Pining for a world of lost innocence (and Berni Inns)

I remember with affection Anne and Mark's wedding for no other reason than it gave us a day off school
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The Independent Online

Next week it will be 30 years since Princess Anne married Captain Mark Phillips. I know this not because I am one of those saddos who celebrate every royal wedding anniversary even when the happy couple are happy only because they got divorced years ago, but because in a bric-a-brac shop the other day I bought, for a bargainous 50p, the 10-16 November 1973 Royal Wedding edition of the TV Times. Which perhaps makes me a saddo of a different kind.

Still, my dog-eared TV Times offers some sweet memories. Folk of my generation remember with great affection the wedding of Anne and Mark, for no other reason than that it gave us a day off school. I don't recall watching it on television, but if I had it would have been in monochrome; we didn't get a colour telly until 1974.

That telly cost a mind-boggling £400 and was one of those constructed like a cocktail cabinet, with polished pine doors. We could scarcely afford either the cost or the absurd amount of space it took up, but my dad shelled out for the solitary reason that it would enable him to recognise more easily the silks on the jockey aboard the horse he had backed in World of Sport's Saturday afternoon "ITV Seven". The other reliable way of spotting his horse was that it was the one at the back.

On Saturday, 10 November 1973, I can now tell you, the first race in the "ITV Seven" was the Berni Inns Chase at Doncaster. That sparks off another fond memory; of the huge treat represented by a meal at a Berni Inn, and the faint suspicion that the large round glass which contained mother's Irish coffee was the same one that had earlier contained her prawn cocktail.

Now that I am a parent myself, I am forever grumbling in a Victor Meldrewish way that my children do not consider a meal out to be a treat. Nor do they pore excitedly over the listings magazines at the start of every week to see which films they can watch on telly; they already have a thousand videos and the Disney Channel to choose from.

Perhaps the blame for this lies partly with my wife and myself, but it is also an inevitable by-product of progress. Thirty years ago, my parents doubtless thought me less culturally nourished than they had been because I had three television channels rather than a single wireless set on which to find entertainment. In this sense, technological advances diminish rather than enhance the magic of childhood.

Before you rush to your PC to fire off a derisive e-mail, nor would I wish for my children to grow up in a world without the internet or satellite TV, which, if properly deployed, are almost certainly more enriching than the wooden yo-yo.

Yet it is hard to leaf through my old TV Times and not pine for a lost innocence. Or at the very least the lost price of a state-of-the-art Austin Allegro, advertised at £908.92, little more than double the cost of our colour television. That included such whizzy accessories as two-speed windscreen wipers and recessed door handles, incidentally, but not seat belts.

As for the television programmes available to Britain in 1973, Monday, 12 November brought a new series of Michael Bentine's Potty Time, A Family At War and Opportunity Knocks. The following evening had Peter Scott looking at Norfolk birdlife on Survival, the latest episode of Billy Liar written by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, and an hour-long Armchair Theatre production preceding News at Ten. Unimaginable riches compared with the schedules today. And bear in mind that TV Times only presented ITV programming.

But what a ludicrous situation that was; the ITV and BBC schedules being listed separately. And what a grim world it was in so many ways in 1973. Not that wildcat strikes and war in the Middle East are exactly dim memories, but at least our leaders managed to deregulate the listings magazines.

Another poignant comparison between then and now concerns the royals, or the Royals, as they then were. What price, on the eve of Anne and Mark walking up the aisle, three divorces out of four for the Queen's children? It's poignant for the Queen, anyway. For the rest of us, the diminution of majesty caused by the royal marital fiascos has to be a good thing. After all, in his newspaper column on 18 November 1973, reviewing the joint, eve-of-wedding interview of Anne and Mark by Andrew Gardner of ITV, and Alastair Burnet of the BBC, the television critic Clive James wrote: "It was a mercy when an embarrassing point was abandoned so that a fatuous one might be taken up".

The subsequent 30 years have eroded broadcasting's sycophancy towards the monarchy. But only up to a point. And for the loss of certain other things we then took equally for granted, we are manifestly the poorer. The "ITV Seven", for example.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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