My Life in Television

First published on JVTV September 1st 2017

I have often pondered the amount of television I have consumed in my 47 years of existence. Based on an estimation of three hours of daily viewing since my fifth birthday, the total comes to just shy of 47,000 hours. I chose the age of five as it marks my earliest memories of watching television. I recall enjoying a Birds Eye shepherd’s pie for lunch while watching Issi Noho and Pipkins during my days off from Maidstone Infants and then Causton School, before eventually transitioning to The Cedar Tree and Crown Court as I matured. These memories remain some of my earliest and fondest.

The program Issi Noho revolved around a panda with magical abilities, but who lacked proficiency in using them. Consequently, his human owners frequently found themselves in difficult situations due to Issi’s mistakes. The show Pipkins had a long run and featured recurring characters such as Hartley the Hare, Topov the Monkey, Octavia the Octopus, and Pig. It was through watching the Pipkins crew that I first learned about death.

We were limited in our viewing options until Channel 4 was introduced in late 1982, as we only had access to three channels. Our choices included children’s programming, soap operas, a small selection of domestically-produced content, and shows imported from America. Furthermore, there were no 24-hour channels available, and programming was only broadcast from 10am to 11pm at best. Children’s shows were typically aired during dinnertime on the main channels, and if you happened to miss an episode, there was no option to catch up.

My mother had a significant impact on my television viewing preferences. We regularly tuned in to watch Crossroads, Coronation Street, Dallas, and Dynasty. Saturdays were particularly special for me as my father would be at the labour club or watching football, my mother would be busy with household chores, and my sisters would be out riding horses or spending time with their boyfriends.

This gave me the chance to have full control of the television. I would watch Swap Shop and Tiswas in the morning, followed by Grandstand and World of Sport in the afternoon. Most of the time, I would leave it on ITV but would switch to BBC1 during commercial breaks or when World of Sport aired horse racing or lawn bowls.

After the sport ended, it was time for Doctor Who – my favorite doctor was Tom Baker. I was devastated when he fell off the tower and transformed into Tristan Farnon from All Creatures Great & Small. Next, we’d tune into American shows like Dukes of Hazard, Nancy Drew Mysteries, Wonder Woman, and The A-Team before watching Ted Rogers’ 3-2-1. Finally, we’d wrap up the night with Match of the Day before heading to bed. I’m pretty sure my Saturday TV lineup alone probably bumped up my daily average of three hours of TV per day!

As the 1970s gave way to the 1980s, I tuned in to Minder, To The Manor Born, World In Action, and Play Your Cards Right, and kept a close eye on the news. My earliest recollections of the news include the manhunt for the Yorkshire Ripper and the Iranian embassy siege.

My TV watching experience underwent a revolution when two events occurred. Firstly, in the summer of 1981, we acquired a VCR, initially a VHS and later a Betamax. Secondly, for Christmas 1981, I received a portable TV. Initially, we would record shows we were watching and re-watch them immediately. It was Tomorrow’s World material right in our living room. Eventually, we became adept at it and could record Panorama while watching Minder. The idea was mind-blowing and left us in awe.

The launch of Channel 4 was in November 1982. On the day of launch I went to the newsagent on my way to school, where I bought a copy of The Sun (apologies). I spent my day perusing the TV section to plan my viewing schedule, which included Countdown, Brookside, The Paul Hogan Show, Walter starring Ian McKellen (which I mistakenly thought was P’Tang Yang Kipperbang which aired the following night), and Comic Strip Presents Five Go Mad. A fantastic start.

Brookside instantly became a favourite and I’d watch most episodes and also the omnibus on a Saturday tea-time.

During my teenage years, I continued to indulge in children’s television shows such as Grange Hill, Press Gang, Murphys Mob, Byker Grove, and Magpie. However, if my sisters took control of the remote, we would end up watching Blue Peter. Nonetheless, my love for Jenny Hanley made me choose Magpie every time. She was my second television crush after Sally James from TISWAS.

With the expansion of networks and television programming extending through breakfast and beyond midnight, there was a need to fill the schedule with content. In the early 1980s, Australian television became the go-to option. Despite subpar production values, TV companies acquired shows at a low cost. The likes of The Sullivans, Young Doctors, and the iconic Sons & Daughters were broadcast during lunchtime and afternoon slots, just before children’s programming. The Betamax timer function was put to good use. During the early to mid-80s, shows like Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and The Bill were enjoyed alongside Aussie imports including Prisoner Cell Block H, A Country Practice, and Police Rescue.

In 1988, I reached the age of 18 and witnessed a significant transformation in television programming. Neighbours shifted to 5:35 pm and became the most prominent TV sensation of that era, culminating in the nuptials of Scott and Charlene that captivated over 20 million viewers. Emmerdale Farm evolved into a fully networked evening soap, The Bill was broadcast twice a week throughout the year, and London’s Burning premiered.

