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Back in the day, c4 was a turn on

It's practically compulsory when writing an article about the early days of Channel 4 to start by mentioning that the first programme broadcast on its opening evening, November 2, 1982, was Countdown. See. I just did it there. Countdown is still around, of course, and still hugely popular, even though Rachel Riley has long replaced Carol Vorderman and no host since the late Richard Whitely has been able to recreate the old magic.

But as the channel's 30th birthday approaches, I'm not sure there's much else worth celebrating. When Channel 4 first came on air, its arrival announced by that distinctive, animated multicoloured '4' logo, we'd never seen anything like it before.

If you were young (and I was just 20, in my second year at college), it was a thrilling new alternative to jaded mainstream television.

Under the guidance of its founding chief executive Jeremy Isaacs, now head of Sky Arts, Channel 4 in its first decade, mixed the highbrow with the populist to dazzling effect. It screened films from around the world you could see nowhere else on television, yet also found space for black-and-white Hollywood classics.

It gave television comedy a daring shake-up with The Comic Strip Presents, whose hilarious Enid Blyton spoof Five Go Mad in Dorset was the highlight of that first night. If nothing else, the channel continues its commitment to original, innovative comedy to this day.

At a time when the benchmarks for popular music on TV were either the jaded Old Grey Whistle Test or the tedious Top of the Pops, Channel 4 gave us The Tube, which went out live every Friday. The Tube featured the biggest artists of the day and dripped with unpredictability. Jools Holland, who co-presented with Paula Yates, found himself suspended for six weeks after uttering the F-word at teatime.



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And then there were the movies. Channel 4 was the first channel with a dedicated film production unit. Neil Jordan's debut feature, Angel, as well as three of his next five films -- The Company of Wolves, Mona Lisa and The Crying Game -- were all part-financed by Channel 4, as was Stephen Frears's My Beautiful Laundrette.

There were also smaller-scale films, such as the charming P'tang, Yang, Kipperbang, written by the legendary Jack Rosenthal, screened in weekly batches under the 'Film on Four' banner. In fact, the centrepiece of Channel 4's opening night was one such production: Walter, starring Ian McKellen as a mentally challenged middle-aged man living by himself.

Channel 4 ran into innumerable controversies; a famous example is the Red Triangle season, which featured films whose adults-only content was signalled on screen by the said geometric shape.

Mary Whitehouse and The Daily Mail hated pretty much everything the channel produced, but went into outrage overdrive when Scouse soap Brookside featured television's first pre-watershed lesbian kiss: a 17-second snog between Anna Friel and Nicola Stephenson.

These represent just a fraction of Channel 4's programming during its golden period. It's travelled a long way in 30 years -- mostly downwards, to the point where its better known for Big Fat Gypsy Weddings than for transforming the television landscape. But a tentative happy 30th anyway, in the hope the 40th might be better.

>> a bit rich, mitt The funniest TV-related story of the week has to be the Republican Party's outrage at National Geographic's plan to screen a documentary, two days before the presidential vote, about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The 90-minute film, Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden, produced by Democrat-supporting Hollywood kingpin Harvey Weinstein, will be shown in a primetime slot on National Geographic's American channel on November 4.

What's really got the Republicans worked up is that Weinstein had extra footage of President Barack Obama, filmed before and after the raid, added to the final cut. Maybe I'm missing something but wasn't Obama the man who made the ballsy call to go ahead with the raid? Makes him kind of relevant to the documentary, don't you think? "It's a propaganda film from start to finish," frothed one commentator. Coming from a party whose cheerleaders are the liars, hypocrites, thugs and nitwits at Fox News, accusations of bias are a bit rich. Although probably not as rich as Mitt Romney.

>> big switch off Wednesday's analogue switch-off was a low-key affair. No fireworks, no popping champagne corks, not even Pat Shortt in a culchie cap throwing a big, comedy switch. Just Miriam O'Callaghan double-clicking a mouse.

It was all quite surreal -- although nowhere near as surreal as the subsequent panel discussion, urging viewers who hadn't changed to digital to do so. Pity they weren't able to see it, eh?

>> cheesy, me? It seems Simon Cowell is desperate to get rid of an X Factor contestant called Christopher Maloney, who's being mentored by Gary Barlow. Cowell thinks he's too "dated" and "cheesy" and, were he to win, would damage the image of the show.

Let's get this straight. SIMON COWELL, that faultless arbiter of musical excellence, is worried a wannabe tutored by GARY BARLOW, that edgy, dangerous pop pioneer, might threaten the credibility of X FACTOR.

If you can locate a thread of logic in any of that, don't let me know, okay?


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