Television Tales: 1980s

This week we are continuing my meander around television through the decades. Television, that cultural icon sitting in the corner of most people’s lounges, which has been blamed for all sorts of degeneracy over the years – until the internet came along and pinched that mantle. Previously, we’ve looked at the very early days, up to the 1950s; the 1960s; and the 1970s. This time, we are going to look at the 1980s.

My research for today’s piece suggests a 1980s television set, like the one shown in the graphic above, is a vintage collectable. There’s even a category on eBay for Cool 1980s TVs. But looking at them, they are chunky, often boxed in melamine made to look like wood; the screens are still convex; and they often have a little aerial sitting on top of them. How many of us have spent time as youngsters moving the aerial around until the picture was stable – and then being instructed to ‘just stand there; don’t move!’?

But if the hardware wasn’t changing significantly, the service it transmitted certainly was. The country gained its fourth terrestrial channel in 1982 when Channel 4 went on air, while The Satellite Channel, which would later morph into Sky One, was also launched. Children’s BBC started in 1985, and in 1986, the BBC began full daytime broadcasting. In the same year, Yorkshire TV, one of the regional stations broadcasting the ITV programmes became the first to be on air 24 hours a day.

It was a decade when news and current affairs broadcasting took a big step towards the 24/7 phenomenon it is today. Newsnight appeared for the first time, as did Watchdog and Crimewatch; breakfast television was launched on both BBC one and ITV. And there was talk of a fifth terrestrial channel.

Programmes launched during the 1980s include Eastenders, Neighbours and Casualty. The genius of David Jason and friends was seen for the first time in Only Fools And Horses; the series ran from 1981 to 2003 and gave us what is, for many, the funniest moment in television history in the 1989 episode Yuppy Love when Del Boy falls through an open bar and disappears from view while trying to play it cool in front of a couple of young women. We said goodbye in the 1980s to old favourites such as The Old Grey Whistle Test, The Two Ronnies, Crossroads, and Play School.

The 1980s was also the decade when three major telethons were launched. Children In Need has been on our screens annually since 1980. Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day was first aired in 1989. And of course, the largest charity event of all, the 17 hour Live Aid concert, was televised in 1985.

There were some historic broadcasts in the 1980s. We were on holiday with friends in Wales in July 1981, spending most of the time on the beach. But we all gathered around the TV to watch a bashful Prince of Wales kiss his new wife on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Little did we realise then what television moments this young couple were going to give us in years to come.

By Elizabeth Ducie

Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.

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