Five launches to forget

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The most famously disastrous off all TV births, in April 1964, when a failure at Battersea power station knocked out electricity to studios and the BBC's transmitter for much of London. The nation, tuning in for the cutting edge of serious TV, saw a presenter reading by candlelight an announcement that there would be no until next night. Frequency problems limited the reach of the station when it did transmit at full power and some areas did not receive it for years. One critic described the channel as "two old men talking in a snowstorm".

Channel 4

Having learnt from previous disasters, Channel 4 took the low-key approach in 1982. Started on a Tuesday afternoon with an episode of the Countdown quiz show, then Brookside, with the first hand-held camera shots on a British soap, to give that special shaky look. The first evening schedule was dominated by Walter, a film about a mentally handicapped man. Within weeks Channel 4 had been christened "Channel Bore" and its viewing for some programmes was almost undetectable as its viewing share fell to below 4 per cent.


A giant dose of hubris was served up to the "famous five" of Peter Jay, David Frost, Angela Rippon, Anna Ford and Michael Parkinson after the launch of Britain's first commercial breakfast channel. Miles of publicity and a grandiose studio building did not stop the BBC launching first. In five weeks, TV-am's audiences were 300,000, compared to the BBC's 1.7 million, and financial backer Jonathan Aitken was soon wielding the axe. Rescued by Greg Dyke, now head of Pearson Television and a Channel 5 shareholder, and his friend Roland Rat.


Another launch with a taste for post-modernist architecture. BSB's Eighties- style Marco Polo building in Battersea was looted by redundant staff after a merger with Murdoch's Sky Television was announced months after the satellite broadcaster launched in 1990. Shareholders had invested more than pounds 800m in two satellites and millions of "squarial" dishes, only to throw in the towel when they realised there was no room for two satellite broadcasters. Even when merged as BSkyB, the channel still lost pounds 10m a week.


When GMTV won the breakfast franchise in 1991, TV-am had a breakfast viewing share of nearly 70 per cent. GMTV bid pounds 34.6m and kept to the TV- am sofa formula. but inherited only a 40 per cent share, because TV-am had given up the ghost once losing the franchise. In two months the programme director, Lis Howell, who had suggested presenters wear short skirts to emphasise the "F-Factor", was out and ratings down 14 per cent on what had been inherited. Greg Dyke was brought back to rescue yet another breakfast show.