How wholesome Yorkshire focus has helped Channel 5 (almost) transform its reputation: Anthony Clavane

Three cheers for Channel 5 which, in no small part thanks to God’s own country, has achieved an unlikely metamorphosis – from downmarket broadcaster to vehicle for wholesome entertainment.

All Creatures Great and Small has been one of many Yorkshire-set hits for Channel 5.
All Creatures Great and Small has been one of many Yorkshire-set hits for Channel 5.

Once owned by the former porn baron Richard Desmond, it has been resurrected as an award-winning, aspirational, life-affirming channel pursuing, as one TV critic breathlessly declared, “a love affair with Yorkshire of Heathcliffian proportions”.

Remember the Bad Old Days when every show was either a US import or seemed to have the word “benefits” in the title? Remember how it once delighted in shaming poor people?

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Remember when football fans used to mock opposition teams by singing “Thursday nights, Channel 5”?

(All you need to know, if you’re not into the beautiful game, is that appearing on the station previously symbolised a humiliating fall from grace).

I, myself, occasionally appeared on the free-to-air television network, not long after it launched in 1997. I was on a football talk show transmitted live at around midnight. Nobody watched it. It was often preceded by an erotic movie (which, unsurprisingly, attracted a much bigger audience).

Sitting in the green room with my colleagues, waiting to go on the show – with the movie playing on a TV screen – was a fairly excruciating experience.

That was the beginning and end of my not-so-brilliant television career.

But the channel has been totally transformed. It has become a success story. And its love affair with Yorkshire is no exaggeration.

The Yorkshire Vet, The Dog Rescuers, Our Big Yorkshire Christmas, All Creatures Great and Small, Our Yorkshire Farm...need I go on? Such commitment to all things Tyke has helped it win record ratings and awards.

“When you’re looking for uplifting, distinctive British programming,” explained Daniel Pearl, one of its commissioning editors, “we found that Yorkshire provides that in a way that almost nowhere in, let’s say, the UK does...Yorkshire’s such a distinctive place.”

Every now and then there is a reminder of the Bad Old Days. I give you Celebrities: What Happened to Your Face?

This appalling plastic surgery series was rightly condemned for airing an episode which analysed changes in Charlotte Crosby’s appearance. Medical professionals made offensive comments about the reality TV star.

“At a time when the broadcast and media world were backing a policy of ‘be kind’,” wrote Crosby, “Channel 5 and Crackit decided to commission this one-hour special on ‘rubber-lip Charlotte’ (their words not mine).”

The broadcaster made amends by apologising and pulling the episode from its streaming service – but it was yet another terrible illustration of the vilification of celebrities, particularly female ones, which continues to pollute popular culture more than a year after the tragic death of Caroline Flack.

Crosby’s tweet, of course, alluded to one of Flack’s final Instagram posts, which the Love Island presenter shared just two months before her suicide.

The public shaming of high-profile women is hardly a new phenomenon. From Jean Seberg to Amy Winehouse, a large number of female stars have been been hounded by sections of the media.

James Erskine’s brilliant documentary on Billie Holliday showed the extent to which the legendary jazz singer and civil rights champion was a target of persecution in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

What is different in the 21st century, of course, is the role social media now plays in the vilification.

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all need to do a great deal more to stamp out abuse.

Today, at 3pm, in response to the racist abuse aimed at footballers – and the misogyny aimed at female players, pundits and journalists – there will begin a boycott of social media.

The blackout, motivated by exasperation over the lack of action from the tech companies, will end on Bank Holiday Monday at 11.59pm.

This stand has united everyone in the world of English professional football. But it is only a tiny step in the right direction.

Everyone who uses social media should pause, and think hard, the next time they are tempted to post comments which might end up seriously damaging someone else’s mental health.

We are all part of the problem. As Caroline Flack so movingly pleaded: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

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