This paper uses the case study of The Grove Family (BBC, 1954–57) to explore a relationship between critical and methodological approaches to television genre, and the construction of television history. The Grove Family has secured a certain visibility in British television history due to its status as ‘British television's first soap opera’. Drawing on archival research, this paper aims to revisit the generic categorisation of the programme with the aim of evaluating a discursive approach to television genre. As Jason Mittell has recently argued, this ‘maps out as many articulations of genre as possible and situates them within larger cultural contexts and relations of power’ (2004b, p. 174; my emphasis). In exploring the generic clusters and modes through which the programme negotiated its identity (principally documentary, comedy, melodrama and crime), the paper examines how these intersected with discourses of power: the programme's claim to the real. The BBC hoped that The Grove Family would represent ‘neighbours to the nation’, not so ‘much a window as a mirror, reflecting the lives of … viewers’, and it was in the bid to shape this ‘mirror’ that negotiations of genre were worked through. Given the scarcity of audio‐visual sources, the paper concludes that a discursive approach to genre may be particularly valuable to historical research on television. It also enables the often separate spheres of television history and television studies to engage in a productive dialogue about genre.