A little digression before we get to this week’s Classic Clip.
I can’t remember the last time I watched anything on ITV. But still, I mentally spat out a non-existant mouthful of an imaginary beverage last July when STV, my local ITV franchise, decided to drop many of the network’s most popular primetime dramas and replace them with locally produced Scottish programming.
It soon became clear that by “locally produced Scottish programming”, they really meant cheap and pointless documentaries covering well-trodden ground, with titles such as The Greatest Scot, padded out with repeats of second-rate, 30-year-old movies.
To give non-British readers an idea of what this meant, imagine that your local TV network affiliate had replaced this week’s premiere of Lost season 6 with a documentary about the greatest trees in your area, followed by a screening of Weekend At Bernie’s 2. It was like that. Only worse.
Of course, like all the ITV regional stations, STV already shows a certain amount of local programming but, traditionally, this has rarely intruded into primetime.
The decision to ditch some of ITV’s most popular and most-watched shows, albeit English-made ones, was a foolhardy move, which we all know was really done in an attempt to save money rather than anything so noble and worthy as celebrating Scottish culture or giving viewers a better viewing experience – in fact, by its very nature, it did exactly the opposite. And ITV sued STV for £38million into the bargain.
It was a PR disaster for STV and they were recently forced to perform a humiliating U-turn and promise that the primetime schedules would return to their networked norm.
Like I said, I rarely watch ITV these days but I was apalled when STV made the original announcement. I knew that it would be bad news for viewers and that it would come back to kick the STV bosses up the arse sooner rather than later.
And the reason I was so certain, was because I knew, from bitter experience, that perhaps the worst thing about growing up in Scotland was the TV.
Not the general, day-to-day network stuff that everyone in the UK got, which I loved, which sparked my love of TV and which ultimately led to the creation of this blog.
And not even the woefully naff, painfully cheesy regional ITV stuff that Scottish Television and Grampian Television, and to some extent BBC Scotland, were churning out in the 1970s and 1980s to fill slots set aside for local programming (in fact, some of that was great, such as Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade (below), a delight that was denied those unfortunate enough to live south of the central belt).
No, I’m talking about the TV that came on when BBC Scotland, and occasionally STV, decided to opt out of the main BBC or ITV schedule and give us our own specialised Scottish programming.
It was invariably absolute mince. And, worse than that, it always, always preempted something that I really, really wanted to see.
The classic example that I’ve never forgiven BBC Scotland for, which is also mentioned explicitly in today’s classic clip, is those satirical end-of-year review shows that Clive James (below, right) used to do so well, which always aired on Hogmanay on BBC1.
But instead of his scathingly witty analysis of the year-gone-by, we’d get Hogmanay Live, the same old visit to televisual Brigadoon, where past-their-prime tartan-clad traditional Scottish “celebrities” (most of whom were conspicuously absent from our screens the rest of the year) sang the same old tired and depressing traditional Scottish tunes and traditional Scottish dance troupes did the sort of traditional Scottish dancing that had not been seen in public on any other day of the year since 1932.
I can’t help thinking that these Hogmanay TV specials were the real reason that Scots were notorious for drinking so much on New Year’s Eve (even by our own renowned drinking standards) – they were trying to induce a coma to avoid listening to Andy Stewart (or even worse, that annoying little kid) subjecting us yet again to his “hilarious” comedy kilt song about Donald’s missing troosers or watching White Heather Club dancers burling around the floor like Tasmanian devils on Valium, completely oblivious to the fact that every accordian-based tune they danced to sounded exactly the same and that Scottish dancing, while good fun to have a go at after a few drinks at a ceilidh, is incredibly boring to watch.
But I could have forgiven all that if only they had shown viewers the consideration of screening Clive James later in Scotland. But they never did.
While Hogmanay TV was perhaps the worst example of the “except for viewers in Scotland” curse, it was far from the only one. We were forever missing out on comedies, dramas and the best bits of Children In Need so that we could instead watch a documentary in Gaelic about fishing quotas or a Scottish continuity announcer get dunked in a bathful of baked beans.
One notable show that we never saw, for example, was Oxford Road Show. This early 1980s Manchester-based arts show featured music from some of the best and coolest bands of the time and comedy from the rising stars of the alternative comedy scene. In Scotland, we never even knew it existed until years later when clips started appearing on nostalgia shows. You don’t see many clips from gaelic-language shows on I Love 1982.
It was incredibly frustrating. And just to rub salt into the wounds, on the rare occasions when you wished that Scottish broadcasters would alter the schedules to give us our own programmes, they never did.
For example, when I was wee, we only had three channels (Channel 4 arrived when I was a teenager) and during school holidays, both the main channels (BBC1 and ITV) devoted their entire schedules to kids’ TV shows.
Which was great. We used to get some classics year after year – The Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe, The Flashing Blade, The White Horses, Champion The Wonder Horse, Zorro, The Double Deckers, The Lost Islands, The Red Hand Gang, Why Don’t You..? , Big John Little John… the list goes on and on.
However, the school holidays in Scotland started (and therefore ended) a couple of weeks earlier than in England. And the school holiday TV schedules were set by the networks in England. This meant that for the first couple of weeks of the hols, there was nothing on in the mornings to watch.
But even worse, it meant that we had to go back to school before the serials that we had been watching reached the final episode. I must have seen Robinson Crusoe get shipwrecked on that bloody island a dozen times over the years – yet I still don’t know if and how he ever got off it, because I lways had to go back to school long before the final episode aired (this was in the days before we had a video recorder).
Why couldn’t the Scottish broacasters have opted out of the network schedule and started the kids’ school holiday shows two weeks’ early? How hard could that have been? But no. That was too much to ask. And yet Clive James could get stuffed.
All this is by way of a longer-than-intended, but heartfelt introduction to explain why the following clip strikes such a bittersweet chord with me and why I like it so much.
It’s from The Armando Iannucci Shows. Iannucci (below, right) is best known as creator/writer/producer of shows such as The Day Today, Alan Partridge and, more recently, The Thick Of It.
But occasionally he steps in front of the camera to present his unique form of absurdist, slightly surreal satire. His Friday/Saturday Night Armistice shows, which ran on BBC2 from 1995 to 1999, are probably his best-remembered starring vehicles.
Largely forgotten, however, is his eight-part 2001 Channel 4 series The Armando Iannucco Shows, his whimsical and surreal comic musings on various aspects of modern life that was a little like a TV version of the weekly newspaper columns he used to write in The Observer (some of which have been collected into a couple of books).
It’s a shame it’s not better remembered as Iannucci has apparently said it is the show he is most proud of making and the one that comes closest to expressing his comic outlook on life.
And it costs less than a fiver on DVD at Amazon so go buy it, eh? I’m sure he doesn’t need the money but I think he’d like you to see it – and he does seem like an awfully nice chap, even by Scottish standards.
And so here, finally (well done if you read this far), to whet your appetite for the series is that classic clip I promised way back up at the top of this post: