Archive: News

The 1979 ITV strike was the longest in the history of British television. It was also the last major strike. When service resumed after ten weeks, this is what viewers saw.

With this naff jingle, viewers must have immediately wished that ITV never came back.

Following the ten week break, it would be a further ten weeks until new original programming was ready to air again as all of the regional stations had stopped making programmes during the strike. It must have been a long struggle for ITV to win back viewers from the BBC after this five month period.

In the first few days following the end of the strike, the station had to make do with generic ITV presentation, hence the generic ITV clock. This generic approach had only been used once before, during the 1968 strike, although it is pretty much the norm today.

Brilliant ITN theme music.

Is this the greatest news title sequence of all time? It was controversial at the time, but I love it.

The strikingly bold transmitter logo was designed by Martin Lambie-Nairn, who is arguably the most important person in television idents history. He is the person behind some of the most popular idents of all time, including the original Channel 4 blocks and the ‘2’ figures for BBC Two.

But this BBC News logo appeared to be a misfire. It was unpopular with viewers, some of whom even likened the logo to Nazi imagery.

But I think the logo looks fantastic and ahead of its time. The music is brilliant too.

This title sequence was introduced in 1988, although the clip is from 1991.

Last week Ofcom gave ITV the go-ahead to cut regional output by 50%. Today ITV have duly gone and cut 1,000 jobs, almost half of which will come from regional news. ITV plc looks set to reduce the number of its regional news areas from 17 to nine.

It does make you wonder about the future of regional television, if it even exists. I have personally never been a fan of regional television, and I say that even having lived all my life in a very distinctive part of the UK. I might be the wrong person to ask though. I’m no fan of the “idiot box”. Next year, when F1 finally goes back to the BBC where it belongs, I will probably be able to say that I do not watch commercial television at all.

But regional television, it is fair to say, is not exactly pain-free viewing. More often that not, you can tell the programmes were made on a minuscule budget, and they are generally pretty naff.

Of course, back in the day, most ITV programmes were “regional” in the sense that they were made by one of the ITV franchisees. But the best programmes went out on the network and were therefore aimed at a national audience, with UK-sized aspirations and UK-sized budgets. As such, programmes that were aimed to serve a particular area were, almost by definition, sub-standard. I do wonder quite what the point of such programmes is.

It is slightly different for regional news. I can understand the appeal of having a separate bulletin dedicated to the news in a particular area. But the thing is that the regions are always too big for the bulletins to have a truly ‘local’ feel.

The ITV region I live in, STV Central, stretches from approximately where I live to Fort William while encompassing the massive populations of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde. Watching the bulletin, you would get the impression that hardly anything ever happens outside of Glasgow apart from the politics stuff which happens in Edinburgh. Even many of the political programmes, both on STV and BBC Scotland, are made in Glasgow rather than Edinburgh. If you live anywhere else, it can feel pretty alienating.

The BBC has never even attempted to split Scotland up into regions and Reporting Scotland essentially aspires to be a national news bulletin. The problem with even this is that there either isn’t enough news to report or there isn’t enough budget. Even Scotland, with its large area and separate institutions — most importantly, the Parliament — apparently doesn’t have enough going on to properly justify taking up 30 minutes of the schedule.

Whenever I watch Reporting Scotland, they seem to spend about five minutes per programme trailing what’s coming up later in the programme. Around five minutes into the programme, they are already talking about sport. And then they are normally only talking about football. Jimmy McPhee is in the airport today ready to depart for his meaningless match. Big whoop!

Another problem with regional news — especially on ITV — is the fact that the regions do not seem to be very logical. I’ve already talked about the huge area covered by STV Central. At some arbitrary point in Glenrothes, probably depending on how far behind the hill you are, you stop receiving STV Central and start receiving STV North / the old Grampian. Why is that then? Is Glenrothes more relevant to Aberdeen than to Glasgow? That’s not clear to me. Bearing in mind the fact that much of the population of Glenrothes is or was Glasgow overspill, it doesn’t seem quite right.

