Growing up, I missed out on a lot of great telly, not because my dad was particularly strict or had some sort of moral agenda. He just pretty much hated everyone on the box. I’d be halfway through a programme and he’d come and grab the remote. Back then there were four channels and so, unless it was time for the news or a football match was on, it was unlikely he was going to find something without at least one person he couldn’t stand the sight of and eventually he would switch it off and that was it – no telly.
I guess it was fair enough. It was his television; he had paid for it as he would constantly remind us. But when I went round my mates’ houses, I realised that wasn’t how it worked elsewhere, that everyone had a say about what they watched. I reckon that was when my left-wing leanings began to kick in. It was my first glimpse of democracy.
I missed out on so many iconic moments from British Television. This was because of the ubiquity of Russell Harty/Des O’Connor/ Max Bygraves/Larry Grayson and Michael Barrymore. In case, God forbid, they were involved in any way (not that they were part of any iconic television as far as I was concerned).
My mum liked The Likely Lads and sometimes I would sit and watch it with her. But if dad came into the room, we knew the game was up and one of us would switch it off before he had a chance to start moaning. He couldn’t stand the Rodney Bewes’ character. Now all these years later I can’t watch The Likely Lads and I honestly don’t know if it’s because dad was right about him or if I have been subjected to some sort of conditioning by stealth and he has ruined one the great British sitcoms for me.
I don’t ever remember sitting down with my dad and our watching something together apart from the Cup Final once but I don’t like football and I was just bored and had nothing better to do. We never actually sat down and bonded over something and laughed together. Don’t feel too sorry for me. I was the kind of kid who read a lot and listened to music. And there were grace periods, stretches of time when dad wasn’t there. He stopped off at the pub almost every night and would roll in about eight o’clock so from late afternoon to early evening we could watch what we liked. Our gran lived in the flats across from us for a spell and on Sunday nights my brother and I went over to her place to watch the Planet of the Apes series. And there were some programmes which passed unnoticed, managed to get in under the radar as it were: Bonanza, High Chapparral and Branded. I can’t actually say I ever saw my dad watching a Western but it did seem as if they didn’t annoy and upset him like everything else did. My favourite was Kung Fu – I absolutely loved it. It was on Saturday teatime after the sport and the football results and all that crap. I wonder if my dad had ever sat down and watched it and discovered it was about Eastern mysticism and martial arts would he have stopped me from watching it?
On Friday evenings I wanted to watch The Tube. I was into music – lots of kids were back then – but the problem was Fridays were the one day of the week when Dad didn’t stop off at the pub on his way home. It was his big night out and he came straight home to take a bath and get changed into some smarter clothes. The Tube was on at exactly the same time that he sat down for his Friday fry-up. The double doors between the dining room and the sitting room were always open and, from where he sat at the table, he could both see and hear the telly. I really was on a hiding to nothing. I mean, even I found Paula Yates annoying.
I could hear him from where I sat. ‘What is he watching in there? What is that rubbish?’ He would shout through to me, ‘What is it you’re watching? Can’t you turn it down? Isn’t there anything else on? For God’s sake, turn it off.’ It wasn’t ideal but I persevered.
I remember one night Nick Cave was on. It was early in Cave’s solo career, not long after The Birthday Party had split up, and it was pretty much still Nick the Stripper up there on stage. He was bare chested and gyrating. I remember that he crouched down and made himself into a tiny ball and howled into the microphone. It was awesome and then suddenly I realised that my dad was standing behind me in the doorway, watching over my head. He didn’t say anything, didn’t even ask who it was. But I could feel the judgement seething inside of him, it was palpable. The hatred he felt for whatever it was that was happening on the telly and for anyone who would actually sit and watch it.