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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Lovely jubbly: what the Christmas 1985 Radio Times tells us about Thatcher's Britain

My new piece from The Guardian on what we were watching in Britain thirty years ago- at Christmas 1985.

Christmas Day audiences were faced with a choice between Del Boy and Arthur Daley – but what else do the festive schedules tell us about the era we lived in.

It’s Christmas 1985. Mrs Thatcher has been in power for just over six-and-a-half years and – appropriately enough – those zeitgeisty wheeler-dealers, Derek “Del Boy” Trotter and Arthur Daley, are on the covers of the Radio Times and the TV Times.
The television listing magazines of 30 years ago (there were just two of them back then), make for a fascinating read, and tell us much about the state of Britain in the middle of the 1980s...

You can read the whole article here.


Lucky said...

HI, Mr. Clark. Great point about Turkey. Sadly you were the only one who noticed it.
Personally, you excepted, naturally!, I find most news media the depth of an oil slick.
You want to know what really irritates me?
I respect Mr. Xi Yinping greatly. However, twice he has made the exact kind of statement as the Turkish Prime Minister, and not one media outlet has noticed.
In reference to China's military strength, as I point out in my blog,, He was quoted as saying China would never use this strength for imperialistic goals. Excuse me??? Has the ENTIRE world forgotten about TIBET????
Sorry, for the capitals, I think this ignorance and lack of analysis appalling.
Thanks for your enlightenment though
Cheers , thanks a lot. Wade.

Unknown said...

Ha ha ha a fantastic trip of yesteryear and it's televisual delights!!! The reading of the the Radio and TV times was a greatly anticipated event..thumbing through to see what the movie blockbuster was only then to be greeted in the back pages with the holiday adverts which considering my dad was probably in debt for the coming year paying for presents received short shrift ha ha Only fools speaks for itself but I absolutely loved minder and hung on to Arthur's every word whilst holding court with an oration which in my opinion was nothing short of genius when it came to scriptwriting!! Les Dawson killed me!Robert Hardy as Siegfried Farnon in my opinion is one of the greatest performances ever! It was awash with talent and quality even though there was barely 3/4 channels! Now it's saturation of low quality viewing that doesn't even require a modicum of engaging or digesting apart from phoning in your opinion or choice of winner for £1:50!!! Another point where are all the great cartoons gone with all the great one liners and wit that put modern comedians too shame! Comedians!!! There's an irony in that sentiment they clearly fail to see!!! Even the adverts were absolute class..pure theatre but now it seems we can't take a joke and because of that it seems the joke is on us as regards viewing!! All the best for the festive and new year

Robin Carmody said...

Well, I think there's a universal consensus that TV was affected relatively late by what had already happened, or at least started to happen, in the wider world, but then that was the nature and structure of the whole medium until the 1990s and beyond, as it must be with something that exists on those terms and within those rules. Had the medium been founded on different principles - perhaps ones closer to those the ITA originally envisaged, before the Pilkington Report and the subsequent Acts gave ITV a more quasi-nationalised status - I suspect it would already have followed a more Thatcherite path. That being said, some of the other changes would I think have reached critical mass with or without Sky, as their roots were really in 1968 and were independent of Thatcherism as such.

These may not be the editions you actually have, but the scan on the Grauniad website has the south-east Radio Times but seemingly the Scottish (i.e., at that point, the Central Belt, not the whole of Scotland) edition of TV Times - definitely a contrast in reactions to the big changes there (although my family lived in the south-east and was absolutely not part of them; I can just remember, aged four, my parents giving some of my old toys to striking miners' families, and in fact one of our neighbours was a Communist sympathiser in a way we weren't at all).

We used to keep the Christmas issues only (and some other special events such as royal weddings, etc.) and two of the things that always leapt out at me from the Channel 4 listings were 'Terminus' and 'The London Nobody Knows' - although some of the racing coverage listed in both magazines was frozen off. That Christmas TV Times also features a repeat from exactly a decade earlier, the final episode of Upstairs Downstairs, which in 1975 had been period drama in name only - very much an analogy and metaphor for its own time, when it seemed as though that class would suffer a permanent obliteration, just as Downton Abbey is specifically intended to back up that class's current resurgence.

One thing you might have mentioned is Steve Davis' regular appearances on Channel 4, the dominance of virtually everything but football (except in a grimmer, more journalistic sense) in the year-end sports reviews, etc., the absence of any listed football coverage (as in virtually every issue for the previous four months) - very much a sign of football's problems and the fact that it had been snooker's pinnacle for related reasons. Also, alas, some listings which seem unsettling in retrospect: Savile and Rolf Harris both appearing in the Children's Royal Variety Performance on Christmas Day as well as in their own shows over the two days before ... and slightly earlier on Christmas Day, Jonathan King on TOTP (the edition shown on Channel 5 in 2010, just before the BBC repeats began).

Neil Clark said...

Thanks Wade!
del- great post, agreed. Going through these old Radio Times easier to pick out programmes I wouldn't like to see, today the opposite for the main channels. The schedules, as you say, were awash with quality and interesting programmes. The destruction of the regional ITV companies was a tragedy. A very happy new year to you!
Robin- very good points. v.interesting to compare Upstairs Downstairs with Downton. I've written before on the genuinely progressive values of the former- as you say made at a time when it seemed class would suffer a permanent obliteration.

Robin Carmody said...

Virtually every period drama of the 1970s (at least the ones where the central characters were privileged, obviously not Days of Hope etc. which tellingly I don't think were ever referred to as "period dramas") was perceived as on the Right of TV drama then, but most of them (Flambards is possibly an even better example) could be Trevor Griffiths next to Downton. People misremember (or at least used to, before it was on DVD) Follyfoot as in the Pullein-Thompson vein, when in fact it is a Left-of-centre series which repeatedly attacks those politics. It was an inherent assumption of most children's TV, especially on ITV, that aristocrats were "the bad guys", creepy smoothies in whose humiliation the audience should take pleasure. The list goes on - and as I said (and as you clearly agree), "the 80s", as we now think of them, were much more delayed in terms of full TV reflection than subsequent decades.

I do think the last point I made should always be remembered as a corrective, though (up to 1982 there would usually have been It's a Christmas Knockout as well). It may have helped Murdoch come back, but I don't think we shouldn't have known it for that reason alone. It was probably better for me, in the end, to know it.