Of course, that is nothing compared to the abominable “Border” region which straddles England and Scotland and takes in the Isle of Man for good measure. That is an anachronism if ever there was one. You can tell the ITV regions were originally drawn up about sixty years ago because that would never wash today. I am no nationalist, though I am a little bit of a conspiracy theorist, and one has to wonder if it was a deliberate choice to have one ITV region that took in these three political entities — a 1960s equivalent of saying “North Britain”.

It is probably wrong for me speak for residents of the ITV Border region when I don’t live there, and I can well believe that there are many people who, having grown up with Lookaround, feel very attached to it. But for me, if I lived in the south of Scotland, with legislation affecting my life being made in Edinburgh, I think I would prefer to get my news from a Scottish city rather than Carlisle.

Of course, as Cllr Fraser Macpherson points out, that situation will be even worse under ITV’s new proposals. If ITV get their way, the Border and Tyne Tees regions will be merged. So Scots living in the Borders will not be getting their news from Carlisle — they’ll be getting their news from Gateshead.

The problems of the ITV Border region are recognised, with the existence of a ‘Border Scotland’ opt-out. From what I gather, this incorporates a news segment dedicated to Scotland and editions of Scotsport. What a faff that is though. Would it not just be more sensible to go the whole hog and recognise Scotland as a distinct entity? Every so often SMG express an interest in buying the Scottish bit of the ITV Border franchise. I kind of think they ought to get on with it, particularly if it’s only going to merge with Tyne Tees otherwise.

There are two big reasons why the situation is such a mess. One is geography. I am sure there are bureaucrats somewhere or other whose dream is for the ITV regions to be transformed so that they match the government office regions of the UK. At least that would be neater, and at least that way Scotland would have its own ITV region.

The problem is, those pesky hills get in the way. There is a clever map of the ITV regions on Wikipedia, and as you can see you can’t actually draw many meaningful borders between regions. The map looks like a mess.

The big reason, though, is of course money. Maybe back in the 1960s and 1970s owning an ITV franchise was a license to print money. Today, ITV leaks money like a sieve. Richard Havers traces the change back to the introduction of satellite television. This sucked advertising revenue away from ITV and spread it thinly across hundreds of smaller channels.

Since then, the ITV companies have merged and merged and merged until they became CarltonAndGranada before becoming the ITV plc we all love to hate. Scotland was not immune either as Scottish Television swallowed up Grampian to become SMG (now STV Group) and subsequently almost merged with UTV.

It now no longer makes financial sense for ITV companies to pour money into making news programmes. Economies of scale dictate that the regions will become fewer and bigger until they cease to be regional at all (and as I argue above, perhaps that has already happened).

I think it is time to give up on the idea of regional news programmes, at least on ITV (though Scotland can probably sustain it thanks to its status as a nation, relatively large population and separate political system). But if regional news must stay on television, perhaps it would be better to think of it as a public service that the BBC alone should carry out. I know that ITV is a PSB too, but they are considering giving that up because they think it costs them too much now. The writing is on the wall.

Besides, if I want to know the local news, where do I go? I certainly don’t watch Scotland Today if I want to find out what’s going on locally. I would buy The Fife Free Press or just visit a local news website. These options are probably far more cost-effective way to get local news.

Apart from that, dare I say that local news might be one arena where people turn more and more towards citizen journalists?

So “Sir Trevor McDonald” (it is illegal to say ‘Trevor McDonald’ without putting ‘Sir’ in front of it) has just completed his second gruelling week back at the helm of the resurrected News at Ten. It doesn’t seem to have worked for ITV.

They’ve made a big fuss about how they are bringing back an institution, even though they killed if off in the first place so that it wouldn’t get in the way of the football or something. And they are making a big deal about how Trevor McDonald is back presenting it while keeping quiet about the fact that they spent years shunting him around various scheduling back-alleys in the ignominious “News at When?” days.

