They say that the first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Well, here goes! My name is WD, and I’m an addict. Hard to believe, but it’s true. Despite what you see, I’m stuck in a secret cycle of abuse. Oh, I’m good at hiding it, denying it. I only use it to relax – unwind. I can quit anytime I want to. But no, I can’t. I’ve tried. I’m an addict. For me, one is one too many and even a whole series is never enough.
I guess my story’s the usual one. It all started innocently enough; just a few schoolboys having a bit of a vicarious adventure. I don’t remember who tried it first, but by the end of the summer, all my friends and I were doing it every weekend. For a while, it was all we could talk about. Fortunately, the habits of the young are fickle, and when school started, most of my friends drifted away to homework and hockey practice. However, I remained, every weekend, watching black and white back-to-back reruns of Richard Greene’s Robin Hood and Roger Moore in Ivanhoe. Soon, an hour a week simply wasn’t enough, and I began experimenting on my own – searching for a bigger thrill. It was then that I discovered … Doctor Who. I remember thinking, I’ll just try it; I can always change the channel. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I watched it all, even the credits, in the gathering twilight of an autumn afternoon. It was a wonderful excitement, exhilarating and confused. I was too young to truly understand what Time Lords were or the symbiotic relationship Who had with the Companion, but I wanted to know. I wanted to open my perceptions to the sophisticated storylines, explore the language, and fill my senses with the ideas that I never found on regular TV. I didn’t know it then, but I think I was already addicted — to British Television.
From Doctor Who, it was easy to graduate to watching The Saint. After all, Roger Moore was just Ivanhoe in a tuxedo – wasn’t he? No, he was more than that — stronger, with deeper plots and worldly situations. Then it was The Avengers. Just as my pubescent friends were discovering the hidden fantasies of Barbara Eden’s belly button, I had Diana Rigg all to myself. For a teenage boy, Emma Peel had a dizzying depth of character, compared to Anthony Nelson’s do-as-you’re-told Jeannie or the submissive Samantha Stevens. She was my fee verte, and I was a slave to her. Sated with suggested sex, mystery and espionage, when The Prisoner was broadcast in the early 70s, I was unable to resist. I wallowed in its nonlinear drama, letting it wash over me, week after week, until — hauntingly unresolved — it ended, and left me empty and cold.
I should have stopped then – gone cold turkey — but I was ready for the hard stuff: Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Speedball comedy with a walloping high so potent that even today I find myself laughing outrageously in its etherealic flashbacks. The Pythons opened my mind to non sequitur, the absurd, the tilted storyline, bizarre characterization and oh, so much more. I don’t know how many traditional motifs I abandoned that winter. It’s all a blur to me now. But at the end of it, I knew I was never going back to North American TV. I was hooked.
Since those heady days, I’ve spent forty years searching, always searching, for more of the roll-off-the-sofa/pee-your-pants highs that the Pythons delivered. Through Fawlty Towers; Black Adder; Yes, Minister; Red Dwarf; Ab Fab; The Office and so many others. Even Mr. Bean! That’s how complete my habit has become. And it wasn’t just comedy; it was drama, as well. Mysteries, espionage, political intrigue — I’ve tried them all. Night after night, I’d tell myself just one episode, but hours later, I’d still be slumped on the sofa — covered in cookie crumbs and stinking of Earl Grey tea. The only thing that saved me from utter degradation was I’ve always had a violent allergic reaction to Jane Austen. Otherwise, I would have been up to my eyes in costume drama. Then along came Downton Abbey and I was lost.
Today, British television is easy to find. My dealers were always PBS and The Knowledge Network, but now there are so many other ways to feed my habit. Netflix, Prime, Acorn, Britbox — they’re all there – whole seasons of Sherlock, Broadchurch, Vera (back to the days of David Leon) House of Cards (the original with Ian Richardson) and even Lovejoy and Agatha Christie — if that’s what you fancy. This year, I watched all ten seasons of MI5 — again, 60 years of murder with Morse, Lewis and Endeavor and, of course Top Boy and Shetland. But it doesn’t end there because late at night when my skin crawls for long vowels, Manchester accents and proper pronunciation, I surf through YouTube for snippets of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Cracker, The Inbetweeners and even grainy bits of Jimmy Nail’s Spender.
My name is WD, and I’m an addict.
Originally published 2013, and gently edited for 2020