It's been 100 years since the formation of The British Broadcasting Company Ltd. The original company was initially a commercial broadcasting company and a joint effort between British and American companies. It wasn't until four years later, on December 31, 1926, that the nascent network was dissolved and reborn as the non-commercial and crown-chartered British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). But as the oldest media company still in business, it is the first to reach the centenary mark; the British public (and government) are proud to celebrate its original inception.
The BBC has not had an easy time of it this last decade. The rise of streaming and the attrition of viewership from broadcast since 2014 has been a remarkably swift shift in the entertainment business; one most networks were ill-prepared to handle. Here in America, where the "Big Four" networks are commercial, this attrition was seen as capitalism at work, business as usual. But in the U.K., where broadcast is government-funded, it has been viewed as a full-blown crisis, one the Tory leadership has been happy to take advantage of in its long-held quest to dismantle essential social services.
That makes this moment slightly ironic, as the people trying to destroy the BBC are out there praising its longevity and programming. Moreover, this post itself is just as incongruous, as we break down the centenary specials on offer from the BBC's most notable titles and most popular series and how to watch them... in America on streaming.
It's our fault; one of the BBC's most frustrating aspects is the refusal to allow BBC Worldwide (the company's commercial arm) to offer BBC's Player a fee to the rest of the world, leaving viewers with British television spread haphazardly across the dial. Perhaps in the next 100 years, the BBC can figure out how to square that circle for us. Until then, here are the biggest specials on offer from the Beeb and where to watch them.
Horrible Histories: BBC’s Big Birthday Bonanza!
Horrible Histories has been a staple of the BBC since it first began as an animated series for kids on CBBC in 2001. It has gone on and off the air since, with its current iteration starting in 2009, and rebooted in 2015, by the same crew behind both versions of Ghosts, both the U.K. and U.S. versions. Horrible Histories: BBC’s Big Birthday Bonanza! actually kicks off the TV celebrations with its comedically educational special, on October 22, Saturday morning, natch, at 8:40 a.m.
For U.S. veiwers, Horrible Histories is one of the (many) British imports tucked away on Prime, and the special will arrive there as part of Season 9.
Strictly Come Dancing BBC 100 Special
One of the few truly popular U.K. shows that doesn't get any distribution over here, Strictly Come Dancing's BBC 100 Special is only watchable via VPNing iPlayer. The episode airs Saturday, October 22 at 6:45pm, and will feature the couples dancing to famous TV themes. Those include a Viennese Waltz to the Line Of Duty end titles, a Tango to the Doctor Who theme, and a Foxtrot to the EastEnders theme.
How The BBC Began Part 1
This two-part documentary about the BBC's origins begins Saturday, October 22, at 7 p.m., with Part 2 following on October 29, at the same time. This documentary is currently a BBC only, but it's exactly the sort of thing we'd expect BritBox or Prime Video to get in November as part of a mass BBC Centenary pick-up.
Pioneers: The BBC's First Years
Like How The BBC Began, Pioneers: The BBC’s First Years, which airs directly following, is a documentary piece that currently doesn't have an American outlet, and it will probably go to BritBox or Prime in the next month.
Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor
BBC America will never let go of Doctor Who as it's the only thing other than Top Gear that makes the channel name have the slightest bit of legitimacy. Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor regeneration special, will air simultaneously over here and over there on Sunday, October 23 at 7:30 pm/2:30 p.m. ET. and will stream on BBC America's app, AMC+ (which owns BBC America) and also on HBO Max, because and that's why.
Antiques Roadshow: 100 Years of The BBC
Though you can find old episodes of the U.K. original version of Antiques Roadshow on just about any PBS station, technically no one is bringing the show over new, only in syndication. On the one hand, that means there's no official place to watch it. On the other, it means all episodes wind up on YouTube and no one complains or has them removed.
The 100 Years of The BBC special will air on Sunday, October, 23 at 5:45 p.m. and will turn up on YouTube somewhere by the next morning, just google.
Una Marson: Our Lost Caribbean Voice
Arguably the most interesting choice of the lineup, Una Marson: Our Lost Caribbean Voice is a documentary about the story of the BBC's first black female producer. It follows the Doctor Who special directly starting at 9 p.m. ET. Whoever gets this should shout it to the rooftops
The Repair Shop: Centenary Special
After a two-day break, the centenary lineup continues with a very special episode of the most popular reality show the BBC has since The Great British Baking Show, The Repair Shop. The Centenary Special will air on Wednesday, October 26 at 8 p.m., and will feature King Charles III bringing in an antique left to him by his grandmother and grandfather that's been hanging around the house for repair. The Repair Shop is currently housed at Discovery+/HBO Max, and the episode will turn up there in due course.
Kids' TV: The Surprising Story
Probably the most adorable special on the list, Kids' TV: The Surprising Story, Wednesday, October 26, which follows The Repair Shop at 9 p.m. These turn up sometimes on Hulu in their kiddie offerings but often disappear when the rights lapse.
The Love Box in Your Living Room
British comedy specials really don't get a lot of play in America, and The Love Box in general is not a phrase that ever made it across the pond. That being said, I would not be surprised if The Love Box in Your Living Room with Harry Enfield & Paul Whitehouse, which airs Thursday, October 27 at 9 p.m. turns up on BritBox, because it's exactly the sort of ex-pat programming they specialize in.
And finally, the new season of Top Gear kicks off on Sunday, October 30 at its usual time. The season premiere is their Centenary special, featuring cars from the 1920s. It will run over here on BBC America, AMC+, and HBO Max a week after Season 33 ends in the U.K., so early January 2023.