Viewfinder Magazine

Editors' Note: 40 Years of Channel 4
by Gil Toffell & Ali Ward, Learning on Screen


Welcome to ViewFinder Issue 121: 40 Years of Channel 4

This term we are marking the 40th anniversary of Channel 4. At the time of its first transmission Channel 4 was committed to providing an alternative to existing British television; a cultural mission that was embodied in its programming for minority groups, and in its offering in the sphere of arts broadcasting. With a funding model largely derived from private advertising the channel would later seek to broaden its appeal. This it achieved by securing the rights to key US-produced shows heralding a ‘New Golden Age of Television’, and a turn towards celebrity and reality-based formats. Throughout its existence, however, and in an increasingly crowded market, the channel has successfully maintained a distinct identity, and – its supporters would assert – its ‘edge’.

Taking a look back across the channel’s history, this issue’s contributors explore the output and the purpose of the organisation, as well as teasing out the tensions inherent in its unique structure. Employing a multiplicity of perspectives, highlights from the issue include John Ellis's piece Channel 4 at 40 which reflects on the recent conference held at the BFI- Channel 4, Then and Now, where he was also keynote speaker. His blog gives a detailed overview of the conference and links to various discussions from the programme makers, academics and historians who presented at the two day event. James Gow’s essay The Channel 4 Daily and Channel 4 News in War and Peace, 1989-92 looks back on Channel 4 News and the Channel 4 Daily, which represented a fresh and full approach to coverage of foreign affairs and war at a crucial juncture in history; and Dipali Das discusses the Indian Film Season on Channel 4, curated by the director of Movie Mahal, Nasreen Munni Kabir in her piece Sunday Sunday Here Again: Indian Cinema on Channel 4

Other contributions include Andrew Spicer's ‘4 All the UK’: The Policies and Politics of Relocation which looks at the impact of Channel 4’s relocation, and whether this has helped the channel's attempt to transform itself from a metropolitan company into one that is 'genuinely' regional, reflecting the cultural diversity of the UK’s nations and regions. Beyond the Snowman: Channel 4 and Christmas Broadcasting by Joanne Knowles examines a selection of Christmas content from Channel 4’s schedules from 1982 to the present – from the created tradition of The Snowman to the Alternative Christmas Message.

It has been a pleasure to bring together so many interesting articles. In our next issue, 122, we will be exploring the past, present and future of the digital humanities, as well as celebrating Learning on Screen’s 75th anniversary year.

Enjoy issue 121!