The Peabody Awards

The Peabody Awards

Peabody Award-Winning BBC Programs

Wes Unruh - 7/22/2014
Peabody Award-Winning BBC Programs

BBC television broadcasting began in earnest on June 7th, 1946, and it was a few short years later that the BBC won its first Peabody Award.

Officially, the first award was for Coverage of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (1953). Beginning with this institutional award, the BBC has accumulated a good number of Peabodys, many going to dramatic programs such as miniseries broadcast on Masterpiece Theatre over the years, and others for outstanding international journalism.

The Peabody Board viewed the broadcast of the Queen’s Coronation as a public service. They presented this award to highlight the impact the broadcasted ceremony had had , reaching 100 Million viewers around the world.

Since then, BBC has become a world leader in international journalism, entertainment, and educational programming, and has won Peabody Awards in each of these areas. Below are select highlights from their award-winning educational, journalistic, and entertainment programming. This list is not comprehensive, but rather it is intended to highlight some of the most memorable programs which have received awards over the years.


In 2011 BBC won an award for their website, as a journalistic resource for ‘evolving coverage of news events great and small…’ - one of a number of Peabody Awards given to websites over the years, this is only one of the journalistic ‘wins’ for the BBC at the Peabodys.

Coverage of international affairs, including 2013’s Inside Syria’s War, 2011’s Somalia: Land of Anarchy, and 2004’s The Darfur Crisis, has sparked worldwide debate. With news crews putting themselves in harm’s way to bring back stories of destroyed infrastructure, lives lost, famine, disease, refugee camps, troops in battle, and civilians struggling to survive, BBC has brought footage to international audiences that has compelled world leaders to intervene. Peter Greste‘s reporting in 2011 about Somalia was so educational the British Foreign Service “made the piece mandatory viewing for its Somalia division” according to the official award citation.

Educational Programming

Other programs at the BBC bridge the gap between journalistic and educational. Sweeping historical looks at topics like Civilisation which won a Peabody for broadcast in 1970, 1996’s People’s Century, broadcasting “first-hand, eyewitness testimonies of the people who lived through the wars, social movements, and cultural developments” of the Twentieth Century, or The Nazis: A Warning from History, broadcast in 1997, neatly packaged education in an entertaining and expansive format that “puts the origins of Nazism into context.” The BBC and The Learning Channel won an award for 1998’s The Human Body, one of several co-produced documentaries which won an award.

BBC also won for 2005’s Why We Fight—a truly international documentary directed by Eugene Jarecki, aired on CBC TV (Canada) with production credits that include ARTE GEIE TV (France/Germany), TV2 TV (Denmark), YLE TV2 TV (Finland), WDR TV (Germany), VRT TV (Belgium), SVT TV (Sweden), VPRO TV (Netherlands), NRK TV (Norway), ETV TV (Estonia), European Union Media Plus Program, TVE (Spain), and Charlotte Street Films LTD. But perhaps it was the 2012 winner, also developed by the BBC along with other international partners, Why Poverty? which best blended reporting and education, with modern issues addressed alongside historical looks at how poverty has defined human existence for centuries.


The BBC has been producing award-winning serialized entertainment for a very long time, with Peabody Awards beginning in 1980 for All Creatures Great and Small and 1982’s Smiley’s People. In 2002 the BBC program Perfect Strangers/Almost Strangers (broadcast as Perfect Strangers in the UK and Almost Strangers to differentiate it from the Bronson Pinchot sitcom vehicle Perfect Strangers when it aired in the US) received a Peabody for “one of the most riveting examples of storytelling—and one of the most intriguing explorations of family relations—to appear on television.” House of Cards, which won a 2013 Peabody for Netflix, was first a winner for the BBC in the nineties when Masterpiece Theatre won a Peabody for House of Cards, To Play the King, and The Final Cut—the three original installments of the trilogy. Masterpiece Theatre continued to bring in Peabody Awards, for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, King Lear, David Copperfield, and Sherlock - A Study in Pink, to name a few.

House of Cards

Nor was House of Cards the first BBC program to win a Peabody for both original and American counterpart. Cited for its “(p)etty arguments, contrived jokes between co-workers, a delusional manager, and bizarre attempts at political correctness,” the cynical, abrasive, and jarringly funny The Office was another example of a Peabody Award-winning British show (winning in 2003) which spawned the beloved Americanized clone, also titled The Office, which three years later won NBC a Peabody in 2006. But perhaps no other character is as uniquely British nor as relentlessly innovative as Doctor Who. In 2012, an Institutional Award was presented by the Peabody Judges for “fearlessly exploring space, time, and the television world for half a century” recognizing the cultural impact fifty years of Dr. Who has had on the world. Watch Matt Smith and Steven Moffat discuss this award in the video embedded below: