The BFI & Radio Times TV festival is back for 2020 and here are some of the highlights

It’s been every two years since 2015 until now, but this year, it seems to have gone annual since the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival is taking place on the Southbank in London between 17 and 19 April. And here are the highlights, according to the press release:

This year’s Festival will see Russell T Davies, Mary Berry and Gillian Anderson inducted into the Radio Times Hall of Fame, alongside events with comedy legend Ricky Gervais, breakout star of Derry Girls Nicola Coughlan, Sir Lenny Henry in conversation with Alan Yentob, star magician Dynamo, comedian Mo Gilligan, and the team behind The Mash Report including Nish Kumar.

There’s also events celebrating some of the UK’s most popular programmes, including: Last Tango in Halifax, Strictly Come Dancing, Hollyoaks (marking its 25th anniversary), Giri/Haji, Dracula, Grantchester, Killing Eve, Who Do You Think You Are? and World on Fire.

Exclusive previews of some of 2020’s most anticipated new dramas, including: series two of the critically acclaimed comedy-drama After Life created and starring Ricky Gervais who will attend the Festival; the team behind The Inbetweeners turn their hilarious gaze on the world of football in The First Team about the misadventures of three young football players; BBC Two’s adaption of Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Luminaries with stars Eve Hewson and Himesh Patel; new Sky Atlantic crime drama Gangs of London, from writer Gareth Evans (The Raid) and starring Peaky Blinders’ Joe Cole; a sneak peek at the finale of Julian Fellowes’ prestigious new ITV drama Belgravia; and the new adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s hugely popular Alex Rider series.

The Festival also offers first looks at the much anticipate series three of Killing Eve; the international crime drama The Serpent starring Jenna Coleman; BBC One’s forthcoming adaption of David Nicholls’ bestselling novel Us, starring Tom Hollander, who will appear on stage alongside Nicholls.

The Festival will also reunite Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie for The Goodies at 50! with material from the BFI National Archiveas well as a session featuring a bespoke compilation of dazzling footage of the one and only Prince, also drawn from the BFI National Archive. The Festival will remember the legacy of Dave Allen, the doyen of 70s comedy, with a compilation event featuring clips from all the varied parts of his small-screen career.

Full programme details

Sex Education

Radio Times Hall of Fame events, featuring Gillian Anderson, Mary Berry and Russell T Davies

After launching her TV career in 1993 as UFO sceptic Dana Scully in global sensation The X-Files, Gillian Anderson has redefined the role of the coolly intelligent hero across three decades of television drama. She played the haughty Lady Dedlock in Bleak House, portrayed an icy Miss Havisham in Great Expectations and played cat and mouse with Jamie Dornan in BBC1’s serial killer thriller The Fall, before coming to the attention of a new generation as therapist Jean Milburn in cult Netflix hit Sex Education. Ahead of her eagerly awaited turn as Margaret Thatcher in the next series of The Crown, Anderson reveals the secrets of her success on screen in a gala finale to the Festival.

Since the early 1970s, Mary Berry has been championing cooking on TV, and 50 years on she remains the Queen of the kitchen. As a judge on The Great British Bake Off she put home-baking back on the menu and won a whole new generation of fans. Following recent hits such as Mary Berry’s Quick Cooking and Best Home Cook, we salute the nation’s favourite star baker, and consider the key ingredients of her enduring appeal.

Writer Russell T Davies’ career has been diverse, ambitious and heartfelt. He broke taboos in Queer as Folk, rejuvenated Doctor Who for a new generation, gave a darkly humorous spin to a political crisis in A Very English Scandal, and presented a frighteningly plausible dystopian vision with Years and Years. The master storyteller joins Radio Times TV editor Alison Graham to celebrate his life in television to date, and discuss his next project, The Boys – a 1980s-set drama for Channel 4.

Kim Bodnia and Jodie Comer in Killing Eve

Celebrations of the best-loved programmes on TV

A preview of the first two episodes of series two of the critically acclaimed, thoughtful and poignant comedy-drama After Life; creator, director and star Ricky Gervais will take part in a Q&A following the preview screening.

Last Tango in Halifax creator Sally Wainwright, executive producer Faith Penhale and star Anne Reid will reveal all about the making of the BAFTA-winning hit that’s been hailed by viewers and critics alike as the warmest and most life-affirming drama on television.

