Best Channel 5 documentaries: the must-see factual show on My5

Best Channel 5 documentaries - Motorhoming with Merton & Webster
'Motorhoming with Merton & Webster' is among the best Channel 5 documentaries. (Image credit: Channel 5)

If you like to sit back and relax with an engrossing real-life, factual documentary single or series, Channel 5 is an essential TV destination for you. And we've compiled an essential guide to the best Channel 5 documentaries you can enjoy right now on the online streaming platform My 5.

The range is broad, with programmes as diverse as The Hotel Inspector, The Yorkshire Vet and Diana: A Mother’s Love currently available among their documentary back catalogue.

We’ve compiled the best singles and documentaries series to watch, including all the information about number of seasons, episodes, synopsis, and the average episode length to help you make an informed choice about whether to watch it or not. We also have guides on the best BBC documentaries and the best BBC nature documentaries.

The best Channel 5 documentaries

'Motorhoming with Merton & Webster'

Have I Got News For You? comic Paul Merton and his wife, fellow comedian Suki Webster, travel round Britain’s best-loved scenic spots in a Fiat Ducato campervan and interlace their caravanning adventures with all the humour you’d expect from a couple who honed their skills on the comedy improvisation scene.

The six episodes see the quizzical, curious couple set off on their staycation in the vehicle they christen 'Captain Narrow Squeak' and first trek around Kent before heading to the Lake District, Somerset, Wales, and the Brecon Beacons, the Peak District, and Norfolk. It’s a rambling, slightly grumpy kind of travelogue, taking in the varied delights of holidays at home and if you excuse Merton’s numerous grumbles about the size of the bed etc, you’ll find this an amiable series. Plus, of course, the scenery is stunning.

Number of seasons: 1

Episodes: 6

Average episode length: 60 minutes

What the critics say: The Guardian – “Merton and Webster’s trip manages to glimpse something deeper: it is possibly the first TV show to ever fully capture the grey sigh of a British holiday that isn’t really going that well.”

'Nick Knowles’ Big House Clearout'

Nick Knowles Big House Clearout

(Image credit: Channel 5)

The DIY SOS frontman turns his attention to emptying houses rather than straight-out refurbs and like that show this delivers human emotion and drama on a grand scale. A sample storyline in this super popular Channel 5 series includes a bereaved mother in Suffolk who just can’t bear to part with memories, such as a wedding dress from her ill-fated marriage. Will she be able to let go of her past and start life anew?

The premise of Big House Clearout is simple — Nick makes a deal with the family of the week: if they ditch at least half of their hoarded possessions, he and his team will move in and make over the house so they can start afresh. If you think that would be an easy decision, prepare to be surprised. 

Seasons: 1

Episodes: 6

Episode length: 60 minutes

What the critics say: Saga magazine – “What ensues is a surprisingly touching hour of telly, handled with a commendable sensitivity and lack of judgement by Knowles. And, as ever, the reveal at the end is a delight.”

Diana: A Mother’s Love

Channel 5 is the true home of the royal insider show and there is a plethora of shows about the Windsors on My5. A Mother’s Love is very much a tribute to the late princess as it retells her attempts to provide as normal and solid a life as possible for her sons, William and Harry, while her own life and marriage was unravelling. 

Directed by BAFTA Scotalnd winner Jenny Dames, A Mother’s Love is a touching portrait of  the 'people’s princess' and has some solid insights into her attempt to revolutionise royal life and what was really going on behind closed doors at Buckingham Palace, Contributors include former royal butler Paul Burrell, bodyguard Ken Wharfe and private secretary Patrick Jephson.

Episodes: 1

Episode length: 45 minutes

What the critics say: The Mirror – “Diana was the first royal to be different, as she was a hands on and doting mother straight away, markedly different to anything the country had ever seen.”

The Yorkshire Vet

Best Channel 5 documentaries - The Yorkshire Vet

(Image credit: Channel 5)

One of Channel 5’s powerhouse series, The Yorkshire Vet premiered in 2015 and is now up to series number 13 and showing few signs of running out of traumatic tales from the frontline of farm land across north Yorkshire. In tandem with the Channel 5 reboot of All Creatures Great and Small, the channel has cornered the market in anguished yet uplifting animal-focused stories from up north.

The vets Peter Wright and Julian Norton dispense their animal magic and deadpan humour (“These two testicles feel like beef tomatoes!”) in the rural wilds of Thirsk and the show has become a much-loved and viewed fixture on Channel 5 and My5. It also helps that Wright was a trainee with All Creatures writer James Herriot and it’s narrated by one of the stars of the original series, Christopher Timothy.

Seasons: 13

Episodes: 132

Episode length: 60 minutes

What the critics say: the Malibu Times – “The narrator and the music are obnoxiously chirpy, at least for me... If you can get past this part of the production, the people and their animals, all kinds, from birds and chickens to pigs to cows, are a joy indeed.”

A&E After Dark

Hull Royal Infirmary A&E Department is the setting for this hit fly-on-the-wall series about the drama that goes on in emergency rooms after the sun slips below the horizon and features patients in handcuffs, bar stool casualties, teen tragedies with critical scooter injuries, overdoses and a woman who has suffered a head injury after slipping on a slice of pizza her husband had left on the floor for their dog to eat!

A&E After Dark was such a success first time around that it returned in 2021 for an extended 12-part series, in which the storylines include an elderly lady run over on her 73rd birthday, a teen with memory loss after a skatepark accident, a motorcyclist who collided with a deer and more conventional troublesome patients who have simply had one or 10 too many.


