Armchair Nation by Joe Moran: Life in front of the gogglebox

Cover image I’ve just started Joe Moran’s Armchair Nation. Only a few chapters in but I can tell that it’s going to be both entertaining and enlightening as well as a treasure trove of factoids, as H likes to call them. I’ve already stashed away one eye-popping nugget: Anthony Burgess was apparently such a passionate fan of comedian Bennie Hill that he gave the eulogy at Hill’s funeral. Apparently, early BBC broadcasts included studio demonstrations of washing and ironing. Unsurprisingly, those who had shelled out their £100 for their TV receivers (this was 1936) were not impressed. Many viewers reported that they felt uncomfortable undressing in front of the set which may seem a little quaint to us but also makes you wonder what they were getting up to in their living rooms back in the ’30s.

Unless you’re the child of particularly strict parents it’s likely that TV has been a major part of your life. It used to be a case of sitting down at the same time as everyone else who wanted to watch Coronation Street, the World Cup or Dallas. Power supplies were put under strain when the nation got up and put its kettles on during what was known as the commercial break. Then VHS came along and we could choose what we wanted to watch when we wanted, fast forwarding to get rid of those pesky adverts which paid for the programme we had recorded. Next came satellite TV offering many more channels to hop before discovering that there was nothing worth watching after all. After that, we had the delights of the DVD and boxed sets which didn’t require several shelves to store one series. Now we have digital and those of us who were either too disdainful, discerning or stingy to pay for a dish have entered the wonderful world of Freeview  with – thank you BBC4 –The Killing, the original Wallanders and Borgen. There’s also the joy of starting Grand Designs at 9.15, zapping the adverts and finishing dead on 10 thanks to digital recorders. DVDs are still my main source of viewing but I’m perilously low on series to get stuck into having run through The West Wing, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire and Treme. Contemplating Breaking Bad – very late to that particular party – but M, after egging me on, has now told me that the ‘first three episodes are the worst for grimness’ thereby completely putting me off.  What to do?

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