IVAN METHUSELAH'S
CARPET-LINER LISTINGS


Ivan's been redecorating, and is most excited about what he's found under the carpet... why, it's the Radio Times and TV Times from the end of July 1981. Perhaps this might help him prove a suspicion he's had for many years about how Thatcher damaged television through her turn-of-the-'90s broadcasting legislation. 

Unfortunately for Ivan, he's picked a bad week to lay his carpet, as July 29th is the television event of the year: the Royal Wedding twixt Charles and Di. Undaunted, Ivan looks through the souvenir editions to pick out the hidden gems of early '80s television.

First, a few notes about broadcast media in 1981, for those who are too young to remember:
There are only three TV channels in the country (no digital, no satellite), and one of those is heavily fragmented such that no two transmitters are broadcasting the same programming.
There are only four national radio stations, all run by the BBC. The BBC only operate three VHF (now better known as FM) frequencies, with Radios 1 and 2 presenting a split schedule over 88-91.
Teletext is in its infancy. The BBC offers "sub-titles" on a very small handful of programmes. All TV broadcasting is in mono.
The only station (TV or radio) to broadcast 24-hours-a-day is Radio 2. BBC 1 and 2 are still switching off during parts of the daytime schedule.

In order to make a better comparison with his Digi-Box Ration Book, Ivan has highlighed his particularly choicy morsels in blue. So here we go:


 
TELEVISION
World of Sport: Wrestling
LWT
ITV; Saturday 25th July; 4.0-4.50 pm
Big Pat Roach v Romoany Riley in the Heavyweight class. Followed by the Australian Pools results.
La Cabina
BBC 2; Saturday 25th July; 10.30-11.5 pm
The UK premier of this legendary Spanish TV drama by Antonio Mercero. A man is trapped inside a telephone box. Stars José Luis López Vázquez.
University Challenge
Granada
ITV; Sunday 26th July; 1.0-1.30 pm
Bamber Gascoine hosts.
Call My Bluff
BBC 2; Sunday 26th July; 7.15-7.45 pm
Arthur Marshall, Victoria Wood, Peter Egan, Frank Muir, Rula Lenska and Nigel Dempster (dear god). Robert Robinson pings the bell.
Discovering English Churches
BBC 1; Sunday 26th July; 11.50-12.20 pm
Donald Sinden examines the Perpendicular and the break with Rome.
Closedown
BBC 2; Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday; 11.0-1.12 am
This is the classic post-Why Don't You closedown. Don't miss the 1.45pm post-See-Saw closedown too (it's Bod on Monday).
Celebrity Snooker
Anglia; Monday 27th July; 1120 am
An enticing regional variation.
Chorlton and the Wheelies
Thames
YTV; Monday 27th July; 12.0-12.10 pm
Chorlton befriends some stones.
Road Runner
ITV; Monday 27th July; 4.15-4.20 pm
Why is this not on anymore?!
Hong Kong Phooey
BBC 1; Monday 27th July; 4.45-5.0 pm
Followed by John Craven's Newsround.
Roobarb
BBC 1; Monday 27th July; 5.35-5.40 pm
Also 5.30, Fri.
Sing Country
BBC 2; Monday 27th July; 9.0-9.50 pm
Johnny Cash at the Wembley Arena as part of the Easter Silk Cut International Festival of Country Music.
Tom and Jerry
BBC 1; Wednesday 29th July; 7.0-7.15 am
Remember them?
Give Us A Clue Special
Thames
YTV; Wednesday 29th July; 5.0-5.45 pm
A Royal Wedding special with Lionel and Joyce Blair, Anna Dawson, Derek Griffiths, Roy Knnear and Ruth Madoc. Aspel hosts.
Chock-a-Block
BBC 1; Thursday 30th July; 1.30-1.45 pm
Fred Harris presents the See-Saw staple.
The Black Stuff
Sub-titles on Ceefax page 170
BBC 1; Thursday 30th July; 10.15-12.0 pm
Alan Bleasdale drama (first shown on BBC2) which spawned a more famous spin-off. Two quotes are given: one from the Guardian, one from the Observer.
Comedy Classic: 2
Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?
Sub-titles on Ceefax page 170
BBC 1; Friday 31st July; 7.30-8.0 pm
It's the cycle-race one. Comedy Classic 1 was the Liver Birds.
Fundamental Frolicks
BBC 2; Friday 31st July; 9.0-10.15 pm
Charity variety concert with Jon Anderson, Rowan Atkinson, Chas and Dave, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, Stephane Grappelli, Hot Gossip, Neil Innes, Chris Langham, Rik Mayall, Alan Price, Griff Rhys Jones, Alexei Sayle, Mel Smith and Pamela Stephenson, with the Fundamental Frolicks Band.
Bullseye
BBC 2; Friday 31st July; 9.0-10.15 pm
Not the Central TV quiz show, but BBC2's darts version of Pot Black. Sid Waddell and Tony Green commentate.
 
RADIO
The News Quiz
Stereo on VHF
BBC Radio 4 (200kHz; VHF:92-95); Saturday 25th July; 12.27-1.0 pm
Simon Hoggart asks the questions to Alan Coren, Sue Cook, Russel Davies and Richard Ingrams. Repeated Mon 6.30 pm.
Shipping Forecast
LW only
BBC Radio 4; daily; 1.55-2.0 pm
Back in the days of Finistaire.
Star Wars
Stereo on VHF
BBC Radio 1 (1053/1089kHz VHF:88-91); Saturday 25th July; 2.5-2.30 pm
4/13 - The droids escape to Tatooine. Lord of the Rings is on R4 at 12.0, Sun (ep. 21/26).
Walters' Weekly
Stereo on VHF
BBC Radio 1; Saturday 25th July; 4.0-5.0 pm
John Walters hosts his arts, leisure and entertainment magazine.
John Peel
Stereo on VHF
BBC Radio 1; Monday-Thursday; 10.0-12.0 pm
Still very much alive in 1981.
Truckers' Hour
Stereo on VHF
BBC Radio 2 (693/909kHz; VHF:88-91); Tuesday-Sturday; 1.0-2.0 am
Sheila Tracy presents music for truckers.
Messiaen
Stereo on VHF; Gramophone Record
BBC Radio 3 (1215kHz; VHF:90-92.5); Thursday 30th July; 11.5-11.15 pm
Louange à l'Eternité Jésus (Quantuor pour la fin du temps)
Proms 81
Stereo on VHF
BBC Radio 3; Friday 31st July; 7.30-9.55 pm
Simon Rattle conducts the London Sinfonietta:
Boulez - Rittuel: In Memoriam Maderna
Berg - Chamber Concerto
Messiaen - Et Exspecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum
 
FILM
Odd Man Out
Carol Reed, 1946
Anglia; Monday 27th July; 2.0-4.0 pm
A beautiful piece of cinema. Anglia only.
The Sound of Music
Robert Wise, 1965
BBC One; Wednesday 29th July; 6.10-9.0 pm
A fitting celebration of the Royal Wedding.
The Big Sleep
Howard Hawks, 1946
BBC Two; Thursday 30th July; 8.15-10.5 pm
Classic Chandler Noir.
 
 
 
"Going to the Wedding? Take a tranny with you!"
 
 
TELEVISION
Ok, then... how did 1981 do? Well it's very fair to say that many of my choices were nostaligia-driven, hence the two kids shows that made it to my final selection. That said, even with three channels (about a third of what we have today) there's absolutely no difficulty finding five programmes to watch. And this is in a week which gives us the Royal Wedding, and a slew of programming related to it, including Royal Fireworks and International Polo. ITV also offered us the Miss Universe contest this week, so considering the number of broadcast hours left over from all that, I think TV managed as well as it does now. 

As far as programme quality is concerned, there's two programmes there (La Cabina and The Black Stuff) which get me very excited indeed. Even Road Runner is more than worthy of its place here. Only Chock-a-Block is really solely driven from a  purely nostalgic yearning. And there's plenty of other stuff I've picked out that would be worthy of a ration-book placing. 

