TELEVISION / Wake up and smell the coffee: Britain's latest breakfast television show starts on Monday. Mark Lawson looks back over the chequered history of early morning output and wonders whether its creators aren't working against the odds

The sterling performances of the BBC's Economics Editor, Peter Jay, during the current financial reversals have been widely remarked on. His confident commentaries are rightly regarded as marking the renaissance of his reputation. But it is interesting, on this particular weekend, to recall what Jay needed to make a recovery from. It has taken 'the most intelligent man in Britain' nearly 10 years to lose the stigma of unsuccessful involvement in breakfast television. The failure of his 'mission to explain' at TV-AM in 1983 humbled him to such an extent that his last stop before the BBC was as Chief of Staff to Robert Maxwell.

Bob Geldof and Paula Yates - the producers and part-presenters of this country's latest attempt at the genre - have less gravitas to lose than Jay. But The Big Breakfast, their Channel 4 morning show which starts on Monday, is that channel's second attempt at the form and at least the eighth launch or relaunch among terrestrial wake-up programmes in the decade since they first appeared on British TV. (The new Sunrise consortium replaces TV-AM in January of next year.) Many have hoped to make a packet out of British breakfast television, but many of those who tried have ended up shredded. The ghosts of these previous failures will haunt the latest tries at the rise-and-shine mix. Bob Geldof once set out to save the world. But can he save Channel 4 morning television?


The Big Breakfast has a thematic structure, based around the morning meal. Its main title is a nod at cafe and hotel menus - the entertainment news segment is called 'Snap, Cackle And Pop' and a comedy item 'The Crunch'. Perhaps surprisingly, this is the first time a morning show has employed the symbolism so obviously.

However, it seems to be the case that most previous British early shows have toyed with the idea. The 1983 debutants Breakfast Time (BBC1) and Good Morning Britain (TV-AM) both apparently considered calling the weather report 'Early Morning Shower' and the medical advice slot 'Rashe(r)s' BBC producers are said to have proposed a five-minute punditry slot called 'Eggheads' and a regular feature called 'Close Shaves', in which people recalled escapes from danger. TV-AM reportedly thought of utilising the coincidence that one of its presenters, David Frost, had a nickname, 'Frostie', which was the name of a Kelloggs product. But such attempts at what you might call grapefruit segments were abandoned before transmission. In actually inflicting such puns on its audience, morning after morning, The Big Breakfast may be judged to be taking a risk.


The main thematic metaphor in the morning shows has been the sofa on which the presenters - on the original Breakfast Time and on Good Morning Britain even now - have sat. This was intended to suggest a cosy and leisurely approach suited to the sleepiness of the viewers. When the BBC's Breakfast Time became, after the arrival of John Birt as current affairs supremo, Breakfast News, it stated serious intent by swapping sofas for desks. Again pushing the symbolism further than any previous attempt, the new Channel 4 show broadcasts from a real house in East London, with different segments coming from different rooms.


All muesli shows have been defined by their attitude to news. This was partly because of their perceived competition with morning newspapers and the long-running politically heavyweight Radio 4 programme Today and partly because the Independent Broadcasting Authority - which supervised the commercial television attempts - was charged with ensuring some seriousness. Peter Jay's TV-AM, as suggested by its notorious 'mission to explain' tag, was originally headline-and-analysis biased. When ratings and advertising failed, Good Morning Britain saved itself by dropping down to bantamweight analysis.

The first morning attempt by the fourth channel - Channel 4 Daily, which was taken off air yesterday - was almost all news: world, sports, arts, business read by different presenters. This was perceived to be what the cool and sophisticated viewers of the newest terrestrial station most wanted. Ratings minor even for a minority channel (100,000 at the end) wrecked this wisdom. Among its thematic segments, The Big Breakfast has resisted one called 'Currant Affairs', and plans to restrict itself to short bulletins every 20 minutes, interspersed with jauntier material. Even 'The Geldof Interview', a key selling point, will be pre-recorded and will feature famous but not necessarily topical figures. Apart from the BBC Breakfast News, which is excused by its bosses from the quest for high ratings, all previous Cornflake formats have moved downmarket or failed. The Big Breakfast may be the first to begin there.


American breakfast shows (US versions had 30 years' start on their British counterparts) apparently require their presenters to use special optical washes to make their bleary eyes sparkle. Inflicted on a less high-energy culture, British hosts were, from the beginning, far more empathetically dishevelled. Selina Scott, the first female presenter of Breakfast Time, gave the unfortunate impression of regarding conversation at that time of the day as unwelcome. Jeremy Paxman, who later joined the programme, was as unnervily cocksure at dawn as he now is at midnight but, after eating several ministers for breakfast, was moved on. Anne Diamond and Nick Owen, who replaced Jay's heavyweights at TV-AM, were deliberately selected for their low-decibel personae. Mike Morris, the blokey joker who then replaced Owen as host, often seemed to be attempting an imitation of the half-awake state of the viewers. Channel 4's selection of Bob Geldof, who looks shattered and unshaven as a matter of course, seemed to take this trend to its extremes. However, it is now clear that Geldof and Yates will make only short appearances. The main hosts will be Chris Evans (a talented radio DJ) and Gaby Roslin. Evans's radio style - a favourite jape is encouraging listeners to shout 'Billy]' at passers-by - may adapt imperfectly to a Brighton Bomb-style morning story.


Another of the emblematic changes made by the BBC in its shift from Breakfast Time to Breakfast News was the dressing of the male presenters in suits rather than sweaters. Otherwise, the main sartorial trend in the form has been the bow-tie, favoured by astrologer Russell Grant on the original Breakfast Time, newspaper-reviewer Paul Callan in the first version of Breakfast News, Gyles Brandreth in middle-period TV-AM and Michael Nicholson in the first Channel 4 morning show. Paula Yates seems the most likely of the new Channel 4 contingent to follow suit.


If the history of breakfast television is any guide, then The Big Breakfast may soon be introducing a new thematic segment called 'Saving Our Bacon', which will probably involve a slightly tacky celebrity, live animal or stuffed one. All British morning shows which have attempted to compete for ratings have been saved by emergency innovations. The most celebrated intervention was by Roland Rat, the glove-puppet who rescued Good Morning Britain. This was a weird echo of the way in which the NBC Today show in America was turned round by a roller-skating chimpanzee.

Even without these terrifying precedents, it should be remembered that no early show has prospered without establishing lighter items, whether they be weather - eccentric and slightly effete meteorologist Francis Wilson on Breakfast Time, a succession of glamorous weathergirls on TV- AM - or fitness coaches. The latter - allowing female viewers to lose weight and male viewers to watch women jumping around in leotards - have been a regular ratings raiser. The Big Breakfast seems to be relying on the celebrity of Geldof and Yates, though this may have by now have soured in to notoriety, and the wackiness of the real-house setting. But are these durable enough curiosities? The sordid past of the morning form warns us to be ready for anything: perhaps even, in a worst case scenario, a moving picture version of Paula Yates's bestselling book: Rock Stars In Their Underpants.

The Big Breakfast is on weekdays on Channel 4 from Monday,7am

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London