That’s Life! (BBC1, 1973-1994)
That’s Life! was a long-running show that had the rather unusual combination of consumer/campaigning information, along with comedy moments reflecting on some of the stranger moments of British life. It’s Watchdog with laughs, yes! The show was hosted by Esther Rantzen (who was also one of the producers), accompanied by an ever-changing line-up of co-hosts, such as Gavin Campbell or Adrian Mills.
The show became known for highlighting things such as jobsworths and bureaucracy and for trying to help out viewers. It also led to the formation of the Childline charity, and in 1988 a double A-side single featuring covers of Beatles songs by Wet Wet Wet and Billy Bragg went on to be a chart-topper and raised a lot of money.
The funnier moments would usually consist of misprints in newspapers, along with the seemingly never-ending supply of strangely shaped vegetables. This segment was often hosted by Doc Cox. There would also be some songs performed about what was currently happening in the news. The show would also become famous for its talking dogs, crazy cats, and people showing off their rather unusual talents.
Another memorable thing about That’s Life! was that every edition would end with several cartoons of highlights from the show (which were by Rod Jordan) along with the credits (where Rantzen was always simply credited as “Esther”), and the show became popular enough for there to be several one-off specials made looking back at some of the most memorable moments.
Also notable about That’s Life! was the scheduling. It was shown for many years on Sunday evenings (I have seen lots of people say that they are familiar with the famous opening theme as being their “time for bed” cue). Around the time of the 20th anniversary the format was starting to get a little tired, so the show was moved to Saturday nights, which actually hastened the show’s demise (see also ITV’s Bullseye that suffered a similar fate).
So in 1994 the decision was made to finish off the show after 21 years with an 80-minute special called That’s Life! – All Over, which looked back at some of the funniest moments. A lot of the co-hosts also returned to share memories, and even the Prime Minister contributed to pay tribute to the show’s influence. By the time it came to an end there had been over 400 editions and it is still well remembered to this day.