(advance apologies for sounding like a particularly smug version of the Guardian’s Media Monkey)
Last night’s special event at the British Film Institute in London to mark the launch of Maggie Brown’s history of Channel 4 was a disappointingly low-key affair. No Jeremy Isaacs or Michael Grade; no Muriel Gray or Roger Bolton; not even Cecil Korer looked in. Instead it was just Dick Fiddy on the microphone, followed by an appallingly vague and haphazard introduction from Luke Johnson, and then the author herself speaking from a lectern for an hour or so, mostly with her head buried in a pile of notes.
She promised a dozen or so clips which duly appeared but quickly turned from the exceptionally interesting to the all-too predictable.
First came footage of Isaacs and a woman publicist at some advertising conference in early 1982, awkwardly doing their best to sell the channel via a bit of heavily-scripted cross-talk and forced banter (to no audible response from their audience whatsoever). Next, some of The Friday Alternative advocating the end of the House Of Lords with primitive Paintbox graphics and a picture of Guy Fawkes.
It was followed by an extract from TV-am in early 1985 with Frostie ribbing Isaacs about their respective channels’ dodgy early days, Isaacs refusing to name his favourite programme and proudly defining Channel 4 as the place to “have a jolly good argument”, plus, for no reason at all, Peter Jay perched at one end of the sofa looking on and saying absolutely nothing. This was the best clip of the night.
Some Network 7 came next, and it had really weathered well. Sharp, witty, exciting: it was miles better than almost every current affairs or youth programme on telly today. But from here things started to go wrong. After Dark followed, but the most obvious clip imaginable: Oliver Reed falling over things and kissing feminists. Everyone in the world must have seen this footage by now; was there nothing else in the archive?
Then came a bit of GBH – the same bit that appeared in the Channel 4 At 25 documentary. Then a boring few minutes of Faking It, a bit of Queer Of Folk taped off the TV, not one but two extracts from Big Brother… Dammit, this was the pedigree of your Sky One talking heads show, not the BFI!
Anyway, Maggie Brown was refreshingly upfront about how shit C4 was in the early days, how Michael Grade loved throwing money at big set-piece drama, and how Michael Jackson just threw money around full stop. Then it all ended very suddenly with no questions or discussion, and the audience dissolved as rapidly as it had materialised.
Not the most accomplished or definitive of histories, then, but at least someone’s first generation off-air recordings of Good Morning Britain haven’t entirely gone to waste.