Television that changed our world

TELEVISION's impact on society for good or bad is a hotly debated topic - now a panel of industry experts has produced a list of the ten most influential programmes of all time.

Topping the list of "agenda setting programmes" was Cathy Come Home - the 1960s television play which focused on homelessness and led to the setting up of the charity Shelter within a week of its broadcast.

Other key documentaries were the BBC's The Secret Policeman, which revealed racism in the police and Who Bombed Birmingham?, the controversial ITV documentary which eventually led to the release of the wrongly convicted Birmingham Six.

Media experts have welcomed the publication of the list, produced by the industry magazine Broadcast. However they said it was difficult for TV programmes to make a major impact and warned increasing financial pressures were making it harder for broadcasters to make risk-taking programmes.

Jeff Anderson, the controller of current affairs at Granada, said: "Any number of programmes and documentaries can point to making a small impact, forcing people to resign, uncovering an injustice or putting someone in jail, but very, very few have a massive influence on policy or society. The truth is, TV rarely changes the world."

The list included two popular shows, Jamie's School Dinners and That's Life which analysts said proved agenda-setting programmes could also be good entertainment.

Graham Lovelace, a media consultant, said: "The 1970s and 1980s were the heyday of factual programming, when we had prime-time programmes such as Panorama, World in Action and This Week. With increasing competition these sort of programmes have to fight to get on the schedule. Schedulers have to produce audience figures which justify the BBC licence fee and please advertisers, and it's difficult to produce expensive, bold and challenging television."

Broadcast magazine's top ten programmes were:

1. Cathy Come Home (1966);

2. Police: A Complaint of Rape (1982);

3. The Secret Policeman (2003);

4. Who Bombed Birmingham? (1990);

5. Jamie's School Dinners (2005);

6. Sex Traffic (2004);

7. That's Life (1973 to 1994);

8. Sex in a Cold Climate (1998);

9. Rampton, The Secret Hospital (1979);

10. Seeds of Despair (1984).