UK Television, Its Quality, Its Future, Please discuss…

I like watching Kavanagh QC now, more so than when it was virgin viewing what, twenty+ Years ago?

I like knowing that it will turn up at some point in the schedules of ITV3 every so often and that I can dip in and catch an episode or, if I forgot, I can wait an hour and catch its shadow in the time warp known colloquially as “+1”.

But what bothers me and now concerns me is the ever developing factor of bland, boring and “classical” series AKA Repeats – even on the mainstream terrestrial let alone the extraterrestrials. Okay, so commercial broadcast has recently suffered a serious downturn in revenue, but does the rule about not paying a penny of tax before profit still stand between them and the HMRC? If not, it certainly used to in the days of LWT and THAMES. Hence the lavish lunches and vast payments of overtime in the 80’s to ensure that no profit was made and therefore no tax would be paid – clever eh?

Now however, it is bean counter heaven and creative hell. Although I am willing to consider that ITV1 have turned a new leaf judging the autumn 2010 schedules – I hope the actual programmes live up to the trailer teasers. Certainly for some of the period drama, it would appear that the bank vaults were opened at least a few times again.

I recall when my parents opted for changing to cable feed instead of the UHF roof aerial in 1995. It was all very exciting, and being in a fringe area, I hoped the days of interference and ghosting were to be abolished. Indeed they were, but also, all was very quickly explained as to why, in the past few years why, BBC television had very quickly dropped its quality threshold – yes even then – by channel hopping the, what, seventy or so channels, it suddenly made sense why Auntie had stopped “bothering” . No other channel cared about continuity or quality, it just happened. And whilst the BBC channels certainly did stand out in terms of qulatitive programmes, the change in trailers and idents all made sense – Bland-o-vision had arrived in the UK and was here to stay.

Fifteen years on, and we have changed from analogue cable to digital, to fibre optic to digital terrestrial and satellite free-to-view feeds. We can watch it where, and when we like, and not bother a fig about getting home in time, as it’ll be on the on-line player. The video recorder a thing of the past, the DVD recorder a flash in the proverbial and hard discs covertly sneaking their way out of the computer and into the multi-media systems.

This is all detrimental to the programme content and quality. Never more so now for regional news gathering. Shortly it will no longer be a requirement for ITV to provide regional news gathering services. This, along with some regional newspapers, just drifting off into the dusty ether of a bygone era. Oh, and what about Teletext? other than the BBC’s Ceefax, which, is still going strong, very few, if any provide such services, and again, it’s all down to value for money.

Only the BBC can, by its remit as a Public Service Broadcaster, provide and account for the expense of providing regional news and information. It is not commercially viable to provide such a service, but then again, do we want it? I know I do, but I also want a greater difference between my regional news and the networks.

I make a point of catching CNN or ABC news once or twice a week with Katy Cruik and Diane Sawyer accordingly, anchoring Americas daily equivalent of our “Six” and it would appear that they have gone almost full circle from cheese news to full, engaging packages with many satellite up links live into the programme. Well explained, and NOT in that ghastly PC patronising way that some of our news teams so enjoy doing. I only hope that our main news broadcasters do the same again soon.

I believe that twenty-four hour news in this country has made some stations lazy. I do not expect in this day and age to hear and see the same package I saw at 9am at 10pm the same day or, for that matter to use just its audio feed for the radio news too – ring any bells? It makes me fume! How much are they being paid? and how many staff are there? Certainly isn’t a one man band last time I checked my licence fee payment!

So with the Charter revue due again soon for the BBC and an upward turn in advertising revenue in the commercial sector, let us hope that we have started to banish Bland-o-vision , and embrace the onset of the High Definition digital era with some more fabulous programmes that really are worth getting home for and appreciating in HD instead of the laptop or mobile phone, and let us celebrate all the creative and artistic teams that go together to make such award winning programmes and, let us not forget, earn far greater revenues in global sales too, for many many years to come.


Halt! Who Smokes There? Fag or Faux?


So there I was musing in bed with BBC Radio 2 nattering away at me in the background, whilst my subconscious was thinking that at least on a Bank Holiday Sunday there would be no way I could become embroiled in anything… and then it happened.

Between the Host of the radio programme, Richard Madeley, and studio guest actor, Peter Egan, I was forced to grab the iPhone and correct a misnomer.

The two were discussing the issue concerning how silly it was now that smoking on stage was apparently illegal and that Peter’s current character, Sherlock Holmes at The Duchess Theatre in the West End, could no longer puff out smoke due to ” ‘elf and safety” and the Smoking in Public Places law.

As this is incorrect – at present – I felt compelled to at least let those two know that they were miss-informed, how was I to know that the little message was to become a point of discussion for the nation after the next record?

So what is the current law then?

Well actually it depends entirely on your place of production in terms of law. In Scotland the law states, not anywhere, never, not even on stage. In the early days this is where the Edinburgh Festival had problems with a Mel Smith show transferring from England (legal) to Scotland (illegal). Whereas in English Law, after relevant risk assessment documentation, the law does indeed still permit smoking on stage, but only when the audience is present! Yes that’s right for those of you who have theatrical backgrounds, you will now be thinking, well what about rehearsals? I know, and I haven’t made a mistake. No, you cannot smoke in a rehearsal, ever, anywhere in an enclosed public building. Only from the first public preview may an actor smoke on stage – unless of course your rehearsals are held in the open air….! strange but 100% true – very true. I have not mentioned Welsh or Northern Ireland law, because I have not had cause to ask there, but I speak with confidence about the English and Scottish law versions.

Because of such confusion and misplaced understanding, this is why producers now just place a blanket ban on smoking if the show is touring and wafting in and out of various nations, and who can blame them quite frankly? It is a nightmare, and it is a shame at least dramatically, that there is not one global rule for the United Kingdom, but we are a mixed environment and change is apparently good!

To overcome this, technical suppliers such as White Light Ltd., now sell exceptionally realistic faux fags (!) that look and emit the right smoke look. And legally too!

And so then after my digital outburst, I realized that Sir Terry Wogan was not reciting another fantastically risqué version of Janet & John – another blog in the making – as he was now on one of those long-term pauses.. so I got up instead!