More TV Memories – Shop!

Shop! (1998-2002)

Would you believe that there were shopping channels around long before the launch of Bid TV, and this one was my introduction into that rather bizarre world. Shop! was an OnDigital channel that was a collaboration between Granada (that along with Carlton was one of the major backers on OnDigital) and Littlewoods. After getting a box in the late-90s, I could finally see for myself what these shopping channels were like.

First of all, this channel had to be live, so there was a chance that anything could happen. I also thought that it was rather odd that there were no advert breaks, although essentially everything that was sold could be classed as an advert. There were various strands and themed hours and so on, meaning that they might sell some clothes, or jewellery, all of the usual things that you would find on a channel like this. Call now!

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I must admit that I never bought anything from this channel myself, I just enjoyed the entertainment value, so I wouldn’t really know if they offered anything that was a decent level of quality, but I can only imagine that many bargains were bagged by viewers. There were also several adverts in the OnDigital magazine, promoting offers and discounts, and we never seemed to be more than a few days away from a sale.

I don’t remember seeing it myself, but I believe that this channel also had a late-night strand, where things would be sold for the adults, if you get what I mean. But don’t worry, because I’m sure that they were all very discreet about it… But of course, this is a rather crowded market in TV, and plenty of other shopping channels were trying to attract the viewers and turn them into regular customers. I thought that something might be up when they started to be live for fewer hours a day.

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And after a while, the next sale that came along was the closing down sale. Shop! went off the air after just over three years (and shortly before the total collapse of ITV Digital as it was by this point). I don’t recall seeing many of the hosts again after this (although Andy Crane was part of the line-up for a short while). Not long after this, QVC took over the slot, and remains a Freeview channel to this day.

QVC is a channel that I’ve never really been that interested in by comparison, because even though it is the biggest shopping channel in this country, and has now been running for almost three decades, they do it all properly, with no hosts trying to make silly jokes, or unexpectedly bizarre moments. When Bid TV came to Freeview in 2003, I barely gave QVC or any of the others a second look after this. But I wouldn’t have even watched that one if it wasn’t for Shop!

Remembering BBC Choice – Part 3.

Here’s the third and final part looking back at some of the best shows on this long-gone channel. main-66

Radio 1 TV. Various Radio 1 presenters introduced live performances and interviews with the current hottest bands around, plus a look behind the scenes of various shows.

The Ralf Little Show. The star of such shows as The Royle Family was given his own show featuring guests and comedy sketches. Notable for featuring the first appearance of the Lou and Andy characters who would go on to star in the TV version of Little Britain which made its debut on the first night of BBC3.

The RDA. A topical comedy show that I don’t remember seeing much but was popular with those who did. Comedian John Gordillo looked back at the news of the day, plus various sketches and interviews with celebrities, if he could get any to appear on the show. vlcsnap-00864

Recovered. Dermot O’Leary hosts the music show where various acts perform covers of classic songs.

Roadtripping. Cat Deeley and Edith Bowman (who were also presenters on MTV at the time) travel together across Europe.

Row Z. A live show where people in the studio debated the latest sport news, and viewers could phone and email too with their views.

Screen Grabs. A look back at some of the more unusual moments from the BBC archives.

Simply Complicated. A game show where contestants had to make everyday things out of unusual items, sort of a modern version of The Great Egg Race which was occasionally repeated on the channel.

The Sin Bin. Another sport show, this one hosted by Matt Smith and Ian Broudie of “Three Lions” fame.

So Far. BBC Choice seemed to change its viewing policy all the time, for a while in 2000 they had the strand “Refreshing TV”, where all the primetime shows were 15 minutes long and repeated endlessly. This one took a look back at the careers of various celebrities. I remember one featuring Ant And Dec which had loads of clips from their Byker Grove days. main-38

Stupid Punts. A comedy game show hosted by Patrick Kielty. Every week four celebrities bet on what would they thought would happen in silly stunts. Whoever made the most money by the end was the winner!

Terri McIntyre. A bizarre sitcom that was set in a tanning salon with various characters. David Tennant was also in it. I wonder whatever happened to him? vlcsnap-00865

But I’m not done yet…

Other programming. As well as all this, BBC Choice also showed repeats as a sort-of “catch-up” service. Comedies, soaps and drama appeared regularly. There were also imported dramas, the occasional film and live sport, and even some theme nights.

