Programming worth the license fee alone…

If you own a TV here in the UK you have to fork out for a license costing £145 a year for the privilege of watching it.  The punishment for failing to have one is up to £1000, a quick google search reveals you can actually be fined less for running someone down in your car.

One license covers all my TV's right?

It’s not all bad, you’ll be glad to know if you’re blind you get a 50% reduction.  That’s gotta be a better deal than say if you have one leg but you have to buy a pair of shoes.   Although on the flip side a spare shoe is handy for squashing spiders, and still being able to hear some of the tripe on television even at a reduced rate may not be such a good thing.  Horses for courses.

The bugbear people have is the fee only covers two BBC channels since other stations have advertising for their revenue.  I am not complaining about this as I also pay extra to have satellite television, it’s a fact that I can’t stop myself from throwing money at broadcasters to watch their conveyor belt of crap.   However, now and again you get a gem of a show which reminds you what the license fee is for, enabling the funding of specialised programming which if it weren’t for we would be further inundated with reality “stars” and “talent” contests. 

I have seen 3 such fascinating programmes in recent weeks.  I heartily recommend them to those of you who love to flirt with criminality by not having a license, that’s if you’re not too busy accelerating at people crossing the road.

I landed on BBC Four’s The Golden Age of Coach Travel.  It followed the coaches humble beginnings adapted from delivery trucks bolted with church pews, to post war vehicles adapted by the veterans themselves to earn a crust to the soulless peasant wagons we ride on today.

We heard amazing stories from people clearly depicting with such joy and remembrance of the times they have had during this period of coach travel   Coaches slinking along country roads preventing any of the few automobiles on the roads from taking over, no one would be blaring a horn, this was the pace of life. Thus the trip itself would be part of the holiday, taking most of the day to get anywhere you had to get into the spirit of the occasion.  People photographed lining up in their hundreds at coach depots in their Sunday finest, kids with bucket and spades in their school uniforms.  

Pit stops along the way were numerous and often alcohol fuelled, dancing down the aisles and singing in their seats, passengers would get up to entertain the rest of the coach along with the bus driver who would fancy himself as a stand up comedian.   Such a delight to hear the tricks they would even play to pass the time, as I was in awe of a retractable roof on one coach which would have to be pulled open by hand, the driver would tell of whenever he did so the ladies would pull his trousers down.   Or they would pass the time by marking in chalk a series of number on the coach tyre spanning the entire circumference and marking a pointer on the body of the wheel arch,  they would gamble on the numbers they marked and wherever the tyre stopped at the next toilet break, that person would win the bet.   

All a far cry from the experience we have getting from A to B now, rushed and harried, head stuck in a smart phone or laptop, ears fused to an Ipod.  They were just so happy to be going away, even if it was to a cold Victorian seaside resort but worth it just to roll your trousers up and dip your toes in the sea.

Another series, The Secret Life of the Airport took us back to the dawning of commercial air travel in the UK, the wonder and excitement of the people at the time who were witnessing a complete revolution which would change the world as we know it, back then flying was unobtainable for most people but they would still head to the airport as a destination to drink and dine, and to witness the giant tubes of metal descend and take off.   Amazing to find out that for years Heathrow had no terminal but tents for each airline and travellers would trudge across the mud for their flights.  

It reminds us how far we have come in what is really such a short span of time that we are inconvenienced to the extreme when our Blackberry fails?  It hit home to me recently when people were devastated by the loss of Steve Jobs that I failed to understand how a gadget could have such an impact on their lives, but the cries of he changed the world rang in my ears.  I thought back to the Airport series and thought air travel really changed the world, it brought us into new cultures that we had never experienced before, it brought a wealth of different food that we had never tasted, this shaped ourselves and our world more than being able to carry your entire music collection in your pocket ever could.

Lastly I watched Fry’s Planet Word wherein Stephen Fry captures us with his reassuring tones as he informs us of the history of the word.   The episode I saw was based on the written word, we met an affable chap who at 60 years old took an apprenticeship to learn movable print techniques, I gazed in wonder as he shakily but with quick nimble fingers picked through stacks of letters to create a poem ready for the press.  

Stephen Fry regaled us with his adoration of the library, one which will resonate with most of us with even a passing interest in writing and the written word, and at a time when my local newspaper has news on the impending closure of 3 libraries in my borough.

When I grew up we had a mobile library as Mr Fry also recalled, it would arrive every fortnight and we would be so excitable at the prospect of it arriving, how many young people especially in deprived areas today have access to books, not much I imagine, their heroes are not from the mind of CS Lewis or Tolkien, their role models are football players, pop stars and the ilk, of course these have always been such but never so much have they exuded such wealth and put so much onus on celebrity and power.  Real heroes can be found in the pages of a book.

The subject moved to blogging, I am a relative newcomer to reading and writing blogs and I was overwhelmed by the sheer talent popping up on-screen before me,when I pick up a newspaper or see other social commentators or comedians on TV, I often wonder how they bagged the job when the talent I read on blogs every day far exceeds what they are capable of.  

If you can catch any of these shows on Iplayer or another internet source I recommend them or any output from BBC Four and often BBC Two infact, you won’t find jaded washed up celebrities thrust into a reality show to attempt to resurrect their flagging careers, you’ll get fascinating, witty documentary on a range of subject matter, also superb films that the BBC invest in.  They introduced the UK to Seinfeld, Mad Men and many other imports overlooked by the general public here, they’ll play archive footage of Neil Young performing as a young man in the BBC studio and the 4 hour Tom Petty documentary, Runnin’ down a dream which at last look was £28 on Amazon.

TV may suck the soul out of a living room with too much banality but secreted away you can find something worth paying that license fee for – my cheque’s in the post.

Photo credits: Wall of TV’s: Mediabistro, coach: Digiguide, air stewardesses: Blingcheese, Printing: Wikipedia

Leave a comment


  1. The fees and the fine sound outrageous! And I thought it was bad in the States, I refuse to subscribe to cable and pay $60+ for mostly garbage. I do have to say The Secret Life of the Airport sounds intriguing. Sounds like the show that recently premiered here, PanAm. Oh, the nostalgia!

    • It just makes me laugh the inconsistencies in punishment, like watching some terrible TV show withotu paying is worse than maiming someone. We should be fining the broadcasters for making nonsense and abusing our eyes and ears 🙂

  2. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime quite often. And once you pay for it, and some of the shows are crap, how many years do the producers and actors have to serve in prison? Zero. It’s just not right.

  3. Anonymous

     /  March 4, 2012

    Your good program s somebody else’s bad program. You can’t please all the people all of the time!


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