Entertainment for Insomniacs

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Egon- watching late night television so you don't have to

Pages from Ceefax and Teleshopping

The thing about twenty-four hour television is that you have to find some way to fill the twenty-four hours up. The BBC historically used the 'test card' which showed you were still receiving the channel but was just a tinnitus-inducing tone with a picture of a little girl playing Noughts and Crosses with a clown. Or something similar.

ITV and Channels 4 and 5 fill up late night with American imports and foreign sport. BBC1 has replaced the test card with the stuff that's on BBC News 24. Local radio stations join Five Live, Radio 4 joins the World Service, BBCs Three and Four only run twelve hours a day, sharing frequencies with the children's channels CBBC and CBeebies, UK Bright Ideas co-exists happily with Ftn. It's the ideas of BBC2 and ITV2 for the twilight hours which are fun.

ITV2, once it's dispensed with The Jerry Springer Show and Letterman, gives itself over to Teleshopping. Now, this is not a live show like QVC, bidup.tv, pricedrop.tv and so on and so forth, but just three hours of adverts. Really. Stuff like half hour adverts for Time Life boxsets of songs like 'Mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird'. That's actually on a 'singer-songwriters CD' which is notable for the fact that every few of the songs on it are sung by their writers... which I consider slightly misleading. These adverts always contain a phone line to ring to get your CD for only 436 pounds or whatever it is and lots of very false people saying how great the product was when they bought it and how they'll use Time Life again, plus a guy with an awe-struck tone and an American accent telling you how wonderful this once in a lifetime opportunity to own a load of cr*p is.

BBC2 has a thing called 'The Learning Zone' which is basically, as it suggests, educational programmes. This has gradually replaced the Open University, which was the only TV-based university in Britain, but has now migrated to the internet. The OU actually reached the final of University Challenge once.

My favourite BBC2 programme, though, is one that is now dying out. If BBC2 have a gap in their middle of the night schedules - say ten minutes before the Learning Zone starts for example - they sometimes still stick in the legendary 'Pages From Ceefax'

Ceefax, I should explain, is the BBC's teletext news service. And basically they stick it on proper telly from time to time - utterly random pages, so you might get page 4 of the Scottish football results followed by page 11 of the Stock Market reports and then a news story on a celebrity beating up a journalist. It's that random. I reckon someone at Television centre has got my old Teletext-equipped TV and is just pressing the 'random' button that it had. It was great, that telly... lasted nearly ten years too.

Can you tell I'm running out of ideas for this column?

Entertainment for Insomniacs


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