Remote Control - Saturday 01 March 2014

The Clash
The Clash
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The past has been bottled and labelled with love...

When I were (sic) a lad there were just three channels, you stood up to change stations and you shared a national television experience.

We just about had four channels by the time the post-nuclear war TV drama Threads hit our screens – and sent a whole nation into frozen shock at the height of the Cold War.

Papers, teachers and the authorities all had to try to calm down the populace.

Director Mick Jackson said afterwards that he barely received any calls its screening: “I realised... that people had just sat there thinking about it, in many cases not sleeping or being able to talk.”

As technology raced ahead, you could choose what you wanted to watch when you wanted to watch it as VHS won its battle with Betamax.

And you’d get one extra present in the form of a video or, later, a DVD – the £10 guilt offering at having spent so little on the main gift.

Your favourite band in concert, a collection of their promo videos, or, in the case of someone worth one, like the Clash, a documentary feature-length film.

And you could tell a lot about people from their DVD shelf, and I don’t mean the loons who alphabeticalise their collections.

Anyone with Dire Straits, U2 or Duran Duran sitting proudly in the bookcase was obviously a clueless beaut.

But TV’s myriad channels mean everything’s changed – with Sky Arts becoming your DVD shelf for the modern era.

Yesterday alone you could have watched Cropredy 2011: Seasick Steve in Concert; the artist behind the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, Peter Blake, talking to Tim Marlow; Peter Frampton live; Supertramp: Live in Paris ‘79; George Clooney, film-maker Barry Levinson talking about his career, Rain Man, Toys, Sleepers and Good Morning, Vietnam; the people behind Michael Jackson’s pop videos discussing their collaborations with the star.

That’s before 9pm.

After that it was Sign o’ the Times, the Artist Formerly Known as Prince who is back again known as Prince’s 1987 tour through Rotterdam and Antwerp; the Pixies live and, when the wife is in bed, the Crazy Horse documentary behind the scenes of the famous Paris nude cabaret.

Its broadbrush approach is only matched by the committed enthusiasm of each programme’s makers.

As the main channels drift further into blandness the channel formerly known as Artsworld is a wondrous trip through popular and not-so-popular culture.

Alan Burrows