I don’t even get all of the fuss about Trevor McDonald. Everyone goes on about how he’s the country’s favourite newsreader. I don’t get it. His delivery is wooden and robotic. His is like one of those voices that blind people have to put up with on their screen readers on their computers. And have you ever seen him smile? I haven’t.

So if it seemed like his heart wasn’t in it originally, imagine what it must be like now! He thought he had finished with all of these late nights. Now he is being paid £1,633 per minute to deliver the news in his odd staccato drawl.

And that brings up the next thing that’s wrong with News at Ten. It is so painfully obvious that he refused to come on board if he had to do all the heavy lifting. So the bulletin is shared with Julie Etchingham. Presumably they couldn’t use Mark Austin (how pissed off must he be about all this?) because having two male presenters would be, like, so gaaay or something. As if doing it (the bulletin, I mean) with someone young enough to be your daughter is any less perverse.

But since when was the “heavyweight” late-night bulletin double-headed? This must be the first time it’s happened. I thought the point of having two people presenting the news was so that you could have all of that cringeworthy banter during the light moments, which is why until recently they had two people presenting the Six O’Clock Tabloid News, which is all light moments apart from the faux Daily Mail-style scaremongering bits at the start.

But News at Ten is not meant to have banter, except for the ‘and finally’ bit, but there is only one ‘and finally’ story so there’s not much space for banter there. No, Julie Etchingham is just there so that poor Trevor McDonald can save his breath. He now only speaks for around three minutes per programme apparently.

Then there is this monstrosity.

“This is the news!”

All I can say is, it must have been fun to be that timpani player.

ITV seem to think that reviving News at Ten would give them credibility, gravitas and prestige. But it has actually highlighted many of its major weaknesses. It’s just quick fix after sticking plaster.

Throw money at a problem. Bring in a big name star. Remix the theme tune to the point that it becomes self-parodying. Use overly-flashy computer graphics which make it look more like the deck of the USS Enterprise than a newsroom.

The fact is that ITV News is still rotten. It is focussed too much on gimmicks and sensationalism. It doesn’t matter how much of an ‘institution’ the title of the programme and its main anchor are. If the programme is rubbish, people will not watch it.

That is why by the third day of the new run of News at Ten it had lost a third of its viewers and remained over 2 million behind the BBC Ten O’Clock News. Which has no gimmicks at all.

I have been thinking a little bit about RSS recently (it’s the sort of exciting life I have). For whatever reason, I don’t seem to have as much spare time as I used to. Or at least, I don’t have as much time to read blogs as I once did. That’s what it feels like anyway.

I have had an up and down relationship with RSS. When I first started using it I thought it was a great way to just surf the web more quickly. No more visiting blogs to find that they hadn’t updated. No more visiting news sites to find that there is no news.

The problem is, once you have subscribed to more than a few dozen RSS feeds, it simply doesn’t work like that. I try to keep track of hundreds of blogs, plus a few other websites. So every day when I arrive home, or even when I wake up in the morning, I find myself trying to work my way through hundreds of articles, many of which probably won’t interest me all that much.

What was once a nifty way to keep track of several websites has become somewhat oppressive. The whole exercise of reading blogs has become a perverse game — how quickly can I get that ‘unread’ count down to zero?

Google Reader likes to psychologically beat you with a stick with not just one but several unread counts on prominent display. Worst of all, it stops telling you exactly what your unread count is once it’s gone above 100. This usually happens at least once a day, and if I’m particularly busy some individual feeds (particularly Boing Boing) have even gone over 100 by themselves!

The worst thing about this is that you just don’t know how far over 100 you are. It could be 110, or it could be 2,000. A truly daunting prospect — it’s scary just to start working through them all.

Now at weekends I “catch up” on the RSS feeds I was too busy to read during the week. But because there are so many I end up just scrolling through them all without paying much attention.

