They say the best way to take the temperature of a nation is by watching its TV for a
day – though they don’t say where. If that’s the case, as Mark Piggott discovered, The thing I resented most about working for a living was missing all that lovely TV. Getting sacked gave me control over my own remote. Immediately I invested in cable, my window on the galaxy. Having spent years on the dole, it didn’t take long for me to get back into a familiar routine: Wake up, bedroom telly on, quick Tommy Tank over Lorraine Kelly, mop up just in time for breakfast with Matthew Wright.
Back in the Eighties we only had the test card for company, or, if that wasn’t available, Sons & Daughters. Cable TV has changed all that. Now you don’t have just three channels of cack at your fingertips, you have three hundred - all at some point showing David
Take Kilroy (pur-lease!) The only way I can spend thirty seconds in his company is by imagining his entire audience are auditioning for a role in some bizarre orgy. I thought he’d been permanently removed to the Hezbollah Channel yet here he is on Boondocks TV, still giving the camera that weird intro at the start:
“You drink turps - and you’re a pilot?"
Over on ITV Trasha does her best to get all the bleach-haired, ear-pierced Norfolk trailer-trash to do a Springer. The theme for today’s show is “I’m Not Your Mom!” An older woman turns to a younger man and tells him: "I’m not your mum."
The younger man looks slightly sad, but says nothing; the audience gasps politely. I flick.
There’s always the real thing on some forgotten cable channel, Jerry Springer on a loopspool: ‘I’m Sorry I Killed
Son With Chainsaw.’ Families sit innocently at a table laden with custard pies. I wonder why the British call the
Americans stupid for making the programme when we’re the muppets who buy it, watch it and produce the opera.
Time for some news. Here are today’s headlines as read by Taff zealot Huw Edwards: "The government are looking at a revolutionary idea from America to get rid of gun crime. Under the US scheme, pistols, semi-automatics and even Uzis can be simply left in large, open ‘amnesty bins’ and taken away. And, according to a new survey conducted by Smith & Wesson, guns are cool, especially on teenagers..." Following the regular jovial analysis of which Middle Eastern country we’re bombing the fuck out of today and exactly why they deserve it (those olive farmers just aren’t interested in peace, apparently), there follows a two-hour Harry Potter advertising megafest. You know the sort of thing: interviews with book-binders, footage of JK Rowling having a dump. This is why we pay our licence fee... (alright - you do).
I flick. This is the only power left now for men. Martin Shaw is charging about in a Porsche with a judge’s wig
on, drinking whisky as he drives and being fellated by some teen bimbo. The scene cuts to his angry boss,
"You’re out of control, Deed!" (Insert Frost, Morse, Winton, whatever). Did I mention I have kids? Little darlings they are, all four of them. Five, whatever... Unfortunately, any positives to being a father are greatly outweighed by the negatives, in the form of Cbeebies in general and Boogie Beebies in particular – I mean, did they ever make more than two? If I see that bloke in a green t-shirt pretend to be a time-piece one more time I’ll stick a grandfather clock where
Every time Big Cook Little Cook comes on, my kids start clamouring: “turn it off! Smash it! Let’s all move to
South Ossetia!” Can’t think why, the recipes are great. And where did they get that tiny speccy bloke? Though
I can’t help noticing how the big one seems a bit sulky. Every time the little cook says, “I know! Let’s look in
the Big Cook Cookery Book!” he snaps “yes the cook! Big cook’s book! Let’s all look in the The announcer cuts in. "Next this morning, Kilroy sits alone in an empty studio contemplating his existence and wonders what it’s all about..." I flick. "I love the Cretaceous Era” (again!) - Phil Jupitus with an over-rehearsed monologue about every time you bought fizz-bombs that plesiosaur would nick them on the way home from the tuck-shop. I flick to the wildlife channel: ...Yet, even here, the natural order is being overturned, the survival of an enormous variety of inter-dependent species is threatened by a new, and the deadliest of all predators: the mongoose...
The amazing thing with cable is, you can actually listen to the radio ON YOUR TELLY! And it uses only
2,000 times more electricity than the old transistor! What can we find today… ah yes, “my tuppence-worth”
(every side, forever), in which uninformed listeners relieve themselves of whatever profundities have revealed
themselves as they sat on the lav reading Fiesta. Somehow I manage to find one from the archives, circa 1938:
BLOKE …Well as far as I’m concerned, at the end of the day if Hitler wants to annex parts of Byelorussia, what’s it got to do
Bored with looking at the cable TV logo while I listen to dispiriting cries for help, I do a search down the lower regions, the rancid bowels of television.
VOICEOVER Later on KYTV, more Highland flings on - Take the Low Road! DISSOLVE TO: INT. CORNER SHOP. DAY We see two old ladies in a shop, speaking in Scottish accents.
OLD LADY ONE
I see McDougall bought an extra packet of biscuits.
OLD LADY TWO
(sniffing disapprovingly) Aye. Along with everybody else, I unsubscribe to all the Sky Sports channels over the summer, but I suffer withdrawal symptoms during this time. To my great joy I managed to find the end of something football-related over on Rochdale Canal Plus:
…Ryan Giggs was discussing existentialism with Jacques Derrida. Next week: Consciousness, Belief, and Self Expression: Bernard-Henri Levy in rhetorical debate with I flick, expecting to watch something called 100 greatest philosophers, with contributions from Kate Thornton, Vernon Kaye and Stuart Maconie. Why don’t they do a TV programme, the 100 greatest talking heads? Maconie on Wylie, Eamonn Holmes on Eamonn Holmes… it’s a winner. Anyway I’m
Following Stuart Maconie’s tragic death, here’s the new schedule for tomorrow night. At seven thirty, Alan Bennett’s romantic comedy about middle aged Yorkshire folk, Thirtysummat. That’s followed by twee nostalgia and craic-fuelled simpletons in Ballykissarsehole and later tonight, Surreal Rooms. We see TRIPPERS I AND II in a grey room staring blankly around and blinking.
Fed up with decorating? Change your mind every five minutes? Spending a fortune on wallpaper and brushes? Constantly painting and moving furniture around like an arsehole? Now here’s an easy solution: LSD! (to TRIPPERS 1&2) So, space cakes, has the acid kicked in yet?
Oh wow, look at the wallpaper!
Oh my god, the carpet’s going to eat us!
Both jump under the table in sheer terror.
CAROL SMILLIE Join us again next time, when the Hargreaves family from Warminster re-decorate their maisonette under the influence of ketamine.
I flick... On Aunty’s Sporting Bloomers (BBC#537359236) a pole vault snaps- HA HA HA - and then Terry Wogan’s puzzled features: “...And next, Ayrton Senna, showing how not to negotiate a bend at two hundred miles per hour.” Cue footage, jaunty music, funny
honking noise as car crumples and helmet cracks. Death Race 2000 will be on after the ads. I flick… Johnny Vaughn’s latest broken-down vehicle, Spaced Cadets, in which a group of psychotically narcissistic students think they’re going to an airbase in Suffolk, instead of which they’re blasted into deep space…. on ITV more amnesiac nostalgia set in 1940s Yorkshire, Where’s the Heartbeat...? In a futile gesture of protest, I switch off the telly and stare at the wall. Four seconds later I switch it back on. You never know. You might miss something.