Many years ago, Richard Digance had a dream. With mainstream television on a drive to attract younger, more idiotic audiences, the journeymen and journeywomen of the entertainment world were no longer getting a fair crack of the whip. People like Digance, who can still fill clubs and theatres, weren’t getting screen time anymore, and younger acts on the live circuit had no chance of getting on TV at all. Putting his head together with fellow comics Mike Osman and Jethro (real name: Geoff Rowe), with a bit of backing from Chris Tarrant, he decided to found his own channel. Initially billed as The Great British Television Channel, it finally launched, sharing airtime with the PIF-heavy satellite channel Information TV, on 26 February 2005 as Sound TV.
It didn’t last. Plans to fly the Information TV nest and gain its own position on the Sky EPG came to naught. Within six months, the dream was dead. In many ways, it’s sad that it didn’t last because far more pointless satellite channels continue to broadcast, but the first 38 minutes show quite clearly the seeds of the channel’s failure. The opening attraction to the channel that says it’s going to revitalise British variety is not a fast moving slice of top-flight entertainment, but three bored-looking old pros sitting at a table in a Southampton restaurant putting the world to rights for half an hour. Good video editing software is in the grasp of just about everybody, and you can get professional results cheaply. This just looks cheap. The logo looks like it was designed by Helen Keller.
As a child weaned on Tiswas, Tarrant’s place in my affections is secured, and nothing he does can change that, not even Man O Man. I also have quite a lot of residual fondness for Digance, based on his 1980s LWT shows like Abracadigance. That whole raft of comics who came up through the folk scene, who were too edgy to be old-school but who were never seen as truly alternative, interest me greatly. Influenced by Jake Thackray, people like Jasper Carrott, Billy Connolly and Mike Harding blazed a trail (Harding’s early 1980s Friday night BBC2 show was a must-watch, and, on the basis of clips I’ve seen recently, still stands up – no pun intended), with Digance and others following in their wake. I like Osman – who was heard to best effect on Capital Gold back in the 1990s – too. I’ve never seen Jethro’s act, but his reputation as an entertainer is pretty strong, so I’ll take it on trust. As a result of this, I had a lot of goodwill towards the venture. These men knew their stuff, so I tuned in wanting it to be great. It wasn’t. By the end of the opening show, I knew the whole thing was doomed. Don’t let that prejudice you, though. Here, in the interests of historical research, is the first 38 minutes of Sound TV.