This Is Not A
It's quite a significant evening here at Mental Towers. Tonight
marks the night that I stop watching television, at least at home.
Now, for the benefit of all the exotic foreigners who may be
passing through, I'll give a brief explanation of why tonight
is the night:
In what is still called (in spite of increasing evidence to the
contrary) the United Kingdom, if you use any television receiving
equipment, you have to pay a licence fee to the State. This currently
stands at £131.50 per year. Using the equipment (i.e., TV sets,
VCR or DVD recorders, PCs with broadcast cards, digital receiving box) without
a licence will land you with a fine of up to £1000 and a criminal
The licence fee goes to the BBC as its primary source of income.
Now, I should make it clear that I have no objection to the licence
fee in principle: on the whole, I think it's the least unfair
way of funding the BBC. The mad marketeers have made their suggestions
down the years, but they are all deeply unsatisfactory: subscriptions
would freeze out those too poor to pay them; getting the BBC to take
advertising would be a disaster, especially in a time of reduced income
in that sector (look at the mess ITV has become for the direst of
warnings); and direct funding out of general taxation would place the
BBC at even greater risk of political interference than it is at
I've thought about getting rid of my television in previous years,
but have always chickened out at the last moment. This was partly
because Christmas was on the horizon (my licence runs from December to
November, you see), partly because I might be seen as party to some of
the loony campaigns to get rid of the licence fee altogether (the most
vocal of which has featured an extreme right-wing columnist from the Daily
Telegraph, a Russian emigré ex-mental patient and Norris
McWhirter), and partly because I renewed my licence at our village Post
Office, and I liked the thought that I was putting business the way of
a much-needed community resource.
It is this last-named factor which has now changed. Earlier this
year, the BBC did a nasty little back-door deal with a private company
which meant that people could no longer buy their licences (or buy
saving stamps towards the full amount) from their local Post Office.
Instead, this captive and highly-lucrative cash-stream was handed over
(without, of course, so much as a squeak from that cartel of clowns
known collectively as 'The Government') to a company called PayPoint,
who run various services through grocers' and newsagents' shops.
It was this which finally tipped me over the edge. Well, that and
the fact that television has become increasingly unwatchable for anyone
with a modicum of taste. In any case, the analogue transmitters are
going to be switched off over the next five years or so, and everyone
is going to have to go digital if they want to watch television at all
after that point. I had no intention of paying for new equipment simply
so that I could watch an increasing number of channels full of
under-resourced and under-talented crap, so this is simply a case of now
rather than later.
Lest I should be accused of being snobbish or snooty about
television, let me say that I have, in my time, loved
television. If you look around this site, you will see ample evidence
of my affection for it and what it has meant to me in my life. However,
that loyalty has been strained to breaking point in recent times and,
but for the news services on CEEFAX/Teletext, I would hardly ever have
the set switched on of late.
So, at about 20:00 this evening, I started my own closedown
sequence. First off, I switched the VCR to its output channel. This
meant that I would be able to tune every channel on my TV to
that, so that no channel could receive a signal from outside. Then I
disconnected the aerial, and discovered that a certain amount of signal
was still getting through.
I then went through each of the forty channels on my TV, setting
them to the VCR's RF output channel. This was not as easy as it seemed,
because the set (a Bush, about twelve years old) has one of those
auto-tuning things on it which only runs one way! This means
that if its starting point was, say, Channel 39, it would have to work
its way all the way up Channel 68, jump back down to Channel 21 and
then go up to where I wanted it.
As a result of all this, I got faint glimpses of the channels as
they went by. It was a bit like a delirium dream, in that everything
was rather fuzzy and disparate images followed hot upon one another. I
saw (only saw, because I had the sound off) what appeared to be
a scene with a comedy vicar; an advert for ear-wax remover, quickly
followed by another one where a girl with full lips, big teeth and (one
suspects) no knickers seemed to be eating something from a can of
dog-food with almost orgasmic relish. Then there was a scene with a
good-looking young couple sitting on a sofa talking. I suspect this was
American, because it was set in one of those living-rooms where the
staircase runs up the back wall. Then there was a woman trying (and
failing) to be as sexy as Jenny Agutter (that's the American
Werewolf In London Jenny Agutter, NOT the Railway Children
one: whadya think I yam, some kinda poivoit?), followed by a brief
glimpse of some men of limited articulacy kicking a ball around a field
All these images taken together seemed to sum up all that is
television today, and much of what is wrong with it. They all passed,
like the images I imagine flash across the inner eye of a dying man.
Finally, all forty channels were detuned. Then it was the turn of
the VCR (a Sony, about nine years old) itself to get decommissioned.
This was far easier, because I could select each VCR channel and simply
type in the RF channel number and that was it.
Finally then, shortly after 22:00, the sets were switched off,
disconnected, and manhandled into the corner of an upstairs room, there
to sit unregarded.
There are some things I will miss, of course:
- I will miss QI,
for example, the only genuinely funny and intelligent quiz show on the
- I will miss watching Major League Baseball via five's relay
of ESPN's Sunday night games (although I could only ever watch that off
tape anyway due to the time difference).
- I will miss having CEEFAX and Teletext on first thing in the
morning to make me well-informed before going to work.
On the other hand, I will not miss:
- The letters pages on the aforementioned text services, which are
full of people complaining about "nasty foreigners doing us down!",
"the dictatorial EU superstate!" and "political correctness
- Programmes which start four minutes later than scheduled due to
commercials/trailers, and then go to another commercial break
after the programme has run just eight minutes.
- Ant and Dec, Ainsley Harriott, Paul O'Grady and endless series of I'm
A Has-Been, Get Me On Television. (Just a few minutes ago, I read
that Channel 4 have bought the UK rights for Big Bore for
another three years. I think I'm bailing out just in time).
I don't know whether I'll be able to keep up this spirit of noble
detachment for long. I hope so, because I can think of many
more interesting things to do than watching television (like learning
how to play that acoustic guitar I bought nearly four years ago), and I
now may have the time to do them. Life is, after all, too short.