The Beeb, And Other Things Televised

Back in the Eighties, which is the last century now, which saddens and ages me, all in one, I first started coming to jolly old England. In that halcyon age, long ago, British television consisted of a grand total of four channels: BBC 1, BBC 2, ITV, and Channel 4. So maybe Channel 4 isn’t what you’d call the most imaginatively titled channel ever. Still, it’s easy to remember where it is on the dial. Though the dial is gone too, now, along with my youth, my hair and my stylishly flared jeans.

ITV was a commercial channel so it had advertisements like American TV. The Beeb, or Beebs, I’m not quite clear on the proper nomenclature here, they were and are, commercial free, much like PBS, though without the interminable pledge drives. Since the Beeb wasn’t a commercial venture and was funded by a television license fee, it didn’t have to make shows that people actually wanted to watch. So there was a lot of public interest type of things, which while laudable, could be a little or a lot boring.

Without commercials an American doesn’t have any idea when it’s time to go and take a potty break, or get a snack. So eventually you get so peckish you decide that you’ll just get up, right in the middle of that gardening show, and after a while you notice that you haven’t gone back to the telly, because you stopped to look at what was happening down in the street and people walking back and forth was a fair bit more interesting, not to mention, dramatic.

Every once in a while you’d get something like Blackadder or Yes, Minister, or the delightfully appalling The Young Ones, that no one in the US, even in that fevered dream swamp that was after midnight on public access channels would ever dare to air. But most of the time it was documentaries about the plight of impoverished saddle soap salesmen from Long Buckby, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer droning on about the budget, all of which was much more entertaining than cricket. Every time I came to England it seemed like there was some sort of cricket tournament going on and when I say going on, I mean literally without end. For all I know, it may have been the same cricket tournament, extended over several years. Imagine that instead of playing baseball for nine innings they decided to play it for nine hundred innings. And they do it over multiple days, and take tea breaks every so often, because even cricketers get bored with it and need to have a cuppa.

So now we’re up in the bright new Twenty First century, and the British have a lot more channels. I mean scads more. Of course a lot of them look like they’re cloned, and just televise re-runs of older shows. There may, or may not be a channel dedicated to Eastenders, it’s hard to say, but it seems like it. And cricket is now relegated to SkySports, except when there’s a test match, whatever that is, and then it’ll play on BBC 2, 3 and 4. With highlights on BBC 63, and for night owls there’s BBC 94 where you can see a live cam of the cricket grounds during the night, when nothing is happening, which can be a little hard to tell apart from the daylight broadcast. Hint – it’s dark.


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