide variety of sources including:

With thanks to Simon Collins

  1. The original plans for a revised repeat of the Minorities unit in 1980 were described in The English Programme teacher's notes for autumn 1979, p.6.
  2. The episode number of Emmerdale Farm is given in both The English Programme catalogue by Peter Griffiths and the Longman book Working. Errata 27/07/2023: This page originally quoted a broadcast date of 20/02/1979 for this episode based on manually counting up to episode 504 in The Kaleidoscope British Independent Television Drama Research Guide 1955-2010. However it transpires that I had miscounted and thanks to episode listings now transcribed at it is clear that episode 504 was actually first broadcast on 22/02/1979. With thanks to Simon Collins.
  3. The English Programme teachers notes 1984-85 p.17 state that Friedrich would include an interview with Hans Peter Richter, but a footnote explains that sadly, Hans Peter Richter felt unable, after all, to take part in the programme, as he did not want 'public exposure'. His reulctance to be identified on television is an indicator of the continuing relevance, 50 years on, of the themes of his novel - which teachers may well wish to underline.
  4. Quote about the Film Focus programmes aiming to exploit the glamorous appeal of box office hits... from Channel 4 Television and Radio Resources for Primary and Secondary Schools catalogue 1999/2000 p.84.

Related programmes



Want more on this programme?

This site attempts to cover thousands of programmes and it will take ages to update them all. If you would like to see this one updated soon please click on the star to 'vote' for it and I will do my best to prioritise it!

Voting is anonymous and you can vote for as many programmes as you like. The number in the box above shows how many people have already voted for this programme. You can also see a list of all the votes so far.

More Programmes