Continuity. BBC Choice used five idents in their launch, with the same word being represented in three different ways, such as a bowl of punch, a Mr Punch puppet, and a boxing glove punch. This idea also could have also worked well for BBC3. By 2000 they only started to use one of these idents, and then they gave it a dodgy re-edit. In 2001 these were replaced by three orange cubes floating round, again this idea could’ve worked on BBC3. This continued until the relaunch in 2003. There were also until 2001 regional variations for viewers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and they even got their own in-vision continuity!

There’ll be another look in the OnDigital archive from me some time soon.

Remembering BBC Choice – Part 2.

Here’s part two then with 12 more shows that used to delight viewers on channel 7… vlcsnap-00855

Hype. One of the earlier shows, a look at the latest entertainment news and features for teenagers hosted by the likes of Rick Adams and Jonathan Wilkes.

Inside Tracks. A late-night music show hosted by the much missed Kevin Greening featuring the latest news on the music scene plus live performances and interviews. vlcsnap-00863

Johnny Vaughan Tonight. Having enjoyed his work on various shows including The Big Breakfast, I often watched this chat show which was shown three times a week, featuring various interviews and sketches. There was even a live band! vlcsnap-00862

The Johnny Vegas Game Show. A one-off show for the crumpled comedian hosted in his usual style. Contestants played various games for prizes but I’m still not sure if it was a parody or not.

LA Pool Party. Various presenters including Lisa Snowdon hang out at all the fancy dos in America and meet lots of big showbiz stars in the process. Aren’t they lucky.

Lenny Beige’s Variety Pack. A late-night comedy that was a parody of variety/light entertainment shows with various acts including female double-act Supergirly who seemed to be on TV a lot at the time but where are they now, plus turns from many others including Matt Lucas and David Walliams. lenny0001

Liquid News. Possibly the best-known of the BBC Choice shows which evolved from an earlier News 24 show called Zero 30, I’ve never really been that interested in pointless tittle-tattle about celebrities I haven’t heard of but Christopher Price made it more entertaining than most. It was a real shock when he died in 2002 aged just 34 because he was great and I have little doubt that he would’ve gone on to be a famous and successful presenter. He always managed to get good value out of his studio guests too. The show did carry on though for a while with various new presenters including Claudia Winkleman until it just all fizzled out. There were also various spin-offs including when Christopher met Kylie Minogue which also the last-ever show on the channel in 2003. vlcsnap-00861

A Little Later. A 15-minute show where various performances by a music act on Later… With Jools Holland were compiled together.

Mark Owen’s Celebrity Scooters. I don’t remember this show much myself but it did happen. The Take That man travels around Europe talking to various stars about their love of scooters. Yes, really.

Off Your Box. A late-night show with various presenters that looked back at the TV highlights of the week.

110%. A live sport show that had analysis of all the latest news. Presenters included Matt “not that one” Smith.

Out On A Limb. Another crazy one-off comedy game show, this was a very funny one hosted in a madcap style by the comedian Jason Byrne, who plucked people out of the studio audience to play various silly games, with the star prize being Rod Stewart’s wife or something.

The third and final part is coming later.

Remembering BBC Choice – Part 1.

BBC Choice was a channel that ran from September 1998 to February 2003. It was the BBC’s second new channel following the launch of News 24 in 1997. The channel actually launched before the digital equipment that would recieve it was available, so the first week of programming could only be watched online. Some of the shows were even in widescreen and everything!

Like with UK Play, BBC Choice was a channel that I watched a lot in the OnDigital days and was a part of my teenage years. I’m going to bring you details of 36 shows that appeared on the channel, most of them I remember watching myself. Remember this isn’t a comprehensive list of the history of BBC Choice. There actually was a site many years ago that did list everything that they showed but unfortunately it’s long since closed. Here’s the first dozen then… vlcsnap-00853

Backstage. Julia Bradbury among other presenters takes a look behind the scenes of various BBC shows, supposedly hoping to “catch television with its trousers down”. backstage0001

Bob Monkhouse’s DIY Film Show. Bob introduces various short films made by amateur directors.