The situation has got even worse recently, as I now keep a separate folder of feeds of Scottish political blogs for roundup purposes. Going through every single one of these articles before Saturday evening is a top priority for me every week now. But sometimes I suspect that I probably would have found as many great blog posts if I had just spent some spare time surfing around during the week.

On the one hand, RSS is undoubtedly an indispensable tool. But sometimes I can’t help but wonder if RSS has affected the way I consume blogs for the worse. In the most perverse instances I visit a website and see an interesting article, but I think, “I’ll read that later in Google Reader.” Then, a few days later, I find myself scrolling past that very article without giving it much thought.

I’m thinking of limiting the number of RSS feeds I subscribe to. I have been hitting the unsubscribe button much more often for several months now. But I find myself subscribing to other blogs even more quickly.

Perhaps it would be best for me to go back to reading a lot of blogs the old fashioned way. Even putting aside the issues over tyrannical unread counts, old fashioned blog surfing is good fun. It’s great just to explore what’s out there, to click random links in blogrolls, to actually read the comments (and occasionally leave a comment myself!) and so on.

I’ve already reverted to reading news websites the old fashioned way. Often I would wake up and find about a hundred stories from BBC News and Scotsman.com waiting to be read. I soon found that I had the skimming-and-not-reading problem, and it wasn’t long before I just unsubscribed from all of the news feeds.

It would probably be quite different if I, say, wanted to catch up with news on my mobile phone while I was on the train or something. RSS is perfect for that sort of thing, and it would also mean I wasn’t deluged so much when I finally arrived home. But for me personally, that is no good because I have a pretty bog standard hand-me-down phone that wouldn’t be up to the job.

You won’t find me ditching RSS altogether any time soon. I will continue to read most blogs via RSS, even if it is a bit overwhelming. But for me, RSS works best for websites that don’t update very often. There is no denying that if you subscribe to just a few blogs or just a few news sites, the whole thing becomes a bit overwhelming.

Here is what Robin Hamman thought:

There’s something about hitting the 200 unread posts per blog limit on bloglines that fills me with dread – and leads to bizarre incidents where I have to close my eyes and click on feeds randomly because I just can’t face missing all that content knowingly.

It’s the same with me and my scroll-skimming. When it gets to that sort of stage, I have to ask myself, “Is this really the best way to be going about this?”

I think it is best to remember some advice I read on another blog (unfortunately I have forgotten which one). The basic gist was, don’t be afraid of unsubscribing. After all, you probably won’t miss anything that good. If it really is that good, you will probably eventually hear about it anyway.

In other words, there’s nothing wrong with surfing the web the old fashioned way, sans-RSS. Neil McIntosh considered the issue recently in relation to the fact that not many people have actually taken to RSS, with an interesting discussion in the comments.

Are there seriously people who still get their first news of the day’s football results from Match of the Day?

I’ve been thinking a bit recently about “citizen journalism” and its relationship with the mainstream media. “User generated content” is very trendy at the moment. I had expected that to happen, but it hasn’t turned out quite the way I expected it.

Some people seem dead set on framing the whole issue as some kind of colossal battle between the mainstream media and citizen journalism. But bloggers often depend on the mainstream media for its stories — with a few notable exceptions of course. And by the same token, the mainstream media depends on citizens more and more to send in images of big news events such as the London bombings.

This is all well and good, but unfortunately it has become a sickeningly trendy thing for news outlets to do now. Now every time a turkey sneezes it’s all, “Send us your pictures to news@sky.com”, or even worse, “Have your say by recording yourself on your 3G phone.” I mean really. UGC has become a gimmick used by news channels to make them look all hip and cool.

Channel Five News seems particularly keen on the idea of citizen journalism. But they are so eager to push it forward that they end up completely missing the point. For one thing, one report I saw was an irredeemably dull item about cycle lanes. Not cycle lanes in general. Cycle lanes in one gentleman’s town.

