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The Way We Watched: Celebrating 15 Years of Freeview

Posted October 27, 2017 - Blog Posts,News and Blog

Welcome to the Freeview time machine! On this journey back to 2002, we’ll be flying over some classic TV shows from the past fifteen years, and touching down to look at the dramatic changes in television technology since Freeview first launched.

Back in 2002, Tony Blair was still prime minister, George W Bush was in the White House and the Queen celebrated her golden jubilee. Brazil won the World Cup, Estonia won Eurovision and Ms. Dynamite picked up the Mercury Prize for her debut album. And, as if all that wasn’t exciting enough, Gareth Gates’ Unchained Melody was Record of the Year!

But big things were also brewing in the world of television. Fasten your safety belts, sit back, and prepare to indulge yourself in nostalgia as we celebrate 15 fabulous years of Freeview.


The tagline said it all: it’s MI5, not 9-to-5. This stylish and fast-paced espionage series launched in 2002 and changed the way we thought about spies forever. It came up with some memorable moments – like the finale in series one when the section leader fortified his home to protect his family, only to unwittingly bring home a laptop containing a bomb. Then there was the agent injected with a lethal poison who was revived during her own funeral (someone had switched the potions!). Spooks also boosted the TV careers of many famous faces, including Keeley Hawes, Matthew Mcfadyen, Hermione Norris and David Oyelowo. And let’s not forget Peter Firth who, as Sir Harry Pearce, appeared in every episode of Spooks’ 10 series.

Top Gear

If the Freeview Time machine took a diversion back to the 1970s, we’d be reminded that Top Gear used to be a placid little motoring programme, presented by Noel Edmunds and Angela Rippon. All that changed in 2002, when a new format brought Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond turbo-charging onto our screens. Out went sleepy segments on traffic jams and rust, and in came fuel-injected road tests of supercars and edge-of-the-seat stunts with roadsters. Before long, Top Gear was attracting viewers by the million, and there was a 21-year waiting list to experience the in-studio bants of the Top Gear team. When Richard Hammond survived a crash in a drag racing car, it seemed as if nothing could stop them. But, as Jeremy Clarkson discovered, all good things come to an end. After a brief pit-stop with Chris Evans, the show has accelerated back into the fast lane with a new presenting team of Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris and Rory Reid.

The Office

These days, we’re used to enjoying mockumentary sitcoms like W1A and Parks and Recreation. But when The Office appeared for the first time in 2002, it seemed to break all the rules of TV comedy. Amazingly, ratings were so low to begin with that the show was nearly cancelled. But Ricky Gervais’ toe-curlingly awkward character of David Brent quickly won over the viewing public, and the show later picked up a Golden Globe for the Best Television Series. Unusually, the American version was almost as good as the original. All-time favourite moment? It has to be THAT dance…

Foyle’s War

It shouldn’t have worked. In an age where viewers were hungry for all-action, death-defying, heroic crime fighters (preferably with lots of firepower), a series featuring a quiet, methodical policeman wasn’t expected to be such a ratings hit. But something about Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle (played with understated power by Michael Kitchen) struck a chord with viewers. Along with his assistant Samantha – played by the gloriously-named Honeysuckle Weeks – Foyle used brainpower rather than firepower to bring criminals to justice. When it was cancelled in 2007, fans of the show hastened its return. The final episode aired in 2015, but Foyle lives on as a firm favourite on ITV3.

I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

And now, a quick quiz for all you telly addicts:

  1. Who Won the first series of I’m A Celebrity… in 2002?
  2. Which celebrity got a cockroach stuck up her nose?
  3. Who woke up to discover he’d been cuddling up to a jungle rat all night?

It’s moments such as these that have made I’m A Celebrity… one of our annual TV treats. The fun starts months before, with speculation about who’s signing up to the jungle. This year, among those rumoured to be taking part, are Charlotte Crosby, Calum Best and last year’s X Factor contender Honey G. Whoever drops in this year, they’re sure to cause a rumble in the jungle!

And the answers to the quiz?

  1. Tony Blackburn
  2. Fatima Whitbread
  3. Christopher Biggins

The Wire

Widely regarded as one of the greatest TV shows of all time, The Wire first aired in 2002. Set in the US city of Baltimore, each episode focused on a different aspect of the city’s dark side, from bureaucracy and corruption to the war on drugs. It was notable not only for its realistic take on poverty and crime but for superbly crafted characters like Jimmy McNulty, Bunk Moreland, Bodie Broadus and Stringer Bell. But above all else, it was the city of Baltimore itself that was The Wire’s most compelling character.


We hope you’re enjoying this Freeview Time Machine flight. But for a truly cosmic journey, we have to pay tribute to Firefly. Set in the year 2517, this show really did push the boundaries of space and time. The show’s creator Josh Whedon (who also gave us Buffy and Angel) called Firefly a “space western”. With its fusion of western and Asian cultures and a galaxy of offbeat characters, Firefly was short-lived but attracted a cult following. After its demise, the show was regenerated as a feature film called Serenity.

The changing face of TV technology

Back in 2002, most of us had just five channels to choose from. BBC Four may have launched that year, but only a small number of viewers had the kit needed to watch it.

The launch of Freeview brought 25 channels to start with, and now there are over 100. And on-demand apps like the BBC iPlayer have revolutionised our viewing habits.

And then there are the televisions themselves. In 2002 a typical TV set looked like this…

Fast forward to 2017, and that dumb, clunky box in the corner has become a smart and slim-line window on the world…All TVs now come with Freeview built in, and many also have Freeview Play, allowing you to catch up with programmes from the past seven days. Some of the latest models have a cinematic feel, complete with curved screen…

As for the future, the possibilities are endless. Before too long, we might be watching our favourite shows on a holographic TV….


We hope you’ve enjoyed this journey back through the years, and that you’ll continue flying with Freeview for the best television of all time!

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