BBC1: 6pm – 6am

By Jack Kibble-White

First published April 2000

The news leads with the welfare benefits crackdown story.

Reporting Scotland is the only major local news broadcast on the BBC today, and as such most of the material is new. The style and content of this half hour broadcast adheres very closely to its network equivalent, most characteristically, with presenter Abeer Parkes providing little more then a linking function to proceedings. Curiously, Reporting Scotland‘s take on Blair’s visit to the Scottish Parliament treads almost an identical path to the report less then half an hour a go, with the presumption – I suppose – that Reporting Scotland viewers are not necessarily Six O’clock News watchers. As ever with Scottish news, sport receives extensive exposure. The mix here is very similar to that of the weekend editions of the national news programmes. However, this is a competent bulletin, happily distinguishing itself from its magaziney, commercial TV equivalent.

Watchdog‘s presenter Anne Robinson is the personification of BBC woman: no nonsense and strong. This whole programme appears to be an extension of this perceived character, and as such is a mealy mouthed affair. Pursuing legitimate purveyors of poor customer service is one thing. However, the second item on tonight’s programme regards Argos’ wedding list system. In order to avoid confusion a reference number must be quoted when making the purchase to ensure the present is sent to the correct address and married couple-to-be. Annie’s hard luck story concerns a couple that missed out on some presents because their friends’ failed to provide the correct reference details. Of course, because this is Watchdog, Argos capitulates, accepting that this is their fault. Thus, the Great British Public is encouraged to believe they bear no responsibilities in the completion of a business transaction. This is very much the tone of Watchdog: in general it is far more reprehensible then any of the organisations it points the finger at.

EastEnders is a relatively quiet episode. Ian’s trying to arrange a baby-sitter, Barry is trying to arrange a night out for Natalie, and Beppe and Ricky inadvertently counsels Lisa and Phil on the joys of parenthood. Tonight’s main focus is the ongoing angst between these last two: Lisa is pregnant with Phil’s baby, but Phil doesn’t want to know. Mark’s interest in proceedings leads to a dramatic confrontation with Phil. Drawing on our past knowledge of the two characters, this confrontation squarely positions Mark as the third member of the soap’s latest love triangle. Mark’s behaviour here is out of character, but expedient to the plot, and the episode concludes with pensive looks from both men. Refreshingly bereft of incident this episode may be, it becomes clear that without high drama, EastEnders does not have a surfeit of other facets which may entertain the casual viewer.

Jeff Povey’s script for Holby City takes a number of the regulars out into the country on a team-building exercise. It is therefore inevitable that one of them will fall over and hurt themselves (does anybody in TV-Land ever return from one of these type of expeditions unscathed?) In the meantime, it doesn’t matter where they are, or what they are doing, those ongoing story arcs require feeding. The structure here is very similar to Casualty, with a peppering of ongoing stories, and self contained patient dramas. In this part of the world, medical conditions are ironic commentaries on people’s morals. So tonight, we have a husband suffering from the injuries inflicted by an abusive wife, and a vain woman awaiting a heart transplant. Unremarkable stuff, neither progressive nor substantial. The performances are adequate and the direction routine. All in all this is a slight piece of work, and even the series ending cliff hanger (Will Mike Barratt lose his leg?) fails to ignite.

The last of BBC1′s three major news programmes of the day leads with a couple of new stories. First off what Michael Buerke refers to as an “extraordinary diplomatic row” between Britain and Zimbabwe. Extraordinary it may be, but this story has failed to make the grade as a viable news story all day. So why now? Perhaps there is a belief that it bears little that is relevant to the everyday lives of viewers. Such esoteric stuff can only be newsworthy post-watershed. Thus, the Dresdner/Deutsche Bank merger becomes relevant once again. In general, there is a greater distinction between this broadcast and the preceding two. There is more emphasis on world and economic stories, rather like Breakfast News. However, the same reports are still used wherever possible. Buerke certainly commands more presence then either Anna Ford or Fiona Bruce, but essentially there is still little to the newsreader’s role on the BBC.

