BBC Four

BBC Four is a British free-to-air television channel operated by the British Broadcasting Corporation. It was launched on 2 March 2002,[1] with a schedule running from 7:00 pm to 4:00 am [2]. The channel shows "a wide variety of programmes including comedy, documentaries, music, international film, original programmes, drama and current affairs ... an alternative to programmes on the mainstream TV channels".[3] It is required by its licence to air at least 100 hours of new arts and music programmes, 110 hours of new factual programmes and to premiere 20 foreign films each year.[4][5]

BBC Four
Launched2 March 2002 (2002-03-02); 17 years ago
Owned byBBC
Picture format1080i HDTV
(downscaled to 16:9 576i for the SDTV feed)
Audience share1.21% (June 2018 (2018-06), BARB)
CountryUnited Kingdom
ReplacedBBC Knowledge
Sister channel(s)BBC One
BBC News
BBC Parliament
WebsiteBBC Four
FreeviewChannel 9 (Eng/Wal/NI)
Channel 68 (Scot)
Channel 106 (HD)
FreesatChannel 107 (SD/HD)
Channel 173 (SD)
SkyChannel 116 (SD/HD)
Channel 815 (SD)
Sky (Ireland)Channel 143 (SD/HD)
Channel 833 (SD)
Astra 2E (28.2°E)10773 H 22000 5/6
Astra 2G (28.2°E)11023 H 23000 3/4 (HD)
Virgin MediaChannel 107 (HD)
Virgin Media (Ireland)Channel 117
WightFibreChannel 18
Kabeltex (Netherlands)Channel 164
UPC Switzerland (Switzerland)Channel 204 (HD)
BT TVChannel 106 (HD)
Channel arbitrary
KPN (Netherlands)Channel arbitrary
Eir VisionChannel 207
Channel 211 (HD)
Streaming media
BBC iPlayerWatch live (UK only)
TVPlayerWatch live (UK only)
Horizon GoWatch live (Ireland only)
Watch live (Switzerland only)


BBC Four launched on 2 March 2002 at 7:00 pm GMT, having been delayed from the original planned 2001 launch. BBC Four began originally as a late schedule to BBC Two, before it received its own channel, along with BBC Three. Curiously, BBC Four had to launch before BBC Three as a result of the government delaying approval plans. The channel replaced BBC Knowledge, an educational and cultural channel which had undergone many changes throughout its lifetime; in its final format it carried a schedule of documentaries and art programming, essentially a test of the new BBC Four schedule. BBC Four would rebrand this channel, and bring it into line with the well recognised BBC One and Two brands at the same time. Planning for the new channel, along with the new BBC Three, had been in progress since October 2000; however, the incumbent government delayed approving the new BBC digital plans. The BBC Four plans were approved earlier, and as a result launched before BBC Three.

BBC Four was different from the old BBC Knowledge: the channel would be more heavily promoted with more new and original programming and the channel would not be broadcast 24 hours a day. This was because on the Freeview digital terrestrial platform, BBC Four is broadcast in a statistically multiplexed stream in Multiplex B that timeshares with the CBeebies channel (which is on air from 06:00 until 19:00). As a result, BBC Four broadcasts from 19:00 to around 03:35 each night, with an hour's down-time and promotions for CBeebies before the start of that channel's schedule.

On 12 May 2011, BBC Four was added to the Sky EPG in the Republic of Ireland on channel 230. It later moved to EPG 211 to free up space for new channels.[6] It later moved to channel 143 on 1 May 2018 to sit beside BBC One Northern Ireland and BBC Two Northern Ireland there, and the 200s being used for +1 channels.[7]

On 19 February 2019, Virgin Media stopped providing BBC Four in standard definition.[8]

In Autumn 2019, BBC Four moved from channel 75 in Scotland, up the EPG in that region to channel 68.[9]


The channel direction is determined by the channel's remit, set by royal charter and the corporation's governing body (the BBC Board), and by the channel controller. In October 2013, following the departure of Richard Klein from the controllership, the management of the channel changed, with the role of Controller of BBC Four scrapped: from this point the Controller of BBC Two would have ultimate oversight of BBC Four as part of their role, absorbing some of the former duties of the Controller of BBC Four, but a new 'Channel Editor' post, reporting up to this controller, would be created to take day-to-day charge of Four. The controllers of BBC Four from 2002-2016 have been:

  • 2002–2004: Roly Keating
  • 2004–2008: Janice Hadlow[10]
  • 2008–2013: Richard Klein[11]
  • 2013–2014: Janice Hadlow (as Controller of BBC Two and BBC Four) "on an interim basis"[12] - Hadlow had been Controller of BBC Two since departing BBC Four in 2008
  • Early 2014: Adam Barker (interim Controller of BBC Two and BBC Four following Janice Hadlow's departure to a new post)[13]
  • 2014–2016: Kim Shillinglaw (as Controller of BBC Two and BBC Four)[14]

