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British Television in 1000 words

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British Television in 1000 words.
Tuesday, 03 September 2002 AD - Christian calendar. 
Written by [email protected] in note form.

Best viewed with Internet Explorer, Windows Notepad or web browser of some sort.

This essay is a personal exercise in conciseness, and sums up the rich tapestry of
the whole of British television in just 1000 words exactly(excluding this paragraph),
to a hypothetical person who had never seen a British TV screen in his or her life
(so it may also be a useful reference for immigrants :).

This summary is BBC-centric for two reasons: 1) The BBC is the most consistent of the
stations(so valid generalisations can be made) 2) Trying my hardest not to be personally
biased, the other stations seem to be comparatively vacuous so there isn't much to describe. 

There are 5 terrestrial channels.  Two BBC channels, the other three commercial. 
These are commonly referred to as Channels "One", "Two", "Three", "Four", and "Five". 
Indeed, the last two stations are called "Channel Four" and "Channel Five". Traditionally,
one is almost always expected to be able to press 2 on the remote control and get BBC 2,
press 3 and get ITV, press 4 and get Channel Four, and so on. This has been the case for
as long as television itself has been publicly available, the only difference being the number
of stations available. Originally, just BBC was available, followed by ITV in the 1950s,
Channel Four some wee while later and Channel Five in the mid-90s.

BBC1/BBC2:  Duty-driven publicly funded channels. No adverts. Originally designed to free the mind,
uplift and inspire. A function recently eroded, in my opinion. Often very PC. Also described as the
nation's most important cultural institution.

ITV: General commercial channel with good and long reputation. Like the BBC but with more emphasis
on ratings and game shows. Often considered inferior to BBC although with many notable exceptions.

Channel 4: "Alternative".  Has strong links with the British film industry, and has been involved 
in the production of several major Channel Four Films. Also produces a rare combination of insightful 
and inspiring documentaries and experimental, voyeuristic, sometimes amateurish, programmes. It is the
nation's main source of American sitcoms.  Despite all of this, it is mostly rubbish, in my opinion. Commercial.

Channel 5: Trash. Commercial. Lot's of films. Softcore porn on some nights.


In a single day one can expect perhaps children's television in the morning:, often long running
kids programmes many decades old such as Postman Pat(animated series of rural postman) and Blue Peter(an ancient,
excellent, wholesome, informative edutainment programme which spawned household terms such as
"sticky-back plastic"[so as to avoid saying company name such as Sellotape] and "here's'one I made earlier").
This is followed by a few "of the time" programs, including some which are linked to the national curriculum.
Also there are the normal "Saturday morning cartoons." Daytime television often is gardening and cooking and
interior design programmes. There is a long history of celebrity chefs in this slot. Afternoon also features
a wildlife programme, often repeats of Wildlife on One or instead, the new Wildlife on Two. Nine times out of ten,
narrated by explorer and naturalist David Attenbourgh. His familiar, gentle, explanatory voice is instantly
recognisable and often mimicked or parodied.  Then at about the time children return from school we have
Children' BBC, Children's ITV and so on. Here we have more timeless TV mixed with new and short lived productions.
Grange Hill, (high school drama for high school aged children; been running during my whole lifetime so
far and longer), has always had a home at about this time. Basically, this is just more children's
television at this time. Blue Peter is shown at this time also. During the evening we have a comedy(often sitcom)
period. Also programmes such as Tomorrows World, the Ten O'clock News, the very insightful and intellectual
Newsnight. You've Been Framed on ITV is a home video disaster show. All of this depends on what day of the week it is, etc.

Many other things constitute British televisual life. The Cricket on Channel 4. Darts in the afternoon.  There are
many icons and references: from Mr Bean to Terry Wogan. One ought also to acknowledge household names such as
"Victor Meldrew"(refers to anyone as cantankerous as the old geezer from One Foot In The Grave). I must also
mention the strong ties between BBC TV and BBC Radio.

A sample of the main features on television about now(i.e. this week), at some point today or this week:
Room 101(comedy show where celebrity guests talk about what should be eradicated from British society), 
a documentary about Hadrian's wall and the ancient Roman-British postal service, Big Brother(a group of
ordinary people are locked in a house together for so and so weeks and filmed extensively while they go
insane), Pole to Pole(Monty Python comedian Michael Palin travels from North Pole to South pole, exploring
different cultures on the way), Child of Our Time(series of programmes about how humans think and mentally adapt),
Eastenders Revealed(a documentary about the making of the soap opera EastEnders), and other such stuff.


University Challenge(pretty old game show between the UK's top universities), Tomorrows World(similar
age, reviews the immediate future of technological development), Soap Operas such as EastEnders on BBC1, Coronation
Street on ITV, etc. 

Top of the Pops is half a century old, and is a live weekly show of popular bands from the charts. The Holy Grail
of television appearences for many UK musicians. There have been 2000 half-hour shows ever, at this very moment. 

There are many histories, which one ought to be aware of in order to appreciate the present.

I haven't touched on comedy much yet. This area is a point of pride in British television. Even the adverts
are hilarious. There is a modern history of "alternative comedy", which rose in popularity during the 80s.
There is an absence of team written comedy, and more inclination towards single or few comedians/writers/performers
bringing their own soul and spirit into each show(Britain's unique comic strength in the opinions of many). Recent
comedies include Only Fools and Horses, Blackadder, Yes, Prime minister, The Royal Family(nothing to do with
monarchy), The Office, Red Dwarf, there is a seemingly endless list of good stuff. Acknowledge also past shows
such as Fawlty Towers, Hancock's Half Hour, and The Young Ones.