Clearly, this man was quite concerned about cycle lanes (I can’t remember why, it was so boring). But what had obviously happened was that he emailed some special “Speak your brains” email address and some producer picked it up and said, “Great! That’s a really boring story, just like what them citizen journalists are into. Let’s do it!” And then they sent along a professional production crew and got this chap to talk about cycle lanes.

But that isn’t citizen journalism at all. The production crew probably made the decision that he would cheesily present the whole item in his cycling gear, riding down the cycle lanes and then “happening to bump into a camera” and mouth off about cycle lanes in a monotone fashion.

All they needed was a pointless two-way and that would have been it — citizen journalism becomes everything that’s bad about the mainstream media. Essentially it was a normal news report in every way, except that it was presented by somebody with little or no television experience. This is more like Points of View than blogging. In the blogosphere, this “story” about cycle lanes would never have attracted any attention whatsoever. Channel Five decided to put it on its prime time news programme.

The point for me about blogging is that normal-ish people have a big conversation. Sometimes they write about their own experiences and create their own stories about the world around them. People eventually find like-minded people and share their experiences, debate and have a conversation. Channel Five just took some guy with a hobby horse and plonked him in front of a camera.

Radio Five Live recently had some boring thing called “Your Five Live” or something. I think it lasted an entire week. And it was terrible. All week they were trailing a special debate to be. chaired by that voice of reason Stephen Nolan, about “the issue you told us concerned you the most”. Yes, you guessed it — immigration. That issue that seems to attract the regular Five Live phone-in callers but doesn’t seem to fuss people in the blogosphere that much.

I didn’t listen to the debate. I would probably have found it too depressing. It would have been a carnival of the knuckle-draggers. Maybe I am being a snob. Surely these are normal people who have every right to voice their opinion. Well, yes. But any old fool can rant down a microphone.

As I said, the point about blogging is that you have a proper discussion and a debate. Sometimes Five Live manages this, but more often it doesn’t. You just get somebody inflicting us with his verbal diarrhoea before being cut off by the presenter because it’s time for the news.

And just have a look at BBC News 24 or Sky News. Large chunks of the day are often dedicated to “Have your say” “debates”. What this actually means is numbskulls sending in emails and some editor somewhere picking the juiciest ones which a presenter then reads one line of. What you get is half a dozen emailers all of which have their own personal chips on their shoulder — but no conversation, no debate, no intelligence.

A new programme on Channel 4 caught my eye this weekend. It’s called Homemade, and it actually bills itself as YouTube for the television. People generate their own content and submit it to Channel 4. But once again this completely misses the point. The point about YouTube is that you decide for yourself what you want to watch.

Homemade is still put together by a bunch of television professionals who have chosen what they would like us to watch. The viewer gets no choice in the matter here. And we could especially do without the annoying Dave Berry presenting links between all of the clips.

All we have now is a rag-bag of items filmed on poor-quality cameras. Presumably the producers of Homemade thought the randomness and low quality images was what made YouTube popular. Well, not so. Most people just use YouTube to watch actual television programmes anyway.

The mainstream media needs to realise what user generated content can actually be useful for. At the moment, it is just a trendy gimmick — and its uses get more annoying by the week. People will always want television stations to create quality, big-budget programmes. If people wanted something home made they would watch YouTube, not Channel 4.

As for the news programmes, they need to be more aware that their job is to report the big news stories with expert analysis. If people wanted to know what people on the street thought, they would just read a blog. As things stand, user generated content on news programmes are toe-curlingly embarassing and always encourage me to switch off.

That is not to say that citizens can’t have an input in the news. Images of Concorde on fire and the inside of the bombed train in London genuinely added to the story, and professionals were not in a position to film these. That is the sort of cooperation between “citizens” and the “mainstream media” that can work brilliantly. The rest is just awful, gimmicky rubbish.