Channel Editors of BBC Four have been:

  • 2013–present: Cassian Harrison[15]

BBC Four has an annual budget of £54.3 million.[4]

On 20 January 2016, Kim Shillinglaw announced that she had decided to leave the BBC as the Controller of BBC Two & BBC Four. As a result of the reorganisation, the post of BBC Two and Four control had closed after her departure later that year.[16]


On 16 July 2013, the BBC announced that a high-definition (HD) simulcast of BBC Four would be launched by early 2014.[17] The channel launched on 10 December 2013, and rolled out nationwide up to June 2014 (as did BBC News HD and CBeebies HD).[18] The channel broadcasts on the BBC's new HD multiplex on Freeview and shares its stream with CBeebies HD as they both air at different times. Prior to launch, the majority of BBC Four's HD output was broadcast on the BBC HD channel before its closure on 26 March 2013. In 2017 BBC Four HD along with CBBC HD and Cbeebies HD launched in Ireland.


BBC Four's primary role is to reflect a range of UK and international arts, music and culture. It should provide an ambitious range of innovative, high quality programming that is intellectually and culturally enriching, taking an expert and in-depth approach to a wide range of subjects.

BBC Four Remit

The first evening's BBC Four programmes were simulcast on BBC Two.[1] BBC Four is notable for first showing Larry David's Seinfeld follow-up, Curb Your Enthusiasm,[19] Armando Iannucci's cutting political satire, The Thick of It, The Chaser's War on Everything, Flight of the Conchords, Mad Men and Danish thriller The Killing.

The channel broadcasts a mixture of art and science documentaries, vintage drama (including many rare black-and-white programmes), and non-English language productions such as films from the Artificial Eye catalogue, the French thriller Spiral and the Swedish detective series Wallander.[20] BBC Four further supports foreign language films with its annual World Cinema Award which has been running since 2004.

On weekdays at 19:00, the channel shows a 30-minute global news programme called Beyond 100 Days Monday–Thursday and an edition of World News Today on Fridays, simulcast with and produced by BBC World News. Beyond 100 Days takes a break during August and for two weeks in December and is replaced with an edition of World News Today. This replaced The World and BBC Four News which aired in the slot from the launch of the channel.

It screens a number of documentaries such as The Century of the Self and The Trials of Henry Kissinger. The channel is also home to many political travel shows such as Holidays in the Axis of Evil which features investigative journalism.

Drama has given the channel some of its most popular programmes, with The Alan Clark Diaries (2003) and Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa! (2006) being among the highest rated, with over 800,000 viewers. The highly acclaimed Hattie, broadcast in 2011, holds the record for BBC4's best ever consolidated ratings of 2m / 8%.[21] Before that The Curse of Steptoe brought the channel its highest audience figures, estimated as 1.41 million viewers, a 7% share of multichannel audiences between 21:00 and 22:05, based on overnight returns.[22] The official audience figures for the broadcast, including time-shifting, were later published as 1,625,000.[23] Another notable production was a live re-make of the 1953 science-fiction serial The Quatermass Experiment, adapted from the original scripts into a single, two-hour version (though on the night it, in fact, underran considerably, lasting less than 1 hour 40 minutes), broadcast on the evening of Saturday 2 April 2005. Discounting BBC Four's previous live relays of theatrical Shakespeare productions, this was the first live made-for-television drama to be broadcast by the BBC for twenty years.

Another notable programme broadcast on BBC Four is Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe which contains reviews of current shows, as well as stories and commentary on how television is produced. The show is presented by broadcaster Charlie Brooker.

The channel is also curator and leader of the BBC Archive project whose aim is that the BBC's television archive is re-broadcast as much as appropriate so that the Archive can be enjoyed again and not isolated.[24]

Some output from BBC Four (documentaries rather than foreign films) was for a time repeated on BBC Two in a 'BBC Four on Two' branded area, although this was often in a late night broadcast slot after Newsnight and has since been discontinued.

According to BARB the comedy panel game QI has the highest ratings of any show on BBC Four.[25]

At the Edinburgh International Television Festival, BBC Four won the Non-Terrestrial Channel of the Year award in 2004, 2006 and 2012.

