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Top 10 Shocking and Controversial Moments From British TV

Credits: Richard Bush Sean Harris
Written by Sean Harris From quiz show conmen to sitcom Nazis. Welcome to WatchMojo UK and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 shocking and controversial moments on British TV! For this list, we’ve gathered the most infamous moments from prime-time entertainment shows on UK television. However, international news reports and live sports broadcasts aren’t included today; those are for another list. Special thanks to our user WordToTheWes for submitting the idea on our interactive suggestion tool: WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Top 10 Shocking and Controversial Moments on British TV


From quiz show conmen to sitcom Nazis. Welcome to WatchMojo UK and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 shocking and controversial moments on British TV!

For this list, we’ve gathered the most infamous moments from prime-time entertainment shows on UK television. However, international news reports and live sports broadcasts aren’t included today; those are for another list.

#10: Julian Clary on Norman Lamont
“The British Comedy Awards” (1993)

As an up and coming comic boasting a unique way with words, Julian Clary was a must-have on the bill at the British Comedy Awards, in 1993. And it didn’t take him long to make an impact, having spotted Tory Chancellor Norman Lamont in the audience. Despite Jonathan Ross’s vague attempts to steady the ship, the joke sparked outrage in the press – with the Sun and Daily Mail both campaigning to get Clary banned from TV.

#9: Supernatural Scares
“Ghostwatch” (1992)

Another early ‘90s incident, and a show deemed so terrifying that it triggered almost 30,000 complaint calls, prompting the BBC to place a decade-long ban on it being rereleased. A convincingly creepy mockumentary, “Ghostwatch” saw presenters including Michael Parkinson and kids’ TV star Sarah Greene become besieged by a poltergeist called Pipes, as part of a so-called national séance. But the 90-minute drama was linked to several cases of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder – and even to one viewer’s suicide.

#8: Katie Hopkins and Working Class Names
“This Morning” (1988-)

From the otherworldly evil of “Ghostwatch” to an everyday villain in the media. This 2013 interview on “This Morning” proved a defining moment for Katie Hopkins, who argues that children should be judged by their names. But while the one-time “Apprentice” contestant tried to deconstruct the British class system, she seriously annoyed most of the country - with only 9% of voting viewers agreeing with her. Praise be to Phil and Holly though, who highlight holes in Katie’s theory before shutting her down completely.

#7: Musical Blasphemy
“Jerry Springer: The Opera” (2005)

A British stage show which had already scored success at the West End, “Jerry Springer: The Opera” showed on BBC Two in 2005 – and promptly attracted more than 55,000 complaints. With Christian groups taking particular offence, outraged viewers also objected to the language, look and themes, with protests staged outside multiple theatres on the UK tour. Writers Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee were even advised to go into hiding, the production was debated in parliament, and Sainsbury’s refused to stock the DVD. The Beeb had rarely been in hotter water.

#6: Gunther Von Hagens
Various

A man at the heart of many controversial moments in the mid-2000s, Gunther von Hagens turned real-life autopsies into must-see TV with a series of live and pre-recorded shows. Inviting nationwide audiences to watch him work with real-life cadavers - starting with an unprecedented public autopsy, televised in 2002 - he fronted groundbreaking shows like “Anatomy for Beginners” and “Autopsy: Life and Death”. While the programmes provided undoubted educational insight, they were just too much for some viewers to stomach.

#5: Anarchy in the UK
“Today” (1968-77)

Swear words are ten-a-penny on TV nowadays, but dropping the F-bomb in the ‘70s was still top-level taboo – especially at 6PM. So, enter the Sex Pistols to shake things up a smidge. The seminal punk band appeared on “Today” in 1976, as a last-minute replacement for Queen. But veteran broadcaster Bill Grundy was unimpressed with them from the outset, seeming to goad the group at any given moment. And the awkward interview ended in outrageous fashion, with Steve Jones having the famous final word.

#4: Major Fraud
“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” (1998-2014)

With an unprecedented prize pot, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” proved a huge draw for ITV in the early-2000s – and Charles Ingram was the show’s third winner. But all wasn’t quite as it seemed. The coughing scandal was headline news in 2001, when it emerged that the former Major’s wife and another audience accomplice (who had both been on the show previously[1]) had assisted Charles, by clearing their throats at opportune moments. Despite insisting they hadn’t cheated, all three received suspended prison sentences – and the prize money was cancelled.

#3: The Race Row
“Celebrity Big Brother” (2001-)

This show thrives on controversy, with cheating ploys, pregnancy scares and a certain repurposed wine bottle providing endless material for showbiz columnists. But the Jade Goody race row was a step too far even for “Big Brother”, as in-house bickering became flat-out bullying. Having starred in “Big Brother 3”, Jade returned for the fifth celebrity series, in 2007. But her public image fell to pieces following racially aggravated insults and comments aimed at fellow housemate, Shilpa Shetty. Shilpa’s treatment sparked outrage in India, as Jade’s behaviour became an international scandal.

#2: Nazi Nonsense
“Heil Honey I’m Home!” (1990)

Created by Geoff Atkinson and commissioned by the short-lived satellite channel, Galaxy, this show tried to turn Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun into comedy characters. Unsurprisingly, it was cancelled following hundreds of complaints after just one episode. The attempted parody of 1950s US comedy had Hitler and Braun as aspiring homemakers, who resented the Jewish family next door. And unreleased episodes reportedly centred on Hitler’s attempts to kill his neighbours, in some sort of Tom and Jerry trivialisation of the Nazi leader. In short, it’s probably the worst sitcom concept ever conceived.

#1: Tommy Cooper Dies
“Live from Her Majesty’s” (1983-88)

Remembered as one of the UK’s finest all-round entertainers, Tommy Cooper attracted an audience of millions whenever he was on TV. But viewers witnessed tragedy in April 1984, when the performer suffered a heart attack on live television, mid-way through his act. Initially thought to be part of the routine, Cooper’s collapse was met with laughter inside the theatre. But as the curtains were hurriedly drawn and a fanfare quickly played, the sad truth became clear – and Tommy’s death was confirmed the following morning.
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