BBC4’s odd, isn’t it? It’s basically 1980’s BBC2, pumping out the weird and wonderful – whatever the controller happens to find personally interesting, rather than what “common plebs” (in BBC parlance) might like.
This can be good. ITV is what you get if you become too distracted by the lowest common denominator: a channel of dizzyingly low ratings, given its former heights, populated by programmes whose quality threshold is nothing greater than “Will brain donors be able to cope with this as part of their post-op recuperation?”.
On the other hand, heading too far away from “what the majority wants” can also lead to “Etruscan Ballet” nights and seasons dedicated to the movies of the fisher people of the Indus Valley. You know, the sort of programmes a certain kind of Islington-based dinner party goer is proud the BBC produces, even though he never actually watches them.
BBC4 walks a thin tightrope between this zero-rating extreme of chattering class pointlessness and high quality programming. One moment, it’ll be producing fantastic stuff such as its live version of The Quatermass Experiment, the hysterical The Thick of It and biopics of authors such as George Orwell and John Wyndham; the next, it’ll be churning out worthy but unwatchable crud like African School (“Having a love life in Uganda is not easy. Teenagers face being expelled from school, and teachers struggle to afford to get married. Can love flourish despite the challenges?”).
This Christmas, however, imagine my joy that while BBC1 and ITV are gearing themselves up for Doctor Who on Ice and X-Factor Christmas Carols (will Louis Walsh come back? Wow, how dumb are you to even have to ask that question? Of course he will. Do you need to wonder, even for an attosecond, if all the ‘fights’ are orchestrated to gear up interest?), BBC 4 is gearing up for a season of ghost stories.
Oh yes. This is what we want. This is what our licence fees should have been going on all these years.
Now this isn’t just a season of “Things with the word ghost in the title”, although there is just a hint of that with Look Around You‘s ‘Ghosts’ episode – funny, rather than spine-tingling; surely, with its Sapphire and Steel-esque “Helvetica effect”, the pilot episode, ‘Calcium’, is far more terrifying?
No. We’re talking repeats of all the classic MR James ghost story adaptations from the 1970s, as well as a new adaptation of The View from a Hill. Then there’s the amazing The Signalman, adapted from Andrew Davies from Charles Dickens’ original short story.
This is worth sitting down for. This is worth missing Ant and Dec’s Celebrity ‘Risk’ Tournament for. The video recorder, unused since August, will be running three hours a day, every day. I’ll have to (shudder) buy some new blank tapes. I might even invest in a DVD recorder, even one of those cheapo ones from Asda, just to capture this last hurrah for quality programming in a format that has more than 90 days of future left in it.
I might, to sum it up, be watching British TV again. Now that’s odd.
So don’t delay. Don’t tarry. Don’t dawdle. Make a note in your diary, in pen, that it’s on. Let’s help BBC4 hit four-digit viewing figures. Let’s watch this Ghost Stories Season together. At the very least, it’ll be less frightening that way.