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  1. ITV Report

Changing Britain: 20 Years of 'Tonight'

Sir Trevor McDonald returns alongside Julie Etchingham and other reporters for Tonight's 20th anniversary. Photo: ITV / Tonight

For two decades now Tonight has been at the heart of current affairs on ITV, and on British television. The series has charted the changing ways in which we live our lives, from in depth interviews to witnessing ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Changing Britain: 20 Years of Tonight delves into the archives and features new interviews with Sir Trevor McDonald, Julie Etchingham, Fiona Foster and Jonathan Maitland as they look back at some memorable moments.

The first episode of Tonight With Trevor McDonald in 1999 saw Martin Bashir conducting exclusive interviews with the suspects in the Stephen Lawrence murder case. Eighteen year old Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death in 1993 in what was believed to be a racially motivated attack. The five prime suspects maintained almost total silence in the six years that followed, refusing to answer any questions at Stephen’s inquest. Tonight submitted the five suspects to the interrogation they’d never had, and tried to shed more light on what really happened on the night Stephen was killed.

Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death in Eltham in 1993 in an unprovoked attack.

In 2012 David Norris and Gary Dobson were convicted of Stephen’s murder and jailed for life. The case lead to one of the largest public inquiries ever held in Britain. Its findings lead to grave questions about racism in the ranks of the police and in society as a whole. Stephen’s family have spent 26 years ensuring their son will not be forgotten. On 22nd April the first national Stephen Lawrence Day will take place, marking a death that changed Britain.

In 2002 reporter Martin Bashir was given unprecedented access to Michael Jackson’s private life. The Tonight documentary Living With Michael Jackson captured Jackson’s unconventional life, from his theme park at Neverland Ranch, to extravagant multi million pound shopping trips in Las Vegas. Away from the public and the paparazzi, Bashir interviewed Jackson about his admissions that children slept in his bed.

Credit: ITV / Tonight

“What [Michael Jackson] so casually revealed, without realising how deeply disturbing his revelations were, was quite exceptional”.

– Sir Trevor McDonald

In 2003, Tonight revealed the dramatic story of the episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire that had the nation gripped. The programme investigated the appearance of Major Charles Ingram on the popular quiz show, and the court case that led to his conviction for trying to defraud the show.

Charles Ingram was accused of cheating his way to the jackpot on the television gameshow by conspiring with his wife and another contestant, who would apparently cough when the correct answer was mentioned. Credit: Sony Pictures Television

It was the first time outside of court that footage from the programme had been aired, and the first time that the audio tracks of the coughing had been separated as they were in court, to be heard clearly by the general public.

In the past two decades Tonight has put our leaders on the spot at some of the most critical points in recent history. In 2002, six months after the 9/11 terror attack, Sir Trevor McDonald visited the White House to exclusively interview George Bush. Almost a year later, Tonight arranged for Tony Blair to defend his position on war with Iraq to an audience of women who disagreed with him. Many spoke from personal experience, including Patricia Bingley who lost a child in the World Trade Centre, and Hannabeth Luke whose boyfriend was killed in the Bali bomb in Indonesia.

Sir Trevor McDonald exclusively interviews George W. Bush at the White House in April 2002. Credit: ITV / Tonight

Tonight has profiled candidates in the 2005, 2015 and 2017 general elections, in interviews which explore the political beliefs and personal stories of the people putting themselves forward to be the leaders of our country. In 2017 Julie Etchingham asked Theresa May “what is the naughtiest thing you ever did?.” In May’s memorable response she admitted that she and a friend used to run through fields of wheat.

Theresa May admits to Julie Etchingham the naughtiest thing she ever did. Credit: ITV / Tonight

In 2017, as the anti sexual harassment campaign MeToo swept the globe, Tonight looked at the everyday reality in an undercover investigation. Naomi Hefter agreed to be filmed by hidden cameras during a four-hour walk across central London. As she walked the capital’s streets, men walking by could be heard shouting “hello sexy” at her. At one point, a photographer shamelessly attempted to take photos of her legs as she stood at the side of a busy road. When she challenged the man and told him to stop, he insisted he was well within his rights to take pictures of her.

In 2017, Tonight went undercover to investigate the reality of sexual harassment. Credit: ITV / Tonight

At the heart of many programmes have been ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. In 2003 Fiona Foster was with Reg Crew, who suffered from motor neurone disease, as he travelled to Switzerland with his loved ones to end his life with an assisted suicide. It was the first time anywhere in the world, this had been shown on TV and it sparked huge controversy.

Tonight followed Reg Crew’s journey to Switzerland to end his life with an assisted suicide. Credit: ITV / Tonight

In tonight’s programme Fiona Foster reflects on Reg’s journey:

“I think of all the stories I’ve done, it’s Reg Crew going to Switzerland to take his own life, that has stuck with me, more than any. He was determined that we filmed it, he was determined to show it, he was determined that it was to add to the debate… Such compelling viewing”.

– Fiona Foster

'Changing Britain: 20 Years of Tonight' is on ITV at 7:30pm.