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Thursday, July 18, 2024

On the Box

I remember our first telly with a rosy warm nostalgic glow. Warm because the thing glowed so hot after half an hour, we could have toasted our tea cakes on it. It was a majestic big brown box with a shuttered wood door standing in the corner of the sitting room. The box might have been large but the picture was small, fuzzy, grey and intermittent – mostly when my father moved the indoor aerial two inches to the right to avoid snagging his pipe. My sister and I used to stare at this box in eager anticipation and, if we had been particularly good, my mother might actually turn it on! Yes, it was tea and Bovril sandwiches with either ‘Andy Pandy’ or ‘The Woodentops’.
Some of you may know (older ones might even remember) that these were the olden golden days of black and white telly when we were entertained by Michael Miles with ‘Take Your Pick’. Sunday nights were incomplete without the ‘London Paladium’ and the world stopped (or at least it did in our house) when BBC presenters introduced the evening’s nine o’clock news in their dinner jackets. It was only later that we all grew up and Bill and Ben got done for possession of Weed and ‘Muffin the Mule’ got you ten years in solitary…
A major difference between now and then was having to be ‘in’ at a particular time of the day so you could watch your favourite bit of telly. I’ve already mentioned the 9 o’clock news when my father would clear his throat, turn down the lights and mentally prepare himself for half an hour of serious telly delivered in a semi-religious monotone, but the important thing was we had to be home and dinner finished and cleared away in order to watch it. It was a form of time control, of ritual restraint, of old-fashioned order… A genuine Saturday could never fully exist without ‘Doctor Who’ (5.15pm) or ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ (6.30pm). When ‘The Forsyte Saga’ (every Sunday at 7.25pm) was in full bloom, pubs closed early, streets were deserted and the church had to change the time of Evensong when Eric Porter clashed with Nyree Dawn Porter.
But this was all before TV became a waterfall of streamed services. Nowadays, you don’t need to be home at exactly one minute to nine to watch the news, because you can watch it at 9.04, 9.09 or catch it up at 9.28. It’ll be mostly the same but it might be a little later, that’s all. And you really don’t have to cancel dinner and put off your holiday plans for ‘Game Of Thrones’. You can catch up all of the episodes and binge-watch the whole lot by yourself on a succession of 36 days and nights with only a chest freezer full of frozen pizzas and several gallons of home-made cider for company. You will then emerge heavily constipated with a severe indigestive hangover, but at least you’ll have had the pleasure of being fully entertained! Not only entertained, but swamped, waterlogged and sodden with dragon vomit…
Surely the ITV’s and BBC’s days are out-numbered as we are all willingly submerged in a torrent of digital goo. I think there are now possibly more channels than there are viewers to watch them on some evenings. In addition to Amazon Prime, Sky, BT TV, Virgin Media and Netflix, we’ve got another hundred and seventy-five channels including History, Yesterday, Now and Today. I expect it won’t be too long until we can watch the Future Channel which will preview exactly what to see in Spring 2020. Oh, there already is one? There you go… that’s progress for you. I shall now make plans to avoid certain days in next year’s viewing diary.
Our lives are measured not only by when to watch essential stuff (‘Strictly’ or ‘Killing Eve’) but also by when to avoid some of the other stuff. Here I’m talking particularly about the tackily sleazy ‘Love Island’ which is broadcast nearly every evening so is quite difficult to avoid unless you take up pot holing (no TV underground) or take up evening classes in something artistic like Russian literature or 18th century furniture restoration. And whatever you do, don’t go on holiday to Majorca to escape it because that’s where the wretched series is filmed. Obviously, there are a lot of people in this country who like a bit of jovial gossip plus some occasional leering and inuendo – a bit like the Archers only with less clothes. However, I will admit it’s much more entertaining than watching endless reruns of leadership elections or what-ifs over Brexit negotiations. Perhaps it would be more acceptable if they all wore evening dresses and dinner jackets just like my childhood BBC TV newsreaders. Must keep the standards up…

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