Something lost

Sep 25th, 2010 | By | Category: Cross Channel

Watching Connacht play Ulster on BBC 2 Northern Ireland on a Saturday evening isn’t odd for someone living in Ireland – except that the television set is in a house in the south-western corner of France, in sight of the Pyrenees.  It’s not even subscription television, a simple satellite dish and old Sky box, on which the subscription card has long expired, and the free to air channels are available to anyone who turns on the set.  ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ might be lost on most French viewers, but to expatriates, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie appear as old friends. Multi-channel, satellite viewing is odd – it means being able to watch whatever you choose, but it means also that the sense of community that television sometimes, oddly, created is disappearing rapidly.

A few years ago, an interview with American actor and singer David Soul was a reminder of how television had once been.  The interviewer had asked how celebrity life had been and he had responded that he and Paul-Michael Glaser, his co-star in ‘Starsky and Hutch’, had not been celebrities, they had been stars.  He was right.  It was the time of three channel television in Britain – BBC 1, BBC 2 and ITV.  BBC 1 on a Saturday evening drew huge audiences; to be a star of a programme screened on a Saturday evening was to be known to tens of millions.  The ‘celebrity’ culture had not yet appeared, airtime was too rare for it to be wasted on people who were famous for no reason other than being famous.

Even more than on television, radio presenters were people whom it seemed everyone knew.  They were part of daily life; acquaintances, friends even.  Until 1974 in Britain, there was only the BBC and the presenters on Radio 1 and Radio 2 were household names and regular companions.  It is hard to imagine a broadcaster of the stature and longevity of Terry Wogan emerging now in a situation where audiences are fragmented between dozens of options.  Wogan was a genius – a man who could switch from the hilarious to the grave, from the banal to the profound, within seconds.  Yet despite commanding audiences of millions, there was always that sense he was a personal friend, that if you met him and said, ‘Hello, Terry’, he would smile and ask how you were.  The opportunity to be a successor to Terry Wogan just isn’t there anymore; Radio 2 takes its place amongst the menu of other stations on the FM dial.

Maybe it doesn’t matter much whether we have three or three hundred stations, but the old ways did create a sense of shared culture; people would watch programmes and talk about them the next morning; workplaces would be tuned into Radio 1 or Radio 2, everyone listening (or being forced to listen!) to the same daily line up of presenters.  There is no longer that possibility, apart from another rugby fan, to whom do you talk about watching a rugby match on BBC 2 Northern Ireland?

Leave a comment »

  1. My grandfather had the first tv in our area long before RTE came into existence – he had an aerial perched precariously on top of a high tree and could watch BBC channels albeit far removed from the crystal clear, colour pictures we enjoy today. Neighbours used to be invited in to watch important events, well in my grandfather’s book anyway, like the Grand National and there was a real community spirit. Nowadays everyone has a tv with lots of channels which they often prefer to stay in and watch rather than visit their friends and neighbours. In truth how many of the hundreds of channels we pay for do we actually watch – maybe 10 at a push. On holidays recently the first thing my hubbie checked out on our arrival was that (a) there was a tv and (b) it had the sports channels so he could watch his rugby and golf – I was more concerned about checking to see if there was a decent shower & easy to use cooker !!!

  2. As long as I get the British channels, I’m fine!

    We don’t pay for any TV. I bought a satellite box and dish in Power City when we were in Dublin – I still use the box, with a dish that was left on the house wall. The Sky box gets the free channels with no card inserted.

  3. Ian, the old Radio 1 presenters of the 70’s are now on Radio 2..!!!! I read last week that Tony Blackburn (Radio 1s first DJ voice) was to join Radio 2 soon..!!!! Radio 1 just plays a load of old rubbish now…!!!..haha us ‘oldies’ hey…!!!

  4. And Annie Nightingale is now available too. Wonder if she will pop up on R2.
    I warmed to Radio 1 during that period when there was the cull of the DLT and Mike Read types – good riddance. It was cutting controller Matthew Bannister who won me over. At least a million other disagreed though, and figures slumped.
    Bizarrely (though why shouldn’t it be so) there is quite a bit of decent music played on BBC Radio Ulster, as if discovered when I was back home a couple of weeks ago – Ralph McLean and others in the evenings.

  5. When I was a teenager, thirty somethings listened to Radio 1, Mr Bannister turned Radio 1 into a ‘youth’ station. I switched to Classic FM and Radio 4 in the early 90s when living in Northern Ireland. If I am within transmission range, I would now listen to Radio 2. The very people who were culled were the last of the generation of ‘community’ builders, Radio 1 DJs were household names across the generations, my granny would have known who Tony Blackburn was. Bannister’s changes were part of a fragmentation of our culture.

  6. Alas, free to air channels dont include Sky Sports so a non-runner for my sportaholic spouse. Great to be able to watch the Magniers League on RTE though not so great to watch Leinster losing !!

  7. Do you ever watch the games covered by Setanta that you can watch free online with Eircom?

Leave Comment