Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Switching off after big switch over

BY the time you read this I will have been without a TV for almost a fortnight.

Last week, as the DVD player in my Freeview box died, predeceased four years ago by an earlier one integrated in the TV set sitting above it, it occurred to me that there was now little point in my having a TV.

I conducted a brief audit of my viewing habits. Aside from the odd news broadcast, a few history programmes and some rare vintage comedy, I watch mostly DVDs. My tamer and I have also noticed that on weekdays, if we sit down in front of the screen after dinner, we tend to fall straight asleep. If we don’t watch TV, though, it doesn’t happen. Instead we now talk, read or listen to music.

Since the Great Digital Switchover, things on the viewing front have deteriorated, mightily.

In the months before D-Day my new Freeview box worked only patchily, with the pixillations on its many channels frequently breaking up into psychedelic crossword puzzles without clues.

Then there was the first signal boost. Initially, we were able to receive a few more channels. Then a further signal boost with a re-tune occurred. This, allegedly, was to help boost reception of Channel 5.

At this point, however, we actually lost Channel 5 altogether, which up until then we’d been watching without trouble.

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Then, on D-Day, came the Mother Of All Signal Boosts. This was when, despite repeated re-tunes, we lost Yesterday, Film Four, one of the history channels and a number of channels which had partly helped to make our viewing experience just about bearable.

Of nearly 100 channels which they claimed were available, I was left with only 15. These channels were located, mostly, between settings 1 and 70. After number 70, I found children’s TV and some contact channels apparently dedicated to rabbits. What should I do? I asked the experts.

Because Wivenhoe, where I live, is “in a dip”, they told me, I might need a new aerial in order to receive my full quota of soul-corroding dross – sorry, that should have read, “my life-enhancing televisual smorgasboard”.

A woman down the road from me, however, spent �200 on new kit and found hardly any improvement.

I considered the situation. I never watch programmes preceded by the words “Celebrity” or “The X.” Nor am I interested in cookery programmes, property programmes, lifestyle swaps, Scandinavian detectives, or Inspector Montelimar’s English Subtitle Mysteries. I’m also bored to death with what I call List TV: such as “Your Hundred Best 1980s Media Student Comedy Moments”. Besides, I can remember only two comedy moments during that entire decade and, since both happened in my bedroom, I suspect that neither was televised.

Then a revolutionary notion occurred. “Why don’t I just get a DVD player and a little flat screen and never watch TV again?”

This idea became a sword in my hand. Ah, but then the licensing authorities might hound me relentlessly, as they once did a TV-less friend of mine, insisting that she had a hidden TV. Being an awkward customer, at first she refused to let them into the house. After another visit, however, she allowed them in. They seemed incredulous, she said, when they discovered that she was telling the truth. They continued, however, to bombard her postally with TV licence reminders.

Whilst I’d heard similar tales in the past, almost everyone I spoke to upon the subject seemed rather woolly when it came to current licensing laws. So, I decided to check the facts with TV Licensing themselves.

Here’s what they say:

You require a TV licence if you are watching or recording any programme whilst it is being shown. This is on any device, whether that device is a computer, mobile phone, games console, etc.

However, if you watch only DVDs, or catch-up services such as iPlayer, then you don’t need a licence. What you must do, however, is to notify TV Licensing and sign a declaration – hard copy or online – to the effect that you do not watch or record programmes whilst they are being broadcast.

Furthermore, if you have paid your licence and cease viewing mid-term, you can apply for a refund of your licence money for any un-used quarters of the year’s fees. That does sound reasonable, doesn’t it? So despite any conspiracy or brainwashing theories, nobody’s actually forcing you to watch TV. Call me an old git but I think I preferred it in the days when we had only three channels.

For a start there were more films: cosy old monochrome masterpieces which helped fill up the rainy weekend afternoons.

I liked them. And I know Downton Abbey is popular, but really, it’s only Upstairs Downstairs Lite, isn’t it? It whips along at breakneck speed at the expense of any real depth. And whatever happened to gems like the Hammer House of Horror ?

One other question: Where’s the real comedy gold? Why should the pay channels be able to buy up all the best stuff? Some of those shows were made with our old licence fees and I don’t see why we should have to pay again in order to watch them.

The main channels are fobbing us off with some real rubbish nowadays. I am therefore seeking a divorce, or at least a decree nisi from what a friend of mine called The Lunatics’ Lantern. I’ve had enough. At some point, I’ll let you know how I’m getting on.