Yorkshire grandfather's fear of 'miserable existence' if TV licence lost

Engineer John Blundell was on the aeroplane that brought the Lockerbie bomb to England.

John Blundell pictured at his home at Dewsbury, speaking about rise in cost of TV licences. Picture by Simon Hulme
John Blundell pictured at his home at Dewsbury, speaking about rise in cost of TV licences. Picture by Simon Hulme

He was shot at by the IRA, the bullet passing harmlessly through his car door, and missed a terrorist bombing by 60 yards. He considers himself a ‘lucky’ man, who has lived a full life.

But now, battling cancer at 76 and a primary carer for his disabled wife, he fears a future of isolation.

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There are thousands of pensioners like him, he says, who will lose their window to the world if they lose their free TV licence under BBC proposals.

John Blundell pictured at his home at Dewsbury, speaking about rise in cost of TV licences. Picture by Simon Hulme

After so many decades of giving to society, he says, why is there so little provision to take?

“We are reliant on that box in the corner of the room for our entertainment, and our education,” he says, lifting the many letters he has written to the BBC. “I will miss it. We would struggle to pay the £150 on our limited income.”

Mr Blundell is husband to Janette, 72, father to Angus, 45, and grandfather to Felix, seven and Ted, four.

The Blundell family, John, Angus and Janette

As the last orange blossoms begin to drop in his garden in Dewsbury, he potters in the greenhouse, showing me his prize tomatoes and lamenting the birds that nip in, misappropriating his cherries as they ripen on the tree.

Born in the White Hart in Batley, as his grandmother minded the pub, he is a proud Yorkshireman. But as a design engineer, he travelled the world, working for some of the biggest names in automobiles. In Africa, America, Japan, Germany.

“The IRA put a bullet through my car, it went in the driver’s door and out the back door,” he tells me. “I flew from Frankfurt to London with the Lockerbie bomb in the hold of the aeroplane... I didn’t tell my wife about that for a few years. The Red Brigade once set a bomb off, 60 yards from where I was being driven.

“I’ve had an interesting, exciting life. But I’ve always thought of myself as a lucky man. I’ve had my family, and a job, through my life, that has always kept me interested.”

Retired engineer Mr Blundell

When Janette was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1976 he took some time out to care for her. Then, as it became clear she needed some additional help, he took early retirement.

In recent years, he has become her primary carer. There are morning visits to the market at Birstall, a trip to the butchers which has been there for 60 years. He always tried to buy her a grapefruit and a bunch of flowers every week.

A 'miserable existence'

But his pension pot isn’t bottomless. Now, himself struggling with his health as he recovers from bowel cancer, he says the couple are increasingly at home, and increasingly reliant on the television to keep in touch with the wider world.

“There are so many like us, watching old episodes of Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” he says. “There are films on - we haven’t been to the cinema as a couple for 20 years. A wheelchair is a problem in the cinema.

“I’m not alone. There are thousands of people out there in the same position. They pay all their working lives for the television, and all the BBC spend it on is wages.

“The television is really our window to what is happening in the world. I get incensed at some of the programmes. But it’s still good to hear and to make our own minds up.

“If we’ve no television then it would be a miserable existence. It’s robbing people of some pleasure, for the sake of paying stars more than they’re worth.

“It’s going to have tremendous impact, on people who are no longer able to fight for themselves.”

BBC changes to TV licence funding

The BBC announced earlier this year it is to scrap free TV licences for over-75s, saying it cannot afford to take on the financial burden from the Government.

Under the new rules which come into force from next summer, only lower-income households, where one person receives pension credit will still be able to apply.

The BBC has said to maintain the concession would have come at great cost, and resulted in “unprecedented closures”. BBC chairman Sir David Clementi said it had been a “very difficult decision” but this was “the fairest and best outcome”.

A petition from Age UK against the move has now reached nearly 600,000.

A BBC spokesman said: "We've reached the fairest decision we can - one that protects the poorest pensioners while ensuring everyone will continue to receive the best programmes and services that the BBC can provide.

"We recognise that some people are vulnerable and it's important to provide additional support for these customers, and we'll be putting a significant focus on this”.