A chat with our British Secret Weapon: Growing Up with British TV.

This week I had the opportunity to have a chat online with Jackie, our British Secret Weapon. Because I have always loved TV (even before I discovered British TV, which took my love of the medium to a whole new level), I have some specific memories of American TV I used to enjoy. I wondered if Jackie did too. So I asked her! Enjoy the full transcript below, or click to anything that looks interesting based on this table of contents:

Wherein we begin

Sarah: So! To the subject at hand–would you tell me a little bit about some of the earliest television you remember watching, and how you watched it (license, antenna, how many TVs in your house, etc.)?

Jackie: When I was growing up we only ever had one television in the house, so we often watched things together as a family.

All the television we watched was received through a TV aerial on the roof and we paid the BBC television licence fee (as described previously) for it. Cable/satellite TV didn’t start coming in until I was a teenager. I only knew one friend whose parents paid for it – it was very unusual at that stage.

Sarah: Did you have to pay a license fee per TV, or per household?

Jackie: The license fee is per household.

Sarah: We just had one tv too, then my parents got a second little one for their bedroom, which was heaven, as I got older I could sneak in there and watch TV that I wanted! My parents weren’t really anti-TV, they were just working all the time so no one really had much time to watch any TV, much less together. We watched the news at mealtime (we could see the living room tv from our kitchen) and Dad would watch Hill Street Blues or baseball at night.

What did you watch with your family?

Wherein we talk game shows and kids’ shows

Jackie: The first things I remember watching were animations like Postman Pat or children’s programmes like Play School or Rainbow. As a family we used to watch game shows on a Saturday evening like The Generation Game or The Price is Right.

Sarah: Our game shows were on during weekday mornings–very few were on on weekend nights. Weekend nights were usually adult dramas–Dallas and Falcon Crest, etc.

How many channels did you have? Did kids’ stuff play all day, or only in the mornings?

Jackie: For most of my childhood we had 4 channels. Children’s programmes would be on at lunchtime (for pre-school age) and then from about 3.30pm – 5.30pm on a weekday.

Saturday morning would also be one long magazine style TV show, which we loved watching. It was called Going Live, then Live and Kicking.

[Added later: Okay, check out this clip from Live & Kicking. That’s John Barrowman, later of Dr. Who and Torchwood fame, co-hosting! Awesome.]

Sarah: I’m trying to add up our channels–we had ABC, CBS, NBC (the networks), plus PBS, public broadcasting. PBS had no commercials, but the networks did, a ton of them. Were there no commercials on any of your TV?

Jackie: BBC1 and BBC2 had no adverts. ITV and Channel 4 had ads. So half and half!

Sarah: Was the magazine show for all ages? What sort of things did they cover (Going Live, I mean).

Jackie: The magazine show was for children and teenagers. It covered pop stars, TV stars and had some game shows for children with slime etc! It was all a bit mad and silly.

There wasn’t much for children on in the evenings. I used to watch whatever my parents were watching, but most of the time I wasn’t really interested in it.

Sarah: Oh–we had the slime game shows for kids too. Those might have come in when I was a little older….mid- to late-80s or so.

Wherein we veer off topic to discuss prime time, the 9 p.m. watershed in the U.K., and “racy” TV

Did you have “prime time” distinctions? Like after 8 p.m. more adult fare could be offered? It seems to me Brit TV has always been a bit edgier than American–do you think that is fair to say about then, or now?

Jackie: I’m not sure Brit TV is edgier. What sort of things are you referring to?

We’ve always had the ‘9pm watershed’ here. That basically means anything broadcast before 9pm has to be suitable for children to watch.

Sarah: Edgier is perhaps the wrong word. For some reason I have the idea that more innuendo, sexuality, profanity is acceptable on Brit TV? Actually not sure why I have that idea. I think I’ve seen programs showing advertisements from around the world and the European/British ones are certainly racier than anything you would see here.

On the other hand, I think you see many fewer guns on your TV, in general.

Jackie: Maybe. The watershed is very strictly adhered to by all channels so you get nothing before 9pm (or maybe the odd innuendo that will go over children’s heads) but after that almost anything goes these days.

The only guns we see tend to be on American programmes. Is 8pm an official distinction in the US?

Sarah: Huh, 9 p.m. watershed! Yes, 8 to 10 p.m. is our “prime time.” At least in the Midwest, where I am. I suppose on the East Coast, NY, it is 9 to 11 p.m. or so. This guideline seems much more fluid now–we have so many crime and other shows that seem to show at all hours, particularly in syndication. With digital TV now we are getting so many free channels that don’t seem to adhere to any content rules. One night I was flipping through at 7 p.m. and The Walking Dead was one of our channels—my kids were both with me so I had to flip away from that quickly!