As the 80s transitioned into the 90s, Doctor Who disappeared for 16 years, while The Verseys gained access to Satellite TV. However, instead of SKY like the majority, we went for the option of BSB, complete with its square dish.

We subscribed to The Movie Channel, The Sports Channel, Galaxy, The Power Station, and Now. The first two channels are self-explanatory. Galaxy was an entertainment channel that aired a significant number of BBC reruns, including early episodes of Doctor Who.

The Power Station was a specialised music channel whilst Now was a lifestyle channel.

BSB didn’t last long as by the year end it had merged with SKY. So we had to get another dish installed!

My TV viewing was once again dominated by soaps during 1992 and 1993, with the addition of the Australian import E Street and our very own Eldorado. In 1993, ITV introduced a unique cop series, Cracker, featuring Robbie Coltrane as the police psychologist Eddie Fitzgerald.

In late 1992, UK GOLD was launched and it was a major breakthrough in TV. It was the first time that viewers could access programs from the archives of BBC and Thames TV. UK Gold started with a range of classic programs including Just Good Friends, Top of the Pops, Minder, George and Mildred, Bless This House, The A-Team, Are You Being Served?, Blakes 7, EastEnders, Crossroads, Dallas, Neighbours, Sons & Daughters, Dynasty, Eldorado, Juliet Bravo, Casualty, Angels and The Sweeney among others.

As we enter the mid-1990s, we are faced with an abundance of channels, numbering well over 50. Despite the plethora of options, the BBC remained the dominant force in broadcasting. In 1996, the network aired what many consider to be the greatest drama series of all time: Our Friends in the North. This 9-part series follows a group of friends from Newcastle over a span of 31 years, from 1964 to 1995. While it may sound clich√©, it’s true that they simply don’t make shows like this anymore!

As the turn of the millennium approached, my television fixation was on Sky’s Dream Team. This serial drama revolved around the imaginary football team, Harchester United.

At the start of the millennium, reality TV was immensely popular. In its initial few series, Big Brother was groundbreaking television, captivating millions of viewers including myself. However, in subsequent years, the show transformed into a platform for the most appalling individuals. Its success has inspired numerous imitations, which are preferred by broadcasters due to their low production costs, thereby overshadowing high-quality dramas.

The new millennium has brought about significant changes in the way we consume television, thanks to the introduction of broadband, illegal torrents, and subscription-based services. This shift is perhaps the most significant since the era of video recorders, which we discussed earlier. My personal experience with this change began in 2006 when I started watching American dramas. While I had previously enjoyed shows like The A Team, Hart to Hart, Dallas, and Dynasty, the internet allowed me to access a far wider variety of programming.

Heroes was my introduction to modern US dramas, but it’s a common trend for many US shows to start out strong and eventually become disappointing. Throughout the years, I’ve delved into a variety of shows including Criminal Minds, Prison Break, The OC, One Tree Hill, Desperate Housewives, Tru Calling, Dexter, The Good Wife, and Sons of Anarchy, to name just a few.

After watching the first couple of seasons of Breaking Bad, I gave up as its the most overhyped TV show ever. Now, I’m experiencing a similar sentiment with The Walking Dead. Despite eight years of airing, the same cycle of 10 minutes of zombie killings, 10 minutes of Rick’s melancholy, 10 minutes of the other characters taking their turns, 5 minutes of quietness, and a 5-minute cliffhanger that hooks you for the next episode has persisted.

My addiction to television has deepened, leading me to amass a vast collection of digital copies of both classic and contemporary programs. The tally now exceeds 1,100 series, encompassing numerous titles referenced earlier. Which I view via my own TV server.

That concludes my 40-year TV watching journey. I hope you stayed till the end and reminisced about some of the forgotten shows with me. To wrap up, I’ll share my top ten favourites, but I must exclude US shows (except Soaps) since I haven’t watched enough to make accurate rankings.

10E Street 10Grange Hill 10Goodnight Sweetheart
9Coronation Street 9Boys from the Blackstuff 9Peep Show
8Dream Team 8Life on Mars 8Phoenix Nights
7Crossroads 7Line of Duty 7Fawlty Towers
6Neighbours 6Doctor Who 6Porridge
5Prisoner Cell Block H 5Minder 5Father Ted
4Sons & Daughters 4The Bill 4Blackadder
3Dallas 3Cracker 3The Royle Family
2Dynasty 2Our Friends in the North 2The Office
1Brookside 1Auf Wiedersehn, Pet 1Only Fools and Horses

By Verso

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