This paper reports the procedures put into place in the UK for the genetic evaluation of pedigree beef cattle and estimation of genetic trends using a comprehensive model to allow critical analysis of progress made under previous data recording schemes. Live weights of Simmental, Limousin, Charolais, South Devon and Aberdeen Angus beef cattle, recorded by the Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) from 1970 to 1992 were analysed, as part of a project to introduce best linear unbiased predictions (BLUP) of breeding value in the British beef industry. Birth weights were available from MLC or the relevant breed society, (4000 to 84000 records, depending on the breed) and 200- and 400-day weights were estimated by within-animal linear regression on all available weights (resulting in 8000 to 48000 records per breed). Animals were retrospectively assigned to contemporary groups within herds, separately for each trait, taking account of observed calving patterns. Records were adjusted to correct for heterogeneity of variance between herds. BLUP evaluations were then performed within breed, fitting a multivariate individual animal model. In addition to additive direct genetic effects, additive maternal genetic and dam permanent environmental effects were included for birth weight and 200-day weight. Unknown parents were assigned to genetic groups, based on estimated date of birth. The model included fixed effects for contemporary group, sex, month of birth, birth type (single or multiple), embryo transfer births, fostered calves, breed of dam, proportion purebred and age of dam. Genetic trends were estimated by regressing estimated breeding values for animals on their year of birth. Trends in birth weight, 200-day weight and 400-day weight between 1970 and 1992 were approximately 0·09, 0·73 and 1·38 kg per annum respectively for the Charolais breed; 0·08, 0·76 and 1·33 kg per annum for the Simmental; 0·06, 0·53 and 0·89 kg per annum for the Limousin; 0·12, 1·02 and 1·86 kg per annum for the Aberdeen Angus; and 0·03, 0·38 and 0·82 kg per annum for the South Devon breed.