BBC2 airs a five-hour Whistle Test special to welcome in 1988. The special, aired from 9.35pm on New Year's Eve to 2.55am on New Year's Day, takes a look back through the archives in what is the programme's final outing. It will be three decades later in 2018 before a new edition of the programme is broadcast.
4 January – BBC1 moves the repeat episode of Neighbours to a 5:35pm evening slot, the decision to do this having been made by controller Michael Grade on the advice of his daughter.
6 January – All ITV regions network Emmerdale Farm in the Wednesday and Thursday 6.30pm slot.
11 January – The first episode of the game show Fifteen to One airs on Channel 4. The show's first winner is Gareth McMullan, a teacher from Northern Ireland.
An early morning 60-minute news programme – ITN Early Morning News – is launched but is only available in areas which have 24-hour broadcasting. The first 30 minutes of the programme included a full broadcast of ITN's international news bulletin ITN World News. In addition, brief news summaries are broadcast at various points through the night. The launch coincides with three of the major ITV companies – Scottish, Central and Granada – beginning 24-hour transmission.
22 March – Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher tells the House of Commons that journalists have a "bounden duty" to assist the police investigation into the corporals killings by handing over their footage. Many have refused to do so fearing it could place them in danger.
23 May – Three gay rights activists invade the BBC studios during a Six O'Clock bulletin of the BBC News to protest about the introduction of Section 28, a law preventing schools from teaching their students about homosexuality. Protesters can be heard chanting as Sue Lawley continues to read the news, prompting the presenter to comment "we have been rather invaded by some people who we hope to be removing very shortly".
29–30 May – ITV stages the first Telethon, a 27-hour nationwide fundraising effort involving participation and input from all of the regional broadcasters around the country. Its aim is to raise money for disability charities across the United Kingdom.
1 July – Australian series The Flying Doctors makes its British television debut on BBC 1. Initially aired on Fridays at 8.10pm, from 20 August, it is moved to a Saturday early evening slot.
17 July – After 1,576 episodes, Farming is broadcast on BBC1 for the final time. It is replaced the following week by Countryfile whose brief was to look at issues reflecting all aspects of the countryside rather than just focussing on farming.
19 July – The Bill broadcasts the first episode of its fourth season and switches to a year-round serial format.
26 July – Anna Wing makes her final appearance as EastEnders matriarch Lou Beale, dispensing words of wisdom and advice to her family before retiring to her bedroom to slip away. Her final words in the soap are: "That's you lot sorted. I can go now." The character has died by the following episode, and at her funeral, her on-screen son Pete (played by Peter Dean) proposes a toast to that "bloody old bag". Wing herself died, aged 98, in 2013.
3 August – Brookside is moved from Tuesdays to Wednesdays which means the soap can now be seen on Mondays and Wednesdays.
10 August – Debut of Crimewatch File, a BBC1 documentary series in which detectives tell the inside stories of some of the UK's major criminal investigations during which police appealed to viewers of the BBC's Crimewatch for help.
1 September – To celebrate BBC Radio 1's FM "switch on day", BBC1's Top of the Pops is simulcast with Radio 1 for the first time, allowing listeners to hear the programme in stereo. This edition is presented by Steve Wright and Mark Goodier.Top of the Pops is then simulcast weekly with Radio 1 until August 1991.
7 September – Repeat showing of Paul Hamann's death row documentary Fourteen Days in May, telling the story of the final days of Edward Earl Johnson as he awaits execution on Mississippi's death row. The film is followed on 14 September by The Journey, in which lawyer Clive Stafford Smith returns to Mississippi in an attempt to posthumously clear Johnson of the crimes to which he always professed his innocence.
8 September – Channel 4 drops plans to invite Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams to appear on an edition of its late night discussion programme After Dark following objections from other contributors.
9 September – Casualty returns to BBC1 for a third series, moving from its previous Saturday evening slot to Friday evenings.
13 September – A brand new children's cartoon series PC Pinkerton gets its debut on BBC1. The series was produced by Trevor Bond who has also worked on the original Mr. Men series and Bananaman with veteran animation producer Terry Ward and featured the voice of Ian Lavender best known for the playing the role of Private Pike in the hit sitcom Dad's Army.
5 October – ITV begins airing the Australian soap Richmond Hill in a 2.00pm slot on Wednesdays and Thursdays, the first time the channel has networked an Australian soap. However, some regions (including Central and Granada) opt out of networking the series when it is cancelled by Australia's Channel Ten in 1989.
19 October – Home SecretaryDouglas Hurd issues a notice under clause 13(4) of the BBC Licence and Agreement to the BBC and under section 29(3) of the Broadcasting Act 1981 to the Independent Broadcasting Authority prohibiting the broadcast of direct statements by representatives or supporters of 11 Irish political and military organisations.The ban lasts until 1994, and denies the UK news media the right to broadcast the voices, though not the words, of all Irish republican and Loyalist paramilitaries. The restrictions – targeted primarily at Sinn Féin – means that actors are used to speak the words of any representative interviewed for radio and television.
In the House of Commons, an amendment introduced by the oppositionLabour Party condemning the government's decision over the broadcasting ban as "incompatible with a free society" is rejected, despite some Conservative MPs voting with Labour.
24 November – Frank Ruse, a left-wing Labour councillor for Liverpool City Council accompanies Liverpool's Pagoda Chinese Youth Orchestra to London for an appearance on Blue Peter. He is given a Blue Peter badge, but later receives a BBC headed letter requesting its return. The letter (later discovered to be a forgery) claims the programme had been approached by the office of Labour leader Neil Kinnock expressing concern that a councillor with hard-left views had been given a Blue Peter badge. Upon receiving the returned badge, the BBC writes back to Ruse stating that it had not sent the letter. The incident prompts Ruse to start an enquiry to find out who sent the hoax letter.
11 December – Launch date of the Astra Satellite. The satellite will provide television coverage to Western Europe and is revolutionary as one of the first medium-powered satellites, allowing reception with smaller dishes than has previously been possible.
The final edition of It's a Knockout to air on BBC1 is another celebrity special, It's a Charity Knockout From Walt Disney World, featuring teams of celebrities from the United Kingdom, United States and Australia. The series returns to S4C in 1991.
"Ding Dong Merrily", the London's Burning Christmas special, and the only episode of the series to have a title, is broadcast by ITV as part of its Christmas Day line up.