Value of the magic lantern

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The memory which defines my happy childhood is sitting in my grandparents’ front room watching their ancient television while it blared out the opening strains of Coronation Street.

For me, watching Corrie while dunking Ginger Nuts into a brew meant I was in the bosom of my family 250 miles away from my home in the, not-so-mean, streets of Cheshire.

Sharing those special moments, which usually involved us falling about laughing at the size of Bet Lynch’s earrings, still make me smile today. But for my gran, who struggled to get very far out of her front door due to a disability which had dogged her for half a century, the box was her lifeline and, after her death, it became an increasingly important companion to my grandad, right up until he switched off for the last time at the ripe old age of 95.

It was my grandparents who Tony Blair had in mind when he came up with the idea of free licences for over 75s. When it was introduced, it was done to help ease the poverty that many, who were born in the 1920s and 1930s, faced and still face today.

Free licences are back in the news because the BBC has said they will no longer be available to everybody aged 75 and over. The corporation was due to take on the full cost of the free licences from next year and the bean counters worked out it would cost them £745m each year, meaning BBC2, Five Live and a host of local radio stations would be put at risk. Some might say no longer having to put up with repeats of Flog It! and the Great British Sewing Bee would be a price worth paying for letting every pensioner, regardless of income, receive a free licence. Not me.

Blanket benefits are always tricky as it means people with considerable wealth put even more pressure on struggling resources. There are still millions of senior citizens who claim pension credit and are eligible for the free licences. And rightly so. Poverty means much more than not having enough money to live on, it can mean millions of people, especially the elderly, face the scourge of loneliness. Our friend in the corner of the front room can go some way to easing that agony.