Thursday, 12 March 2009

Licentious? Nah...

No joke - in the UK you have to have a tv license to pay for public television. When I first moved here, I was amazed to learn that if you had a television, you had to get a license for it, for about £130 a year. If you don't have a license for your television, you can be fined. Well geez, I used to panic about this. Up until a few months ago, I actually thought people would demand to see the license if they knocked on your door, and I'd have to prove I had one by having it at the ready, like they were my identification papers during the war. So I used to keep this very official bit of paper under the tv in safe place so I'd have it to hand when that knock came. There was a VERY convincing television ad that gave me this impression several years ago, I swear. But it turns out they have the info on a database and you don't actually need to show anyone a bit of paper. If they see that you're not paid up, and you've got a satellite dish or cable wire going into the brick, or an antenna on the roof, someone from the tv license people may knock on your door and demand you pay for a tv license, but that's it. No terrifying knock, no frantic scrabbling around for passports...

But despite this odd practice, the BBC are good people. A couple of weeks ago, a programme called QI jumped into the top mainstream comedy slot at 9 pm on BBC 1 (the one occupied by Friends in the 90s, if that gives you an idea). QI is a 'Quite Interesting' comedy panel game where if you guess the most obvious-seeming yet wrong answer, you lose loads of points and quite a lot of self-respect. Scores are regularly in the negative numbers at the end of each episode, and its facts are so esoteric and forgettable that my friends and I can even watch this in reruns and feel clever and stupid by turns. It's hosted by one of my favourite gay, Jewish panel game hosts, Stephen Fry (the other one is Simon Amstell).

QI used to be on BBC2, which covers the 'clever and quirky' demographic quite nicely. When it was moved to BBC1 for its most recent season, I was worried it'd dumb down and go mainstream. How delighted I was last week in the Flora and Fauna episode when the very first question name-checked menstruation in a big way. The episode is still available on iplayer in the UK, and I seriously hope it arrives on BBC America and elsewhere soon enough. The question was about the significance of the camellia flower in a book called La Dame au Camellia (and in the film and opera based on it). All the guests, including this week's token woman, Jo Brand (who has never shied away from huge amounts of sexually themed and menstrual comedy in her stand up act) joined in with the discussion of wearing a white camellia flower 25 days a month and wearing a red camellia for the other 5. (Now THAT's regular!) Women were not the butt of the jokes! Menstruation wasn't considered disgusting! Best bit: Stephen Fry in role saying 'Sorry, I can't, I've got a period on,' and Jo Brand guffawing as she gently corrected him: 'Stephen, it's EITHER/OR! Either 'I've got my period' or 'I'm on!'' A good third of the show was devoted to menstrual comedy. It's quite sad that I'm so shocked and pleased by this, but wanted to log the praise where it's due. It also taught this menstrual maven a thing or two about the history behind Germany's arm of Kotex branding its pads Camellia. (Actually I wish the US arm (wing?)
would depart from their 50s medicinal moniker and head the same way - it'd mean the To Bleed Or Not To Bleed sketch I do in our live show (it's about menstrual suppression) would be able to end with 'the fair Camellia' in both countries. "The fair Camellia! Pad, in thy soft layers/Be all my blood collect'd!")

I sat down to write about this all last night but got engrossed in a BBC Radio 4 programme called Am I Normal doing an entire episode deconstructing stereotypes around menopause (recommended reading from one of the interviewees was Mrs. Dalloway - so now that's two books, an opera and a film to add to my reading list), directly followed by Call Yourself a Feminist, which turned out to be the first of three documentaries tracking different waves of feminism. (Which one are we on now? Third, right? Do we all graduate to fourth at some point? I've been in third so long I'm starting to feel like I got left back.) I was fascinated by comments from an oldskool feminist called Sonia adamantly insisting that feminists weren't humourless, and that it was irresponsible of the media to only show the drier side of feminism. Right on, sister!

So yeah, the BBC is on message. They are ready to acknowledge that feminists can be funny, and comedians can talk menstruation. Perhaps I should send in a sitcom idea about women who work in a tampon factory. Actually, I think I will. You heard it here first, folks - it'll be called Up Yours (with its own comedy tampon packaging to get my design!brain going). Look for it at 9 pm on BBC1 in a couple of years...

Chella

6 comments:

Andrew Culture said...

I haven't had a TV for years, something the licencing authority can't seem to get thier heads around! They've been threatening to make a visit for years. I do watch QI on the iPlayer though, it's fantastic, Stephen Fry must easily be the most loved man in Britain!
Andrew Culture

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TVLicenceInfo said...

Hi, you do not need a licence to own a television in the UK - you only need one to watch live television.

You can own a television and use it for music, DVDs, iPlayer, or video games without needing a licence.

Even if you do receive a visit from TVL, you are under no obligation to allow them access to your property (visits are carried out by Capita, and their staff have no legal powers beyond any other member of the public).

Chella and Sarah said...

Oh TV licensing authority, I now feel a warm affection toward you for your ability to simultaneously clarify how non-terrifying tv license visits can be, while still proving beyond a doubt your utter omnipresence and omnipotence.

Thank you for so swiftly providing us with the above information. Duly noted!

Chella

TV said...

Actually, I'm not the TVLA. :-)

We gave up our TV last year and had exactly the same experience as Andrew - TVLA seemed unable to comprehend that you can live without it...

We had several phone calls trying to badger us into getting a licence, and a never-ending stream of letters implying we absolutely must be almost certainly (maybe) committing a criminal offence and threatening inspections and search warrants and questioning under caution.

99% of this is pure nonsense, so I decided to create a site explaining exactly what the situation is regarding TV licensing in the UK and to correct some of the misinformation that TVLA rely on.

If you watch live TV, sure, you need a licence. But if you don't, you don't!

Chella and Sarah said...

Well, I was sorely tempted not to post this comment in order to keep the mystique alive for a little while longer, but thanks for coming clean. Great website.

And Andrew, yeah, Stephen Fry is a national treasure!

Chella

Riot Kitty said...

That is some strange stuff. I suppose I wouldn't mind if we had to pay for stuff like PBS, but the shit on American television isn't worth paying for. Or watching - so I don't! We are members of our local PBS affiliate.