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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Festive tv before Thatcher: The Radio Times for Christmas 1978

This new piece of mine appears in The Guardian.

"The holiday starts here. And to put you in party mood some of your favourite comedians bring the spirit of pantomime to these pages. Mike Yarwood, on our cover, opens the festivities, followed by a host of BBC TV comedians – Michael Crawford, Ronnies Corbett and Barker, John Inman, Larry Grayson (with Isla St Clair, of course), Little and Large, and last, but not least, a villainous Peter Cook."

And so begins the bumper 118-page edition of the Christmas and New Year Radio Times for 1978. The 26-page guide to BBC television and radio for 23 December 1978 to 5 January 1979 is more than just a list of programmes: it's a fascinating historical document, revealing much about the country we were that last Christmas before Thatcherism arrived and changed everything.

You can read the whole piece here.


R J said...

By the weirdest coincidence, shortly before reading Mr Clark's article, I happened to be seeking an elusive Radio Three drama (I eventually found a reference to it) of which I remembered only (a) the title - Golden Windows, since you ask - and (b) the fact that, while living in Lower Heyford, Oxon., during 1976, I had discovered this play in The Radio Times. Google proved no use. And since I had no idea of the author's name or the actor's names, I thought I would be stumped.

But one of Melbourne's leading libraries had a complete run of Radio Times issues from the 1970s and 1980s. It was a strange experience to trot down memory lane while leafing through the back-numbers I hadn't seen for 37 years.

What struck me, above all (other than the predictable and retrospectively upsetting references to Jimmy Savile), was the fact that in the Britain of 1976 - as confirmed by the relevant RT listings - you could spend almost your entire waking hours doing nothing except watching A.J.P. Taylor. You can do this now, to a certain extent, via YouTube; but the decontextualised result of a YouTube search isn't the same as the 1976 thrill of postponing dinner so that you could hear the septuagenarian Taylor tell you, for 54 minutes and 59 seconds, everything you could possibly need to know about Garibaldi / Cavour / Bismarck / Kaiser Wilhelm II without a single hesitation or written note.

Neil Clark said...

Hi RJ. Great to hear from you!

Very interesting post - and great to hear that you could access the RTs in Melbourne. I was brought up watching/listening (and reading) AJP Taylor too- as you say you could spend almost your entire waking hours watching him in the 70s. There's been a major dumbing down in our culture since then- as comparison between the RTs of the 70s- and the RTs of today proves.
All best wishes,

R J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
R J said...

Yes, I was afraid that the State Library of Victoria (where I hit pay-dirt) might simply have discarded all its Radio Times back-numbers. After all, the demand for these would be so small that they would hardly constitute a priority for even being transferred to microfilm, let alone being put onto a website. But no, the issues were intact; I needed merely to submit a request chit to the relevant librarian; and later the same day, I was browsing through the RT archive, happy as a dog with two tails, while memories of such 1976 hits as the Generation Game title music - not to mention Mamma Mia - provided a pleasing mental accompaniment to my search. Happy Christmas.

DBC Reed said...

This is a terrific piece from NC. Quite as good as , and more original than Orwell's Boys Weeklies, which someone suggested he write.
I find Austerity Television nowadays too boring to watch apart from Max Keiser and the same performance by Kevin Bridges they repeat endlessly.(He is a real throw back to the tradition on non-dour Scots comedy .)Apart from that I can easily end up watching five full length football games a weekend and not even the fact that they're completely improvised prevents homogenisation by the commercial influence.Did you see
Arsenal vs Chelsea? I rest my case.

Neil Clark said...

Hi RJ- browsing through old RTs from the 1970s is sheer bliss, isn't it?
There is so much in them, unlike today's which is just a celebrity love-fest.
A very merry Christmas to you too.

DBC- great to hear from you and well done with that excellent letter in the Guardian last week.
many thanks - I'm pleased you enjoyed the piece.
I didn't watch Arsenal v Chelsea but listened to it on the radio and it sounded very dull.
Much more variety in top-flight football in the 70s- and of course much more unpredictability. QPR 15 mins away from winning title in 1976! Merry Christmas to you.

jock mctrousers said...

Great piece Neil. You've said it all, so I don't need to. Merry Christmas.

Neil Clark said...

Cheers Jock- many thanks- it's great to hear from you.
Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to you too!