I can’t let today pass without marking the 25th birthday of Channel 4 which was at 4.45pm this afternoon. Ironically at that time I was entering the BBC (at Bvsh House), albeit with Camilla Deakin of Lupus Films, custodian of Channel 4 animation and a former Commissioning Editor herself in the Arts department. We were meeting Philip Dodd, formerly of the ICA, Sight & Sound and now of Made in China, to talk about exporting British animation to China and a possible broadband animation channel to launch next year – animation being a great example of where the Channel has lead from the front, all the way to the Oscars. So broadband video and China – very now&next.
Also very now is me sitting here watching the Big Fat Anniversary Quiz and writing a blog simultaneously – so 2007. MC Jimmy Carr was in the Channel 4 caff earlier today when I got into work. Coming into 124 Horseferry Road past the Big 4 this morning I couldn’t help but feel a little quiver of pride&joy. Who’d have thought that that day quarter of a century ago when I watched a bloke called Gavin (or was Gavin the actor and Paul or somebody the character?) opening his bedroom curtains to reveal Brookside Close for the very first time that one day I’d be beavering away for the nascent Channel.
That winter I left for a year to live in Chambery in France (Savoie) before going to university – my first time living away from home. To stay in touch with things back in Blighty I had a lively correspondence throughout 2003 with my lovely friend Katherine (now herself abroad long term in Aspen) about Gavin, his missus Petra, Bobby and Sheila, etc. I just got back on Monday from a visit to Paris to my other great mate Marcelino Truong who I first met that winter in Chambery – he was just about to pack up teaching and become a comic book illustrator. So 2002/3 was a very big year in my life as well as for British broadcasting.
That same first night the film ‘Walter‘ was broadcast starring Ian McKellen. That too came to have a personal connection. While I was at college I met a visiting fellow called David Rudkin (Artemis 81, December Bride), an accomplished screenwriter and Hitchcock expert. He brought to the university for a speaking event Alistair Reid (Tales of the City, Traffik – both for C4), original director of ‘Morse’, who showed his home video of the making of the series, an inspiring presentation and one of many things which lead me to leaving university with no more precise an idea that that I wanted to work with moving pictures. David also introduced me to ‘Walter’ producer Nigel Evans and his business partner Simon Mellor who gave me my first job in the biz – a holiday job as a runner at his company AKA in Farringdon Road (now the Guardian Newsroom annex where last year, 20 years on, I found myself presenting my commission Breaking the News).
Jools Holland has just popped up to ask a question on the Big Fat Quiz about the Tube. The AKA experience helped me land my first proper job at Solus Enterprises, the co-operative of Jack Hazan & David Mingay (makers of British cinema verite landmarks like ‘A Bigger Splash‘ and ‘Rude Boy‘ with The Clash), Roger Deakins (Sid & Nancy, Shawshank Redemption, O Brother Where art Thou?, etc.) and Dick Pope (Secrets & Lies, Vera Drake). The cutting room upstairs at 35 Marshall Street was usually occupied by promo director Tim Pope and editor Pete Goddard. In there was made the series Groovy Fellas for Channel 4, commissioned by Seamus Cassidy. The title graphics were deliberately difficult to read and looked as much like Groovy Fuckers as Groovy Fellas, derived from Jools’s legendary Freudian slit of the tongue. The graphics, from memory, were designed by Andy who used to do all The Cure’s covers. Alongside Jools, it starred Roland Rivron as an alien who dapper Jools was guiding around contemporary Britain. These days Roland and I cross paths in the local schoolyard rather than the cutting room.
My path also crossed Channel 4 in the next phase of my career in another edit suite – that of the very talented Jan Hallett, the Harrymeister with the legendary ‘trouser tape’. Jan is married to Niamh Byrne who has been doing Presentation at Channel 4 for a dog’s age, one of the longest serving staff members. Jan did all the graphics for Chris Morris’s shows (Channel 4′s ‘Brass Eye’ and the fabulous ‘Day Today’). The ‘Day Today’ gig landed partly because it was done out of IDF (later Jump Design, the graphics outfit which emerged from ITN under the direction of the one&only Richard Norley, who had designed the titles for Channel 4 News). We worked out of the Quantel edit suites of ITN in the downtime between the end of Channel 4 News and the start of Big Breakfast News at dawn. Fueled by adrenaline, beer and curry they were golden days which landed us the Grand Award at the New York International Film & Television Festival and a bunch of other gongs from around the world. And the over-night working combined with inability to sleep in the daytime, frankly, was better than drugs.
So, like the Northern Line, the Channel has been a thread through my life from way back when. Since I started working at C4 early in 2003 my personal favourites include DV8′s ‘Cost of Living’, ‘Shameless’ and ‘Jump Britain’.
So we’re in an ad break now. The ads? Apple iPhone. Nintendo DS. What a different world the Channel’s in 25 years on. A huge challenge. Huge opportunities. The important thing is to stay in touch with our values – well expressed, in the Mark Thompson regime under which I started, as: Do It First, Make Trouble, Inspire Change. And also to have a vision going forward as bold as our heritage – one which refreshes and redefines the broad social purpose of the organisation within UK society on a grand scale, as public service media moves into the digital age.