Wednesday, 22 February 2017

You have been watching.

I have been watching The Man in the High Castle with, well, I won't say with one of my sons, and I can't say with Husband, and I'm not saying by myself, so let's say I have been watching The Man in the High Castle with the goldfish, who is the only other member of the household with a pulse. So anyway, the goldfish and I spend much of the time shouting at The Man in the High Castle and telling each other what’s wrong with it. I think it’s the intriguing idea we’re hooked on (so to speak) rather than its execution. “We just really like the look of it,” I say to the goldfish, because the plot and some of the acting is a bit iffy. People don’t act right when given tragic news. ‘Sorry, your sister and her kids got gassed,’ and the actor looks like he's been told his favourite suit got spoilt at the dry cleaners. The goldfish agrees with me about this. When he can remember. It's been very bonding.

Pandering to the children.

Speaking of bonding, my earliest TV memory is watching Andy Pandy with my brother. He liked to do what Andy Pandy did. One time he tried to launch himself off the top of our stairs in his underpants. And they say television can't damage children. My mother's great love was Play School and we used to watch that with her. She worshipped Brian Cant. There's a great story about his audition when he was asked to get into a cardboard box and row out to sea. He pretended to do a bit of fishing and caught a wellington boot full of custard. 

Brian really could.

If you look back at Play School now it’s incredible how slow it was. Just peeking through the round window took an age. Years later I found myself at an interview sitting in front of the formidable Anna Home who worked on that show, and later I actually met Floella Benjamin. She was about 70, still wearing dungarees, and absolutely delightful.

My grandfather loved Morph and by coincidence the first programme I ever worked on at the BBC was Hartbeat with Tony Hart at the Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham (not to be confused with Heartbeat). They let me direct The Gallery, which was thrilling. And if you have any idea what I was talking about in those last three paragraphs then you are an antique, same as me.


When I was older I watched Top of the Pops, Horizon, M*A*S*H, Shoestring, Bergerac, anything to do with music, science or a detective, with my father. With my mother I watched Coronation Street, The Thornbirds, Brideshead Revisited, anything to do with romance or people. Pretty gendered. We hardly ever watched ITV. People were snobby about ITV in those days. There was some family viewing, of course. For a while we all traipsed down the road to my grandparents’ house every Sunday evening to watch Life On Earth on their colour telly. Six of us, three generations, all watching together. Sweet really. And who can see it happening now? Somewhere along the way that sort of family viewing got lost.

Telly on a shoestring.

The boys barely watch television. I told them I had an illustrated science book as a child that predicted the future. “All four members of one family, in different rooms in the house, sitting in front of their own computers”, I said. “And I remember thinking, don't be silly, no way is that ever going to happen.” They just smiled at me indulgently. 

I told them watching television can teach us things, it's not just Wikipedia. In Canada, because of Little House on the Prairie, I learnt that small children are liable to fall when running down hill. Because of Sesame Street I learnt to recite the alphabet in Spanish and that men can sleep together. Because of Happy Days and The Waltons I learnt that every model family has a dad who fancies the pants off his wife. Because of The Brady Bunch I learnt that girls are blonde and pretty and boys are dark and tall. And because of Rhoda I learnt that wearing a head scarf is a great way to hide greasy hair. 

Brady days.

When we got back from Canada we did without a telly for a while and I stopped learning stuff. Case in point, I couldn't answer a general knowledge question during a quiz at primary school. Who is the actor who plays Robin in Robin's Nest? they asked me. I was outraged, and clueless. We had to get a telly after that so my education didn't suffer. (In case you're wondering it was Richard O'Sullivan and Robin's Nest was the unlikely love child of Man About The House, remember that?). At the time everyone here was in the grip of Starsky and Hutch mania. One friend had posters of them all over her bedroom wall. I never could understood why an eleven year-old girl fancied an old guy with a perm and an old guy in a cardie, although admittedly I do quite like a cardie on a man now, and also Owen Wilson who plays Hutch in the funny movie, but then I am old.

Not David Soul.

When I was a student I did a dissertation on kids’ telly and spent hours watching stuff in a broom cupboard with Phillip Schofield and his gopher. Years after, in preparation for that BBC interview, I set the video recorder to tape kids’ programmes while I was out at work and watched it all in the evening. I developed a loathing for The Chuckle Brothers. Then I had children of my own and they chuckled all the way through The Chuckle Brothers ("to me, to you, Barry.")

I watched a lot of kids’ telly with the boys. In desperation I used to stick Eldest in his pushchair in front of Teletubbies. He was all smiles until it got to the bit with the lion and the bear and then he was terrified. Mind you, Penelope Keith did the voice over.

The lion and the bear.

It was around this time that I was asked if I wanted to direct Brum, which I did. The only problem was it meant leaving the baby behind in London and going to Brum, so I didn't. After that, instead of making kids' telly, I mostly stayed at home and watched kids' telly with a load of kids. Remember Super Ted? The Story Makers? Danger Mouse? Come Outside? Raven? Arthur? The Cramp Twins? I'm an expert on all of it. When I'm old and slumped in my chair in the care home and I've forgotten who I am, I will still be able to hum the theme tune from The Cramp Twins. Could be handy.

Right now, though, I'm hardly watching any telly, apart from TMITHC. Lots of mates say the same. We think it’s because we can afford to be fussy. We know it’s all there for the taking whenever we want it, on Netflix or Amazon or iPlayer, we just don’t get round to it. Plus it’s not much fun watching by yourself and Husband doesn’t like telly, except for University Challenge, which is why I end up watching things with the goldfish.

In a hotel dining room in Sussex last week I overheard the following exchange between a couple and their waitress. "Is everything okay?" asked the waitress. "Yes," said the woman, "only, we can't get ITV on the telly in our bedroom." There's so much wrong with that statement, I thought to myself, I don't know where to start. But maybe I was just being snobby.

Love E x


P.S. From Seinfeld I learnt that ordering soup in New York can be dangerous. I love that episode.



  1. Not having a TV, and 7 years without one, I gradually find that people are talking to me about an alien world. Sometimes colleagues start 'Did you see....' and then it becomes '...oh, no, you wouldn't have seen it, er....'. I am making a 100 mile round trip to the cinema on Sunday, first time in about 3 years, when I just stopped myself from heckling a Sainsbury's advert on football at Xmas in WWI, when the Tommy said 'I'm Fred' or whatever and the German said 'Meine Name ist Hans' I very nearly shouted 'So f*** off out of Belgium then!'. Perhaps that's what happens having no TV to shout at?