My life betwixt 30 years of breakfast television
I was quite a hyperactive child in 1983. Unlike today, I had no trouble getting up early in the morning. This wasn’t down to my eagerness of going to the Hollings Lodge playgroup (God rest its little stone built soul now replaced by inferior brick built semis!), but more my inability to sleep properly. Before the 17 January 1983, my only option at half past six in the morning was Piccadilly Radio. The sleepless Stuart Vallantine of 1982-83 used to enjoy listening Pete Baker’s Nightshift show as a consequence.
Once upon a time, one Monday in Granadaland, this changed. Unlike my Yorkshire fellows who had breakfast telly since 1977 (thanks to Bob Warman’s Good Morning Calendar), the idea of watching television before midday was a novelty. If you did, it was either the Trade Test Transmission films, IBA’s Engineering Announcements, Pages From Ceefax, or Stop, Look and Listen (Schools programmes occupied what is now the preserve of The Jeremy Kyle Show or Heirhunters (and I would sooner have a rerun season of How We Used to Live instead of Saints and Scroungers any day!)).
By 0628, we were treated to this clip:
At Chez Vall, we would alternate between BBC Breakfast Time or Piccadilly Radio. Three weeks later, ITV’s service would make a greater impact on me. As I was unable to understand the content of Frank Bough’s witterings, or indeed my parents sometimes, after being unable to speak for two years, it was the music and the graphics which made the most impact.
Enter TV-am, its liberal use of the Century Gothic/Avant Garde typeface, expensive opening titles and – most of all – for me – the signature music composed by Jeff Wayne. I would – and still go – fuzzy over his score for Daybreak (the late Robert Kee’s programme – not ITV’s latest effort with Aled Jones). In later years, his music for Daybreak and Good Morning Britain would be analogous with ‘school’. They were as much a soundtrack to my formative years as much as The Pet Shop Boys’ West End Girls and anything produced by Stock Aitken and Waterman.
In its first few months, we would alternate between BBC and ITV. By the end of 1983, we warmed more to TV-am at Chez Vall. Thanks to Greg Dyke’s transformation, the lighter format was more favourable to us. I liked Roland Rat’s slot; at home, it was a case of ‘what’s Breakfast Time?’; we wanted some information and a bit of entertainment, but nothing too heavy going for 7.30.
For us, TV-am also excelled in its children’s programming. My earliest memories of which involved waking up on a Saturday morning in 1984 to see Datarun (and an earworm which lasted till I discovered YouTube and TV Cream). Sarah, my younger sister, and I, would later watch Wacaday, The Wide Awake Club, or – courtesy of Bruce Gyngell in 1987 – multifarious episodes of Batman and Flipper.
To us, Tommy Boyd seemed rather staid. Arabella Warner was slightly livelier, but her successor Michaela Strachan would be a good second to Hyde’s very own Timmy Mallett. We remembered Timmy Mallett from Piccadilly Radio, and was happy to find he was just as daft on Wacaday as he was on Piccadilly Radio. Mallett’s Mallet, his cockatoo Magic and the daft glasses and phrases would have an impression.
On Saturdays, we would usually switch over to the BBC for Saturday Superstore or Going Live. Or, as was the case in 1986 at Chez Vall, leave the telly on ITV for Get Fresh. During the half term holidays, it would either be BBC’s or ITV’s children’s programming or (better still, during the February and October week long holidays), either Crosswits, Lucky Ladders, Going for Gold or Chain Letters.
The personalities of TV-am and BBC Breakfast Time were just as much a part of early 1980s breakfast television alongside its content. For us, the laugh of Rustie Lee was amusing yet simultaneously annoying. We wondered how Russell Grant would get away with such lurid knitwear. Dad always used to think Francis Wilson’s weather forecasting manner sent him to sleep.
Which explains why the dulcet tones of Captain Philpott, Wincey Willis and Ulrika Jonsson offered a more cheerful alternative at home.
Who could also forget Diana Moran (The Green Goddess) and ‘Mad Lizzie’ Webb? Mr Motivator? For exercise slots, we preferred the more manic nature of Lizzie Webb (also extra kudos value for getting Take That involved in one of her workouts!). She has since returned to our screens on ITV’s Daybreak.
At home, TV-am not only meant Anne Diamond and Nick Owen: for me – more than anything – Timmy Mallett and Roland Rat!
‘I can see you in the morning when you go to school…*’
TV-am’s music, the dulcet tones of Anne Diamond and Nick Owen – more so than Selina Scott and Frank Bough – meant ‘time to go to school’. Funnily enough, its franchise paralleled my formative years leading up to secondary school. Its pop music and birthday slot meant my taxi to The Ewing School wasn’t far off; if I was home long enough to see Rustie Lee, it was either the half term holidays, or my taxi was severely late.
TV-am continued to rule the roost at Chez Vall till September 1992, when The Big Breakfast hit our screens. Three years before then, Channel Four’s first attempt at breakfast television was The Channel Four Daily, anchored by Dermot ‘Eggheads’ Murnaghan. We watched it for about two minutes in 1989 and 1990, but found it too yuppified and dull for our tastes. There was no real on-screen chemistry compared with Anne Diamond and Nick Owen, or their successors, Mike Morris and Lorraine Kelly. The news and weather stuff was all right, but as children’s programming was concerned, we thought their 7.20am Comic Book slot was an afterthought.
