closing the broomcupboard

Tell that aardvark it’s a wrap…

As part of the BBC’s race to the bottom, following the Coalition’s six-year Licence Fee freeze, there was a glut of announcements made yesterday which saw knives slashed across Auntie’s output (or if you wish to be more brutal, Auntie’s face. Her loyal, service providing face).

From BBC 3 and 4 goes much of their original drama and BBC 2 sees repeats increase. Whether BBC 3 had any to begin with is a point for another thread, perhaps, although even my pro-BBC stance tends to waver a bit in the face of the channel which gives us “Snog Marry Avoid” and “Nympho Gyppos in Changing Room Hell”.

The bigger and biggest headlines of the day came in the gush of nostalgia from journos rushing to pay tribute to ‘Blue Peter’, following the confirmation that the programme would be switched from BBC 1 to CBBC. Former presenters came to bash the decision as anti-family. In addition to the demise of ‘Blue Peter’, flagship news package ‘Newsround’ is also on its way to the digital platforms, leaving the traditional post-school, pre-homework slot (or as it was known in my house, post-school, pre-SNES-all-night-homework-later) to the likes of “Great Antique Hunt”, “Great British Menu” and “Great Big Country Homes Bought by Great Big Comfortable Families with Great Big Marriage Problems We Can Only Hint Towards in the Voice-Overs”. The switch from BBC “mainstream” to “digital” was reported in very traditional terms, a kind of “analogue is best” attitude which no longer fits very well in an era when almost all British television regions no longer have analogue signals. If there was anything about the coverage which stank a bit, it was the whiff of anti-BBC pong that often seeps through any news story like this. Oh, the media says, and usually the Daily Mail for all that may surprise you, another nail in the coffin of traditional Britain!

It’s worth taking a much wider view on this. In common with most people racing towards middle age, I remember a time when “children’s television was much better than today.” We all do. Our parents remembered their television upbringing, limited as it was, having much less glitz, glamour and miming pop performances as our generation did, and the current generation are unlikely to consider “Going Live!”, “The Raccoons” or “Byker Grove” as examples of a better age. However, and I say this as an unashamed 90s nostalgist, there is a case to be made against holding on to a dedicated late-afternoon children’s television slot and all which comes connected with it. As much as it hurts every generation to admit it, society does tend to move on when you’re just in a position to consider it a scandal when it does so. Each generation has its “Oh, no, they’re not!” moment.  For some, it was the axing of “Top of the Pops”, for others “Pick of the Pops”, and for this generation, it’s…..

….Actually, that’s a point. What has been axed? Is ‘Grange Hill’ still going?

Former ‘Blue Peter’ presenter Anthea Turner is quoted in the Daily Mail as thinly criticising the move from presenters you could name to complete unknowns. The age I grew up in saw the golden age of the show – from Mark Curry and Yvette Fielding in the 80s through to Konnie Huq and Simon Thomas as I got to the end of high school. As nice as they might be in real life, I suspect the modern day presenters were stymied by the shift to multi-channel television, changes in attitude towards children’s television output, and a sudden lack of wider opportunities for cross-over/intra-channel appearances.  In short, most 21st century presenters of the show were their own Romana D’Annunzio’s, cursed to live their television existences as unknowns, curiosities on the sea of broadcasting history.

There are parts of my television upbringing which I would bring back to the screens had I the power: Saturday mornings should have the “Live & Kicking”s and “ITV Chart Show”s which were inexplicably lost to cookery shows around the time of the first digital switchovers. There point where practicality tips over to nostalgia is the dividing line where “entertaining” should always be  chosen over “instructing how to make restaurant style food to people holding hangovers in one hand and Coco Pops in the other.”

The BBC must be applauded for trying to save money under very testing circumstances. They’ve been forced to make cutbacks in the usual storm of criticism. The Morning Star calls the BBC “right-wing”, the Daily Telegraph calls the BBC “right-wing”, we all go round the mulberry bush. We’d all like to preserve our favoured bits of history in aspic – be it school days, holidays or the theme to “Going For Gold”. The Beeb is probably right, on balance, to shunt kids TV over to digital now that the platform is not so much of a graveyard anymore. Nobody likes to admit that they’re getting older, things were better in the old days, and songs used to have tunes in my day, don’t you know? There’s a greater problem with the BBC’s current list of announcements – shrinking BBC 4, hacking BBC radio to little pieces and neglecting original drama across all its channels. Let’s get into a rage for all the right reasons.