Morning glory: why Channel 4 should resurrect The Big Breakfast

Matt Charlton
Photograph: Ken McKay/REX/Shutterstock

In the current what-the-bollox-ness of 2020, now that we’ve all been sent to our rooms for being naughty, the TV people have decided that we need to be cheered up. Cue an influx of feel-good comedy repeats, box sets, Mr Motivator for some reason, Jamie Oliver for some reason and, finally, finding an excuse to get rid of the Question Time audience (may they never return). But what about afterwards, the When-this-is-over™? Surely, in the new reality, the nation will need a bit of a lift? And surely Piers Morgan is not the man to do it. So, what is the solution? Perhaps, just perhaps the Big Breakfast is exactly what we need in these troubled times.

In late 1992, post-Thatcher Britain had just been punched squarely in the stomach by Black Wednesday, having only just emerged from the crash of the late 80s. People’s spirits were never going to be lifted by the super-serious and terminally beige BBC Breakfast News, a TV-AM that had been read the last rites or, indeed, Channel 4 Daily. Salvation appeared in the unlikely shape of Bob Geldof and his production company, Planet 24 and on 28 September of that year, a TV revolution started.

Are we still practising, Gab, or is this it?” As a camera operator ran up shakily to two presenters standing outside a double-fronted property (ample parking, canal-side, large garden and optional production office). These were the first words on a show that would change the face of 90s TV. It made household names of Denise Van Outen, Gaby Roslin, Zig, Johnny Vaughan, Mark Lamarr, Paula Yates, Zag, Kelly Brook, Peter Smith-with-the-news, Liza Tarbuck, Melanie Sykes, Lily Savage and “top-bloke” Chris Evans.

You may scoff, you may even blame the show for Chris Evans, but in its heyday, the Big Breakfast trounced its competitors in the ratings, providing an upbeat start to the day before work and school, and bringing about a new style of live television. It was the radio “zoo” format realised on the small screen. Cameras were untethered, the structure messy, the suspiciously awake crew almost permanently in shot, with phone-in games involving swimming pools, randy vicars and early-morning innuendo. It captured the spirit of an increasingly optimistic time. Back then, the future – and the soft furnishings – seemed bright.

Over the next few years and through various changes and relaunches, enthusiasm and audiences dwindled despite spending almost £2m in 1996 (that’s almost 200 toilet rolls in today’s money) on a major refurb of the house, before a return to form with Johnny Vaughan and Denise Van Outen. In 2002, shortly before its 10th anniversary – and shortly before I was due to start work experience – the Big Breakfast was axed and replaced by RI:SE – the decaf soya latte to the Big Breakfast’s bacon, eggs and a kick up the arse. I did work experience at RI:SE instead … and decided to make my career somewhere other than breakfast TV.

Here, then, is an idea from someone shouting into the online ether, hoping a Channel 4 commissioner who is currently working from home is bored enough to be reading this. We need the Big Breakfast now. It solidified Channel 4’s identity from the very start of the day, and injected a cheeky, irreverent flavour into an otherwise dull mix of current affairs and lifestyle. When-this-is-over™, the country will need a pick-me-up, an uplifting alternative to the dryness, doom-mongering and histrionics.

The Big Breakfast was a talent pool for some serious primetime stars … where is today’s talent pool? Pick some up-and-coming unknowns (you can turn them into chat/game show hosts later) and find a suitable house in Leeds. Yes, Leeds is where half of Channel 4 are going to live soon and, believe it or not, some people come from Leeds too. This will give the show a unique identity, a fresh voice and a bigger (possibly hillier) garden for the pool.

Just like a hangover, when we finally emerge blinking into the light, Britain will need a Big Breakfast to line our stomachs for the day ahead. Get cooking, Channel 4.