To all intents, The Channel Four Daily was a late-1980s take on the original ‘mission to explain’ model of pre-Greg Dyke/Aitken/Gyngell era of TV-am. It had better graphics, it was pitched more towards the yuppie market. Rather, Guardian readers instead of Sun readers.
Meanwhile, Planet 24’s The Big Breakfast was a real departure from its predecessor. It was cheerful, brash, and set us up in the right frame of mind for school. The rest of the day could be dire, but daft games like Guess The Mess, More Tea, Vicar and Get Your Knobbly Nuts Out gave us some respite. For us, it was like two hours of Wacaday, albeit interspersed with news, celebrity gossip clips, Paula Yates’ interviews on a double bed, and another old boy from Piccadilly Radio: Chris Evans.
At odds with the studio format of its rivals, they opted for two lock keepers’ cottages on the side of the Grand Union Canal – a far cry from Terry Farrell’s lush TV-am studios on Camden Lock. The use of handheld cameras made for a programme which was like an ADHD version of Number 73 and added to its charm. Multicoloured Swap Shop and Saturday Superstore fashion, they had a roving reporter somewhere in the UK (either Mark Lamarr or – ironically – Keith Chegwin).
The Big Breakfast became required viewing at Chez Vall, so much so we abandoned TV-am as we did with the now renamed BBC Breakfast News. GMTV would be given a wide berth too. We tried GMTV and found it too celebrity orientated, whereas TV-am struck a good balance between celebrity, human interest features and news. We watched it from the start, though ceased viewing the programme after Denise Van Outen and Johnny Vaughan (Chris Evans’ and Gaby Roslin’s replacements) left.
1994 saw another change in viewing habits. We discovered the joys of multichannel television, and realised there was other pockets of esoterica elsewhere. We were no longer constrained to three channels with breakfast television: cue MTV, VH-1 and 3Sat!
With the latter, we would shun the usual breakfast television programmes in favour of the Austrian channel’s Alpenpanorama. Set to traditional Austrian music, it showed for the best part of an hour, scenes of Innsbrück, Tyrol, Wagrain and the like. It would detail maximum and minimum temperatures for each day and pan from left to right on mountainous terrain.
Sometimes, we would reacquaint ourselves with former BBC Breakfast Time weatherman Francis Wilson, over on Sky News. VH-1’s mix of morning music was a good start to each day.
Alas, this was short lived, as by 2000, Chez Vall went digital. 3Sat was no longer available in the eyes of our new-fangled electronic programme guide (and we couldn’t be bothered tuning in the set top box, nor have the extra expense for a bigger dish). The Big Breakfast, had supposedly lost its way; GMTV was still celebrity orientated. Instead, we went over to the BBC for our viewing choices. Thirteen years on, and one studio relocation later, BBC’s Breakfast remains Chez Vall’s breakfast television programme of choice.
In 2003, Channel Four had ditched The Big Breakfast, and replaced it with its least successful format. Entitled RI:SE, it opted for a rolling news format with an annoying ticker on the bottom of the screen. It looked like Britain’s Most Overstaffed News Desk (and this was years after Thatcher and Co. castrated the trade unions), in its mainly yellow and orange set. Its presenters included Kirsty Gallacher (famous on Sky One at the time), Edith Bowman (who we remembered from MTV) and Colin Murray, who would later find continued success on radio.
We saw RI:SE for about 20 minutes (literally!) and reverted to the dulcet tones of Sophie Raworth and Jeremy Bowen.
Then we fell out with BBC’s Breakfast for a bit and rediscovered local radio. For a time, we listened to Oldham Community Radio. Then, after the formation of Tameside Radio, we became avid listeners of Wayne Kay’s breakfast show.
Then we discovered that our barking (on both counts, literally and mentally) Jack Russell Terrier didn’t take to having the radio on in the living room. So we started watching BBC’s Breakfast again, only this time with Sian Williams, Susanna Reid and Louise Minchin, ably supported by Messrs Turnbull and Stayt.
By 2010, the format was more to our liking, almost like the glory days of TV-am, and became a permanent fixture on Chez Vall’s satellite decoder. Over on the other side, our experiences with GMTV put us off watching Daybreak, thinking it was more of the same, albeit with a Facebook style logo. I knew for sure it wouldn’t have matched TV-am‘s version, on the strength of its signature tune alone and graphics.
Towards the Present Day
I find BBC Breakfast the least distracting and cosiest of the UK’s breakfast television programmes. Since the move to Salford, I love being able to see more of the north’s locations on a national television programme. That, as well as its superior format, has made me a long term viewer.
It is set at just the right pace for people getting ready for work (me included) and has the right mix of entertainment and human interest features alongside current affairs. Everything which BBC Breakfast Time set out to do on the 17 January 1983.
Here’s to another 30 years – hopefully all in MediaCityUK, Salford Quays.
S.V., 17 January 2013.
* ‘School’, Supertramp (1974).