Top Ten: Game Changers
The telly. Most of the time it sits there burbling away like a mad uncle; occasionally spitting out something amusing or informative or, at least, mildly distracting.
But once in a while it shines a light onto a much bigger world; one in which grown-up people do grown-up things - things that mean that the world is never going to be the same again. This is my very personal list of the top-ten game changing moments that TV has shown us.
There’s only one rule - I must have seen it and be able to remember it. If you’re older than me, for you there will be some bewildering omissions; if you’re younger than me, you’ll wonder what the zark I’m talking about, but that’s fine - this list changed my world, you can compile your own. If you can’t be bothered there’ll be something new and shiny on the box in a minute or two to keep you amused.
10: The Family
In 1974 a genuinely ground-breaking series was broadcast on BBC. Called The Family it was a fly-on-the-wall documentary tracking 6 months in the life of Reading’s Wilkins family. Tame by today’s standards (there were no bush tucker trials or boneheads larging it) it nevertheless laid the foundation for all modern reality shows from Ace of Cakes to Geordie Shore - how do you sleep at night Paul Watson? It did have one thing in common with its modern spawn - it wrecked the lives of the chief protagonists (mum & dad Wilkins), who separated and divorced shortly after broadcast.
9: 1984-85 Miners’ Strike
I’m not going to attempt to discuss the origins, the politics and the rights & wrongs of this issue - smarter people than me have expounded tens of thousands of words on it. Suffice it to say that seeing ordinary British working men and women involved in vicious, running battles with the police was a defining moment and probably informs police public-order strategy even to this day.
8: 1st Ever Sky TV Broadcast
5th February 1989. Sky news takes to the air. Penny Smith (yep; mad as a knitted piano Penny Smith) and Alastair Yates ushered in a new era in all our lives. The stranglehold of the terrestrials was broken and a golden age of choice was born. Alternatively, the floodgates opened and a torrent of Rupert Murdoch sourced liquid filth was poured over our heads. Whichever view you subscribe to (see what I did there!) the old days were gone forever. And another snippet for those of you too young to remember; Murdoch’s chief partner-in-crime at the start was none other than his Sugariness himself, Lord Alan (you can add your own punchline)
7: The Falklands War
Not huge as wars go and arguably fought for all the wrong reasons (another can of worms I won’t be opening) this conflict was notable for being the first time I can remember reporters being actively encouraged to get into the thick of the action. Seeing things like the Exocet missile hitting HMS Galahad was simply jaw- dropping, and there are of course the iconic words of Brian Hanrahan, “I counted them all out, and I counted them all back” (talking about Harrier jets flying off the aircraft carrier on which he was stationed). Nowadays, no self-respecting war is complete without its ‘embedded’ journalists, but back in the day it blew our collective socks off.
6: Live Aid (1985)
FEED THE WORLD!! Encouraged by a report on African famine by John Pilger, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure wrote a charity song that they recorded with a whole bunch of 1980’s pop stars calling themselves “Band Aid”. Predictably, it was a massive success and so on 13th July 1985 two concerts were held in London and Philadelphia under the banner “Live Aid”. The London (Wembley stadium) concert was televised live in its entirety and we all sat and watched rock and roll finally coming of age and doing something “real”. A colossal amount of money was raised and distributed. Its long-term success is debatable, but at the time we felt the world was changing before our very eyes
5: Princess Diana’s Funeral
6th September 1997 - this was the day that the British stiff upper lip vanished forever and we turned into a nation of demonstrative, emotional flubber-wubbers. The event itself was amazing; the breathtakingly self-aggrandising speech by Diana’s brother, a man so oily he intimidates sardines; the astonishing self-control and stoicism of the queen as he sang Candle in the Wind; the massed crowds throwing flowers onto the hearse - but what sticks in the memory is the realisation that Britain had embraced full-on USA levels of sentimentality and over-reaction.
4: Tiananmen Square
In June 1989 dissidents in Beijing protested in a peaceful and frankly half-arsed way against the oppressive behaviour of the Chinese Government. Said Government predictably reacted by sending in heavy armour against its own people. Leaving aside the courage of a bunch of people prepared to stand up to one of the most ruthless totalitarian regimes the world has ever seen, the TV image that no-one who saw it will ever forget is of one lone man armed with nothing more than a carrier bag standing in front of (and halting the progress of) an entire column of tanks - bet you didn’t know you could buy those sort of cojones at Tesco Express! The man has never been definitively identified, but we, the lard-arsed, couch potatoes of the comfy, safe, prosperous and freedom-of-speech-possessing United Kingdom, salute you!
3: Collapse of the Berlin Wall
9th November 1989: the East German Government announced that citizens of the GDR would be free to visit West Germany (and specifically West Berlin). Cue a massive party/Extreme Makeover-style demolition as hordes of people attacked the Wall with anything that came to hand. The damage to the Wall on that night was largely symbolic, but what a symbol! Because of that night and what led up to and followed it, Europe today is a very different place to Europe of 30 years ago (and no, the Hoff wasn’t there).
2: First Man on the Moon
I have a confession to make: I’m old - certainly older than my boyish enthusiasm and dizzying grasp of youth vernacular may have led you to believe (innit!). I was there with my dad in front of the telly in the early hours of July 21st 1969, watching Armstrong and Aldrin make history (I always felt sorry for Michael Collins the bloke left in the command module). Back then, all kids wanted to be astronauts (rather than Premiership footballers or X-Factor contestants) and this really was final frontier stuff. OK, we haven’t pushed on into space quite as fast or as far as we thought we would but that doesn’t diminish the memory of that glorious night one iota.
Not much to say really. By a country mile the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen on TV and something that still brings a tear to my eye today. The ultimate game changer; everyone who saw it knew that the whole world was then, and forever more, a different place. The repercussions have been felt in countries the world over and who knows what’s still to come - the best anyone can say is that whatever happens, someone will be there capturing it on a camera for your entertainment. Be good.