Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Top 100 UK Factual Programs, 1H 2020. ‘Land & Country’ is the winning theme in the Covid Era

In a series of posts, I’ll share the UK’s highest-rated documentary and unscripted programs for the half-year in which Covid struck.

My ratings snapshot for 1H 2020 is comprised of:

  • The Top 50 in the combined Documentary and Lifestyle / Hobbies category.
  • My Takeaways.
  • Then #51-100.

Going deeper

  • In future posts, I’ll share the Top 25 History and Wildlife programs.

The challenging landscape

  • The UK is the #2 English-speaking television market.
  • A generously-funded Factual sector has been the world-leading creative innovator for generations.

However, the industry is enduring the triple disruptions of:

  • COVID: notably the dive in advertising revenues and disruptions to the production pipeline.
  • The rise of Netflix and other streaming platforms.
  • And a reactionary government that is deeply hostile to the BBC.

For the broadcasters, this dramatic shift translates into a shrinking and ageing audience, and waves of budget cuts of uncertain scale.

Notes on the Data

  • The ‘000 P4+’ column refers to viewers 4 years and older in thousands.
  • Share refers to the program’s share of television sets in use at that time.
  • The data refers to highest single episode in a series.
  • The categories come from BARB, and titles are sometimes incomplete.
  • Ratings for Netflix and other streamers are not available or included in Share.
  • Some programs were scheduled before the COVID shutdowns.

UK Broadcast Audience
Documentary & Hobbies Category
Top 50 1H

ChannelProgram‘000 P4+Share
1BBC 1Antiques Roadshow7,84629.0
2BBC 1The Repair Shop6,88528.9
3BBC 1Countryfile6,72934.7
4ITVBradley Walsh & Son: Breaking Dad5,79927.0
5BBC 1The Real Marigold Hotel5,75822.7
6ITVLong Lost Family: Born Without Trace5,65724.6
7ITVBradley Walsh: Happy 60th Birthday4,84820.6
8BBC 2Top Gear4,60316.8
9BBC 1Ambulance4,52521.7
10ITVWelcome to HMP Belmarsh4,45718.3
11BBC 1Dame Vera Lynn: We’ll Meet Again4,25625.5
12BBC 1Primates4,21116.8
13BBC 1Garden Rescue4,19021.5
14BBC 2Inside Monaco: Playground of Rich4,17817.8
15BBC 1Eat Well for Less?4,02918.7
16BBC 1Blue Planet Revisited3,94223.2
17ITVCilla: The Lost Tapes3,84417.7
18C4 24 Hours in Police Custody3,82414.6
19BBC 2A House Through Time3,81617.5
20ITVAbsolutely India: Mancs in Mumbai3,80717.0
21BBC 2Gardeners’ World3,79816.1
22BBC 1A Tribute to Dame Vera Lynn3,52219.9
23ITVThe Greek Islands with Julia Bradbury3,50116.9
24C4 Murder in the Outback3,42116.6
25BBC 1True North3,38217.0
26ITVJoanna Lumley’s Hidden Caribbean3,34114.7
27BBC 1Easy Ways to Live Well3,32615.7
28ITVBritain’s Best Walks with Julia Bradbury3,32519.3
29BBC 1Sir David Jason at 803,29320.3
30ITVTyson Fury: The Gypsy King3,17814.1
31ITVSt David’s: Britain’s Smallest City3,17012.2
32ITVLove Your Garden3,16415.8
33BBC 1RHS Chelsea Flower Show3,15721.8
34BBC 2Inside the Factory3,14613.0
35BBC 1DIY SOS3,00215.5
36BBC 2Springwatch2,97116.2
37BBC 1Our Lives2,94815.0
38ITVGrow Your Own At Home2,94515.2
39ITVPaul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs2,94413.1
40ITVCaptain Tom’s War2,87614.4
41BBC 1The Truth About…2,87015.5
42BBC 1Rio and Kate: Becoming a Stepfamily2,86812.8
43BBC 1Spy in the Wild2,86211.3
44BBC 1Blue Planet II2,81418.2
45BBC 2Murder 24/72,80810.8
46ITVBritain’s Busiest Motorway2,70914.2
47C4 Barrymore: The Body in the Pool2,70814.0
48BBC 1Bargain Hunt2,69529.1
49ITVRoss Kemp: On the NHS Frontline2,66512.6
50ITVInside the Crown: Secrets of the Royals2,65910.5

Read my Takeaways below…


Land & Country

  • The hit breakthrough of COVID is the folksy, sentimental Repair Shop in which damaged family treasures are brought back to life by accomplished craftspeople.
  • The series is led by the relatable and expert host, furniture restorer Jay Blades.
  • Antiques Roadshow returns to #1, and Countryfile rides at #3 — a trifecta that confirms the British audience’s appetite for nostalgia in a hard time.

