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Thursday, 27th January 2011

Alistair Moffatt & Eric Robson

It was billed as 'An Evening of Entertainment with Alistair Moffatt and Eric Robson', but the two made it clear right from the start that a better subtitle for the evening at the new Smiths Hotel at Gretna Green would be 'Grumpy Old Men Unplugged' (or was it 'Unhinged'?) As an evening, it was certainly entertaining, but it was also very provocative as the two laid into what they regarded as the ills of the television industry in 2006.

They'd probably had plenty of practice W Alistair (currently Chairman of Scottish Television) and Eric ('What-hasn't-he-been-involved-in?' broadcaster) brought us the very popular ITV Border series Walking the Line in which they had a 70-mile argument as they walked the length of the border between Scotland and England.

First to come in the firing line was Digital Switchover W particularly pertinent in the Borders region, who will be the first to lose their analogue service sometime in 2008. With it would go all the local programming that made regions like Border and Tyne Tees amongst the most successful in terms of audience appreciation of local matters... and nobody outside the trade seemed aware that this was going to happen.

"Nobody wants it, people can't afford it, nobody asked for it and yet the government is forcing it upon us." said Alistair. Local politicians in particular would be the first to squeal when they realised what was going on... after all, without local broadcasting, with only (perhaps) 5-minute bulletins added on to the national news, councillors and MPs weren't going to get their public exposure. They would be the first to object.

Alistair confidently predicted that there would be a public outcry when it was realised that much-loved local programmes would go. Not everybody in the room agreed that the wide public were necessarily that savvy (or even bothered W for the moment), but Alistair claimed that protest would be led by the outraged politicians. "They will be the key." And he warned that "This area will never be on TV again unless (heaven forbid) there's another outbreak of Foot & Mouth Disease!"

The regions were also a proven 'nursery slope' for new talent (and Ant & Dec were mentioned), but all that would end when the plug was effectively pulled on non-news regional broadcasting.

But even while we can still watch analogue, there was little to please 'the grumpies' about the modern medium. ITV was dismissed as 'Charles Allen's Pension Fund', and the BBC didn't escape criticism either W although the less said about the 'horrors of Birtism' the better! ["300 miles was the ideal minimum distance between me and Birt" – Eric Robson] It was Eric and Alistair's view that political correctness was diminishing the BBC, with Risk Assessments, Consent Forms, and Ethnic Diversity measures severely restricting the Beeb's ability to do its real job.

Asked about Big Brother, Eric declared it to be "Absolute shite." Alistair said, "I met Jeremy Isaacs recently and he told me that if he had known it would broadcast such dross as Big Brother he'd never have created Channel 4."

But was this merely an evening of two autumnal broadcasters regretting that the years were passing? Well, the age profile of the audience was (on average) less than 'autumnal', and there didn't seem to be much dissent. In fact, it was clear that it was likely that 'out here in the sticks', and with two experienced practitioners who had 'been there, done that... many times' lay the true knowledge of what television meant to the audience, miles from White City, Gray’s Inn Road or the Groucho Club.

The 'killer story' came from Eric, who had clear memories of being summoned across to the Pink Palace to meet a makeover consultant, who (after much discussion) declared him to be a 'purple person'. You can imagine the response that came from the 'what-you-see-is-what-you-get' (and wearing dark blue) Eric!

By Graeme Aldous

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