Venturing high up the channels on a cheap digital television package is rarely worth the trouble. Between Channel Four’s limp offsprings and Sky Sports News there is little of interest, unless you like reruns of Neil Oliver’s hair or wizened bikini ladies happy snapped in action.
Such a forlorn trawl this weekend, though, brought bounteous results: having turned thirty, CITV was throwing a bash held somewhere between Red Hot Amateur and The Africa Channel. What a shindig it was.
There was always something a bit taboo about CITV as opposed to CBBC. This was mainly because some kids I knew were not allowed to watch anything on ‘channel three’, possibly because it had commercials, possibly because it was for ‘common people’. Of course, this had the effect of making channel three far more desirable than it actually was. It was a fizzing, samizdat, revolutionary network for the shellsuit and Milk in a Can generation. Not bad for the home of Emmerdale Farm.
When thinking about it (and let’s face it, who doesn’t lose hours pondering such things?), I’d always seen myself as a CBBC kid. This had nothing to do with my Mum and Dad – their only televisual policy was to laugh at the ‘oddball’ and ‘hippy’ parents they knew who didn’t even own a telly. It’s just that I remember CBBC being, well, better, from Maid Marian and Her Merry Men to Byker Grove. Yet the fact that so much of this CITV banquet, this buffet of sentimentality, felt familiar suggests I may have been mis-remembering. In any case, CITV always had Alf Stewart thundering towards Yabbie Creek in his ute where CBBC, in the same slot, offered the damp world of Blue Peter.
Of the weekend’s celebrations, I saw little on Saturday; ironically, my own bairn refused to veer from CBeebies. But I’m nothing if not a fair parent, so on Sunday it was my turn to hog the picturewaves.
We started with a vintage episode of Sooty and Co, the first in that vehicle’s 1993 rebirth, as you’ll know. Poor Matthew: as if being in a small space with Soo’s yappy tones were not bad enough, he was forced to chase a tram through central Manchester, knocking over a tramp eating a custard pie on the way.
Soon afterwards we watched Woof, in which a teenage boy involuntarily turns into a dog (‘capers ensue’, the Radio Times probably said each week). Woof was, many have agreed, Liza Goddard’s finest hour. It bred a generation of adolescents who, each time their noses itched, became convinced they were about to turn into a Collie and jump from an ajar window.
The third dish in our mid-90s tapas was Knightmare. Knightmare was The Crystal Maze’s sinister little brother, a sibling who might well go on to stab people in the leg with a pen knife. It involved geeky children directing a friend through a virtual world of computerised castles and jobbing improv actors playing goblins. My child lost interest at this point and went to fashion dog turds from Play Doh.
Dramarama came next, and I was glad the child was not watching. I wish I hadn’t watched. There will be nothing creepier on television this year, unless Lois Walsh does a cabaret turn with Postman Pat. In this episode, a father purchased an art deco mirror for his son. The mirror featured a reflection of that son, though the reflection was oblivious to the real boy, so that it might be laying on a bed reading a magazine while the real boy wept in abject terror. Scenes outside this room were played out via that reserved form of stunted acting which seems to make the viewer’s living room become cold. I need say no more than nothing ended well, unless you like seeing teenage boys with mirrors instead of eyeballs.
By the time someone jacked-up and died in the toilets on Press Gang, I was understanding those parents who prohibited CITV. I pity those of us born in the early 1980s: a childhood of Thatcher and an adolescence of macabre light entertainment. To think I haven’t even mentioned Fun House.