Saturday, 27 October 2012

"After the count down to a new channel ends.. A new countdown begins..." Channel Four at 30

So Channel Four is thirty, looking at its midriff pinching it and wondering why it has got larger in the past couple of years, granted there are some good shows still on the channel now such as Peep Show and the excellent Friday Night Dinner. But apart from that, its got a bit bland and a bit beige. From this young upstart wanting to rip down the conventions of television though its entertainment and music, focussing on programmes for different sections of society, breaking new ground as it went. Everyone has their memories of the channel and how its developed, both the good and the bad.

I can think of several shows which would stand out and would be the ones everyone thinks about when asked about Channel Four. But the gems in their schedules were just as good, for instance Superchamps, a mini We Are The Champions with quadbikes excited me enough to send loads of empty packets of Smiths Crisps to get a poster of the show. The power of television, eh? Chips Comic containing Andrew 'Son of Sir Harry' Secombe as a dog, a thought which might have sprung out a conversation saying 'Do we think this is mad enough to work?' They were the only channel in this country to show Worzel Gummage Down Under, to revive Quizball as an American Football game, introduced the country to wheelchair basketball long before the 2012 Paralympics.

Four in its self could be said to be a slice of life, sometimes maybe the butt of other jokes as the wheelchair basketball on a Saturday morning didn't get enough viewers to register on the RAJAR ratings. But it was a place where it could be tried without people noticing at all, much like other output involving disability such as 'Boom' and 'Hand in Hand' were allowed to take place, some people would say it was worthy television all of this but if it wasn't for Channel Four would these programmes have even been commissioned. At one time Four was the goto place for minority groups such as the Gay and Lesbian community, even offering a programme for the trade unions on a weekly basis. The purpose was there to cater to these communities  but to the casual viewer, it offered something else like a window outwards to show what was happening in the real world apart from the one usually on television at the time. Channel Four offered social realism always and pushed it as reality with later on reality becoming entertainment.

Over the years, the channel can claim that it started off the careers of some performers and it can be said it finished off others as well. Saturday and Friday Night Live showcased so many different acts who went on to carve careers of their own and into the new millennium The Friday/Sunday Night Project launched Jimmy Carr and Alan Carr into the spotlight. But for that it also launched Justin Lee Collins too as well.. The clipshow started here, with its countdowns as well both with 'The 100 greatest..' series of programmes copied and copied over and over again by other channels as well the domain of the late Richard Whitlely. The first face on Four may not have been bombastic, but in the way the first controller Jeremy Isaacs put it " I wanted that first night schedule to be typical of what night to night the viewer could see on Channel Four." With a documentary of Max Boyce meeting the Dallas Cowboys, the television film premier of 'Network' and also the first Film Four production 'Walter' starring Sir Ian McKellen this was what Four would be about nightly including the news at 7pm as well.

This is the alternative that television needed, but for long time it was a yes and no situation with Four. In the 1960's the frequencies for the VHF transmitters were worked out with a spare slot for Channel Four to go into. Now, BBC 2 had launched in 1964 but the Conservative government of that time had promised the spare capacity to the then Independent Television Authority. Come election time the Tories lost power to Harold Wilson's Labour Party and with this the tune changed so the new government wanted the BBC to run the service instead, the problem was that the BBC presented their case by putting how much money it would cost to set up 'BBC3' and also to increase the licence fee as well to cover it. Either way they were stuck, so by not giving the frequency to either the BBC or the ITA, it laid dormant for many years as governments changed like the seasons. Though slowly after the second 1974 election discussions were held to see what type of form a fourth channel could be. What came of it was a television foundation much along the line of what PBS had done in America, but in 1977 when  the Annan Report was published and a white paper written that an 'Open Broadcasting Authority' would take over the control of the channel with a notional date of 1979 or 1980 for a launch.

With the Tory Goverment committed to the idea of Channel Four, they had to go through with it and handed responsibility to the IBA for the channel to be set up. Such as a lot of things have changed in the last thirty years, the channel itself has changed. For the better, maybe... But in the end if it wasn't Paul Coia welcoming us to Channel Four nearly thirty years ago this week, we wouldn't have had children saving up empty crisp packets to get a poster, eh?

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