The programme was particularly distinctive for broadcasting live from a set of former lockkeeper's cottages commonly referred to as "The Big Breakfast House", or more simply, "The House", located in Bow in east London, . Following The Big Breakfast, the house has been reverted to a private residence (now known as "The Cottage") and has also been used for a number of television shows.
The show itself was a mixed format of news, weather, interviews, audience phone-in and features.
The initial two presenters, Chris Evans (presenter from 1992 to 1994) and Gaby Roslin (1992-1996) held reign over what might be the golden era of The Big Breakfast. Evans' zany humour and "touch of arrogance" was new and fresh, Roslin a good foil for him. At its height in 1993, viewing figures reached around two million per episode, and was the highest rated UK TV show in its timeslot. Along with Evans and Roslin, Bob Geldof presented a short lived political interview slot, his wife Paula Yates became synonymous with her interviews on the bed and puppet characters Zig and Zag created morning mayhem in their slot in the bathroom with Chris entitled The Crunch.
As part of his contract with The Big Breakfast, Evans was committed to developing a new show for Channel 4. Don't Forget Your Toothbrush began in early 1994, and resulted in Evans' involvement with The Big Breakfast cut to 3 days per week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday). Former Neighbours star Mark Little permanently replaced Evans on Mondays and Fridays. When Evans left the show later that year, Little continued on Mondays and Fridays, whilst Paul Ross took over the mid-week duties. Richard Orford replaced Ross around Easter 1995, but was quickly dropped from this position. Upon which, the show reverted back to using just one Male presenter for the full week. This role alternated between Keith Chegwin and Mark Little.
Roslin continued full time, and made way for Zoe Ball in 1996. Audience figures slipped a little after Evans left, and a little more after Roslin departed. Mark Little left shortly after and was replaced by Keith Chegwin. To stop the sliding viewing figures, an ill-fated relaunch was given to the show, including the refurbished house at a cost of £2million, Ball and Chegwin were replaced by Rick Adams and Sharron Davies, two less accomplished hosts on the small screen. Viewing figures fell dramatically, losing its audience primarily to radio and GMTV. Producers stopped the rot quickly, finding a winning partnership in Johnny Vaughan (who spent 1,023.82 hours in front of the cameras) and Denise van Outen. Audience figures jumped back to their peak. Vaughan briefly presented also with Kelly Brook (who was largely unknown at the time) in 1999; however Brook's lack of experience in the field of presenting a TV show clearly showed and audience figures quickly dropped. As a result, Brook was sacked while on holiday from the show (she only found out about losing her job from reading the newspaper while on holiday). Liza Tarbuck then co-presented for a while but when she decided to leave after eighteen months, van Outen returned. Viewing figures rose until the pair quit together in 2001. This turned out to be the death knell for the show as viewers did not warm to their replacements, Richard Bacon, Paul Tonkinson, Amanda Byram and Simon Feilder.
Mike McClean and Donna Air joined the show as it converted to a multi-presenter format. However, this format only lasted for a couple of months, with the show reverting back to its original format for the final months, with Bacon and Byram as the main presenters before it last aired on 29 March 2002. The last programme included a twenty minute retrospective that included contributions from Evans, Roslin, Vaughan and van Outen. Both Evans and Vaughan declared the cancelling of the show a bad idea. The show ended with a tribute from the Prince of Wales before the last Friday song, which paid tribute to the success of the show and its ability to attract celebrities.
Mark Lamarr, Keith Chegwin, Paul Ross, Jason Bradbury and Richard Bacon were "down your doorstep" outside broadcasters, often turning up live and unannounced at an unsuspecting viewer's house, while rooms within Lock Keeper's Cottages featured the zany aliens Zig and Zag and video games guru Ben the Boffin.
On the night of 31 December 1999 a mammoth eight-hour live broadcast took place from Lock Keepers' Cottages to herald in the new century. The Biggest Breakfast Ever was hosted by Johnny Vaughan and Liza Tarbuck and featured many classic moments and 'best of' features. Even eight hours of airtime was not enough. The show's producers got Channel 4 to extend its broadcast time by half an hour to fit in the premiere of the competition "Wonga" (a large-scale version of Jenga). The winner of the game had been told to 'stop steadying the stack' on numerous occasions, but was still allowed to play and eventually won £100,000. It was a prize game that returned to the show many times in its final two years, but never again was anyone allowed to blatantly break the rules of the game.
Owing to the nature of the filming, much of the crew could be seen on screen. This led to them getting nicknames, such as 'Sturdy Girl', (regularly asked to shake her head so that her hair would be hurled around whilst music played and the camera zoomed in and out). 'The Carpet Monster' was revealed in the Doctor Who Special to have been an extra, playing a deadly clown, in the Seventh Doctor story The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.