This post by Kevin Anderson is very interesting. The key quote:

The mainstream media believes that “user-generated content” has to come through their sites, their walled gardens of tightly controlled participation, so they miss the vastly larger opportunity that exists on the internet as a whole.

Now, not only do I have to avoid the cash machines, bus shelters, scaffolding, slow pedestrians and bicyclists on George IV Bridge. I also have to avoid madmen with traffic cones! Gah!

On the fifth anniversary of the attacks, I thought I would write a post about my memories of that day. This is partly because it is really the first news story in my life where I might be asked the question, “where were you when you heard…?” Well, there was Princess Diana’s death, but I couldn’t give two shits about that, and it’s a really boring story anyway: I was in bed and my brother was in my room because he wanted to play the PlayStation.

When the attacks happened I was sitting in a classroom waiting for the most dreaded subject to be taught to us. German Writing, the worst subject I have ever had by a country mile. It got so bogged down in mundane technical stuff like grammar and suchlike that they actually separated it from the rest of German.

But ten minutes had gone since the period started, and there were no scrawls on the whiteboard. Our teacher went in between our classroom and the staff room sporadically. Eventually, one of the times he came back into the classroom, he did so while wheeling in a television. Needless to say, we weren’t going to be taught any German Writing that day.

He said something to the effect of: “I just want to show you this, because this is going to have some major implications for foreign policy in the future…” He explained that planes had crashed into the Pentagon. That scared me a bit, because I thought if the Pentagon’s been destroyed, how can the USA defend itself?

I guess in hindsight the really important defence work (as opposed to paper-pushing, which I guess is what the Pentagon is for) is probably done 300 miles underground and not in a big distinctive, conspicuous building which practically has a pentagonal sign saying “bomb me” written on it.

But the pictures on the television were showing a very fuzzy shot of the World Trade Centre from long distance. Our teacher chose to show us ITV News’ coverage, which seemed to be a bit poor to me, not that I could see what the BBC were showing at the time. By the time we started watching one of the towers had collapsed. I didn’t know what the World Trade Centre was, and I remember just thinking, “what’s that?; it’s just a tall building”.

Then, still on the same long-distance, shaky shot, we saw the building collapse. The feeling in the room was that the collapse was a bit of a foregone conclusion. We’d already heard that a building had collapsed, and I wasn’t sure if I was watching delayed footage of the first collapse or what. If I recall correctly we were initially told that the building had 20,000–30,000 people working in it, which made the enormity of the situation sink in. Never mind the fact that the actual figure ended up being around a tenth of that.

Over the course of the coverage we began to piece together what happened. One of my classmates in particular had real trouble understanding it. He could just about understand that somebody had hijacked a plane. He could just about understand that a plane had crashed into a building. But he had real difficulty comprehending the fact that somebody would hijack a plane then deliberately crash it into a building. We all laughed at him, but I guess his was in some ways the most reasonable reaction: disbelief.

That was my last class of the day, so I went on my way home still thinking that the proper big event of the day was the Pentagon crash. Although we’d seen pictures of the World Trade Centre collapsing, the picture was poor and it really just looked like a tall building falling down.

When I got home I found my parents watching the BBC — my father had coincidentally taken the day off work. I stayed glued to the coverage until about 6pm. It was those later pictures taken from the ground, of fast-approaching dust clouds and hysterical pedestrians, that really made the horror of the situation sink in.

The endless repetition of those pictures could have lessened the long-term power of the images. In some ways I think they have, but the images are so unique that it’s still shocking to see the fast-approaching dust cloud engulfing the bus station and suchlike. I noticed that radio has its own way of reminding you of the situation: a sound clip of a rumble and somebody shouting “holy shit!” Even though there are no pictures, you don’t need to be told what that clip is of.

The following week felt very scary. But I think today is more dangerous than the 12th of September 2001. It might have been different with wiser leaders. Instead, over the past five years our leaders have repeatedly stuck our cocks into hornets’ nests — 77% agree.

