Big TV events that lift the nation must remain on free-to-air television

PUBLISHED: 17:34 12 July 2019 | UPDATED: 17:34 12 July 2019

England's Eoin Morgan (left) and Joe Root celebrate victory against Australia during the ICC World Cup semi-final. Sunday' final will be shown on free-to-air Channel Four

England's Eoin Morgan (left) and Joe Root celebrate victory against Australia during the ICC World Cup semi-final. Sunday' final will be shown on free-to-air Channel Four

PA Wire

The moon landings 50 years ago saw millions gather around the TV in unison. David Clayton says events like the recent Women’s World Cup and Sunday’s Cricket World Cup final are a reason why big occasions should always be on free-to-air TV

David Clayton remembers the moon landing 50 years ago as millions watched on televisionDavid Clayton remembers the moon landing 50 years ago as millions watched on television

I don't know about you, but I love a good spectacle - televisually, I mean.

You're talking to someone who stayed up all night to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing almost 50 years ago and then did a day's shift, stacking shelves at Fine Fare in Gorleston's High Street. (For younger readers, a major supermarket chain of the 60s and 70s).

It was apparent that many bleary-eyed shoppers had done the same as me as they shuffled zombie-like, along the food aisles. It was something we had all been "in" together and I remember chatting to a lady who reached past me for a tin of sliced peaches which, by the way, I'd stacked superbly, in spite of my moon landing fatigue. We both agreed how unbelievable it was that we'd watched Neil Armstrong take that one small step for man at three o'clock in the morning. We bonded over our shared amazement and the fact we were there, so to speak. The vivid memory is still with me as much for the grainy live TV pictures, as for Patrick Moore's unbridled and animated excitement.

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Slightly less momentous, but because we had a television 
in an office where I worked in 1982, I remember being transfixed all morning by the Mary Rose emerging painfully slowly from the waters of the Solent. An utterly boring bit of TV, on the face of it, because not much happened, but quite simply, you felt the privilege of history unfolding in front of your eyes. It wasn't without its drama, especially when something big went "clang" and Henry VIII's flagship, or what was left of it, nearly sank again. I can feel the collective gasp of the nation to this day.

Now, though, we're all a bit blasé about the technology that allows us to watch what we want, when we want, and no longer is our watching confined to a TV screen in the lounge, thus, I fear, the days of collective national TV moments are fewer and further between. Add to that the multi-channel world of TV and there's so much more to divert us.

Women's World Cup football has gone some way to pulling us all together again for two reasons. Firstly, it was there on free-to-air TV and not locked away behind a subscription pay wall, and secondly it was one of those moments when our national pride was at stake. We could 
get behind our team and 
we were "on show" to the world. Despite faltering at the semi-finals, our Lionesses lifted our collective spirits. Women's football has had a huge and deserved boost. It was pretty much what we all talked about the next day.

In contrast the equally exciting Cricket World Cup has apparently been slipping under the radar a tad, as not so many people have access to it, on television at least. Sky have the TV rights and I heard one cricket representative on radio sharing the dilemma of accepting the hefty sums of subscription TV money, which in turn they could invest back into the sport at grass roots level, versus many more viewers on a free-to-air channel watching the games and being inspired to take up the sport - you guessed, at grass roots level. It's an interesting debate.

Thankfully the England team have made the final and it's a great gesture from Sky Sports that Sunday's final will be shown on Channel Four. 
While this sort of thing needs to happen more often, I'll happily take the criticism on the chin that I'm just pressing a nostalgia button for the days when we all had access to a handful of TV channels and could share those momentous national moments, but I can't help thinking it did us all good.

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