ITV 59 - All Your ITV Favourites (And Mike & Angelo) Part Nine: TV-am AND Channel 4!
Baaaa! Baaaa! B'baaaaa (DUM DUM DUM)! Well, Independent Television Fans, it seems that this archive-scouring expedition through the electronically generated polystyrene chips that used to be wedged between your average day's worth of ITV programming is attracting less than a quarter of the audience that the earlier and self-edivdently far more successful jaunt through the BBC's equivalent iconographic history did, and quite obviously this is down to the fact that TEHER ARE FAR TOO MANYT IDEANTS IDENATS
Sorry, not sure why that keeps happening. What we were trying to say up there was that quite obviously this is down to the fact that ITV really always just had a 'nyahhh... that'll do' carboard-and-Letraset attitude towards its own inter-programming corporate brandery, and as such the end result was both much less interesting and indeed much less just plain weird than that of the BBC. You may even have noticed this being ever so slightly reflected by last couple of entries not really featuring that much in the way of anything worth commenting on. In the hope of making up for this, we've kind of expanded the remit for this particular entry to allow for closer examination of two somewhat more interesting offshoots of the Independent Television expanded universe - Channel 4 in a little while later on, but firstly, TV-am!
Once an all-too-familiar sight to youngsters who had got up before TV 'started', and with all the artistic flair of a crudely felt-tipped drawing cut out with safety scissors and clumpily pasted onto dull-hued skin-irritating 'soft card' for a school project, this makeshift 'GET BACK TO BED' notice would sit blearily between the end of the overnight shutdown and transmssion tests and the actual commencement of TV-am, with Good Morning Britain's uneasy lurch from beshirted break of day 'hard news' to sofa-bound tabloidy celebrity-endorsed campaigns against whatever people were against that week famously introduced by...
Backed by THAT Jeff Wayne-penned the-chances-of-anything-coming-from-Teddington-Lock ambient synth fanfare, Good Morning Britain would blare its way onto the airwaves with a celebrated opening sequence featuring the individual words of the show title picked out firstly by - gasp - derring-do-representing 'Red Devils'-esque skydivers holding aloft a banner for the benefit of all the square-jawed youngsters who were constantly being told 'YER LIKE THIS' about quasi-military 'adventure sport' stuff, then by some flowers blooming aboard whatever it was that had latterly replaced the Ark Royal (the square-jawed youngsters neither knew nor cared and were only watching to see Super Chicken anyway), then by some 'seed'-thirsty pigeons descending on Trafalgar Square en masse in a strict lexicographical formation, and finally by some hapless members of the general public standing in a predefined arrangement to bodily spell out the full title, famously diverging in a bizarre 'melting letters' gambit at the start of certain ad breaks. And speaking of TV-am's ad breaks, you know what the best one they had was?
Hang on a minute... Parky? What's he doing here?! Don't start adjusting your set just yet - unfortunately, despite extensive research, it's proved impossible to locate any of those ad break slides wherein a crudely cut out Roland Rat mounted on a stick was pushed in at 'zany' angles in front of a still photo of a nonplussed-looking Kevin The Gerbil, so Mr. Parkinson has generously agreed to appear as an illustration in its place. Anyway, that's the last we'll be seeing of him.
The present-day availability of cheapo cricket bat-stricken Rat mock-animated examples notwithstanding, TV-am's ad break slides really did have to be seen to be believed, walking a daredevil technological tightrope by cramming in pretty much everything bar the kitchen sink. And, if the ad break was during one of Rustie Lee's cookery slots, the kitchen sink as well. This one here manages to combine a functioning superimposed clock, a cheery picture-in-picture salutation from the resident newsreader, and impenetrably cryptic hints at upcoming features (Between Stairs??). All very impressive, though do bear in mind that you're not supposed to praise TV-am these days due to their Thatcher-impressing strike-busting anti-union antics, irrespective of the fact that their bizarre attempts to keep the station running by using tea ladies to operate cameras and running episodes of Flipper backwards (not actually an exaggeration for comic effect this time) provoked mirth rather than pride. You may as well just read the Daily Mail and be done with it. So it's definitely time to move on... to another ITV semi-affiliate that nobody upon nobody could accuse of every displaying hostility towards right-on-ness. Well, up until about 1998 anyway.
