Saturday, April 23, 2011

TV: You’ve Never Had It So Much

I’m due to go on Five Live on Tuesday to compare and contrast the run-up to this royal wedding with the run-up to the royal wedding of thirty years ago. Coincidentally we’ve been clearing out the attic and we came upon this old copy of The Guardian from June 1981. Looking at the paper is educational but nothing is more telling about the differences between then and now than the TV listings for this Thursday evening.

For a start there were just three channels. Channel Four was still a year away from launch. Unless you count Emmerdale Farm, which was still in the bucolic innocence of its teatime years, there were no soaps at all. BBC still provided lots of sport, from the Test Match to Royal Ascot and the pre-Wimbledon tennis from Eastbourne. ITV had an original single-episode drama at nine o’clock. BBC-2 was showing a 50-year-old Ealing war film right across prime time. Between ten and midnight on BBC-1 it was serious news and current affairs all the way. All the channels closed down at midnight.

Whenever there’s talk of a crisis in BBC funding, Channel 4 mutters about changing the terms of its deal with the government or ITV reports poor ad revenues I’m amused by the wailing and gnashing of teeth that arises from people who have grown up amid the groaning plenty of post-80s media. To listen to the prevailing argument we are constantly in danger of losing the things that traditionally made British broadcasting The Envy of The World amid a tide of reality formats, celebrity profanity and other meretricious rubbish. The argument goes that we had heaven in our hands and we swapped it for a toffee apple.

This thinking fails to take into account:
1. TV is far less dull than it used to be;
2. Because there is infinitely more of just about every genre, none of it can ever have the impact that it had in the days of the old duopoly - although programmes like The X-Factor are as popular as anything in the history of TV.
3. The same people who like the cleverest stuff on TV also like the dumbest stuff.
4. Even taking inflation into account, there has to be infinitely more money spent on making television in 2011 than there was in 1981.
5. I don’t know whether it’s true to say that you’ve never had it so good. You’ve certainly never had it so much.


  1. What date was that? My wife was born in June 81. Im a few years older than her, 12 to be precise and she cant get her head around 3 channels, nothing after midnight and only schools stuff during the morning. The TOTP that night would have had Adam And The Ants at number 1 probably, it was at number 1 the day she was born.

  2. It's from June 18th 1981.

  3. Re 1) Dull? I could have turned the telly on mid-morning and with a bit of channel-hopping here and there, could have kept myself amused all the way through to What the Papers Say!

  4. Prince Charles on Tomorrow's World? You mean like this?

  5. Things were obviously a little more liberated than I remember them. I didn't think that 'Carry On...' films we deemed suitable for prime time until somewhere in the 90s, and I remember 'Hitch-Hikers...' being after 9pm.

    Like Yorkio, I could have watched practically all day long and probably did from about 4pm when I got home from school. (I used to miss the early part of Thursday television due to Scout meetings, but I'm pretty sure that I had been kicked out by then)

  6. We definitely need BBC4 to start repeating Tomorrow's World alongside totp.