Strictly Come Dancing judges Craig Revel Horwood and Motsi Mabuse, executive producer Sarah James and BBC Commissioning Editor, Entertainment Jo Wallace bring the glitz of the ballroom to BFI Southbank as the Festival celebrates the enduring appeal of the nation’s favourite entertainment show. 

As Hollyoaks celebrates its 25th anniversary, the Festival looks back at the cutting edge soap opera which has made it its mission to start conversations on big issues, with a panel including executive producer Bryan Kirkwood and cast members Gary Lucy (Luke Morgan), Talia Grant (Brooke Hathaway) and Rishi Nair (Sami Maalik). This event is presented in partnership with Pilot Light TV Festival, who will present a Hollyoaks session at HOME, Manchester as part of their Festival in May.

A discussion and Q&A of one of the most acclaimed series of 2019, Giri/Haji, which turned the police procedural genre on its head, with writer Joe Barton, director Julian Farino and cast members. 

Bram Stoker’s Transylvanian Count recently got his bite back in a full-blooded adaptation by Sherlock writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. The creators of BBC1’s three-part Dracula are joined on stage by executive producer Sue Vertue to reveal how they transformed the gothic tale in order to thrill a new generation – and whether the anti-hero really can be resurrected.

Villanelle may have left a trail of bodies in her wake on Killing Eve, but she certainly assassinates her victims in style and has become a fashion icon. The Festival is joined by executive producer Sally Woodward Gentle, director Damon Thomas, lead writer Suzanne Heathcote and music supervisor Catherine Grieves to talk about the soundtrack and costumes of TV’s sleekest, chicest drama – as well as offer a sneak peek of clips from series three.

Recently named the Funniest Man in Britain, join comedian Mo Gilligan as he picks the best moments of his Channel 4 programme, The Lateish Show with Mo Gilligan – a high-octane-packed series of free-wheeling comedy, sketches, music, celebrity guests, including the likes of Tyson Fury, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Anderson Paak.

The team behind the award-winning satirical show The Mash Report, including Nish Kumar, Michael Spicer, Rachel Parris and Desiree Burch, will ask whether the world is now beyond satire; looking back at some of the most bizarre and incredible moments from the series, as well as forward to what can possibly happen to surprise and annoy us in 2020.

As Who Do You Think You Are? prepares to enter its 17th series, newsreader Sophie Raworth and the show’s producers discuss the research process and emotional impact of taking part.

The intertwining stories of ordinary people caught up in WW2 were told to great acclaim in the epic World on Fire; star Julia Brown, writer Peter Bowker and designer Paul Spriggs will take part in a panel to discuss the creation of this powerful hit drama series and offer behind-the-scenes insights into the challenges of re-creating war-torn Europe.

Darkness lurks amid the bucolic beauty of the Cambridgeshire countryside in period detective drama Grantchester; stars Robson Green and Kacey Ainsworth, plus writer Daisy Coulam and executive producer Emma Kingsman-Lloyd, discuss their parish’s ever-increasing murder rate and the reasons why the show’s cop-and-vicar crime-solving partnership remains so appealing.

Derry Girls

Television stars in conversation

The Festival’s Talent Spotlight event will this year celebrate the meteoric rise of Nicola Coughlan, star of Derry Girls, who will next appear alongside Julie Andrews in period drama Bridgerton, the latest series from powerhouse producer Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal).

Following his Imagine film for the BBC, Lenny Henry: Young, Gifted And Black, Alan Yentob interviews Sir Lenny Henry to discuss his rise to fame, from working-class kid from Dudley to one of Britain’s most celebrated performers. Having reinvented himself as a serious actor and a political activist campaigning for greater diversity in the broadcasting industry, Sir Lenny will discuss what really matters to him, followed by an audience Q&A.

Award-winning magician Dynamo discusses his return to our screens after time away due to severe illness, and his new show for Sky, Beyond Belief, which promises to change perceptions of magic on TV.

David Tennant and Michael Sheen in Good Omens

First looks and previews of hotly anticipated new shows

Humour and heartbreak play out in BBC One’s upcoming four-part drama Us, adapted by David Nicholls from his bestselling novel; with preview clips from the drama, David Nicholls, star Tom Hollander and executive producer Greg Brenman talk about bringing the book to life.

