Bemoaning a lost television format…
For ten years from 1987 until 1997 Channel 4 broadcast one of the most fascinating discussion programmes of recent times. A live, late at night programme it had no time constraints, no real schedule other than a policy of open-ended discussion which ran on into the middle of the night. For many, it was the last of the ‘warts and all’ television debates, it marked the end of truthful, public discussion and the beginning of a state and media led mission to erase any possibility of allowing the public to listen, digest and formulate their own opinions based on what they heard.
The discussions often gave the viewer a fascinating insight into a world free from social media intrusion, a looking glass into the halls of Westminster, the shadowy corridors of the intelligence services or the work of an investigative journalist. Inbetween moments of intellectual jousting of then current affairs we saw seemingly taboo subjects casually covered as in the case of Tony Benn where he discusses the allegation of Ted Heath’s sexuality, something rarely discussed publicly until after Heath’s death.
The format and setting allowed for a sense of intimacy and with it a number of quite startling revelations, the beauty of the programme was the live broadcast meant nothing could be edited for fear of libel and with discussions lasting for some two to three hours it allowed the guests to engage in a much deeper level of conversation. What this highlights above all else is how political debate in particular has been resigned to nothing more than a sanitised, rehearsed dialogue of one-liners and catchphrases dreamt up by think tanks. It should never have been allowed to get this far.