Season 1 – 6

Season 2 – 12 (currently screening)

Episode length: 60 minutes

What the critics say: The Daily Mail – “The documentary reveals that on top of the pressure of Covid-19, staff have to deal with drunken, unruly and sometimes violent patients, but say that their priority is to make sure they are healthy.” 

Body in the Snow: The Murder of Joanna Yeates

The murder mystery documentary genre became one of TV’s biggest growers in the afterglow of Netflix hit Making a Murderer and this story of the hunt for the killer of a 25-year-old landscape gardener in Bristol is an engrossing addition to the format.  

Joanna’s body was found in snow a few days before Christmas 2010 and initially her landlord Christopher Jefferies was arrested for her murder. He was subsequently released, but not before he was infamously tried by the British media (and in this series he revisits the tawdry experience). Who, then, strangled the young woman? Body in the Snow dives deep into the forensics of the murder, the police investigation and how her real killer was apprehended.

Seasons: 1

Episodes: 2

Episode length: 60 minutes

Rich House, Poor House

This show gives two families, from the ends of the financial divide, the opportunity to experience life on other side of the fence. That means each will have to cope for a week with the other family’s home, budget, and social environment.

If that sounds like a recipe for snobbery (both normal and reverse!) then in some ways it is, but it’s also an eye-opening window into the lives the families could be living, with a little more or less luck on their sides. The format’s done so well for Channel 5 that it has also earned a spin-off, Rich House, Poor House Changed My Life, also now available on My5.

Seasons (available): 2-7

Episodes: 37

Episode length: 60 minutes

What the critics say: The Guardian – “Far from revealing vast discrepancies between rich and poor – and the injustice that might engender – the programme ended on the idea that the differences were minimal, with benefits on both sides.”

Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild

Since 2013 our intrepid and enthusiastic host Ben has been ready and willing to give up his soft bed and modern comforts to experience life with people and communities around the world who are seeking an alternative way of life — these people have dropped out, they’re off the grid, they’ve quit the rat race.

“Imagine starting your life all over again, in one of the wildest places in the world,” he says in voiceover, then introduces the lifestyles, ranging from a Namibian bushman who quit a city career for the desert, a Brit living in the Arctic Circle, an artists’ retreat in the Sahara or a former athletics coach living as a hermit in Croatia. Will you be inspired?

Seasons (available, including Return to the Wild): 10

Episodes: 50

Episode length: 60 minutes

What the critics say: The Guardian – “When the show debuted, it immediately put itself in consideration for the distinction of being Channel 5’s Most Thoughtful Programme. The competition has not stiffened in the intervening years.”

GPs: Behind Closed Doors

If you’re itching to know what GPs have to face on a daily basis, look no further. GPs: Behind Closed Doors peeks behind the doors of a surgery in Lewisham, London (it has since filmed at different locations around the country, with Hall Green Health in Birmingham the setting for series seven) and to say it’s eye opening is quite the understatement. A man in series one is having toilet difficulty, not surprising when he’s been existing solely on a diet of crocodile, while in another case a doctor must deliver news to a patient about whether or not she’s pregnant with her longed-for baby.

At times it’s heartbreaking, at others comical and heartwarming, Behind Closed Doors delivers human stories from all corners of society because, let’s face it, everyone needs their GP at some time or another.

Seasons: 7

Episodes available: 37

Episode length: 60 minutes

What the critics say: Square Eyed TV – “GPs: Behind Closed Doors is a story of noble doctors doing their best to help patients cope with not only their medical conditions but their often chaotic lives.”

Inside Greggs: Britain’s Best Bakery

One of Channel 5’s apparently endless supply of Inside-branded slightly-tongue-in-cheek investigative documentaries, which also lifts the lid on The Savoy in London and The Sex Toy Factory. This time, the British bakery phenomenon gets the treatment and we learn fascinating facts like the firm’s iconic sausage roll is sold five times per second. But then the show really dishes the dirt, revealing the science in how the tasty treat is made. Surely that’s enough to put them out of business? No.

Inside Greggs: Britain’s Best Bakery is a rewarding hour of TV if you’re interested in how a British icon has secured its status and if you like this you can also enjoy the huge range of other Inside documentaries, including Farrow & Ball: Inside the Posh Paint Factory, Inside Aldi: Britain’s Biggest Budget Supermarket, Inside Holloway: Women Behind Bars and many more.  

Episodes: 1

Episode length: 60 minutes

What the critics say: The Telegraph – “…the programme did a great job of explaining the firm’s business model, from why the sausage rolls are always … to the reason most branches don’t sell bread … and a mastery of social media that has lent the brand an ironic cool beloved of students and Twitter users.”

We hope you enjoyed our guide to the best Channel 5 documentaries.

Patrick McLennan

Patrick McLennan is a London-based journalist and documentary maker who has worked as a writer, sub-editor, digital editor and TV producer in the UK and New Zealand. His CV includes spells as a news producer at the BBC and TVNZ, as well as web editor for Time Inc UK. He has produced TV news and entertainment features on personalities as diverse as Nick Cave, Tom Hardy, Clive James, Jodie Marsh and Kevin Bacon and he co-produced and directed The Ponds, which has screened in UK cinemas, BBC Four and is currently available on Netflix. 

An entertainment writer with a diverse taste in TV and film, he lists Seinfeld, The Sopranos, The Chase, The Thick of It and Detectorists among his favourite shows, but steers well clear of most sci-fi.