What did I miss by being born?


There was a small piece in the Guardian today about the new BBC Genome Project.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is not an attempt by the Beeb to involve itself in the scientific mapping of human existence. The word ‘Genome’ was a construction first employed by Hans Winkler, botany Professor at Hamburg University in 1920 and is probably a contraction of ‘gene’ and ‘chromosome’. The word repesents the totality of genetic material carried by an organism.

But that’s not the context in which the BBC wants to employ the word. For some strange, pretentious and bewildering reason, the Beeb wants us to associate this word with a Project of completely unrelated trivia: what was on BBC TV (and Radio) the night you were born. Or, well,any night, really.

The BBC’s Genome is, quite simply, a night by night listing of their Schedules as printed in the Radio Times. It is utterly trivial, has no scientific application and is unrelated to any definition of the word ‘Genome’.

Needless to say, I went straight for the day of my birth to check what my parents (and I, of course) missed by not being in front of the telly that night.

I’m not going to start giving away too many personal details here: suffice to say that it was a Friday, and it was in 1955, so there was no BBC 1, 2, 3 or 4 to consider, nor any numbered radio channels: just the BBC broadcasting on 405 lines, in Black and White, on Channel 2 on your dial (ITV would be Channel 9 and I could never get the hang of why there were any other Channels even marked on the dial when nothing else was being broadcast).

The television day started at 1.30pm with Horse racing with a pesumably young Peter O’Sullevan – appropriately enough from Manchester, given that was where I was popping out into the world – and ended round about 11.00pm, I would guess: the last official programme was ‘Music in View’ with Alec Robertson taking a look at the next fortnight of music programmes, followed by The Weather and Close Down.

Amazingly, that far back we had Afternoon TV, not that it was particularly thrilling. There was a Music Festival of Commonwealth Youth, a fifteen minute piece on Costume Jewellery and Watch with Mother: it being Friday, this was The Woodentops. There was even the distant forerunner of Film ’75, ’81, ’93 and all the others, in Film Time, featuring that afternoon the very recent Royal Command Perfomance of Hitchcock’s ‘To Catch a Thief’.

At 5.00pm Children’s TV presented a play about Lord Nelson, the cast including a young Laurence Hardy and a decidedly young Michael Aldridge among other names that are now completely meaningless to me, though it’s nice to see that the BBC even then was not entirely male dominated, the play eing both adapted AND directed by Naomi Capon, holding open a door through which Verity Lambert would seize her fabled opportunity when I was a bit more used to watching the box.

The next listing was for the News at 7.00pm. Now either the play lasted two hours, which I somehow doubt, or this was evidence of the infamous Children’s Truce, when TV would switch off for an hour to enable parents to shuffle tinies off to bed without the distraction of the demon in the corner.

The evening schedule doesn’t exactly enthrall, considering this is Friday night telly: a kind of TV version of Radio’s ‘Two-Way Family Favourites’, playing requests for servicemen stationed overseas, a programme about hobbyist clubs broadcast from a Territorial Army Drill Hall, ‘Puzzle Corner’, filmed in Bridgend in which the audience was selected from people in Bridgend who put copies of this Radio Times in their window that Friday. This appears to be the only example of spontaneity that night.

Even that only lasted thirty minutes, including dances (?!), to make room for a political discussion (guests including Denis Healey!) as a lead up to the evening news at 10.00pm.

So far, the one common denominator about all these shows (and I don’t mean that they sound universally dreadful and dull, although they do) is that they’re all English. Homegrown TV for the entire schedule the day I was being homegrown, no flooding of the airwaves with trashy US imports, not then. Oh, no, wait, there’s still that awkward 10.15 to 10.45 pm slot to fill and, hey, waddaya know? It’s an American import! It’s the ‘Burns and Allen Show’, starring the veteran US comedian George Burns and his flighty, daffy wife and comedienne, Gracie Allen.

It’s also the only damned thing on the night I was born that I regret having missed, not that I’d have been allowed to sit up that late to watch it, not at the age of however many hours I’d lasted by then. Well, ok,maybe The Woodentops, but then I always preferred Thursday’s Rag, Tag and Bobtail, and I’d be nearly a week old before that came round again. Heavens, I was positively ancient!

On a more serious note, what does surprise me is the absence of any programmes relating to Remembrance Day. It was all over the Home Service on Radio, but nothing on the Box, a strange oversight given that it was only a decade since the end of the Second World War, and not forty years since the day being commemorated. My Grandfathers had been in their twenties during that War.

That was what was on TV the night I was born, or at least on the BBC side of things (ITV wouldn’t even launch in the North until I was six months old). It’s impossible to imagine that world and I’m glad to have grown out of it. There again, given that UKIP want to basically drag us back to the Fifties, the time may come when we get a stark reminder of it!

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