Created by John Birt, not long after he had joined LWT, the series was broadcast on the ITV network at midday on Sundays. Produced by Nick Elliott and David Elstein, it was originally modelled on CBS's "60 Minutes" featuring several stories each week but gradually developed into a Sunday morning talk show that featured a forensic interview with a major political figure.
The original main presenter was Peter Jay from 1972, at the time an Economics Editor for The Times. The original reporter/presenter staff included Mary Holland, Anne Lapping, and Julian Mounter, with researchers Yvonne Roberts, Monica Foot, Christopher Hitchens, Paul Flattery, Mike Englehard, Jane Hewland and Julian Norris. The team were later joined by Peter Martin and David Cox.
Birt (now Lord Birt), later Director-General of the BBC, had the creative idea of combining Directors who had no real current affairs background, but were known for their creative and innovative film/video skills, with strong reporters and presenters recruited from national newspapers. Birt had a good nose for news and Weekend World was one of the first UK programmes to recognise the importance of the Watergate break-in, which ultimately led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon.
Birt, in those days, was seen to wear almost shoulder-length hair and long floor length coats. His transformation to the slick executive ladder climber that he became, famous for his tight haircuts and Harry Potter glasses was matched by his ability to change programme styles. Within a few seasons, the globe trotting team were reined in, the film element was greatly reduced and cheaper programmes took on a more cerebral look.
Peter Jay was followed as the series anchor by former Labour MP Brian Walden between 1977 and 1986, after Jay became Ambassador to the United States. Conservative MP Matthew Parris took over in 1986, resigning his seat, and presented the programme until the series ended in 1988. Walden in particular gained a reputation for "grilling" his interviewees over an extended interview. Parris, on the other hand, was largely criticised for his lighter and more laid-back style.
- That was reality TV, that was, an article by Gerard Baker in the Financial Times, 7 October 2002