The TV programmes that made your heart sink as a child

No matter how TV-addicted you were growing up, these programmes never failed to fill an 80s child with instant dread…

There’s no surer indication that age has cracked its arthritic fingers to work its spell on you than the realisation you’re enjoying an episode of The Antiques Roadshow

It’s not a gradual softening; it’s something that happens all at once like an elaborately drunken night out, or a sneeze. One day, the lively da-derr da-derr da derr of The Antiques Roadshow theme song signifies the approach of stultifying boredom, the next, it signifies the approach of some charming Royal Doulton egg cups and a fascinating nineteenth century object for scraping bits of poor people from the hooves of an aristocrat’s horse.  

As a child, the boredom of watching The Antiques Roadshow made you want to wet yourself just so you’d have something to do. So many teaspoon collections; so littlepirate treasure. Why didn’t we just go outside? Read a book! Climb a tree! All were impossible of course. This was the 1980s. Thatcher had snatched all the books and trees and cast a spell to cover the land in eternal winter.

Anyway, this is television we’re talking about. To a child raised on it, even a programme that made your intestines wince was better than the worst possible thing you could imagine, which was notelevision at all. Back then, in the school holidays, we watched the same episode of Neighbours first at lunchtime and then again at teatime, and we were glad of the opportunity. 

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Despite such robust embodiment of the Dunkirk spirit, a TV-loving child could still be tripped up in the olden days. The listings—those warm, welcoming pages where Crosswits and Count Duckula together dwelled—hid booby traps. These were the programmes that looked like television and sounded like television, but were actually despair-traps disguised by a witch’s glamour. Get stuck in front of them as a young person, and your eyes would fall clean out of your head and roll across the living room carpet. Or at least, it felt like it.


The snooker

My brother loved the snooker, so while I understand that kids aren’t universally allergic to it, I also understand that he was wrong. The snooker was a terrible thing to do to a child. Not only was it duller than having to pour the orange squash at your mum’s Tupperware party, when it was on, it also stole real television like The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. 


The Budget

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Another entertainment thief, for one day a year your regular BBC Two viewing schedule was hijacked by a programme about a man, his briefcase, and how much petrol cost. Unfathomable cruelty.


Songs Of Praise

We already had to do hymns in assembly. Polluting TV, the home of Tony Robinson’s Stay Tooned! and Knightmare, with yet more hymns was asking too much of a young mind. 


One Man And His Dog

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Kids love dogs because dogs are brilliant. They’re a compendium of food-stealing, loud-farting, rolling-around-in-fox-poo fun. Not the dogs on One Man And His Dog –they’re about as fun as insurance clerks. Watching them creep around the edges of a flock of sheep, never even catching one, under the occult command of a man blowing a whistle was worse than being made to go outside for a walk.


The News

When it wasn’t filling your seven-year-old head with the certainty that Threads was coming true because, as you understood it, Libya had put up the interest rates so the IRA was going to have to privatise the poll tax, The Six O’Clock News with Sue Lawley was still ending your life one minute at a time.


Wish You Were Here?


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Any holiday programme was a dull blur to young minds because all the holidays looked rubbish. They never went on Go Karts or a Dotto train or to Pizza Hut, or did any of the things that made a holiday actually good. 


The London Marathon

Running and crying and running and crying. You could get that on cross-country Wednesdays. The pride in human endeavour and the poignancy of the charity stories were lost on child-me, who opposed sport in every form (even if it was fun to be allowed to balance the TV on the kitchen worktop on a Sunday morning while the potatoes were peeled for the roast).


The Clothes Show

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Clothes were onerous when you were little – they represented work. Clothes were the things you weren’t allowed to get ketchup on, and, when presented with a pile of them neatly laundered and folded, had to put away in a drawer yourself, like some kind of Victorian chimney sweep. No matter how excited Jeff Banks and Selina Scott got about organic cotton, clothes didn’t deserve a whole programme devoted to them, those cloth-based swines. 


John Craven’s Newsround

With apologies to John Craven, who embodied Reithian values and empowered children with current affairs knowledge to stand them in good stead in later life. The thing is, John, there was Home & Away on the other side.


Ski Sunday

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The Black Beauty-style music, the snow… on second thoughts, Ski Sunday was quite good. Forget that one.


The Camomile Lawn

Not The Camomile Lawn per se, but what it typified to a child: boring grown-up period dramas about relationships and class tensions and—I don’t know because I never watched it—but probably camomile like that whiffy tea your nan drinks and lawns, like your dad’s always going on about. What could be worse?

Kids today, eh, with their YouTube and their Netflix and their BBC iPlayer. Aside from widening social and financial inequality and the relative impossiblity of home-ownership or full-time work in a gig economy linked to a mental health crisis exacerbated by an underfunded NHS, they just don’t know they’re born, do they?