[Today’s Guest Poster is Colm Tobin. Colm is not an award-winning novelist but he has done stuff like two series of Langerland.TV for RTÉ, which he wrote and produced, three series of the kid’s series Science Fiction for RTÉ (and now CBBC) as well as writing on radio projects like Irish Pictorial Boatly for RTÉ Radio 1.]
West Cork. 1994. It was all school uniforms and angst and people smelling generally of sweat. In retrospect, I realise I was basically living in a seaside paradise. But at the time I couldn’t really see beyond the misery of secondary school. What can I say? I was a teenager.
Although I can look back now and smirk and even laugh at it all, there was one true horror during those teenage years, a horror I didn’t fully comprehend until many years later – worse than the prevailing nightmare of t-squares and protractors and having to sit next to some bollocks from the rugby team in double-geography. It was the horror of being stuck in Two-Channel Land.
Two-Channel Land consisted mostly of RTÉ 1 and Network Two, kids (Yes, it was temporarily rebranded Network Two, presumably because some RTÉ suit had been holidaying in Florida and saw some telly in a hotel). It was a precursor to Four-Channel Land which, some say, still survives to this day. Now, I’ve never seen a map of Two-Channel Land but in my head it’s the general area outside the Pale. I’m sure it was actually much smaller though and located in the general area around my house.
So, that’s about 100 channels on our TV set that were devoted to varying shades of grey static and subtly shifting textures of white noise. Good God, when I think of it… And we were well out of range of any BBC/S4C/morse code signals too. You’ll hear no Peter Sheridan-style anecdotes from me about being stuck up a chimney delicately positioning an aerial while your Da shouts up instructions from the living room. The only signal you’d ever receive on our roof was the “Colm, get off the fucking roof” signal my Dad would send up from the garden.
Anyway, I digress. I realise I’m entering “I used to go to school over stones in my bare feet” territory here… I’m just trying to put in context why The End, when it started, was just about the best thing that ever happened to my televisual world.
For those of you who can’t remember – The End aired on Network 2 from 11pm to 2am on Friday and Saturday nights. I only know this because Wikipedia remembered it for me. And for someone living in Two-Channel Land this show was the equivalent of a visit from outer space. Friday nights consisted of a range of mostly British sitcoms and cartoons interspersed with wonderfully odd studio-based madness hosted by Barry Murphy. It was basically Barry and whoever he could pull out of The International that night, from what I can tell. This was the kind of thing that happened, which I watched over and over, and was basically the genesis of Apres Match.
And then you had this sort of thing – Peig, the first ever cartoon series produced by Brown Bag Films – a spoof of the book, which I so happened to be studying in school at the time. Believe me, on a Friday night, after a week of Irish classes featuring the catalogue of drownings and cliff falls that is Peig, this was a rather wonderful antidote. It also featured a talking pig called Humongous. What more need I say?
And then there were re-runs of amazing British sitcoms that were a bit before my time, like The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin, the wonderfully surreal 70’s sitcom starring the outrageously talented Leonard Rossiter.
The End on Saturdays was a treat too – hosted by Sean Moncrieff, still one of my favourite broadcasters. I seem to remember an amazing bit where they played back random, drunken messages from the public but can’t find any evidence of it online. I also vaguely remember it turning into a chat-show of some sort but, like Brown Bag’s Peig, my memory is getting the better of me. Sure I’m an old woman now with one foot in the grave and another on the edge. Sure all I’ve left now are me memories. Maybe you lot can help refresh them?
And wouldn’t it be great if RTÉ saw fit to throw open Friday or Saturday nights to something weird and wonderful like this again?
(by Colm Tobin)