60 years of ITV: 15 of the channel's greatest ever shows

From Spitting Image to Brideshead Revisited, here’s our celebration of some groundbreaking shows aired over the broadcaster’s 60 years.

Press Association
Last updated: 22 September 2015 - 11.27am

Happy 60th birthday ITV!

As Britain’s biggest commercial broadcaster celebrates becoming a sexagenarian, here’s our celebration of some groundbreaking shows aired over its 60 years.

1. The Naked Civil Servant

The Naked Civil Servant


Broadcast in 1975, this classic TV drama centres around flamboyant British eccentric Quentin Crisp and a society outraged by his openly gay lifestyle. A landmark of British television, it features a Bafta-winning performance by its star John Hurt.

2. Cold Feet

Cold Feet
(Neil Marland/ITV)


This acclaimed ITV drama aired from 1998-2003 and starred James Nesbitt, Helen Baxendale, John Thomson, Fay Ripley, Robert Bathurst, Hermione Norris and Kimberley Joseph. Cold Feet stands out for winning over both TV critics and viewers as it depicted the lives and loves of three 30-something couples in Manchester with real heart. One of ITV’s biggest shows of the late 1990s, some described it as the UK’s version of Friends.

3. Upstairs, Downstairs

Upstairs Downstairs


On Sunday October 10, 1971 costume drama Upstairs, Downstairs made its debut. Co-created by its star Jean Marsh, it depicted the lives of the masters and servants of London’s 165 Eaton Place. The landmark TV serial went on to win numerous awards including two Baftas, two Royal Television Society awards, three Writers Guild Awards, eight Emmys and a Golden Globe.

4. Downton Abbey

Hugh Bonnerville as Lord Grantham at the house sale
(Nick Briggs/Carnival Films)


Tackling a similar theme to Upstairs, Downstairs, this ITV period drama focuses on an aristocratic Edwardian family and their servants. When it premiered on Sunday September 26, 2010, few could have foreseen what a smash it would go on to become, but Downton is a bona fide phenomenon.

It has won numerous national and international awards and been viewed by an estimated global audience of over 120 million. In addition, its place in popular culture is sealed thanks to spoofs from the likes of The Simpsons, Comic Relief, Sesame Street and, er, rapper P Diddy.

5. Hillsborough

Christopher Eccleston
(Ian West/PA)


This moving, searing, fictionalised account of the horrific events that led to the loss of 96 lives is from the pen of Jimmy McGovern. On 15 April 1989, the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield United’s Hillsborough Stadium ended in tragedy. This award-winning drama starred Christopher Eccleston and Ricky Tomlinson and was credited with keeping the families’ fight for justice alive.

6. Ant And Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway

Ant and Dec in Saturday Night Takeaway


ITV’s award-winning hit series is unlike any other show currently airing on British television. Featuring daring stunts, hilarious sketches, pranks and surprises, Ant and Dec’s much-loved series first aired in 2002 before taking a hiatus in 2010. It returned better than ever in 2013.

7. Pop Idol

Pop Idol
(Myung Jung Kim/PA)


The search for a pop star was created by Simon Fuller and ran on ITV from 2001 to 2003 with judges Simon Cowell, Pete Waterman, Nicki Chapman and Neil Fox. The first series was a huge ratings winner for ITV, with more than 13 million people tuning in to see Will Young beat Gareth Gates.

Pop Idol ushered in a new wave of talent shows including, of course, The X Factor.

8. Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Revisited


ITV’s award-winning drama debuted on Monday October 12, 1981 to great acclaim and impressive ratings. Based on Evelyn Waugh’s best-seller of the same name, it raised the bar for television dramas in terms of production, cast and prestige.

Brideshead made stars of future Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews, who went on to win a Bafta and a Golden Globe for his role as Sebastian Flyte. Theatrical heavyweights Lord Olivier (who took home a best supporting actor in a mini-series Emmy) and Sir John Gielgud were also on top form.

9. Coronation Street

Callum attacks Sarah (Joseph Scanlon/ITV)
(Joseph Scanlon/ITV)


Britain’s longest-running television soap aired its first episode on Friday December 9, 1960 at 7pm. Set in the fictional northern town of Weatherfield, its down-to-earth residents were characters viewers could easily identify with such as battleaxe Ena Sharples (played by Violet Carson) and flirty Elsie Tanner (Pat Phoenix).

It’s ongoing popularity means it takes pride of place in ITV’s celebrations, with a live episode to mark the broadcaster’s 60th year.

10. Prime Suspect

Prime Suspect


On Sunday April 7, 1991 viewers got their first taste of Lynda La Plante’s hard-hitting drama series Prime Suspect. Helen Mirren starred as the hard-edged, chain-smoking Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison, a woman who had to battle for her career in a very male-dominated working environment.

The cop series was a sensation for ITV, catapulting Mirren to international fame and returning for further instalments until the downbeat ending in 2006.

11. Spitting Image

Spitting Image


Satirical puppet show Spitting Image premiered on Sunday February 26, 1984 and lampooned famous figures of the day. No target was safe – and that included the royal family. The show sparked outrage with its portrayal of the Queen Mother as a gin-swigging Brummie and Princess Diana as somewhat ditzy.

The 1980s series raked in the ratings and defined a generation of British politicians, with a pinstripe suit-wearing Margaret Thatcher and fellow Conservative MP Norman Tebbit as a leather-clad skinhead as standouts.

12. Blind Date

Cilla Black
(Carmen Valino/PA)


A lorra lorra laffs with the late Cilla Black in her seminal Saturday night dating series. The nation watched transfixed as couples fell in love or, more often than not, in hate.

Cilla surprised her ITV bosses by quitting the series live on air in 2003. She had presented the programme since its inception 18 years before.

13. Auf Wiedersehen, Pet

Auf Wiedersehen, Pet


Starring Timothy Spall, Kevin Whately, Tim Healey and Jimmy Nail, the comedy drama followed a motley crew of British construction workers as they took on jobs in Dusseldorf and further afield.

Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais’ brilliantly-written show first aired on ITV in 1983 for two series before transferring to the BBC in 2002.

14. Minder



They could be so good for us! No list of ITV classics would be complete without the comedy-drama centring around dodgy London entrepreneur Arthur Daley (George Cole) and his former boxer of a ‘minder’ Terry McCann (Dennis Waterman).

Running from 1979-1994, Minder captured the essence of Thatcher’s “enterprise” Britain with the rather shady Daley ducking and diving his way through questionable “nice little earners” each week. The tightly scripted episodes showcased the comic brilliance of the late George Cole who has left us all a superb legacy.

15.Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire


Who wants to win a million pounds? We all do. Little wonder the great British public could not get enough of this quiz show despite host Chris Tarrant repeatedly asking every contestant if they’d given their “final answer”.

In 2013, after 15 years in the hot seat, Tarrant made the decision to leave. But during the show’s heyday, it was a ratings-banker for ITV and a significant driver of revenue.

What is more, it produced a moment of infamy in 2003 when Army major Charles Ingram was found guilty of cheating his way to the top prize by using a coughing accomplice in the audience.

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