THE MAGIC BOX

Well, that’s it. The end of an era, and the start of a new one.

I’m going to have to change my morning routine. Every morning when I wake up, I put on Ceefax – 101, 160, 501, 390, 302 – but not any more, as Northern Ireland’s analogue transmitters were switched off.

The last ever Pages From Ceefax (a curious watch when you had to be up early in the morning) ended with this self mocking message.

This was commemorated by a joint broadcast from BBCNI and UTV, the rather excellent ‘The Magic Box’ – a look back at television in Northern Ireland in the analogue era.

It was a star studded event (well, Frank Mitchell and Uncle Andy were there) but I got an e-mail a few weeks back offering me the opportunity to apply for tickets. I was tempted, but I thought this was a TV event best viewed, well, in front of a TV screen. I’m glad I did.

I was curious when reading the TV Guide on Saturday that the UTV show was scheduled to last for five minutes longer. That, was to become clear later on.

If you haven’t seen it, I seriously suggest you watch it. A link can be found here.

It began, being introduced with the classic BBC Globe Ident. Already, we’re off to a winner. I love it when the BBC does retro idents around themed events (Like when BBC 2 did 1970s Idents when introducing a season of programmes dedicated to the 1970s, fronted by Dominic Sandbrook)

From there, a comic turn, as continuity duties were handed to Julian Simmons, struggling to grasp that he was on the BBC (He has previously been on the BBC, playing himself in Give My Head Peace) and not being able to say “Simulcast” – a brilliant tribute to/gag at the expense of Ivan “Phenomenon” Little.

On a night dedicated to celebrating TV in Northern Ireland, it would have been criminal not to have Julian Simmons involved, although it was a man who has overtaken him as Northern Ireland’s most famous Continuity Announcer, Peter Dickson who introduced Eamonn Holmes in the studio.

Holmes was one of many stars we got to see in a younger day, as we were treated to a wide range of clips, in terms of subject matter, era and tone. Having looked back, and laughed at, some of life’s more light hearted moments, as well as looking back at news reports from the troubles, as well as Chris Moore talking about his expose of child abuse in the Catholic church

If you wish to see a young Eamonn Holmes, as a sports reporter for UTV (He looks like Dimitar Berbatov) – check out this excellent clip of ITV’s 1982 World Cup coverage where he interviews Sammy Mackie.

Another well known face who began his career as a sports reporter (for the BBC) was also in the audience.

The five minute time difference in the schedule was explained as BBC went off air just after 23:30, and that UTV would go off air just before 23:35.

The BBC ending was fantastic. Superbly scripted and filmed. Once the end credits finished, a quick announcement explaining the situation was read out, before cutting to the 70s Ident, before fading out to reveal a series of TVs showing past BBC Idents (and even the Ceefax home page)

Credit to Continuity Announcer Mark Simpson for an excellent read out.

That was it. Analogue BBC, and Ceefax, was no more.

UTV’s ending was rather disappointing in comparision to BBC, very matter of fact, moving on to the next programme.

It would have been brilliant if they could have used an ident or idents incorporating this logo in their final analogue moments

So, to end, here’s five (well, six really) classic Northern Ireland Youtube Clips that probably should have been mentioned on The Magic Box.

HONOURABLE MENTION – JIM ‘CRAZY PRICES’ MEGAW

5 – JULIAN SIMMONS

Not an exact moment, but a Julian Simmons Best Of would have been brilliant.

4 – NORTHERN IRELAND DISCO DANCING CHAMPIONSHIP 1981

3 – BELFAST MUSIC SCENE 1986

Technically, an RTE clip, but let’s not let that get in the way of how brilliant this clip is. It’s amazing how some parts of South Belfast have barely changed over the past 26 years.

2. CATS IN THE CRADLE

This advert scared the life out of me when I was wee. Everytime I hear the song (even if it’s the Ugly Kid Joe or Jason Downs cover) I always think of this ad

1. GOAL OF THE SEASON 94/95

So, Lionel Messi has spent his whole career paying tribute to Joey Cunningham.

The season I first started going to Linfield matches.

A different era back then. Linfield began the season as reigning Champions and Cup holders, before ending up languishing in 8th.

Oh.

LOCAL NEWS FOR LOCAL PEOPLE?

Simple question, but think about it. Have you seen any football on UTV recently?

If you’re answer includes England’s recent international, Arsenal, United and Chelsea’s Champions League ties, as well as four FA Cup Quarter-Finals, you’d need to think again.

You see, those matches were shown by ITV, not UTV, an important distinction to make.

