Review of the Year: 2001 

15 December 2001 tbs.pm/1051

That was the year that was, it’s over, let it go

Television News

Newsroom South East disappeared this year, as the BBC’s long-awaited restructuring of the South East region finally gave those people resident just outside of London the news service they deserved. Since the days of the Regional Programme before World War Two, the BBC has offered a service for London that also happened to be the service for the south east of the country. Now the Southeast is getting equal treatment to the rest of the English regions.

On-Screen Logos

The fad for permanent on-screen logos (DOGs) seemed to be coming to a natural end. Whilst annoying most of the viewers of new digital services, these little bugs also served to remind viewers that what they were watching was barely distinguishable from any other channel. So far, the fashion for on-screen web addresses has been the first to end, with Sky News, ITN News Channel, PlayUK and BBC News 24 all giving up on the hated clutter. The rest can only follow once broadcasters finally realise that trumpeting how similar your programmes are to those of other broadcasters is not generally a good marketing ploy.

ITV Developments

ITV in England renamed itself to ‘ITV1’, less in an attempted to be differentiated from sister channel ITV2 than to promote the failing digital-only service. S2, the Scottish version, rebranded itself ITV2 to reduce losses at Scottish Media Group, whilst TV You became UTV2 and began making plans to succumb to the ITV2 brand in 2001.

Border Television finally ended its 40-year independent life following a take-over by Capital Radio. The budding media group’s sound services were absorbed by Capital, whilst the TV interests were sold – inevitably – to Granada, who already had the contract for playing out the once-proud region’s output.

Late on in the year, ITV realised that ITV Digital, formally ONdigital, was a financial disaster and was being crushed under the might of BSkyB. As the main shareholders, Granada and Carlton, began to look at ways of offloading the loss-making platform, ITV as a whole jumped on to the Sky Digital bandwagon and began broadcasting most of its regional services, plus ITV2, by satellite. The new service instantly ended the hobby of DXing for other regions by making it too easy, and also proved that ITV was now virtually the same all over.

Granada reported record losses stemming from ITV Digital, and Carlton also began to suffer, leading to speculation about further mergers between the English and Welsh ITV companies.

BBC One returns

After an almost constant lead over BBC-1 since it launched, ITV was found somewhat wanting when the BBC finally managed to knock it off its perch this year. The BBC was helped by ITV’s refusal to join the Sky platform (soon revised) and the sudden downturn in profits at the commercial channel when the post-September 11 recession hit home.

The first televisual disaster

Although television has recorded some amazing events over the years – from Neville Chamberlain with his useless piece of paper to the moon landings – no event has ever been as televisual – in all meanings of the word – as 11 September 2001.

Terrorists, apparently sponsored by Osama Bin Laden, crashed fully laden commercial airliners into both towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania (thanks to the courage of the passengers). Whilst the first crash was only seen a few days later when amateur tape came to light, the second crash and the subsequent collapse of both towers was seen live across the world. Millions saw something that they couldn’t mentally quantify, a massive change in the scale with which they viewed both skyscrapers and planes, and turned to newspapers in an attempt to understand the horror. Over 3,000 people in total died “on the day the Earth stood still”.

Digital boom ends

The huge growth in digital television channels started to falter this year as the more specialist and expensive to produce channels closed. The promise of niche channels for every viewer seemed to require every viewer watching – a fault in the business plans of the new media barons, or simply a misreading of the market?

Good Riddance

Mary Whitehouse, the school teacher-turned-campaigner, finally died aged 91. She had begun her reactionary crusade against all things on television that she didn’t like – and there were many – in 1964, forming the Clean Up TV Campaign to rid the BBC of satire, sex, criticism of the government and any independent thought.

Her National Socialist views on the media – that it should be controlled to show only a rosy view of the world that did not meet with the experiences of the vast majority – soon spread from television into the newspapers and underground press. She built up a following of fellow narrow-minded reactionaries who supported her private prosecution of Gay News for publishing a poem about Jesus Christ. The poem was unobjectionable, but the juxtaposition of it appearing in a magazine for “deviants” was too much for her tiny mind.

Ignored by most broadcasters in the 1960s, she actually had an effect in the 1970s, where she succeeded in getting many of programmes that dealt with any form of sex other than her rigidly defined notion of it banned, whilst allowing violent television programmes free rein as ‘unexceptional’.

In the 1980s she managed to get the violent sport of wrestling removed from lunchtime screens – to be replaced by the tame and acceptable sport of boxing.

Her relentless attacks on anything that didn’t fit in with her blinkered view of ‘Christianity’ helped stop television dealing seriously with the threat of AIDS and thus killed thousands. Her hatred of ‘deviants’ meant that gay children were left abandoned by the popular media, killing several hundred more by suicide and homophobic assaults. Her campaign left scars on the British psyche that will take decades to heal; but it continues under the new name MediaWatch – and should be watched for that very reason.

Goodbye

This year sees us say a fonder goodbye to some heroes of broadcasting…

  • Brian Masters – of Associated-Rediffusion and the BBC.
  • Muriel Young – continuity announcer at Rediffusion and later a children’s TV producer.
  • Jim Pope – continuity announcer at Granada.
  • Charlotte Coleman – Marmalade Atkins in the 1980s children’s TV programme ‘Educating Marmalade’.
  • Douglas Adams – scriptwriter and author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
  • Tumadir Tawfiq – the first woman to join Egyptian Television when it began in 1960.
  • William Hanna – of Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
  • Ann Sothern – star of the US comedy ‘My Mother the Car’.
  • Rosemary De Camp – actor in ‘Petticoat Junction’.
  • David Angell – co-creator of ‘Frasier’, in the World Trade Center disaster.
  • Michael Williams – actor and husband of Dame Judi Dench.
  • Nyree Dawn Porter – actor, best known for “The Forsythe Saga”.

Written by Russ J Graham. Based upon ideas by Andrew Bowden, Jon Bufton, and Kirk Northrop.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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