Jackie: I think even the digital channels adhere to the 9pm watershed. We don’t have the time zone issue to complicate things.

Are things getting racier in the US? We’ve recently got a programme called Naked Attraction – which is where couples choose who to date based on looking at parts of the other contestants’ bodies. There was never any nudity on TV when I was a child.

Sarah: You know–the question about racy–we will have to address that (or undress that?) in a future talk. I watch so little American TV–and absolutely no reality TV–that it is hard to say. In general, yes, they are showing more, in terms of bedroom scenes and actions, although without nudity, and yes, the violence has totally ratcheted up since I was little. If you watch action shows from when I was small, MacGyver, The A Team, Magnum PI, there was still violence and guns, but a lot slower pace so there just wasn’t as MUCH gunplay shown.

But yeah, no, full frontal nudity of any kind would never be shown here, that even appears rarely in movies (well, for men. Women show a lot more than men do in movies here).

Jackie: That’s a big difference then, because in the past few years full frontal nudity seems to have become acceptable.

Ofcom (the people who police broadcasting) recently ranked swear words) You might find this guide to what can and can’t be said on British TV interesting: https://www.indy100.com/article/british-swear-words-ranked-ofcom-7340446.

Sarah: We will definitely have to explore more–but when I think of racier I’m thinking in terms of language, almost primarily. Like, would Coupling show after 9 p.m. there? Because for the most part, frank talk like “one swallow does not a summer make” would NEVER fly here.

Jackie: Yes, Coupling is shown after 9pm.

Sorry, we’ve deviated from kids TV a bit!

Sarah: Oh, by the way, thank you for that website, you are my hero!! I don’t even know who polices our TV. the FCC? I’ll have to look it up.

Wherein we meander back to programs we remember from our youths

Can you tell me about a program or programs you warmly remember from your youth? Not so much the animated or kids’ stuff, but like later grade-school or middle-school age (preteen, basically)?

Jackie: My favourite program at that age was probably Grange Hill – it was a drama set in a school.

Sarah: Was Grange Hill like a lot of your TV? Shorter seasons? What did you like about it?

Jackie: It was broadcast for about 30 years, so was on for my entire childhood. I think it was one episode a week and it dealt with some difficult subjects over the years.

Sarah: WOW–30 years. Our seasons were a lot longer–new weekly episodes from September to May (summer was “rerun season”), but none ran that long, for the most part.

Jackie: I’m not sure when new episodes were released – it probably wasn’t all year.

Sarah: My first TV memory was watching The Dukes of Hazzard on Friday nights, about “good ol’ rural boys” who ran moonshine–I’m totally embarrassed to admit it! And then on Saturday morning I would get up and turn the TV on to the same channel, and there was Bugs Bunny. Happy times.

Jackie: Aw. Yes. I sometimes wish my boys watched more TV. I have lovely memories of it, but mine mostly watch YouTube.

Sarah: Jackie, that’s awesome. My whole life I’ve been hearing about the scourge of TV and here we sit lamenting that we don’t get to watch as much TV with our kids, or see them enjoying TV as much as we did.

Jackie: I loved the way Grange Hill depicted the lives of real children. It had a warmth to it, but over the years you got to know the characters really well and felt for them whenever they had problems.

Children’s TV here seems to be getting better all the time. They have some amazing programs (especially CBBC) and I love watching it with my boys.

Sarah: You up for talking about current kids’ stuff on your TV and mine? This has been lovely but I’d like to post a lot of it, so we should probably call it a chat.

Jackie: I’m happy to chat away whenever you like  ☺

Wherein we can’t stop chatting about British TV, even offering suggestions as we’re trying to sign off

PS. I don’t know if you get brand new Brit TV, but I’m currently watching Trust Me and it is outstanding.

Sarah: OOOhhhh…never heard of it but will look into it. Have you seen this show Quacks on BBC 2? Looks pretty funny.

Okay, now I’m really leaving. You have a great evening too, and thanks, this was SUPER fun.


  1. So, of course I immediately went to the article on swear words! Wow, I have absolutely no idea what half of them mean! But they sure seem to have a lot more than we do, and some of them sound totally charming, probably because all things spoken with a British accent just sound SO much nicer. I think there are a lot more restrictions here for regular broadcast networks, with only a few terms permitted. But cable channels, and in particular pay-cable channels like HBO, seem to have no restrictions, so I guess if you are willing to pay to hear swear words, it’s okay!

  2. Cardo,
    I went right to the swear words article too, and had to look more than half of them up! Most of the meanings weren’t lovely, but you’re right, said in the British accent they just don’t sound as bad.

    Of course I forgot in the U.S. too, all sorts of racy stuff can be found on the cable and direct-pay channels, full frontal nudity included. It always slips my mind because, with the exception of one year in college, I’ve never had cable!

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