How different things were when I was a kid.
There was no choice other than ITV and BBC. By the time I was on the scene the Beeb was for old traditionalists (my grandparents were big BBC-ers) and ITV was for young thrusting hip-young things (which enticed my parents into its viewing fold).
Hence I never watched Doctor Who as a child because it was on the BBC and we rarely watched the BBC. The BBC seemed glamorous to me, simply because it was forbidden fruit. Or seemed that way. I seem to remember watching Bod and the Mr Men as a child and they were definitely BBC. I suspect my parent’s ITV leanings were abandoned temporarily when the BBC’s kid’s hour was on as a tactic to keep me and my sisters quiet and malleable for a little while longer.
My overriding memory of my pre-teen telly though is that on the whole it felt rather tawdry. But maybe that was just the seventies? Sure, I have fond memories of Daktari, Tarzan and Robinson Crusoe on a Saturday morning and, of course, the magnificent Tiswas… but overshadowing all these is the over-arching memory of how utterly awful weekend telly was for kids in the seventies.
My trouble was I never really “played out” as a kid. I wasn’t a street kid. I didn’t learn to ride a bike until my twenties. I was stuck indoors. My window on the world, on reality, was via the TV. Via ITV.
And on a weekend ITV delivered The Grumbleweeds. It coughed up Russ Abbott’s Madhouse. It vomited out 3-2-1. Recalling Bullseye and Family Fortunes – the latter even fronted by the great Bob Monkhouse – make me depressed in equal measure. I sometimes think that no telly at all would have been better.
For some reason, when I think of all these shows they appear in my mind as if nicotine stained. As if dyed brown with tobacco juice. I think tank-tops and brown plaid. And orange shirts. And carbuncly men with faces like blighted potatoes and working men’s club accents holding microphones topped with full-sized afros. I recall the subconscious despair that I lived with before the obvious question finally formed itself in my burgeoning little brain: is this it? Is this all that life has to offer?
The answer, of course, was no. There was the BBC. And the multi-coloured Swapshop revolution of the eighties. And then Channel 4. And satellite television. And cable. And eventually digital. And HD. And iPlayer. And choice.
Glorious, glorious choice.
How far we have come since Ted Rogers and Dusty Bin. For me, the mid-eighties is when television began to come good. When the new TV choices that became available began to heal some of the deep-seated wounds of the drab seventies.
I’m not sure what TV memories my boys will have when they are older. I don’t think it is possible for computer games to impinge on the memory in quite the same the way that a TV show does (yeah, I remember pressing LEFT RIGHT RIGHT and the X button on that particular day doesn’t cut the same mustard as remembering when Stu-pot and his mates finally faced down Gripper Stebson in Grange Hill) and I sometimes worry that they’re missing out on the shared peer experience of watching a truly great TV show at the exact same time that your mates are in their own houses.
But on the whole, if they’re being spared 3-2-1 and The Grumbleweeds, I am reconciled that the good effects of progress outweigh the bad. And it does seem to be that, these days, what you play is far more important than what you watch.
As for me though, I think I’ll pass up on Halo and get Daktari on DVD. I’m sure old wine in a new wine skin will taste just as good. But if my boys would rather play outside than watch it with me, I’ll be inclined to let them.