I'd estimate that about 7pts would be generated from the programmes I'd be watching, which is pretty much the average for today's telly. Good going for a three channel network with an import-dominated prime-time. There were no glitzy game shows to speak of that week. It was mainly soaps, sit-coms, films and US cop-shows. 

     
RADIO
Radio has changed little over the years. In 1981, Radio 1 was beginning to age, and it seems that punk has never really touched them. But there's little to choose between the current daytime line-up and that of the eighties. 

Radio 2 here is the old-people's station we recall from our youth... all Sing Something Simple and The Organist Entertains (and my personal favourite: You and the Night and the Music). But I've fallen in love with the concept of Truckers' Hour: a sort of less cultured Late Junction

As for the other two channels, they have changed only subtly. Radio 3 is now a little hipper, and the listings are more readable. Radio 4 now has more comedy, and Broadcasting House is built over the Morning Service of old (a most welcome alteration). 

Startlingly cosy was the presence of The News Quiz there at 12:27 on Saturday, just before Any Questions. And with Simon Hoggart hosting, too.

It has to be said that, with less comedy on 4, and with no BBC7, the choice of radio programming was significantly smaller than it is now. But I've managed to find three shows of interest (more really), which can be tricky even nowadays. 

I'd be lucky to get 3pts from the radio, but that's the same today.

     
FILM
Today, the best channels for films are usually BBC 4 and Channel 4, neither of which existed back then. There were only three films worth mentioning that week, and one of them was The Sound of Music. Furthermore, viewers outside East Anglia would be reduced to two of those three, because the best of the three films, Odd Man Out, was an Anglia TV matinee, that is to say, a regional variation. I miss the old, regional ITV, but let's face it, it could be infuriating. While there were gains in community programming, there were irritations when your region chose to opt out of something good, or when a neighbouring region (out of reach) decided to programme something better. As demonstrated here. Anglia also gave us Celebrity Snooker this week, and one or two classic kids TV shows too. In this modern digital world we have oodles of room that would allow us to reinstate regionalised opt-outs and at the same time maintain a national schedule, but, of course,  ITV is now one, so that's all out the window pretty much. There's only two or three regional slots left, and as all the regions are owned by the same company, it comes down to either Luke Casey in Nidderdale or Luke Casey in Swaledale.

But I'm straying off topic. The point is that even today it's usually a struggle to get two films. And so it was back then. Well there's about 4 or 5pts to be had out of this lot (only 1 or 2 if you're not in the reach of Anglia). Again, this is pretty average even for today.

     

 
So in conclusion... well the thing we come away with is that despite being several channels shorter of stuff, the potential points coming out of that last week in July 1981 were pretty much as many as come out of an average week today. Now we have BBC1 churning out medical soaps and vacuous comp-gen documentaries, BBC2 plodding on with its Home and Gardens schtick, ITV1 with its soaps, cheap camcorder docs and out-take shows, C4 with its reality TV crap, C5 with all the stuff C4 thought was too crap to commission, BBC3 with about two comedies and some celebrity shit repeated endlessly, BBC4 with all the arty stuff that BBC2 once had, ITV2 with its US imports, ITV3 with its ITV drama repeats, BBC Parliament with its tiny screen, the news channels which are rolling news, ABC which is full of crap, FTN which is C5 ten years ago, UK History which is repeats of BBC2 and UK Bright Ideas which is even worse. And some shopping channels, and Sky Travel which is actually not bad really but you'd never watch it all the same.
Everything is streamed into its own genre-specific channel and multiplied slightly. And most of it is crap. We don't really have anything new. We just have a bit more of it. Never mind the quality, feel the width.

Not that I mind having so much to choose from. It's not much harder now than it was then with its two badly formatted, broadcaster-specific listings magazines. But evidently, the amount of, from my perspective, "decent quality" or "good" programming remains much the same. It doesn't really teach us a lot, but it's an interesting bit of trivia at least.


 

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