Channel 4 transmits for 1st time
The 1st of November 1982 AD
Dum-dum-da-dum. David Dundas’s ‘Fourscore’, used subsequently for years as the channel’s musical identity, signalled the opening of the new station on the afternoon of Tuesday November 2nd 1982.
The new channel had been mooted for decades, but what was to be the most radical station on air needed a right-wing government to bring it about, the need for competition for the rather too cosy situation then existing chiming with the Thatcherite philosophy.
“Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be able to say to you – welcome to channel 4,” said the smooth Scottish continuity announcer Paul Coia.
The jingle was sparse and modern. Coia’s accent was unashamedly far removed from the Home Counties tones still dominating broadcasting at that time. It was a young man’s voice too, Coia was not yet 30 and those tuning in to the new station would not imagine him to be in a tweed suit and varsity tie. The channel wanted to get a message across and did so in the first minute.
Perversely, the first programme on the radical new channel was the game show Countdown, not even a new show as it was based on France’s Les Chiffres et Les Lettres. But even Countdown in its way was different, produced outside London as much of the channel’s output was contractually obliged to be and needing the brain to be engaged to enjoy it.
The new channel set out to be an alternative to rather than a copy of its three rivals, catering for minority audiences and those interested in modern culture, as well as unearthing some of the best American comedy like the wonderful Cheers.
Self-appointed guardian of public morality Mary Whitehouse was appalled by some of the programmes, although it is hard to imagine her as an avid watcher of groundbreaking output like The Tube, humorous, innovative, and sometimes wonderfully tasteless as it was.
As a ‘publisher broadcaster’ buying in all its programmes, Channel 4 has been a boost to the creativity of the British broadcasting scene, and this attitude has extended to its financing of independent films such as Trainspotting , Four Weddings and a Funeral , The Crying Game, and The Madness of King George , though there are many more to be listed which failed to hit those heights. The opportunity to make something that might fail was and is part of the reason for the channel’s existence.
Such critical successes are balanced by Channel 4’s money-spinners like Big Brother, but contrary to Mary Whitehouse’s view of the world, there is always the off-switch if you don’t like it.
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