Why TV repeats are good for you

David Brown looks at the benefits of taking a break from the novelties of popular culture

Pollen counts and television repeats are both on the rise at this time of year, each it seems causing equal amounts of irritation.


A friend who suffers with hayfever told me that he’d retreated indoors the other day, rheumy-eyed and with a cloud of Kleenex in front of his nose, only to find that the TV alternative to Euro 2012 – of which he’s no fan – was a rerun of Call the Midwife. “I felt like I was being punished,” he said.

It wasn’t so much that he has an aversion to childbirth and wimples, more that this was an episode that had been previously transmitted. “It was only on six months ago,” he continued. “Couldn’t they have come up with anything new?”

He’s not alone in craving fresh thrills. Novelty is now prized in all corners of popular culture – during summer, multiplexes offer a different blockbuster each week, our bookshops promote bestselling beach reads, while viewers clamour to watch the latest US TV imports.

And now, thanks to technological advances, there’s no excuse for not keeping up, what with smartphones offering live TV and big screens flashing up breaking news at railway stations and in town squares. With the pace of change so relentless and our access to updates so readily available, it’s no wonder that any sense of repetition is seen as a punitive slight.

But should we be so quick to dismiss TV repeats? Take Call the Midwife, BBC1’s biggest drama for a decade and a series that offered many insights into experiences that most of us are going to encounter at some point in our lives – namely birth, love and loss. Yet how many of us – half a year on from its original broadcast – can recall what happened in each instalment? All we can probably remember are snatches of dialogue or flashes of certain scenes.

This is not the fault of its writer, Heidi Thomas, but the sad truth of a society in which culture is consumed and then quickly disposed of because we’re so awash with new diversions. Could it be that we’ve forgotten how to reflect, consider and absorb? And in giving us another chance to see the series, isn’t the BBC merely providing the means to enrich our understanding?

My feeling is that our desire to stay up-to-the-minute has robbed us of some deeper appreciation, despite the fact that we all actually realise that taking a break from current affairs is vital to our wellbeing. Each summer, the majority of us will give our bodies a rest from the daily grind by heading off on holiday. But just as important is giving our brains a break from the shock of the new. 

So think of TV repeats over these coming months as an oasis in the schedules, the chance to contemplate more softly spoken truths that we may recognise but which failed to register the first time around. In a landscape where we’re swamped with novelty and constant change, this is a rare opportunity indeed.


Call the Midwife can be seen tonight at 8:30pm on BBC1