Breakers. A soap that ran in Australia from 1998 to 1999 and featured the lives of young people who worked at a modelling school. Needless to say, it didn’t have the same impact as the likes of Neighboursbreakers0001

CBBC On Choice. A three-hour daytime strand that was looped and shown four times a day featuring some pre-recorded continuity into various children’s shows. Curiously, just about everything they showed was about a decade old at the time so I enjoyed watching as it brought back memories of watching CBBC in the late-80s/early-90s. Shows dusted off from the archive included Bitsa, Caterpillar Trail, Superbods, Model Millie, ChuckleVision, Radio Roo, Playdays, Bodger And Badger, Monster Cafe, Simon And The Witch, Green Claws, and many more. After a while, the slot was split in 2002 when the CBBC Channel launched, meaning that from then on BBC Choice started at 7pm. vlcsnap-00857

Diners. A show where we eavesdropped on celebrity conversations in a restaurant. Give them all a bottle or two and watch them go, and there’s a programme for you.

Dog And Dinosaur. A children’s show that appeared on Saturday afternoons hosted by a computer-generated dog and dinosaur, and had various features including introducing repeats of Blue Peterdog

Dominik Diamond Meets. The ex-Gamesmaster presenter interviewed various stars from the sporting world in his quirky style.

EastEnders Revealed. A look behind the scenes at the soap. This was the only programme to span the whole of BBC Choice’s time on air. revealed0001

Ed Stone Is Dead. A 13-part sitcom where Richard Blackwood plays Ed who is killed and then comes back to life. And guess what, his wacky housemates can’t believe it. There was also a running gag about Buffy The Vampire Slayer. There were guest appearances too from various comic actors including Johnny Vegas and Robert Webb. Also shown on the long-gone children’s channel Trouble. ed_stone_is_dead_uk

45 Minutes. A show about football hosted by the likes of Joe Mace and the bloke who used to be in M People who interviewed the top Premier League footballers of the day. Was actually a 30-minute long show, oddly.

Good Evening Rockall. A late-night topical current affairs discussion show hosted Lauren Laverne and Sue Perkins among others.

Hotlinks. The entertainment guide hosted by the cyber infomaniac search engine known as Nomy. Every episode was 15 minutes long and she would tell you everything you needed to know about the latest music, films and so on. Even though it only ran for six months, I would go so far as to say that this was my favourite BBC Choice show. I really liked the idea of it and how it was made, the music and graphics were great, for the year 2000 at least. I can’t believe it was 15 years ago now. vlcsnap-00856

Part two coming later… vlcsnap-00858

“More choice through your aerial.”

One of the first things I wrote on here about was my memories of having OnDigital, which was followed by a piece about of some of the programmes I remember watching on UK Play which was my favourite channel. Tomorrow I’ll bring you some more memories of another channel that I watched a lot, this time BBC Choice. watch0003

Before that though, here are some more memories of having OnDigital. It was so exciting to finally have lots more channels. We never really considered having Sky Digital, if we did, there would have been so many channels to pick from I could never have coped with it. Because we took the offer of having an OnDigital box for free when you subscribe, we had to call a number to activate the box. There were a few deals available, and you could also get Sky Sports and Sky Movies, but they cost a lot more so we never had those. epg0001

It took a really long time to get through, but when it happened, more channels appeared, which was great. However, because of where our aerial was pointing we didn’t pick up everything that was available. It took a while to realise we’d get better reception by wiggling the aerial around and finally get everything we needed by doing an “add channels”, something that we were reluctant to do at first because we thought it’d break the box or something but we got there eventually. channels0001

It was always exciting doing an “add channels” because you never knew what would turn up. When some were found it was great, until we looked at them and they were usually just test transmissions or blank screens. Every month we used to get a magazine which featured everything that would be coming on all the channels, and we kept a few of those. digital0001

It was weird watching these channels sometimes because the ratings must have been very low, I recorded a few things but not too many, and I didn’t keep some of the tapes, so a lot of the shows aren’t preserved by me or anywhere online. And of course, OnDigital soon started to run into trouble. After a while the monthly magazine became weekly and was renamed On7, and in 2001 to try and help give the company a boost it was renamed ITV Digital. Because of this the magazine was renamed TV7. We didn’t keep any from this era unfortunately. powerpuff0001

They didn’t even bother to update the software for the boxes so they still said “OnDigital” to the end, and as the months went by and the financial troubles worsened it became clear that having these channels wouldn’t last for much longer, so we tried to make the most of it. At the end of April 2002 ITV Digital finally went off the air. We kept the box which hardly featured any channels until the launch of Freeview later in the year. digital0002

It was a really disappointing end, but I do have lots of good memories of watching these channels, and I want to share some more with you because it is surprising just how little from this era is online, especially considering it played such a big part in my life in the late-90s/early-00s. TV has definitely changed a lot in the years since digital TV launched and was a new thing, now the switchover is complete it is the norm.

