Eighteen months of TV ends in a flash

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The Independent Online
DON'T TELL the residents of Thixendale that lightning never strikes twice - once was quite enough. A thunderbolt has wrecked television sets in the Yorkshire village where residents have had decent television reception for only 18 months.

Of the 39 houses in the village, 14 are without television, again. Engineers say it will be "quite a while" until normal service can be resumed.

"It was 3.45pm and the children were on their way home," recalled Lynne Boyes, who runs the village store. "There were only a couple of rumbles of thunder before the lightning struck. It hit an aerial on one house and ran through the village with a mind of its own, taking out televisions, telephones and the water system. We do wonder just what we've done."

It was no laughing matter. The bolt started a fire which gutted the top floor of one home, but fortunately no one was injured.

The 120 villagers, snuggled deep in an ear-popping furrow of the Yorkshire Wolds - where normal television signals are blocked by the surrounding land - have spent most of their lives waiting for what the rest of the country takes for granted. About one in 200 homes in Britain has reception difficulties but most can be improved with technology. Thixendale, until recently, defied all such attempts. When television spread its tentacles in the post-war era, the village got blurry BBC (though never ITV) signals via a primitive communal rebroadcasting aerial. But with the onset of each new technology, the BBC's comfortable presence was replaced by a snowstorm of interference, which was interspersed with brief pockets of decent reception. The communal aerial, designed to serve fewer than 30 houses, became overloaded as 10 more homes were built. The latest innovation, digital television, has caused more problems.

But there were compensations. The absence of clear, distracting television helped Thixendale to forge a strong community spirit. Pottery, tile-making, music, art and woodwork flourished. Local children learned to read earlier and more quickly than their friends from other villages.

It couldn't last. First Sky offered free dishes, decoders and a year's subscription. Then a new terrestrial mast allowed the 120 villagers finally to enjoy the most universal of this century's inventions.

Even then, some voiced their doubts (though all but one household now has television). Some tribes of American Indians were wiped out by Spanish conquistadors who brought with them the common cold and venereal disease. Would the influx of Paul Daniels, Neighbours, Vanessa Feltz and Zoe Ball have a similarly devastating cultural effect on Thixendale?

Mrs Boyes, who admits to watching the Nine o'Clock News and the odd play, thinks not. "The village hasn't changed much. For most people the television is just a sideline. A few people were sceptical about introducing it but the general view was that if you didn't want it you didn't have to watch it. It's more popular in mid-winter when we can get cut off. In the summer everyone's outside."

Others feel television has helped the village to move on. "At least we're no longer seen as some kind of rural museum," said Mary Anstey, landlady of the Cross Keys pub. "We can finally see just how much rubbish is on the television. It's not making much difference but it's nice to have the choice. It used to be quite frustrating when you saw something interesting was on and couldn't watch it. The kids still go out and play but now they're able to talk to their friends at school about what's happening on television. The pensioners will welcome it in the winter when it gets dark early."

But the pub has made no concessions, she said. It offers no "satellite sports" and the nearest regulars have ever got to the small screen is a signed picture of Jeremy Beadle, which was displayed in recognition of a charity fundraising effort.

Robert Jones, the local vicar and rural dean, believes the village has lost none of its character. "There is a wonderful community spirit here. When there's a church concert vast numbers take part and I haven't seen any lessening of that now they have got television."

The recent thunderbolt mattered little to Charles Brader, a local farmer. "I've never been able to get a decent picture," he said. "But it really doesn't make much difference. It's like opening your post. Every now and then something interesting comes along but you still forget about it two minutes later."