In 2012 Dirk Gently became the first continuing drama series produced for the channel.[26]

BBC Four is occasionally used to show live sports coverage. The channel aired additional games from the UEFA Euro 2016 football tournament, and temporarily extended its broadcast hours to show live action from the 2016 Summer Olympics.[27]


Original programmes


Domestic repeats

Music concerts

Classics (shown in 2007 and 2015)

Most watched programmes

The following is a list of the ten most watched broadcasts on BBC Four since launch, based on Live +7 data supplied by BARB.[28] Number of viewers does not include repeats.

RankProgrammeNumber of ViewersDate
1The Jeremy Thorpe Scandal2,378,0003 June 2018
2Hattie2,005,00019 January 2009
3The Bridge1,810,00021 November 2015
4Detectorists1,687,0008 November 2017
5Roots1,659,0008 February 2017
6The Curse of Steptoe1,625,00019 March 2008
7The Bridge1,620,0001 February 2014
8Detectorists1,593,00022 November 2017
9Goodbye Television Centre1,588,00022 March 2013
10The Bridge 1,547,0001 February 2014


The channel's initial series of idents were generated dynamically reflecting the frequencies of the continuity announcers' voice or of backing music and were designed by Lambie-Nairn. As a result, no two idents were ever the same. The first continuity announcer was Zeb Soanes.

When the channel first started airing, it used the slogan "Everybody Needs A Place To Think", but the BBC stopped using this several months after the launch. However the BBC Four logo and above slogan can be found, engraved on benches along the South Bank in London, between the London Eye and Waterloo Bridge.

On 10 September 2005, the channel began showing new idents comprising a central BBC Four logo surrounded by four quadrants which show different stages of the same footage thus making for a sort of optical illusion; for example, a swimming pool where a person on an inflatable ring appears in the bottom-left corner, though ripples don't enter the remaining quarters. Although the image appears as one at the start of the ident, by the end it is clearly four separate images.

In March 2019, BBC Four added several new idents inspired by "oddly satisfying videos" in tandem with the quadrants theme, originally premiering for a programme season honouring the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web.

See also


  1. "Culture, controversy and cutting edge documentary: BBC FOUR prepares to launch", BBC Press Office, 14 February 2002. Retrieved 2 April 2010.
  3. "BBC Four - FAQ". Retrieved 19 August 2007.
  4. BBC Four Service Licence. Issued February 2011 Retrieved 7 October 2011. Published by the BBC Trust.
  5. BBC Four Service Licence. Issued May 2009 Retrieved 12 March 2010
  6. "Ireland: Extra BBC channels being added to Sky EPG". The Airwaves. 2 May 2011. Archived from the original on 7 May 2011.
  7. "Sky completes biggest channel reshuffle - a516digital". a516digital. 1 May 2018.
  8. Virgin Media to move BBC HD channels to prime EPG slots
  10. "Janice Hadlow to be new Controller of BBC Two" (Press release). BBC Press Office. 1 October 2008. Retrieved 13 December 2008.
  11. "Richard Klein named new Controller of BBC Four" (Press release). BBC Press Office. 24 November 2008. Archived from the original on 8 December 2008. Retrieved 13 December 2008.
  12. "Richard Klein, Former Controller, BBC Four - Inside the BBC".
  13. "Adam Barker Appointed Acting Controller of BBC Two & BBC Four". TVWise.
  14. "Kim Shillinglaw Named BBC Two & BBC Four Controller". TVWise.
  15. "Cassian Harrison appointed as Channel Editor, BBC Four - Media Centre".
  16. "BBC - Strategic reorganisation of BBC TV sees Charlotte Moore appointed Controller, TV Channels and iPlayer - Media Centre". Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  17. "BBC to launch five new HD channels". BBC News. 16 July 2013. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  18. "BBC to launch five new subscription-free HD channels on Tuesday 10 December". BBC. 9 December 2013. Retrieved 9 December 2013.
  19. Burrell, Ian (15 February 2010). "Watch and learn: BBC Four's success is a sign that Britain is regaining a hunger for intelligent broadcasting". The Independent. London. Retrieved 23 February 2010.
  20. "BBC Four - Wallander". BBC.
  21. "Chris Curtis on Twitter". Twitter. Editor, Broadcast. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  22. "BBC4 breaks ratings record", The Guardian (London), 19 March 2008
  23. BARB multichannel top ten, BBC Four, week ending 23 March 2008
  24. Klein, Richard, Ten Years of BBC Four About the BBC Blog, BBC, Last accessed 3 March 2012
  25. Analysis of BARB audience figures, produced for QI by the BBC, QI website, accessed 28 March 2008
  26. "Dirk Gently to return to BBC Four". BBC. 31 March 2011. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
  27. "BBC Four to be converted to a sports channel in August". a516digital. 26 May 2016. Retrieved 24 June 2016.
  28. "Weekly Top 10 Programmes". 22 October 2017.
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