Chris Holmes reflects on time with Channel 4 and impact of Paralympic broadcasting

Lord Chris Holmes, Britain's most decorated Paralympic swimmer, reflects on his time as the Deputy Chairman of British broadcaster Channel 4. He was appointed deputy chair of the broadcaster in June 2018 10 Jun 2024
Paralympian Lord Chris Holmes
Chris Holmes, who became Deputy Chair of the British broadcaster in June 2018, will finish his term this week.
ⒸChris Holmes
By Lord Chris Holmes, Paralympic swimmer and Deputy Chair of Channel 4

When Channel 4 arrived in my home in post-industrial West Midlands, I had just turned 11, it blew my head off.  How amazing. A TV station that ranged from American Football to Cutting Edge, Dispatches, and the brilliant Brookside to name just four.

How fortunate, years later, to have the opportunity to move from avid viewer to board member.  As my term as Deputy Chair comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on my time with the Channel, the programmes, the people, the campaigns, the change that we have been able to achieve.

Even before that, when I was working at London 2012 on our Paralympic Games preparation, I knew we had such a unique opportunity, precious in all our hands. If we got it right, not to just shift the dial a bit, we had a chance to create a whole new ‘Paralympic paradigm’. Genuinely game-changing. Key to this was striking the right deal for our host broadcaster.  Why Channel 4?

Because they understood our vision, our sense of mission and demonstrated their clear desire to join us, as partners, on that journey. And, at Games time, some of the largest audiences in the history of the Channel.

Their vision and the “Meet the Superhumans” campaign for the London 2012 Paralympic Games was spectacular. The ad is studied in schools (on the GCSE and A level curriculum) and 79 per cent of people said they felt “more comfortable discussing disability” after seeing it. The Last Leg programme and their ‘Is it Ok?’ initiative, acknowledging the awkwardness and inviting curiosity and compassion, was similarly groundbreaking.

At Rio 2016 almost half the UK population tuned in to the C4 coverage. Tokyo 2020, such a tough Games in the midst of the Covid crisis.  And yet, C4, there at the fore, innovative, imaginative, who can forget Ade Adepitan taxi-ing round town to interviews and associated jollity. 

And it will be for Paris later this summer.  Just announced, Channel 4 Sport’s YouTube channel will broadcast every single televised moment of live sport from the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.  Not to mention all linear coverage on the main channel and threads through so much of the schedule itself.

A welcome reminder, ahead of Paris, of a headline from the Daily Mail following London 2012: "Channel 4's joie de vivre shines through its Paralympics coverage". Channel 4, beyond peer, the Paralympic broadcaster.

At least equal to all of that though, the impact C4 has had on the broader equality, diversity, and inclusion mission, behind as well as in front of camera.

And it is not just the programmes, the stuff in between, that which pays the bills, the ads, are also fertile ground for innovation and inclusion.  Take the audio described ads, the first TV channel to ever make such an inclusive move.  Or the Maltesers ads, pushing the boundaries, making the difference.

Ultimately, it’s about the remit, the touchstone of everything the Channel does and will continue to do.  The remit, which has evolved and been refined in legislation since 1982, combines a number of elements. It requires Channel 4 to be innovative, to inspire change, to nurture talent and to offer a platform for alternative views. All that positive public service broadcasting without requiring a penny of public money.

Channel 4- something for everyone; Channel 4- a remarkable remit, more important now than even 1982 when and where it all began.

So, to Paris, Milano Cortina, to Los Angeles, Brisbane and beyond.  To broadcast the Paralympics is to engage with what it is to be essentially human, to redefine the possible.


For more information, visit Lord Holmes' website and blog, as well as his Linkedin page