It’s not just fear of a terrorist attack or worrying over the situation in the Middle East. It’s the fact that our civil liberties are being eroded to the point where you can be stopped under anti-terror laws for taking photographs or walking on cycle paths. What’s the point in preaching to the rest of the world about freedom?

In some ways it’s difficult to believe that the attacks happened five years ago. In other ways I feel as though I was so young at the time. I’ve lived a quarter of my life in a post-9/11 world, which is mind-boggling to me.

Update: Cynical Chatter From The Underworld: Five Years On:

For days, if not weeks, the USA was in a powerful position, as one French newspaper put it, “we are all Americans today”. America was the underdog, a wounded one at that, but its leadership squandered the good will.

As Chris Applegate says, this was absolutely screaming out to be a meme. Jawbox has done it aswell. But I refrained from calling it a meme in my post because I didn’t want to be responsible for starting one. Looks like I’m getting the blame for it anyway. Uhh, it was his fault! No, his!

Anyway, at least this is actually an interesting one. I found both Chris’ and Ben’s posts fascinating — partly I think because they are at a similar-ish age to me (whereas my year was 1994, Chris lists Italia ’90 in his memories, and Ben recalls France ’98).

Even though I was only 4 or 5, there are a few things that I remember from Chris’ list. The biggest memory is the World Cup — although I only really strongly recall the Italia ’90 mascot (it looked a bit like Lego), and even that is a bit hazy. I do vaguely remember the fall of the Berlin Wall (maybe not from the time it actually happened), but I was not aware that West Germany and East Germany were actually separate countries until several years later!

I also remember a specific part of the Gulf War — the word ‘Baghdad’, which was always in the news. I distinctly remember one day thinking, “Whatever happened to that important place called ‘Baghdad’?”

I think I remember the completion of the Channel Tunnel, although maybe I only remember the opening. I definitely remember the opening. That guy with the moustache from Allo Allo was on the television, presumably because that was the only way to illustrate an Anglo–French connection.

I don’t remember Margaret Thatcher’s resignation, although I do remember Thatcher being Prime Minister. I don’t remember this, but apparently when I was young and Thatcher appeared on the television I used to say “of coouurse”, mimicking her condescending mannerisms. See? I was a hilarious satirist when I was 3! Where did it all go wrong?

What is kind of worrying about Ben’s list, as I said in the comments at his, is the fact that for him France ’98 is one of those dim and distant memories. That makes me feel very old. Even scarier is the fact that I don’t even remember all of the events that he lists! Canadian air crash? No recollection, although I never found aeroplane crashes that surprising when I was young. Big heavy lump of metal in the sky falls from the sky — what a big surprise! So goes the logic of a pre-teen Duncan at least.

Anyway, remembering news events from when you were nine is for pussies! Chris ups the stakes, and asks what is the earliest memory you have of the news, “not just in recalling it, but being able to have some understanding of the situation”?

I’m guessing the Gulf War doesn’t count because I only knew the word ‘Baghdad’ from it and nothing else. And I don’t think knowing what the mascot of Italia ’90 looked like quite counts as a news event, so I have to keep on looking.

Although I remember lots of things from 1990 and 1991, I obviously wasn’t watching the news. So we turn to 1992. And bingo!

George H. W. Bush is televised falling violently ill at a state dinner in Japan, vomiting into the lap of Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa and fainting.

I remember this well! Vomiting is something that young children do quite a lot, so I could kind of relate. But let’s not kid ourselves here. The reason I remember this story is because it is hilarious! The President of the world’s most powerful country does a sick on the Prime Minister of another powerful country! Bahahahahahah!

Okay, so I recall the event — but does it pass Chris Applegate’s all-important test — “being able to have some understanding of the situation”? It’s not too difficult to even have full understanding of the situation: Bush sicks up, it’s very embarassing, everybody points and laughs.

So there you have it. My earliest news memory, at the age of 5, is of George H. W. Bush vomiting. I was as keen on the most important stories back then as I am now.