Jenna Coleman reunites with Victoria makers Mammoth Screen for BBC One’s upcoming international crime drama The Serpent, inspired by real events. Watch exclusive first-look clips and hear Coleman and co-stars Billy Howle and Ellie Bamber, as well as writer Richard Warlow and director Tom Shankland, shed light on the story of the elusive Charles Sobhraj – the killer who was sought on three continents in the mid-1970s for the unsolved murders of young Western travellers across the ‘hippie trail’ of South East Asia.

A preview of the epic opening episode of BBC Two’s The Luminaries, an intricately woven, suspenseful tale of love, murder, magic and revenge set on the wild coasts of 1860s New Zealand at the height of the gold rush, followed by a panel discussion with stars Eve Hewson and Himesh Patel, who play the star-crossed lovers at the heart of the story, talking about bringing Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel to the screen.

An assassination at the heart of the capital’s most powerful crime family sparks an underworld power struggle in Gangs of London, a visceral new nine-part drama from Gareth Evans (The Raid, Apostle)starring Peaky Blinders Joe Cole. We preview the first exhilarating episode of Sky Atlantic’s latest high-profile series, which takes the audience on a journey into a city being torn apart by turbulent power struggles, with Evans and Cole on stage for a Q&A afterwards. 

We’ll preview exclusive clips from Alex Rider, based on the popular book series by Anthony Horowitz and hear from Anthony and star Otto Farrant about the exciting new series. 

Secrets and scandals in lavish, upper-class 19th-century London society await as we screen the latest episode of Julian Fellowes’ prestigious new ITV drama Belgravia and hear from stars including Philip Glenister, plus members of the creative team.

The team behind The Inbetweeners turn their hilarious gaze on the world of football in The First Team about the misadventures of three young football players. Following a preview screening there will be a Q&A with co-writer and director Iain Morris and cast members Shaquille Ali-Yebuah and Jack McMullen.

Musicologist and composer Neil Brand (The Sound of Cinema, The Sound of Movie Musicals) returns to the small screen with The Sound of TV, in which he casts his expert eye on the soundtracks and themes of the small screen. As well as showcasing clips from the upcoming series, Neil will be chatting on stage to David Arnold, composer of scores including Dracula, Good Omens and The Tiger Who Came to Tea.

The Year of the Sex Olympics

Featuring rare material from the BFI National Archive

The Festival will celebrate The Goodies at 50! with very special guests Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, who came together 50 years ago to unleash sublime, often surreal, mayhem in The Goodies; the event will offer a rare chance to hear the group reminisce, and will feature material from the BFI National Archive.

Following last year’s David Bowie extravaganza, the Festival presents another bespoke compilation of highlights from the BFI National Archive – this time looking at the one and only Prince; featuring rare dazzling footage of the star performing live as well as music videos and interviews.

Irish comedian Dave Allen was the doyen of 70s comedy, taking a gentle aim at religion from his perch on a high stool; the Festival will remember his legacy in this compilation event featuring clips from all the varied parts of his small-screen career.

The Year of the Sex Olympics (BBC, 1968) is a genuinely groundbreaking drama set in a near future where a ruling elite controls the masses with banal reality TV shows and pornographic contests. Starring Leonard Rossiter, Suzanne Neve and Brian Cox, The Year of the Sex Olympics was long thought lost, but luckily a print surfaced in the 1980s – the Festival will offer audiences a rare chance to see this seminal sci-fi drama on the big screen, preceded by an extended introduction with guests to be announced.  

Also in the Festival will be a special session on the Channel 4 New Comedy Shorts Initiative, a platform for finding distinctive and diverse new talent, with a panel of comedy writer/performers Donna Preston and Verona Rose and producer/writers Guy Davidson and Daniel Clarke.

Plus the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival TV Quiz returns for another bumper batch of rapid-fire rounds designed to find out who can tell their Poldark from their Picard, and their Mrs Brown from their Mrs Maisel.

Tickets on sale

BFI Champions and Patrons: Mon 2 Mar 11:30
BFI Members: Tue 3 Mar 11:30
Radio Times readers: Wed 4 March 11:30
Public: Tue 10 Mar 11:30

Talent appearances subject to change. Please check the BFI website for updates to the programme and sign up for email alerts about the festival:


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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