Remembering UK Play – Part 3.

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Here is the third and final part of my look back at UK Play.

Podge And Rodge. Two dirty old twin brother puppets tell filthy stories from their bed. I think this was done by the same people as Zig and Zag.

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Pop Upstairs Downstairs. Mark and Lard return with a pop trivia game show that has the same format as University Challenge but played for DOUBLE POINTS! Two teams of three faced a starter question for 20 points. vlcsnap-00027If they got it right they then received three supplementary questions (or “suppository questions” as Lard called them) for 10 points each. They then finished off with a quickfire buzzer round. It was good stuff and they always separated the clever people from the halfwits. vlcsnap-00028ReBrand. One of the last shows to be made by UK Play, this was a lively debate show hosted by Russell Brand.

RePlay. A show where Al and Joe have a look back at the history of music vlcsnap-00017videos and give it a gentle mocking.

Rock Profile. Probably the best known of the UK Play shows, Jamie Theakston interviews Matt Lucas and David Walliams who play a wide variety of pop and rock stars. Also featuring lots of amusing made-up Rock Facts. A very good show. vlcsnap-00021The Score. A live show about football featuring sketches and reports. Because of course UK Play didn’t have any football coverage the show mainly consisted of taking some calls and reading out some results. vlcsnap-00007The Sound Of Play. A fairly straightforward music video show, although it was a little more alternative than MTV with some indie/rock videos being played among the pop ones and you never knew what would be next. Oh look, it’s the new video from Gay Dad! Because I was around 15-18 when UK Play aired I was interested in chart music a lot so I watched this frequently. There were also spinoffs looking at specific years or genres such as The Sound Of 1989 or The Sound Of Discovlcsnap-00026Swivel On The Tip. One of my favourites, a comedy show that was a parody of “Yoof TV”, characters called “Hoxton Finn” and the like. Only really notable vlcsnap-00014now because some of the cast went on to bigger things, including Nicholas “Nathan Barley” Burns, Kathryn “Two Pints Of Lager” Drysdale and Emily “Bits” Booth. vlcsnap-00015Tenuous Links. Mark and Lard again. This time they introduce some music videos and you have to spot the connections between the songs. vlcsnap-00029TOTP Plus. Not too much of an extension of Top Of The Pops, it was just a show that played some music videos of songs currently in the top 20 plus repeating a few performances from the TOTP studio.

Unnovations. A show that was a parody of shopping channels, a easy target probably but it did well. It also guest starred some bloke who used to be vlcsnap-00044in The Bill and it was made by the same production company as TvGoHome which was on E4 around the same time. vlcsnap-00018Vic Reeves Examines. Jim looks at a different subject every week with help from a celebrity. I remember a particularly good one when Johnny Vegas introduced Vic to the world of pottery.

Two extra notes:

Other programming. As well as repeating a lot of BBC2-type comedy which I might reflect on in another article soon, UK Play also occasionally showed cult children’s TV shows including Camberwick Green and Trumpton.

Continuity. When I first saw UK Play all the announcements were made by the same woman and it took me a while to realise that they must have been pre-recorded. Curiously, UK Play was renamed Play UK in November 2000 but it made little difference. Due to poor ratings and the collapse of ITV Digital it closed in September 2002. A great shame, but they put a lot of effort into making some good shows despite the tiny viewing figures. vlcsnap-00012I hope you have enjoyed this look back at this great but obscure channel.

Remembering UK Play – Part 2.

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Off we go again with the second part of my look back at UK Play…

Having A Pop. A comedy sketch show with Mark Radcliffe and Marc Riley vlcsnap-00006when they were also delivering quality items on Radio 1. It was made on a budget of about 10p but at least they tried.

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Here Is This. Comedy sketches featuring the roller coaster adventures of such characters as Barry Gibson, Bobby Peru and a mild-mannered sales representative called Keith Lemon. I must admit I didn’t find it that funny at the time which is why I remain rather shocked at the continuing success of the Mr Lemon character.

Herring In Fiji. The comedian Richard Herring visits Fiji. That’s about it for that one really.

Honky Sausages. A sitcom about a dysfunctional family living in a council flat in Ladbroke Grove. I haven’t made this up.

