Michael Portillo

Some minimalists don’t watch any TV at all, and that’s fine. But most of us enjoy a good Columbo on a rainy afternoon (especially that wonderful episode where the old lady writer puts her nephew in the safe). But whereas TV used to be a feelgood treat, today the powers that be have turned schedules into a lazy bore of endless reality shows, game shows with screaming contestants (compare to vintage Bullseye episodes, you would not know if they won the speedboat or not). We have rolling news, violence, documentaries on bad driving, right-wing religious zealot preachers, the odd decent film and occasionally something wonderful (like Michael’s railway programs on BBC4).

A little over a year ago, I wrote a piece confessing I couldn’t stand Michael Portillo (Great Continental Railway Journeys) who dressed like an early 1990s gameshow contestant. But now I’m here to apologise. It pains me to admit this, I got it wrong. He is a weirdly compelling host. At one point, a woman kisses him on the cheek and he turns to camera and shouts ‘CHOO CHOO!’ at the top of his voice, like the horny wolf from the Tex Avery cartoons. So fine, I got it wrong. And I hope he never stops making these shows. Stuart Heritage (journalist)

So what’s to do? Simple. You overcome your fear of the ‘off’ button! If nothing’s on, just turn off. Do something else. Take a walk, play with dogs, cook a meal, listen to good music, visit the cinema or theatre, go for a bike ride, climb a mountain, read a book, talk with friends, go to the pub. The more we all collectively do this, the more that the bad TV will end, and we will have less (but better) channels.

If you can’t afford Sky, then don’t use it. In fact, it’s likely good to avoid it anyway. Apparently, most young people these days don’t watch TV, they just download programs on their smartphones. When she was culture secretary, Nadine Dorries said she was surprised to learn that youngsters don’t pay the TV license, as they have no need for it. One observant viewer wrote ‘Wait till she hears about Netflix!’

If you don’t watch live TV online (nor at home) you can cancel your TV license and get a refund on unused months. Be careful as it’s made complicated to try to dissuade you (some people are exempt from paying). Yet blind people still have to pay – and get a discount for black-and-white sets?! There are murmurings about switching to subscription, as so many people don’t bother watching the BBC, as most content is bilge (aside from the odd wonderful offering). If you need to watch news (and you don’t) go online to Byline TV (funded by subscription, so there’s no ads, bias or marketing). A revelation!

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