Robin Mathieson presides over our last chance today to catch up on local Scottish news in a Reporting Scotland bulletin. There is little here to distinguish this broadcast from the brief edition at 1.30pm.

Playing the Field has reached the concluding episode to the third series of this ensemble drama. A horrible montage title sequence kicks off an episode written by Katie Baxendale (and I thought Kay Mellor wrote all of these). This is one of the BBC’s high profile shows, and certainly there are enough well known faces scattered about: James Ellis, Ricky Tomlinson, Brigit Forsyth, Lesley Sharp, Michael Angelis, John Thomson, Elizabeth Spriggs and Melanie Hill for starters. It is difficult to pick out much sense from something, which – admittedly – is tasked with drawing this series’ threads together. One of the main story lines appears to be local boy Eddie (played with predictable naïveté by Thomson) making good in the big city. This is a predictable tale that has been told many times before. Disappointingly, this particular telling doesn’t add anything new. The focal point for the various characters appears to be the woman’s football team (who many of them play for). Therefore, I suppose it is appropriate that much of this concluding episode takes place around a relegation match, and whilst much of the acting may be of high quality, the football is significantly less believable. The series conclusion sets up an unrequited love for the next series, and with that it is back to Alison Moyet’s risible title music.

Life According to Fred opens with quasi-Have I Got News For You animation. MacAulay is one of BBC Scotland’s journeymen, forever on the fringes of national consciousness. The raison d’être for the programme is a little spurious and must simply be a vehicle for Fred’s inoffensive humour – beginning with a bit of stand up on the subject of The Exorcist, followed by a cheesy feature on Edinburgh Ghost hunters. On a day of filler material, this is one of the most inconsequential broadcasts yet. Mock vox pops follow and then back to the stand up. Viewers in England are currently being subjected to It’s Only TV But I Like It: an altogether wittier, more cerebral experience (in comparison).

A craned camera shot opens Question Time to some cheering from audience members. This is a disconcerting start. Tonight’s broadcast from Nottingham pits Michael Meacher, John Redwood, Alan Beith, Dawn Airey and (for fun) Miranda Sawyer together. The first question concerns begging, and straight away Redwood espouses Hague’s favoured “common sense” view. These initial exchanges mainly draw in Redwood and Meacher, but so far there is little more then seasoned banter. Dimbleby seems less concerned about parity then his predecessors, and allows members of the panel to cut in over each other. The second question (bizarrely asked by an evangelist dressed as a petrol pump attendant) is an unexpected broadside directed at Channel 5′s Dawn Airey. An entertaining 10 minute debate on pornography and freedom of speech ensues, with Airey referring to the “huge range of programming on Channel 5″. It appears incumbent on Beith to sensibly point out that freedom of speech takes on a different context with reference to the medium under discussion.

It is not until question four that the debate begins to assume the usual low level resplendent of politicians. Responding to a question regarding Ken Livingstone’s candidacy, Redwood attempts to appeal to the cheap seats with infantile anti-Prescott jibes, and we are in familiar point scoring country. The general relaxed level of informative debate subsides as the programme concludes with Beith a bystander, Sawyer an observer, Airey still smarting from the anti-Channel 5 roasting and the other two counting points and licking wounds.

After the skiing forecast – John Kettley doing the weather on the hills in Central Europe – a repeat of Panorama is run, signed for the deaf. This is a slightly disconcerting experience as a matronly looking woman seems to be standing in front of a big screen showing police brutality. This particular edition concerns unlawful arrests, and therefore spends a considerable amount of its running time re-telling the story of Gerry Conlon and the Guildford Four. One of the more intriguing aspects of this broadcast (that of the funky bass incidental music) is sadly lost on the intended audience of this particular broadcast. Flippancy aside, this is a useful if somewhat predictable episode of the BBC’s flagship political programme, thankfully a world away from ITV’s Tonight with Trevor MacDonald. Though even handed it does fail to address the underlying moral concerns that such an issue raises. There is no attempt to understand the motivation of the police, who ultimately hold the key to a number of these unlawful prosecutions.