Joe’s Pop Shop. A very odd sitcom featuring presenter Joe Mace running a record shop.

The Joy Of Decks. Songs and music videos get remixed together, giving viewers a great chance to get down and boogie.

Mental! Handily subtitled The Music Quiz in case you weren’t sure what the show was about, Iain Lee hosts the game show where people showed off mental_4their musical knowledge. Lee later said that it was the worst programme that he’d ever hosted. And this is from someone who hosted The 11 O’Clock Showmental_8The Mitchell And Webb Situation. The comedy sketch show that Mitchell and Webb did after Bruiser but before That Mitchell And Webb Look when vlcsnap-00008they were still fairly unknown. Cheap and cheerful stuff, also featuring Dame Olivia Colman among the cast. Incredibly, this has actually come out on DVD.

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Next Stop Phil Kay. The crazy Scottish comedian goes on a tour bus around Scotland doing his thing, including mocking all the famous landmarks. phil0001

Nu Music. A showcase for up-and-coming bands to perform on TV. Most of them probably faded into obscurity. Hosted by the bloke off The Stone Roses. vlcsnap-00013The Phone Zone. A live spin off from The O Zone. It was a show where vlcsnap-00035viewers could phone in and make requests, and there were also competitions and video votes, it was UK Play’s equivalent of MTV’s Select. It was hosted by the likes of Jayne Middlemiss, Joe Mace and Vernon Kay. After The O Zone ended, the show was renamed TOTP@Play to try to attach itself to the Top Of The Pops name instead and promptly ended. phone0001Pick ‘N’ Mix. A show where a mixture of live performances from the BBC archive and new music videos were linked by Jamie Theakston walking around somewhere. vlcsnap-00024That’s it for now, the third and final part is later.

Remembering UK Play – Part 1.

Here is the first part of my review of some of the original programming that was made for digital channel UK Play. I don’t know how many people will remember these shows because they are now very obscure but I promise you that they all existed and were repeated endlessly. I spent a lot of my teenage years watching Channel 37 on On Digital and enjoying these shows and I want to share those memories with you. Where possible I will provide pictures, some from my own collection, plus a few from some YouTube clips that I found, so credit goes to the original posters. Off we go…

The Alphabet Show. Described as “a mix between Sesame Street and CD:UK”, Lauren Laverne introduces some music videos that are all connected by the same letter.

Bob Downe All Over Britain. Camp Australian comedian and “The King of Crimplene” Bob tours the country visiting clubs to do daft jokes and meet lots of people.

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Boy George One On One. Some famous people are interviewed round the vlcsnap-00009pop star Boy George’s house. They include Jonathan Ross, Rowland Rivron, and, er, Katie Price.

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Cherry Pop. A show where music videos were linked by some up-and-coming comedians. They were the stars of the future, who presumably were never heard of again.

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The Chris Moyles Show. The “roly-poly DJ” as he was always called at the time brought some of the style from his Radio 1 show to the TV. He was joined by his mate Comedy Dave who was dressed as a matador for no vlcsnap-00039reason. Chris would also be joined by celebrity guests who he would be vaguely rude to before introducing some music videos. The best bit though was in later series when he was joined by a random lipstick-wearing musician bloke who would perform songs that just consisted of him thumping a keyboard whilst shouting “I’m a crazy motherhubbard!” which bemused vlcsnap-00038even Chris.

Dream Performances. Lauren Laverne sits on a bed and introduces some classic live performances from a band.

Either/Or. A creepy game show hosted by Simon Munnery of “The League Against Tedium” fame.

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Flatmates. A game show hosted by Sara Cox round someone’s house who asked people questions to find out how much people who lived together really knew about one another. Would they risk the end of their friendship to win a prize?

Fool’s Gold. A very odd show were some street performance artists did their mischievous thing whilst perplexing onlookers.

Footage and Mouth. A show where music videos were introduced with bizarre redubbed clips from the BBC archive.

Funny Noise. A show where comedians introduced music videos and told a few jokes, some in character. The likes of John Shuttleworth, Al Murray, Harry Enfield, Bob Downe, Phil Kay, John Thomson, Sean Hughes and vlcsnap-00033Simon Day turned up.

Get Your Hits Out. Lauren Laverne (again) introduces some music videos old and new.

Part two coming later…

“It’s got a bed and it rocks!”

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.