In 1989 the British Journal of Radiology published a review proposing the term biologically effective dose (BED), based on linear quadratic cell survival in radiobiology. It aimed to indicate quantitatively the biological effect of any radiotherapy treatment, taking account of changes in dose-per-fraction or dose rate, total dose and (the new factor) overall time. How has it done so far? Acceptable clinical results have been generally reported using BED, and it is in increasing use, although sometimes mistaken for "biologically equivalent dose", from which it differs by large factors, as explained here. The continuously bending nature of the linear quadratic curve has been questioned but BED has worked well for comparing treatments in many modalities, including some with large fractions. Two important improvements occurred in the BED formula. First, in 1999, high linear energy transfer (LET) radiation was included; second, in 2003, when time parameters for acute mucosal tolerance were proposed, optimum overall times could then be "triangulated" to optimise tumour BED and cell kill. This occurs only when both early and late BEDs meet their full constraints simultaneously. New methods of dose delivery (intensity modulated radiation therapy, stereotactic body radiation therapy, protons, tomotherapy, rapid arc and cyberknife) use a few large fractions and obviously oppose well-known fractionation schedules. Careful biological modelling is required to balance the differing trends of fraction size and local dose gradient, as explained in the discussion "How Fractionation Really Works". BED is now used for dose escalation studies, radiochemotherapy, brachytherapy, high-LET particle beams, radionuclide-targeted therapy, and for quantifying any treatments using ionising radiation.