television

Three things to remember

  1. It was “Emergency – Ward 10”, not “Emergency Ward – 10”
  2. Janice “Oi’ll give it foive” Nicholls was on ABC’s Thank Your Lucky Stars, not the BBC’s Jukebox Jury.
  3. Episodes of The Benny Hill Show ended with enraged women chasing him, not him chasing buxom women.

If you can remember those three points, you can bluff your way through most conversations in future.

Lightning tree and other symbols

Follyfoot is too early for me to have seen it, although it was repeated several times. I still didn't see it because drama series about horses have never appealed to me (they're for girls). For that matter, much of the made-on-film children's drama of my childhood didn't appeal to me. It was usually stultifyingly dull, worthy and often ended with a message, sometimes quite divorced from the plot, a message that we should be nice to each other or look both ways before crossing the road or obey our teachers or not leave your grandfather's house to go live with Fr??ulein Rottenmeier or the like. Fuck that: I wanted adult drama, where the message, if there was one, was a bit more subtle. Often.

But I may have missed out. The theme tune, by The Settlers, is a jaunty, folky number that I really like, albeit sadly not anything whatsoever to do with the plot of the show as far as I can see (the show was about horses, not exciting fires in fields). Also, Steve Hodson, the male romantic lead, is very cute by 1970s standards. Probably less so now. Also also, it had Desmond Llewelyn in it! Q! I now think I'd quite liked to have seen him read out words in Follyfoot, having seen him read out words in a number of other things.

Best of all: the above video has the YTV frontcap left on. I loved frontcaps — you always knew what you were getting next. Silver man-horse-flag combo: something shot on cheap video. Big white star/cross thing: something shot on film in the countryside/near the sea/both.??Ilk lee-moor bah-taaaat!: something more worthy than it should be by rights. Big gold ship (amazingly rare): programme on film involving Plymouth in some way. Silent pointy G: something even more worthy than Yorkshire was putting out.

Them were the days.

BBC trust

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Previously on 'Another Damn Blog': I wrote to the BBC to complain about a minor matter??of them getting telephone numbers deliberately wrong on-screen.

I know this is a petty point, but it's one that annoys me. And, as I said at the time, "[i]f the BBC can get its own telephone number wrong, can they be trusted to make a documentary without cutting such basic corners?"

The reply came from BBC Complaints and seemed to be deliberately trying to prove my point. It said that they put numbers up on screen incorrectly because they were easier to remember that way. Bollocks. What a load of cobblers. I wrote back, saying that I didn't mind the brush-off, but did mind them actually lying to me. If they weren't lying, then they would produce the research that the BBC had done that showed people could remember telephone numbers more easily when they were wrong than when they were right. After all, they must've have done that??research??to come up with that answer.

But, I warned darkly, if they'd done no??research??and this reply was just a lie, it was time for them to 'fess up or I would prove the lie by requesting a copy of the research myself. BBC Complaints never replied. So I had to carry through with my threat and I made a formal Freedom of Information Act request to see the research — warning the FoI department that they wouldn't find any but that two could play at the timewasting game.

BBC FoI came back to me: they could find no evidence whatsoever that the BBC had commissioned or received any research on the formatting of telephone numbers on screen or elsewhere. In other words, the guy at BBC Complaints had lied his little socks off to make me go away. As I say, I wouldn't mind a brush-off, but this default that now exists in the UK of telling a lie, no matter how implausible, rather than just telling the truth has to stop.

I first had an organisation tell me an obvious and implausible lie a few years ago. After being very ill and having the NHS strangely reluctant to treat me (indeed, receiving open hostility from some staff) I sought a copy of my hospital notes. Lovely: as correspondance was passed between departments, I was referred to on multiple occasions as "this homosexual". As in "this homosexual first presented to me on…" and "I would like to refer this homosexual to you for further tests" and the like. This, clearly, would not do. So I complained to the chief executive of the hospital. Here comes the whopping great porker: he wrote back and said this was normal practice for all patients and they were all referred to that way in notes. Yeah, right. Do you even believe for a moment that your notes, assuming you're straight, say anywhere, anywhere at all, "this heterosexual presented to me on…"? Uh huh.

I went to the then-Healthcare Commission about this and they gave the hospital a mighty slapping down because of it. The chief executive had to write to apologise to me personally, the writers of "this homosexual" had to attend special courses in not writing "this homosexual" in notes, and the Trust had to employ a 'Diversity Officer' (no, me neither) to make sure this never happened again. But nobody had to apologise for the great fat lie the chief exec told me in his first reply. It was seen as entirely acceptable to try to make me go away by lying to me. It isn't.

A similar, if less outrageous in its detail, thing happened last month when a WHSmith employee told me a barefaced lie to my face rather than admit a mistake had been made. As I say, it seems to have become the default in British society, at least in larger organisations, to tell lies rather than deal with consequences.

For the BBC, this initial lie isn't going to go away. Today I've written to the BBC Trust, what was the governors, to ask them if they agree with me that trust in the BBC is important and lying to stakeholders undermines that trust. I'm expecting the BBC Trust to give me the brush-off and I won't mind that. I just hope they don't take the opportunity to lie to me at the same time.

The yearbook mystery

Here’s a little thing I put together for Transdiffusion’s MediaBlog.

