History is the story of who we are and how we became who we are. Nostalgia is simply the yearning for times gone by.
This can be a powerful emotion and in small doses is no bad thing – especially during these past few months when we can take strength from the things deep inside us or take some comfort for them. But in normal times too much nostalgia can be a bad thing.
Because we all like happy memories, nostalgia can produce a sense that the past was a better place than the present. There’s a line somewhere that distinguishes TV history from the nostalgia brought on from old TV. But it isn’t at all obvious where it stands.
For instance, imagine the surviving archive of a defunct ITV company like Westward. In its 20 years it produced little which was of real distinction. It is unlikely much in its archive would be of interest to many as entertainment. But other things, unremarkable at the time, are an important record of local life at the time.
The station’s opening music or clips of in-vision announcers will generate a warm glow for those who remember them. Other parts of everyday life from years gone by can do the same thing – old consumer products, comics, bars of chocolate which are no longer produced.
The danger though is that you can start looking at the past through rose tinted spectacles. There is much about modern television which is infinitely superior to what went before.
There is much distinguished drama. News coverage has come on hugely since the days of film, cardboard graphics and unillustrated regional summaries read without an autocue.
Generally production values are higher across the board. There’s stereo sound and HD. And a personal dislike of a particular change does not necessarily mean it was a change for the worse.
On the other hand there is more advertising and schedules are more predictable. Audiences have fragmented and fewer programmes can truly be said to be part of the glue that holds society together.
Where does pres come into it?
But while some modern announcers may not be to everyone’s taste, the idea that announcers always had to be men who spoke Received Pronunciation is of another time. In that sense, modern diversity is a leap forward.
Similarly, Channel 4’s ident package is a direct descendant of its original 1982 look. Brilliant and iconic but remember it would still be dated today.
And finally there’s what most think of as the BBC test card. It’s now a much loved retro image but only because it doesn’t fill hours of dead air each day. Whatever may be wrong with the daytime schedules, the idea of a major channel being off air during the day must sound like the equivalent of food rationing to those too young to remember those times.
So what is history? And what is mere nostalgia? When does understanding the past or caring about heritage risk crossing the lint into a yearning to live in another time?
If only there was a simple answer.
PICTURED: BBC One ident (1970s). SUPPLIED BY: Online. COPYRIGHT: BBC.