Ian McMillan: Just for the record this is how we used to watch TV

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If I went to my Uncle Charlie’s house at a certain time on a certain evening my Auntie would meet me at the front door and shush me because “he’s watching his programme” and so I’d tiptoe in as quietly as I could and sit reading a comic until the programme had finished. The show in question was Dixon of Dock Green, and each week my Uncle Charlie would hear its siren call dragging him in from the garden or from under the bonnet of his beloved green Ford Anglia. Charlie wasn’t a great TV watcher; he was of an age and persuasion that still preferred the radio but he’d allow himself a small slice of the week in front of what he still called the “goggle box” to watch Dixon. It was, as I said, “his programme”.

I was thinking about that the other day when I settled down in my dressing gown to watch My Programme (Casualty, since you’re asking. Who knows what’s going to happen when that toddler sets off down those steps on that unicycle?) like I do every week except when it spurns me and slopes off for its brief summer break at which point I feel like a jilted groom. It’s such an old-fashioned idea: “He’s watching his programme. She’s watching her programme. They won’t answer the phone tonight because they’re watching their programme”. It conjures up family nights in front of a black-and-white telly with a screen the size of a five pound note rather than today’s on-demand world where if you’ve missed it you can catch up with it, or you can watch the whole series at once in a bout of binge-viewing, or you can freeze the action while you go and put the kettle on. I wonder if Uncle Charlie would have made use of the freeze-frame facility to nip out and tinker with his spark plugs just before Dixon fingered a nark? I don’t think he would; he had a rather shaky grasp of what TV drama was, and I’m sure he sometimes thought Dixon of Dock Green was an observational documentary beamed live from some mean streets.

In those days everybody in the village had their programme; Auntie’s was the Wrestling and woe betide Uncle Charlie if he derided it as “fat blokes in trunks who wouldn’t stand two minutes down the pit”; if he’d dared to say anything like that as the grapplers grappled Auntie would have sat on the piano stool warbling The Old Rugged Cross all the way through Dixon of Dock Green.

My dad’s programme was Bonanza, and he’d pound the settee with his fist in time to the theme tune as soon as it began; my brother liked Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and my mam wouldn’t budge during Morecambe and Wise. I was unusual in that I had more than one programme: The Avengers and The Man From Uncle. During those shows burglars could have entered the house and stripped it completely and I wouldn’t have noticed.

Now, when I settle down to watch Casualty, I realise I’m one of a diminishing, dying breed. It’s nice outside; it’s high 
summer. Why not record it and watch it tomorrow or the next day?

It doesn’t seem right. It’s my programme, you see.