So, has anybody seen any football on UTV lately?

Sadly, the answer is a resounding no, as football appears to have completely vanished from their sports bulletins over the last couple of weeks. It’s not as if there hasn’t been any local football lately.

What makes it even worse is that, with time dedicated to football coverage now so sparse, UTV decide to use that time covering stories which are totally irrelevant to their remit.

For example, last Monday, they featured a report on David Beckham missing the World Cup through injury on their late-night show, complete with the Sports Editor of the Belfast Telegraph popping in for a little chat about it.

Exactly how is this a Northern Ireland news story?

A few weeks before this, they did a story about a potential takeover of Manbchester United by the Red Knights group, complete with vox pops taken in the Red Devils bar in West Belfast.

As a Belfast-based United fan, I feel like I can give some form of definitive view on the issue of United’s media coverage.

YES, United have a lot of fans in Northern Ireland, BUT, I seriously have my doubts that any United fan in Northern Ireland uses UTV as an outlet for finding out news on their favourite team.

One arguement ofen use by those in response for calls for improved Irish League coverage is that “There’s only one man and a dog at it”

I was at an Irish Cup tie at The Oval recently, and there was certainly substantially more than “one man and a dog” at it, yet there was no coverage to be seen on the following Monday night’s bulletin.

Another arguement put forward is that “There is always bigger events happening”, which was certainly put into practice in last Tuesday’s bulletin as the only sports story that was broadcast was a preview of the Rugby match betwen Ireland and Scotland.

There is absolutely no doubt that Six Nations Rugby is a bigger story, but, is there really a need for the match to get a four day build-up?

Stranger still, there was no mention of the match in the Wednesday or Thursday night bulletins, so why did they have a preview on the Tuesday night, and not follow it up on the other two nights?

An even bigger insult to football fans, was that the late night edition on Tuesday repeated the same report that was broadcast at 6pm.

Not only was a full fixture list featuring a meeting between 1st and 2nd ignored at the expense of a preview of an event 4 days away, the results were ignored at the expense of a repeat of the aforementioned report later that night.

Such is the culture of repeats and rehashing reports, the late night edition of UTV Live might as well just be called ‘UTV Live For Those Too Lazy Or Too Busy Watching The Simpsons To Watch Us At 6’

Sadly, this decline in coverage has spread to Sport On Sunday, where goals are just condensed down into as short as clips as possible.

When you see instances like this, you can see why football fans in Northern Ireland feel underwhelmed and disillusioned by the coverage provided to them by UTV.

It’s not a matter of Football vs Rugby or Football vs GAA, but of the three main sports, there is only one which is grossly under-represented on our local news bulletins.

Sadly, our sports journalists on both channels are seduced by celebrity and dazzled by patronising soundbites about how some celebrity is “Really enjoying their visit to Northern Ireland”

It has to be said, that BBC Northern Ireland are just as bad, and it’s not just sports journalism where this is prevalent.

Recent news stories featured in our local news have included a story last July about a dispute between Dublin Council and Croke Park residents about noise pollution in the aftermath of a U2 concert on BBC Newsline, or UTV Live doing a feature on the economic benefits to Limerick of hosting a Republic of Ireland international.

Other examples include both channels covering Muhammed Ali making a personal appearance in County Clare and the endless coverage of Real Madrid’s training camp in Dublin last summer.

Stories which have no relevance whatsoever with Northern Irleand, yet these stories are continuiously being broadcast on our news bulletins.

I’m not pig-headed or ignorant enough to say that there should be no Republic of Ireland stories on our news, absolute nonsense. We share a border with the Republic, do cross-border trade with them, as well as people travelling there for business and breaks, so there are obviously going to be stories in the Republic of Ireland which affect our everyday lives.

Sadly, our broadcasters cannot distinguish between what is relevent and irrelevant. That, simply, is poor editorial judgement.

As well as reporting on stories from the Republic of Ireland, the digital departments within BBC Northern Ireland seem content to let their English counterparts do some of their reporting for them, as any story from Northern Ireland which makes the national news, is the same word for word on the Northern Ireland Ceefax and Internet pages as it is on the national pages.

Is it too much to ask for a bit originality, that when you log on to the Northern Ireland section, to see a story from a Northern Ireland viewpoint, rather than a cut and paste of a report written by someone in an office in London?

So please, BBC and UTV, next time I switch on to your evening bulletins, can I please view stories from Northern Ireland, relevant to Northern Ireland and which haven’t been cut and pasted from outher sources?

And as an extra bonus, some football?