The show also used gimmicks such as live weddings to attract viewers. The first one was in 1993. This featured Jamie and Mandy from Catterick in North Yorkshire, who also returned after their honeymoon.
A The Big Breakfast board game was released and also a fruit machine featuring popular games from the show.
eventually replaced The Big Breakfast as Channel 4's morning programme, following its axing on the 29 March 2002, although there was some time between The Big Breakfast ending and RI:SE beginning. RI:SE went on to take increasingly low ratings, and despite undergoing a revamp, was shortly axed. Channel 4 has since not had a studio-based morning programme, although Dermot O'Leary fronted the show Morning Glory, which was given a short run in early 2006 but not picked up.
Channel 4 have since replaced Morning Glory with Freshly Squeezed.
The lyrics to "More Tea, Vicar" were as follows:
A Jenga-style game, followed by various shouting and anarchy, with fans and the Wonga Lawyer. The show famously went over 27 minutes for a game once, with the Millennium Big Breakfast actually being commissioned extra time for Wonga.
The lyrics to the chorus went as follows
Singing, wakey, wakey, wakey rise and shine,
The Big Breakfast is the only way to dine,
It's your number one big breakie
So get it down your neckie,
And stick with us from seven until nine!
Usually during the summer months, half-term and other school breaks, as well as some Bank Holidays Channel 4 would extend the Big Breakfast to run from 7am until 12:30pm. The expanded format featured regular Big Breakfast content from 7-9, as well as a variety of other programing interspersed with the Big Breakfast presenters from 9 until 12:30. Programing featured during the block was primarially composed of reruns of Channel 4 programing and US imports. The lineup changed on a regular basis, some series featured on the Bigger Breakfast over the years:
Almost uniquely for a live British TV show at the time of its creation, The Big Breakfast was filmed entirely from a real house. Located alongside the Hertford Union Canal, in east London, the property became informally known as 'The Big Breakfast House'. Filming would frequently take place within the large grounds of the property and the closely surrounding area.
Built in 1947, the property originally composed of 3 cottages which housed the lock keepers, toll takers, and navigation operators of the Old Ford Locks in Bow. By the time of purchase by the program makers, Planet24, in 1992, the property had become Grade 2 listed and had remained unused for around 2 decades. Extensive renovation work saw the transformation of the 3 cottages into one large 3 bed roomed property, specifically fitted for use as a TV studio. The exterior character of the property was largely unchanged. During the first 4 years of the show, the given address for the house was number 2, Lock Keepers' Cottages. The '2' was later dropped.
In 1996, due to the declining popularity of The Big Breakfast, the house was transformed in an Art Deco style makeover. The original brickwork was virtually entirely covered over with a smooth rendered finish which, by the time the re-launched program aired, was painted crisp white. Two large balconies now adorned the front and rear. The only untouched exterior features, recognizable from the shows original styling, were the four brick chimneys and the roofing. The legality of this extensive makeover could be questioned, as it contradicts the rules imposed by its Grade 2 status. The work carried out is purported to have cost around £2million, largely funded by its sale to the shows parent company, Channel Four Television.
Structurally, the house largely remained in this style for the rest of the TV series' life. The only notable structural alterations occurred over the 2 years immediately following and included the removal of the front balcony, the partial removal of the balcony to the rear, and minor alterations to the styling of the doors and windows.
However, the character of the house was altered through several artistic makeovers to both the interior and exterior. The exterior was painted bright yellow, later a light brown similar in shade to the original brickwork, followed by a faux red brickwork effect which was painted onto the render. The latter style became the final look of the house, during the show's final 3 and a half years.
In November 2002, eight months after The Big Breakfast was axed, a fire destroyed a significant proportion of the first floor of the cottage the show was filmed in. A large part of the roof was also destroyed in the blaze. The fire was suspicious as there was no gas or electrical supply to the building.
Since the fire, extensive renovations have taken place to restore the house, and it is now used as a family home. The house was bought for little more than half the original asking price of £1 million at £550,000. The house was slashed in value due to the fire of November 2002.
The house has now been fully renovated, but they maintain a high perimeter fence around the house. Some of the well-recognised aspects of the house remain; the sun burst wall, the red brick paint effect and the white picket fence.
The cottages are located about 200 metres from the planned site of the main Olympic Stadium, to be constructed for the 2012 Olympic Games. In 2005, the cottages became part of the Compulsory Purchase Order for the Games (http://www.lda.gov.uk/server/show/ConMediaFile.1223 - item 239), giving rise to speculation that the building may be demolished. However, some outline plans have indicated the immediate location of the cottages and gardens as being unchanged.