Another of the Beeb’s more worthy and long running programmes – Tomorrow’s World – gets a signed for, subtitled repeat, this time courtesy of a smart be-suited man standing in front of the screen. There is the typical mix of light science articles, including a land mine proof pair of boots, robotic horse riding and a helicopter simulator. Peter Snow and Philippa Forrester are enthusiastic presenters who display to the viewer a genuine passion for science. A lot of this is fluffy and inconsequential but rather entertaining. Of course, in an ever changing world it’s reassuring to see that the vinyl versus CD debate is still alive and kicking.

A really horrible title sequence begins the peculiarly titled See Hear on Saturday. Presenter Lara Crooks signs enthusiastically and quickly runs through today’s menu. It becomes apparent that this is a very cheaply made production, with the Deaf News apparently transmitted from the edge of someone’s desk (with a cup of tea included). This is – in truth – not really deaf news, more of a Parish newsletter. Curiously, on the two occasions that there appears to be footage available relevant to a story, it is broadcast without any explanatory voice over or subtitles, thus creating a significant amount of dead air. It becomes apparent that See Hear has set itself the understandable rule that all speech must be accompanied by footage of the speaker in question.

Uncomfortably, all of the programmes broadcast tonight under the umbrella of For Deaf Viewers have been factually based and rather serious in content. Perhaps the challenge of interpreting drama and comedy is perceived as too great for these kinds of presentations. However, were I to be a sufferer of this particular disability, I do not believe there would have been much here that would have tempted me to set the video.

We are on hold for 90 seconds before being allowed to join News 24. This is so we are able to pick things up at the top of the hour, but still smacks of rather sloppy scheduling.

The day ends in much the same style as it began. News 24 has been the subject of much criticism and therefore attempts to portray itself as an essential, serious piece of work. The top story here is the failure of John McCain and Bill Bradley to become the respective Republican and Democrat Presidential candidates. Significantly this is the first news broadcast to include substantial new reports. For example, the Deutsche/Dresdner merger story contains little extra information, however, the report here is entirely different focusing now on the reaction of those employed by these banks. It is a competent, able broadcast equally split between business, political and world news (much the same as Breakfast News at the beginning of the day) and contains a significant scoop in the shape of an interview with Bill Gates. There is also time for the odd mini-programme (such as Hard Talk at 3.30am – Tim Sebastian interviewing a scientist speculating on the future of sex) though all of these adhere to the inherent hard-nosed house style of the station. Through the course of the night, the headlines change so that by 5.45am, shipyard closures assume the top story and McCain and Bradley have already been consigned to history.


Short Changed?

BBC1 is the most important television channel in Britain. We know it, and it knows it, yet today’s schedule has been crammed with inconsequential filler material. On the positive side, there have been very few repeats, and even fewer imported programmes – definitely less than the Points of View whiners would have you believe. Yet there is an unpleasant sensation that BBC1 in the 21st Century is no longer for everyone. I am not as aspirational as Shopping City thinks, as emotional as EastEnders wants me to be, or as humourless as Fred MacAulay imagines. With the exception of Quincy, today’s dramatic output was exclusively relationship based and female centric. There was little for me here at all.

Today’s BBC1 lacks a hard edge, an aggressiveness. Its daytime output appears self confident, yet unwilling to endeavour. It’s children’s programming obsessed with placating viewers who may – if their programmes aren’t hip enough – abandon telly in preference to their Dreamcasts. The evening schedule meanwhile is too reliant on tried and tested formulae, strategically positioned to gather the maximum audience possible. This is “no risk” television; not in itself bad, and certainly of some worth, but worryingly it is too insubstantial. I want my BBC1 to be continually progressive and challenging. On this evidence there is little sign of that. It is harmless stuff, and occasionally diverting but in the final analysis, having sat through 24 hours of television, I am conscious that I left without a single salient memory of any of it.

  <1pm – 6pm