Yes, it's those famous tumbling primary-coloured blocks assembling themselves into a warning of lefty performance art/sweary drama/feminist documentary/ethnic sitcom/agit-prop poetry/Keith Allen in general to come, Channel 4 The Big Bore! Created by original-lunch-scoffer Martin Lambie-Nairn using months of painstaking transatlantic computer technology that you could probably do in a couple of minutes on your phone now, the deceptive genius of the self-constructing approach was that - as would be endlessly demonstrated over the years - it could be easily broken down and reassembled into another suitable shape to accompany such landmark televisual events as Puffin Night, Kia-Ora Night and Mr. Pastry Night. Or even into a '5' for an actually rather amusing advert featuring what was, to all intents and purposes, an unlabelled 'mock'.
One of the more sane and rational rearrangements of the three-dimensional fragments was into this natty Swatch-evoking clock face, which it has to be said was seen on screen a lot more than any corresponding ITV clock ever was. And the reason for this curious disparity is about to be made very obvious indeed...
In a classic bout of you-couldn't-make-it-up-ness, Channel 4's early years fell victim to the very same sort of industrial relations that they insisted on showing fifteen thousand hard-hitting documentaries about every evening, and as such they were only allowed to sell a limited amount of advertising space per day. As a consequence, ad break insulation foam captions like the one seen above were common currency, albeit thankfully without some bloke with a buzzing microphone spluttering at a speaker-rattling volume over the top. If they'd shown more Murun Buchstansangur this would never have happened.
Anyway, back to those bizarre situationist reimaginings of the constituent parts of the '4'. One of Channel 4's favourite early cost-conscious space-filling gambits was the bulk-buying of televised minority sports from around the world, which unexpectedly paid off when the nation's schoolboys (and, erm, Bernard Levin) briefly became caught up in the Madden-commentated thrills and spills of American Football. While William 'The Refrigerator' Perry's spell of being known over here as anything other than a ridiculous name would prove to be all too brief, Channel 4 certainly did their utmost to capitalise when it was still a 'thing', hence the teetering 4-derived linebacker shown above. Saltwater Taffy all round, y'all!
No primary colours here, pals. As anyone of a certain age knows, night-time on Channel 4 was where European ladies took their tops off and shouted "REHHHHHH POLITICA!!!", alternative comedians joked about what would happen if Thatcher was a bus driver, award-winning animations blurted out sub-Morph gibberish about Enver Hoxha, Jonathan Ross did 'postmodernism' and went on about old toy rockets and bizarre films, and TV's The Joeys appeared in The Corner House. Except, of course, for when you were watching, when it was only ever endless hard-hitting documentaries about restrictive practices. Unless, of course, there was a certain symbol in the top left of the screen...
Woah yes. The lights are out, the family filters are off, the film stock has been rendered suitably sandpapery, and it's time to unwind with a controversial banned movie from the more uncompromising corners of the globe, so strap yourself in for a generous helping of allegorical nude ladies, allegorical laughably rendered cannibalism, allegorical frank talk about sexually transmitted diseases and allegorical babbling in invented nonsense languages with the likes of Pastoral Hide And Seek, Throw Out Your Books Go Into The Street, Out Of The Blue, Identification Of A Woman and The Clinic. Or, when you were watching, hard-hitting documentaries about restrictive practices, only in Brazil or something.
And to round things off, here's the special variant they produced to celebrate Channel 4's fifth birthday in 1987, an occasion that they marked with repeats of Ace Of Wands, The Tomorrow People and Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased). A joke that will be lost on all bar about three percent of the readership. Oh well, join us again next time for the bit you've all been waiting for...