I’ve always been a supporter of Radio Times: an avid reader; a regular correspondent if they’d said a show was good when it had turned out not to be; a competition-enterer; and, later as my broadcasting career had burgeoned, an interviewee and cover star.
My kinship with the RaTi as it’s affectionately known (pronounced “ratty”) dates back almost 30 years. In 1991, it hosted a big bash to celebrate the deregulation of TV listings, which meant that for the first time, it could publish listings not just for BBC channels but for all major terrestrial, cable and satellite television channels in the UK.
It was a seismic and hugely emotional event – several of the staff were in tears – but due to a clash with the launch of BBC1’s powerfully nosed detective show Spender, almost no one attended. Yet there I was, clapping and cheering in a forlorn bid to make the applause sound more “Oscars night party” than “individual hand claps at a golf tournament in Scotland”. I was there for them.
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The question is, have they been there for me? Because although I was happy for them to use my image to boost circulation when I was the white-hot star of my own chat show, my appearances in their pages fell away after I parted ways with the BBC. (Long story short: shot man dead.)
I went from appearing in four issues in 1994 and 95 (3.9 per cent of the total) to no issues since (0 per cent). That’s a drop-off of some 3.9 per cent. Despite being perplexed by what most would agree is a stunning lack of class, I kept my counsel, sure that the RaTi had its reasons.
But fast-forward to 2011 and the wrap party for series who’s-even-counting of Watchdog, the BBC consumer rights show, which I still think should have been called “Ombudsman”. There, I bump into the then-editor of Radio Times and casually josh with him about his publication dropping me like a dog some 20 years earlier. Why, I casually asked him ten or 11 times, had it done that?
“Alan,” he said, “it’s because you’re not on the TV any more.” Well, I roared with laughter and anger but mainly laughter for ages. Not on TV?
This was just wrong. My BBC career might have wilted, and my primary income source might have been from hosting a weekday mid-morning radio show in Norfolk, but I’d very much remained on TV. I’d fronted numerous (four) shows, from military-based quiz shows to state-of-the-nation documentaries, albeit on obscure channels most haven’t heard of, such as UK Conquest, TimeshareTV and Sky Atlantic.
My business-to-business TV work had been even more prolific, with a range of corporate videos including Be the Best Fire Warden, How Leaders Lead (and How Losers Lose), Identifying the Cancer That Is Low Workforce Morale, and Tell Me about Debenhams.
For £7.95 plus postage, anyone can enjoy these titles. That’s less than a Netflix subscription (if you don’t include the postage). Do people say Netflix shows aren’t on TV? Of course not. They are and so was I.
No, away from primetime BBC, I have remained a vital presence towards the fringes of TV Land, with views worth hearing. I liken it to an MP resigning from cabinet. Just because you’re not on the front bench, it doesn’t mean you’re not still a respected, wise and influential backbencher on whose word the chatterati still hangs. Sir Iain Duncan Smith would be a superb example of this.
And I’ve been IainDuncanSmithing my mind on a whole host of TV topics, primarily on the Sunday Skype Club – a weekly video-call social, usually taking place when Sunday Politics comes on and Eamonn (Holmes) has finished his breakfast, in which me, Eamonn (Holmes), John Stapleton (when allowed), Peter Sissons and a Hairy Biker meet up to shoot the breeze, tackle the issues of the day and discuss, say, the terrifying rise of HD for the older broadcaster, the slumping of basic diction among those with trendy regional accents, but most frequently? The demise of quality television.
Because while Norwegian rockers A-ha might have sang The Sun Always Shines on TV, the contention that the “goggle box” is bathed in a summery glow is, well, horse sh*t.
Everywhere you look there are signs of decline. Our newsreaders now stand up, our chat-show hosts don’t chat, and there’s a slipping of standards that has, like low workforce morale, become cancerous.
I remained content to observe from a distance. But a songbird can only stay muzzled for so long. And what has become clear to me, and the SSC didn’t disagree, is that, without me, mainstream TV has sunk into a funk.
This feeling peaked in 2015 when I found myself watching a primetime BBC1 consumer affairs show with a report presented by Dom Littlewood, who I usually have a lot of time for since I believe that the BBC has a duty to represent all demographics, even those with dangerous dogs.
But not today, because here was Dom finishing with a to-camera piece in which, clutching a wad of cash, he suggested an un-insulated home owner was wasting “pound… [throwing a banknote away]… after pound [he threw another one]… after pound [and another].”
This just did not work. Throwing the note on the word “pound” seemed to suggest that the note represented a pound – singular. But one-pound notes were withdrawn from circulation some 30 years ago. If he’d thrown one-pound coins as he said it, fine. Likewise, if he’d reworded the sentence to say “pounds upon pounds upon pounds”, that would also have worked. But he didn’t. He threw a banknote on the word “pound” and that was wrong. It made no sense.
And it was this that made my mind up. BBC television needed the Alan Partridges of this world to halt the malaise. And so I made it known through intermediaries that I would be willing to return. Well, the corporation immediately (four years later) snapped me up, asking me to stand in on BBC1 magazine show This Time to cover illness for a few days.
And no sooner did the BBC come crawling back, tail between its legs, than, oh look, here’s the RaTi sidling up in a manner every bit as craven.
But I hold no grudge. I’ll go further than that. They can rely on my support. No hard feelings.
Alan Partridge was talking to Rob and Neil Gibbons
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