Natural History / Pets

  • The Natural History genre relies mainly on returns to the archive (Primates) and to strong franchises (Blue Planet, Springwatch, Penguins), and evergreen locations (Attenborough and the Giant Egg).
  • ITV’s How To Keep Your Dog Happy at Home strikes the perfect note for COVID isolators.
  • It’s balanced on the ugly canine side by Channel 5’s Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly (Misses Top 100 at #135)


  • A House Through Time (#19) is a standout for BBC2, and ticks the “homey” COVID mood of the year.
  • Other History notables are Captain Tom’s War (hero-story), Back in Time for the Corner Shop (nostalgia), Princess Anne and Our Queen at War (Royals) .
  • They all lead the darker stories from the past: Keeler, Profumo, Ward and Me, and Return to Belsen.

Talent Tops Crime

  • Great British crimes and criminals are noticeably less present than in 2019: There’s enough dark and edgy outside already.
  • The Top 50 is more populated with comfortable and often loveable talent of today and yesterday.
  • See: Bradley Walsh, Cilla, Vera Lynn, Attenborough, and many more.
  • Crime meets Talent in Welcome to HMP Belmarsh (#10), where the relatable Ross Kemp leads us inside a notorious maximum security prison.
  • C4’s Murder in the Outback (#24) somewhat bucked the trend.

Royals Downgraded

  • Looking outside the Factual category, The Queen’s Covid Address attracted more than 14 million viewers and an astounding 45.8 share.
  • The Windsor family were less present in the 2019 Top 100 Factual than previously.
  • The dry spell continues with fewer births, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and funerals that could be covered in COVID.
  • HRH Andrew‘s deepening troubles don’t help.

Those are my Takeaways for the moment. LMK if you disagree. And watch out for my related posts on the Top 25 for History and Wildlife.

Here for my heaviest readers are #51-100:

UK Broadcast Audience
Documentary & Hobbies Category
Top 51-100 1H

51ITVThe Metro: A Rail Life Story2,61213.9
52ITVThe Station: Trouble on the Tracks2,60611.7
53BBC 2Back in Time for the Corner Shop2,60012.7
54ITVThe Village2,56012.2
55C4 Devon and Cornwall2,55212.5
56ITVRoss Kemp: Living with…2,54814.3
57BBC 1Football, Prince William + Mental Health2,50914.7
58C4 Location, Location, Location2,50310.7
59ITVIn the Land of the Midnight Sun2,46811.0
60C5A & E After Dark2,44211.3
61ITVCoronation Street Icons: Audrey Roberts2,43713.7
62BBC 2Cornwall: This Fishing Life2,41111.8
63C4 Catching a Killer2,36410.4
64C4 24 Hours in A&E2,3339.1
65BBC 1Escape to the Country2,31518.8
66BBC 1Stacey Dooley2,28115.4
67BBC 1Life and Birth2,28110.8
68C4 Prue Leith: Journey with My Daughter2,2688.4
69BBC 1Attenborough and the Giant Egg2,26113.7
70C4 Kirstie and Phil’s Love It or List It2,24611.4
71BBC 2Your Home Made Perfect2,20711.2
72ITVSecrets of the Driving Test2,20310.1
73ITVUnbelievable Moments, On Camera2,19910.6
74ITVGriff’s Great Australian Adventure2,16610.9
75C5Princess Anne: The Daughter…2,16312.0
76C4 George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces2,1478.8
77BBC 1Antiques Road Trip2,14620.4
78BBC 1Critical Incident2,14011.0
79BBC 2Villages by the Sea2,08510.7
80ITVOur Queen at War2,0789.2
81ITVTales From the Coast2,0768.8
82BBC 2Hospital2,0679.3
83BBC 2Louis Theroux2,0617.4
84C5Warship: Life At Sea2,0509.0
85BBC 2Stacey Dooley Investigates2,0348.5
86ITVSave Money: Lose Weight2,03210.7
87C5The Yorkshire Vet2,02410.1
88BBC 2Keeler, Profumo, Ward and Me2,02213.7
89ITVReturn to Belsen2,0178.3
90C5Police Interceptors2,0119.7
91BBC 2Miriam’s Big Fat Adventure1,9878.2
92C5Police: Hour of Duty1,9648.1
93C4 The Mum Who Got Tourette’s1,9588.0
94BBC 2Russia with Simon Reeve1,9459.1
95BBC 2Winterwatch1,9439.6
96BBC 2John Le Mesurier1,93611.6
97C5William & Kate: Too Good to Be True?1,93211.1
98BBC 2Murder Trial: Margaret Fleming1,9177.0
99BBC 2Pilgrimage1,9127.5
100BBC 1Penguins – Spy in the Huddle1,91014.1


  • Read the Top 25 Wildlife / Natural History programs
  • And the Top History 25
  • Don’t miss my interview notes with BBC History buyer Simon Young at Sunny Side. Includes his insights concerning A House Through Time
  • And watch my Sunny Side Interview on Channel 4’s strategy: What do they want? What do they pay?