Watchdog is a British consumer investigative journalism programme, broadcast on BBC One since 1985. The programme is focused on investigating complaints and concerns made by viewers and consumers over problematic experiences with traders, retailers and other companies around the UK, over customer services, products, security, and possible fraudulent/criminal behaviour.

Since it first began, the programme has achieved great success in changing the awareness consumers have of their purchasing rights, as well as pushing forward for changes in company policies and consumer laws, and in some cases helping to close down businesses whose practices have left many people dissatisfied and out of pocket.

The show’s longstanding slogan is “the programme you cannot afford to miss”.

Watchdog was first shown on 8 September 1980, as a pre-recorded weekly feature for BBC One’s news magazine programme Nationwide, with Hugh Scully, best known for presenting the Antiques Roadshow, being its first host.[citation needed] After Nationwide ended in 1983, Scully continued hosting the feature on Sixty Minutes until the show’s final episode in 1984. A year later, the BBC decided to make a stand-alone version of the feature, with its first episode aired on 14 July 1985. The programme’s first series was aired weekly on Sunday evenings, and presented by Nick Ross and Lynn Faulds Wood.

The following year, the programme was rescheduled to weekday daytime broadcasts, with Ross replaced by Faulds Wood’s husband, John Stapleton; the programme’s new schedule was considered by Michael Grade, the BBC One Programme Controller in 1986, as helpful to defying the laws of “television gravity” by boosting viewer figures for the launch of BBC Daytime. In 1987, the BBC reverted the programme back to being a weekly programme on Sunday evenings, but with the addition of repeats being shown the following day during the daytime.

A year later, in 1988, the programme received another rescheduling that saw it broadcast on Mondays during both daytime and peaktime slots, but with a significant change in focus on its format. Unlike previous years, Watchdog began to employ a more forceful approach in consumer investigations, including investigating big businesses and conducting more investigative journalism. Changing their approach with their investigations led to the programme achieving many multimillion-pound product recalls by companies, the recovery of £19 million in overpaid fuel surcharges on package holidays, while also regularly featuring major name companies who had let down customers.

January 1989 saw peaktime audiences of the show averaged around 6 million, leading the BBC to drop daytime broadcasts as a direct result. Both Faulds Wood and Stapleton remained with the programme into the early 90s until the former was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer; after she was treated and had recovered from the condition, both Faulds Wood and Stapleton left the programme, to conduct a series of journalistic investigations for ITV’s World in Action.

Watchdog primarily consists of films involving journalistic investigations into consumer complaints, brought to the attention of the programme’s research team by viewers and customers, in which the general basis of the investigation is to look into issues, concerns and complaints made about businesses and companies in regards to products/services offered, the quality of customer care, and other concerns/issues/problems that have arisen of late. Films usually consist of one or two major components – tests conducted by the research team, into various aspects such as quality, value for money, safety and hygiene, and so forth; and interviews with some of the consumers who contacted the programme, in regards to their experience with the company/business connected to the investigation that the interviewee had dealings with, what concerns and worries they have about a product/service they purchased and their overall general opinion of the business. The film is usually presented to viewers by either one of Watchdogs current presenters, or a reporter for the programme, who gives out a general overlay of the matter being investigated, and conducts interviews with the consumers that were affected. Towards the end of the film, a response from the businesses/companies involved (if provided) is often given, which can include their views on the programme’s findings, if any issues raised have been dealt with, and if the consumers featured on the programme have had their complaints dealt with. If the programme puts forward their findings to any regulatory bodies connected to the product/service offered, including Trading Standards, they will also read out a response from them, including any consumer advice regarding the issues featured in the film.

In some investigations, hidden cameras are used to record specific areas of the investigation, that are done in secret by the research team; an example of this is when researchers pose as customers, go to different branches of a business under investigation, and secretly record a conversation between themselves and a number of employees they randomly approach, mainly on answers given in regards to consumer inquires they make (i.e. “What is the cooling down period for returning an item if we aren’t satisfied?”). In a number of investigations where multiple companies/businesses are being investigated on the same aspects under investigation, researchers will usually conduct secret testing on multiple branches used by each business/company being investigated, to which their findings in regards to concerns and/or failings on anything (such as hygiene, safety, and customer service for example), are revealed during the film, including a comparison between the branches visited and how they match up to findings made in the other branches.

In some cases, company representatives are invited to discuss the consumer problems that were investigated by Watchdog, although a number frequently turn down the offer. However, many companies use the opportunity to voice their own opinions and thoughts on the subject of the investigation, some of whom also take advantage of the situation to offer full apologies and refunds to affected customers.

In the late 1980s, Watchdog investigations showed that numerous accidents were caused when the electrical plugs on new electrical appliances were incorrectly wired. At the time, all new electrical goods were sold with bare wires and customers were expected to fit plugs themselves. These investigations led to a British law forcing all manufacturers selling electrical products in the UK to supply them with fitted plugs.

1980s Presenters

Duration Lead presenter(s) Co-presenter(s)
1980–84 Hugh Scully N/A
1985–86 Nick Ross and Lynn Faulds Wood
1986–93 Lynn Faulds Wood and John Stapleton

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