Television, Drug of the Nation

A television set has many names. The small screen, gogglebox, or just the telly. This issue, we put a strong case for idiot box being our favourite

“Television, the drug of the nation,” said The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy, and maybe they also said something about ignorance and radiators, I wasn’t really listening because ‘Cash In The Attic’ was on.

Ten years ago, I ditched my television. It felt like a drastic decision at the time, like binning your favourite willy warmer because the whiff attracted slugs into the house. I felt bereft, spending the first telly-free month staring at anything shiny and square – my microwave, my neighbour’s killer robot, slices of Dairylea. The decision was quite deliberate, though. I gave up my TV to spend more time writing. I’d rather spend half an hour penning this page of finely honed hogwash than watching Dot Cotton bury Vera Duckworth under a patio, or whatever happens in soaps these days.

In the UK, if you give up your TV licence, you’re not allowed to go near a television. If you even think about televisions, a brown-coated civil servant pounces from a bush and gouges your eyes with a copy of the Radio Times. Not that I have anything against the BBC’s TV licence. 

Unlike the anti-5G foil-hatters who can’t tell the difference between their social media and a sewage pipe, I think the BBC is a wonderful thing. The Radiophonic Workshop? Kraftwerk twiddling their “machinemusik” knobs on ‘Tomorrow’s World’? Squarepusher making sinister ambient music for CBeebies? Yes please. In fact, I once played a starring role on the children’s show ‘Blue Peter’, although I can’t disclose details because Valerie Singleton has my grandmother locked up in a… dammit. I’ve said too much. Put it this way, John Noakes was shocked when I did a huge plop on the studio floor.

Cable telly ruled too. I remember the thrill of secretly watching MTV after bedtime because that’s when they’d play Future Sound Of London rather than their usual diet of epilated boy bands. They’d put on ambient mixes accompanied by graphics with such a low resolution, they looked like someone had done a tree-bark rubbing in Microsoft Paint. MTV lost its way when it forgot the “M” bit of its name and instead filled its schedules with rubbish reality shows. Oh look, Ozzy Osbourne’s burnt the toast. I have no interest in the breakfast habits of someone who eats bats for a living.

A decade without television has left me out of the loop though. Are Zig and Zag still on ‘The Big Breakfast’? Has ‘Lost’ reached a thrilling and satisfying conclusion? Is Aphex Twin presenting the news? 

The technology has advanced too. When I was a kid, our television was the size of a room and we had to wind a handle with a Victorian orphan. These days, people can simultaneously watch six channels on a Casio watch while partaking in their weekly class of aggressive rumba. 

Television streaming helped during lockdown because everyone could finally spend all day watching ‘Floor Is Lava’ while power-chugging Häagen-Dazs just like they’d always dreamed.

There was once a children’s television show called ‘Play School’. Some readers will remember its square, round and arched windows, its gormless Humpty Dumpty stuffed toy, and its animal sacrifices to the Norse god Odin. Okay, maybe not that last one. 

I like ‘Play School’ because techno band Orbital once made a video with presenter Brian Cant. However, I recently learned that the programme’s doll Hamble kept falling over, so one of the presenters impaled her on a knitting needle. It’s true. Check Wikipedia. All those years watching this cuddly safe television programme, and I never knew of Hamble’s torture. Television, the thug of the nation, something something something ignorance and radiators.

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