If it's concerts it must be Germany: Hester Lacey watches more than 200 channels with the Chilver family

'IT WAS satellite that brought down the Berlin Wall,' says Steve Chilver. 'The people behind it could see how everyone else lived, that they didn't have three heads, and that finished it. Satellite has shrunk the world.' The Chilver family monitors this diminishing globe from west London. Their home is equipped with two motorised dish satellite television systems - one for Steve and his wife Polly, and one for their children, Jessica, 12, and Crispin, 11.

'It's quite a landmark, this house,' says Steve. 'You can't miss it with the two dishes on the roof.' Both systems can pick up 'about 200 channels - they come and go'. With a handset not much larger than an ordinary TV remote control, Steve calls up a menu on the screen, selects a satellite and begins to scan through the evening's selection.

'Every time it clicks we're moving into a different part of the sky,' he explains, flicking rapidly through Norway (a pig-tailed child in red gingham eating something crunchy), Serbia (two people sitting on a balcony, looking dolefully out over the mountains), Croatia (lingering close-ups of grapes in a vineyard), Portugal (psychedelic purple and orange backdrops) and Poland (murky black-and-white film).

'The fact that it's in a foreign language doesn't spoil your enjoyment if you just want to see what other people are like. It's a window on the world,' says Steve. 'Watching the Arabic channels is fascinating. I've never sat inside a Muslim temple at a prayer meeting but on television there you are, right in there. We've got a world view - American visitors have remarked on it. Satellite makes you a world citizen.'

Steve's wife Polly agrees. 'You tend to pick up the language - words here and there. Tutti Frutti is a German gameshow where they take their clothes off, it's almost like a road traffic accident, dreadful, but you feel you have to watch it, and you find you understand what the man's saying.'

Polly admits to being a fan of The Simpsons. 'There's a lot of snobbery - you're supposed to say you watch all the foreign concerts, but of course you watch other things too.' She has seen Neighbours from the very first episode on the UK Gold channel, and yearns for reruns of Prisoner Cell Block H.

Both Steve and Polly follow foreign news broadcasts every day, and watch the nightly English-language news transmissions from Serbia and Croatia. 'Britain has always had the World Service,' says Steve, 'and now other countries are imitating the same format.'

He recommends Italian stations for 'spectacular light entertainment - we just don't make it any more' and Germany for 'heavyweight music concerts'.

The Chilvers were one of the first families in Britain to install satellite TV. 'Six years ago I saw a big dish in a window of an aerial store, and I wondered what it was and brought it home,' explains Steve. 'It was a giant thing - 8ft across. It took us two weeks to get a picture out of it because there were no instructions.'

At the time he worked as a BBC producer and director; two years ago he left to set up his own business importing, improving and distributing satellite systems. 'It's considered a tremendous social gaffe to have a Sky dish - it suggests you watch nothing but banal quiz shows. But it's considered very OK to have a satellite system that shows you to be a thinking person, even though you might use it for watching the same stuff that they're watching up the road.'

Steve and Polly claim to watch about three hours of television each day - less than the national average (between 23 and 34 hours a week). Steve feels that a wide choice of channels has made them more selective rather than less discriminating, and they are adamant that the children don't watch too much either. 'We don't watch enough,' chips in Jessica. Her favourite programme is The Simpsons, and she is already a techno-buff. 'When the programmes go, I can get them back.' She is mad on horses, but she 'hates reading'.

'Jessica likes the old Fifties programmes on Sky - the same stuff that I grew up with, I Love Lucy and The Brady Bunch,' says Polly. 'Crispin watches sport - wrestling, golf, football, you name it. We had running battles about it, which is one of the reasons they have their own system.'

Crispin likes video games and drawing, but he hates reading as well. 'Who wants to read a book? It's boring.'

Steve is not worried. 'There's a new definition of literacy now and it's more important to be literate with a keyboard and a PC and home technology. Our kids have no techno-fear whatsoever.'

'I'm unhappy with the violence level - I don't like to see violence glorified,' says Steve. 'They love gore, things where people have their limbs torn off. I wouldn't say it's exactly giving them a classical education.' Crispin and Jessica claim that they would not be upset if they only had four channels to choose from. 'What about when your Sky One wasn't working?' sighs Steve. 'I killed you]' squeaks Jessica gleefully.

Systems like the Chilver family's cost about pounds 2,000 each, 'but nobody else would have two,' says Steve. 'Having two is outrageous.'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
United States President Barack Obama, right, uses actor Keegan-Michael Key from Key & Peele to play the part of 'Luther, President Obama's anger translator'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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 General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions