We never had satellite in our house. We knew some people who did but we only had the four channels (for five from March 1997). Digital TV launched in late-1998 but we were never sure if it was for us.
That was until we saw an advert in May 1999 for digital terrestrial company On Digital that said that buying a box was free when you subscribe. So we thought that we might as well have a try, and dad went down to Tempo (yes, really) to get a box.
We managed to plug it in and switch it on, and the first thing that appeared on the screen was Channel 6, ITV2. (indeed, ITV2 being on Channel 6 on Freeview is a hangover from the On Digital days). Suddenly we had more than five channels and we were thrilled. The programme that was on ITV2 was some entertainment programme called Bedrock. The first time I used the EPG we got a description of what this programme was about: “it’s got a bed and it rocks!”. How useful.
We stuck with it from when the name changed to ITV Digital in 2001, to the terrible end in April 2002. It seemed inevitable really, it did seem that we were backing the wrong one, On Digital being the Betamax to Sky Digital’s VHS so to speak, but finally entering the multi-channel era was fascinating.
As this was still the early days of digital TV, there are a lot of shows and channels that I remember where it did seem that hardly anybody must be watching this. That’s a feeling that I don’t really get now because even though there are lots more channels than those days everybody now has at least Freeview.
This means that I have memories of lots of shows that are now really obscure, with very little written about them on the internet, and almost no clips anywhere, and it’s surprising how many original shows were made for these channels among the repeats.
So the plan is to share some of my memories of the On Digital era and write about great but forgotten channels including UK Play, Cartoon Network and BBC Choice.
If you have never heard of these programmes or channels, and even if you do vaguely remember them, I want to revive and share some memories of this era of TV that incredibly is over 15 years ago now.
I am currently doing some research on some of UK Play’s programmes so look out for my views on those here soon.