A Burglar’s Charter

Ian Jones introduces OTT’s five retrospective

First published April 2007

It was the channel nobody wanted, save the advertisers. It was, for a time, the channel almost nobody could get. Then, for a hell of a long time, it was the channel almost nobody watched.

Now, 10 years old and approaching adolescence, five is something that’s tolerated rather than treasured. Born out of confusion – 7000 engineers, 380 call centre operators and £150m being spent on re-tuning 10 million of the nation’s video recorders – it spent its formative years trudging through a mire of obsessions: American trash, cheap sport, porn, reality TV, more porn, American gloss, celebrity and extreme makeovers.

For a desperately long time the channel was entirely at the whim of its two main backers, RTL and United News & Media, each with their own agenda and respective vendettas, neither seeming willing to surrender influence or concede any ground to the other.

It was also blighted by the legacy of a botched launch and befuddled infancy. Greg Dyke, one of five’s original backers, referred to the condition within the ITC licence requiring the re-tuning of video recorders as “a burglar’s charter”. It’s still a useful tagline to apply to the channel as a whole, summing up the smash-and-grab attitude of its commercial backers, its advertising companies and its management: stealing an advance here, bagging a lead there, often operating in as shameless and wily a manner as possible.

On the occasion of five notching up its first decade, OTT has sized up the station’s efforts to date. Two articles trace the story of the channel’s erratic choice of programming, from the likes of 5′s Company and Jack Docherty, through European Blue Review and Red Shoe Diaries, to the Terry and Gaby Show, The Farm and House. We also consider the station’s equally inconsistent performance in terms of ratings. And, finally, we nominate 10 of the channel’s most representative endeavours, each memorable – like five itself – as much for what they failed to deliver as managed to achieve …