Doctor Two

I’m not a fan of most (any?) YouTube “mash-ups”, where people assume that taking the pictures from one thing and the sound from another and putting the two together equals some sort of art. It doesn’t, it equals mindless crap and shows how mindblowingly unoriginal many YouTubers can be.

I make the exception for this video. How could I not: a great piece of title music (from a truly execrable programme) added to an unfairly treated Doctor Who – the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton. It was under Troughton’s reign that most of what we think of when we think of the character of the Doctor was properly established: from regeneration to the mad-man-with-a-box persona. The series wouldn’t’ve worked without William Hartnell’s superbly strange performance to start it off, but Pat Troughton ensure that the character, and thus the series, had longevity built right into it. The thing that makes the current series, supposed production problems aside, so enjoyable is Matt Smith’s actorly choice to bring some of Pat’s mannerisms back to the show, despite Pat having left well before Matt was born and the BBC doing their level best to erase much of the second Doctor from the archives in their 1970s bonfire-out-of-vanity.

That was the news that was

A nice little find on YouTube – some of the BBC Nine o’Clock News from 1978 and Jim Callaghan announcing that he has a better chance of winning an election if he goes to the country next year.

Ah, if only. What Jim didn’t know was that Labour had peaked in the polls. He was hoping that the rise in support would continue, but Labour, Old Labour, was about to be brought down by the unions over the winter of 78/79 – with help from the rabidly Tory press. Prime Ministers are usually good about knowing when to go to the country. This is what makes Callaghan’s decision to stay on in 1978 stand out. Gordon Brown did the same when he became PM in 2007: Labour had got a boost in the polls from Blair’s resignation and the party wanted to use this to call a snap election and get a new mandate. Brown eventually decided against it, fearing that being re-elected with a reduced majority would hole his premiership under the water. We now know it was already taking on water and the ‘credit crunch’ we were starting to hear about collapsed into a financial meltdown and spelt the end of Labour’s hard-fought reputation for economic competence.

This clip from 1978 shows how much television has changed too. When did you last see a clock on TV? Clocks on TV were once vital, if nothing else because many people didn’t have clocks – reliable clocks were historically expensive items. TV news now, Sky’s thundering presentation aside, doesn’t go for that urgent-clattering-typewriters-HERE-IS-THE-NEWS type of music any more. Our newsreaders are now journalists, rather than the actors we employed back then. Whether this is helpful or not for a straight reading-out-the-news role isn’t clear, but then TV news doesn’t go for that style any more either. TV news prefers to show us journalists talking to other journalists about what a third group of journalists are thinking. Radio news still employs the actors to read the stories in a clear voice at least, albeit not Kenneth Kendall and Angela Rippon any more.

The cold open on the PM’s statement is also something you wouldn’t see now – a shame because it’s very effective – but you often still get the instant rebuttal from the Leader of the Opposition, more so when it was Brown/Cameron than we’re currently getting under Cameron/Milliband (not sure why that should be – media bias or Labour still in disarray? Probably a bit of both).

For the sake of balance, here’s some of ITN’s News at Ten from the same year (different day, duller stories), plus some ads (including Vila from Blake’s 7 eating Stork!) and some Thames continuity (but no clock).

Look, it’s Denis Howells! Best. Minister. Ever. Made Minister for Drought and two days later: flooding! We don’t see action like that any more.

I miss many elements of the BBC presentation of news, which works very well even now – on a busy news day. However, the ITN clip proves that this type of presentation on a slack news day is so very very dull. Or at least very very dry. Mind you, current news presentation on a slack news day doesn’t work either: journalists demanding that Something Must Be Done about very little is just as nerve-shearing as journalists reading out facts to fill space was back then.

0208 if you’re outside reality

Some will say this is petty, but it’s worth pointing out.

Just before Doctor Who, the BBC ran a trailer for the return of the John Barrowman cheap variety filler programme “Tonight’s The Night”. They were begging for idiots in the audience to apply to humiliate themselves on television. In order to take part in this ritual humiliation, they need to call the production company.

Just call 0208 576 9785, they said. Except this number doesn’t exist. The Subscriber Trunk Dialling number for London is 020. It used to be 01, as we probably all remember from childhood when the BBC would often tell viewers “Call for more information on 01, if you’re outside London, 811 8181”, helpfully ignoring that 85% of the country are outside London. Then they split London into inner 0171 and outer 0181. Then they combined both again into 020. When they created 020, they added 7 or 8 to the front of the local number to make more numbers. Since then, they’ve introduced 3 at the start of the number for some subscribers, with 5 to follow soon.

Similar changes of numbers have happened elsewhere too. Leeds was 0532 (0LE2 on the old dials, see?) but they changed it to 0113 and put an extra 2 on the front of the subscriber number. So a Leeds number is 0113 2XX XXXX. It isn’t 01132 XXXXXX. Locally, you have to dial the 2, even if you don’t have to dial the 0113.

So when the BBC said to call 0208 576 9785, they meant 020 8576 9785. Why is this important? Because these little things are important. If the BBC can’t even research correct telephone numbers for a trailer, why should we expect them to research correct background information for a news report?

If the BBC can get its own telephone number wrong, can they be trusted to make a documentary without cutting such basic corners? If there’s a phone vote, can they be trusted to count the calls correctly? If they can’t even get a phone number right, can anything they say be trusted? From such acorns do mighty oaks grow.