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From the Post Office scandal to nuclear attack: 13 TV shows that shook Britain

Mr Bates vs the Post Office has caused shockwaves in Westminster. Is it the most influential TV drama ever? We weigh the contenders, from Cathy Come Home to Queer As Folk to Who Bombed Birmingham?


Governments have always been terrified of television. Since the medium began in the UK in 1936, numerous laws have dictated how many hours of programming can be broadcast when and what they should contain. Officially, this strict regulation protected viewers from brain-rot, moral corruption or distraction from professional and family duties. But there has always been much concern, too, that TV might illuminate the more shadowy and embarrassing actions of the state.


In the way that had always been feared, the small screen swept a blinding light through Westminster this week, ITV’s drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office leaving ministers scrambling to introduce rapid legislation to exonerate and pay compensation to more than 700 UK sub-postmasters. They were wrongly accused of fraud and theft between 1999 and 2015, due to faulty accounting software imposed by the Post Office that led to multiple bankruptcies, divorces, breakdowns and contributed to deaths.


Such a vast reversal would usually result only from a court verdict and, even then, with delays for appeals and ministerial quibbling. In this case, justice seems likely to come within weeks of transmission. That would make Mr Bates vs the Post Office the most socially effective programme in British TV’s 88-year history. Mark Lawson The Guardian

Tue 9 Jan 2024 17.01 GMT

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