Diary of a Channel 5 retuner

`Ms 005' is knocking on the nation's doors, helping to bring a new channel to the masses. Groped, berated and thrown out, this is her account of a typical week

Channel Five, Britain's last terrestrial television service, was due to hit the airwaves next month. But the launch has been postponed to the end of March, because the job of adjusting the nation's video recorders, to pre-empt interference from the C5 signal, has been far trickier than expected. Thousands of retuners are fiddling with millions of VCRs in a race against time.


Get up, check the weather: cold and wet. Should I wait, hoping it will clear up, or start right away? On an average day I'll have three to five appointments. The rest will be cold calling - aptly named. Couldn't they have launched this channel in the summer?

First appointment is a little old lady in pink, a kind of shrunken Barbara Cartland. Opens the door and starts to show me her family photos. The walls, tables and mantelpieces are lined with them; it's like a shrine. I meet her granddaughter in Philadelphia, her son-in-law in Crawley and numerous cousins, before arriving, with my cuppa, at the television set. Turns out she has no video recorder. So I retune her TV, even though we're not supposed to.

Doing this job you get a kind of community feeling; I'm like a fairy godmother with a tool kit. We all work in our own neighbourhoods, which can lead to awkward situations, but I get very fond of people I meet. I see them around. I've made a lot of friends.

This feeling is dispelled by my next call. It's not an appointment. The man thinks I'm selling something, tells me to "eff off". I shout my explanation through the closed door. Finally he agrees to give me a signature to show I've been there (that's how we get paid). As I pass my clipboard through a gap in the door, all I can see is a pair of tiny eyes and a string vest.

After I finish, I get an Indian takeaway. Retune their three videos upstairs while I'm waiting.


Approaching the first address on my list today, can't help noticing it's a cemetery. Leave a card through the caretaker's letterbox and hope for the best.

One of the hazards of this job is people who work in television. They demand a lot, ask loads of questions, and they've all seen a Watchdog programme that's the bane of our existence. It reported on two incidents from the early days where retuners had lost all the TV channels and then left. That's pretty rare, and even if it happens, it's not hard to retune.

Today I have to do a telly man's TV. He's very suspicious, wants perfect pictures (even though they weren't great to begin with). Spend ages with him. After I leave he comes haring down the street shouting it's all wrong, come back. Go in and find he's unplugged the cable box. That makes my day.

Next man comes to the door with bits of shaving cream on his face, wearing a towel. It's amazing how many people do this. I can't retune the video because his dad wants to try it himself. Can't convince him otherwise, but at least get a signature.


Walking down the street this morning and someone in a red Sierra screeches to a halt and asks to buy my Channel Five jacket. They give us a jacket, trousers, shirt, sweatshirt and shoulder bag, all marked with their logo. They'd stamp it on our bottoms if they could. People pass me and say "Give Me Five" as though I've never even heard it before.

My first really threatening experience happens at the next house. A young man, seems OK at first. Have to retune a video in his bedroom, which is full of porn pictures. Don't have my test tape, and the video he gives me is called Anna and her Animal Friends. That's when I drop my torch. He hands it back and tries to feel me up. I'm outta there in seconds. No signature.

I'm one of only a handful of women retuners. There were very few of us on the training course, and the advice we got on security was not to go into a house if you don't feel safe. I wonder if any other women have had narrow escapes?


Children follow you around like the Pied Piper when you're doing this job. They want to know if Channel Five will show cartoons. I say yes, though I have no idea.

Today I have to call at a house with three children under five. People's houses are usually clean, but in this one, the carpet sticks to your feet. There's bits of cake all around. The remote control is covered in old porridge.

Discover I've forgotten my screwdriver, have to borrow theirs. Accidentally drop it, look down, it's landed in a pile of baby poo. Now what? Manage to tweak the video with a combination of a 5p coin and my fingernail. Before leaving, tell the woman her screwdriver is in the other room.

Next appointment is on the other side of the neighbourhood. My bum has lifted an inch since I got this job, from all the walking. Run into a woman who wouldn't let me in last week (Watchdog again). She heard from a friend that it was fine and I was nice, so she invites me back. When I finish she gives me a pounds 2 tip "to buy some sweets".


Start the day with a bang. Turn up for an appointment and man immediately starts shouting and screaming. How much training have I had? Do I know what I am doing? Trying to make me feel small before I've even started. So rude, I just leave.

Work my way down the street. At least four people warn me about doggy house, number 17. Get there, can hear barking and smell dogs even from pavement. Decide against going in. I may feel like a dog's dinner but I don't want to end up one.

Go home for lunch and a warm-up. Ring the rude man to say I'm not coming back if he shouts at me. He's desperately contrite. Evidently I had walked into a "domestic".

Last call of the week. Big family, can smell Mum getting the tea. Can't wait to get home myself. Start checking out the TV when WHAM! Press one button and all the stations disappear. It only happens with a certain older TV set. Try to retune before anyone notices, but whole family filters into the room, and watches me struggling on the floor. Five minutes to go before Home and Away - just make it.

Thank God it's Friday.

Interview by Nancy Platt. The events depicted are true; the names and certain minor details have been changed to protect the innocent.

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

£20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

Trend Writer / Copywriter

£25 - 30k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Trend Writer / Copywriter: Retail, Design and...

Business Development Manager / Media Sales Exec

£28 - 32k + Uncapped Commission: Guru Careers: A Business Development Manager ...

Digital Marketing Assistant

£17 - 27k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Digital Marketing Assistant to join ...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering