Television

BBC celebrates 25 years of playing 'Watchdog' in the UK

MUMBAI: It has been 25 years since the BBC kicked off a programming initiative that allowed the British consumer to voice their grievances about products and services from big names like British Telecom. Now its consumer oriented show Watchdog which airs on BBC Four in the UK will celebrate its 25th birthday tomorrow 11 January. Over the years Watchdog has been behind many changes in safety measures and standards in consumer goods and services, extensive recalls of unsafe goods and has also been responsible for the redesign of many household products in the UK.

Watchdog kicked off in 1980 as a weekly slot on BBC One's teatime news magazine Nationwide. However it was only in 1985 that Watchdog became a programme in its own right, presented by Nick Ross. It provides UK consumers with a platform. One example of a product being improved as a result of the show is holes being put in pen tops. This way if children swallow them they are less likely to choke.

Bunk beds, irons, kettles, microwaves, toasters and oven doors were also made safer as a result of reports on the show. It was also a Watchdog campaign that led to electrical appliances being sold with fitted plugs.

Today, the show - presented by Nicky Campbell and Julia Bradbury - is contacted by up to 5,000 viewers a week. The full Watchdog story is uncovered in tomorrow's anniversary programme. Recently the TV channel Auctionworld went off air following a series of Watchdog investigations.

British Telecom has had the misfortune to feature as many as 45 times in the show's history. British Gas has featured 27 times. A memorable early story featured furniture store MFI who were advertising a kitchen for the price of ?600. However, that price only included the units and not any of the appliances shown in the ad. When Hugh Scully turned up with ?600 asking to buy the kitchen, he and the camera crew were forcibly ejected from the store.

One of Watchdog's biggest stories was in 1993. Customers spending more than ?100 on Hoover products were promised two free return flights. Most viewers didn't get them, so a researcher went undercover with the company processing applications. She was told it was deliberate policy to stop people taking their flights. The free flights fiasco is reckoned to have cost Hoover around ?40 million.

Anne Robinson who also hosted the game show The Weakest Link presented Watchdog for eight years between 1993 and 2001. Anne loved to take on big high street names, believing passionately that when people had worked hard for their money they deserved a fair deal. For instance when viewers sent in sackloads of clothes damaged in a particular type of washing machine, Anne hung up a Washing Line of Shame every week in the studio until the problem was sorted out.

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