18 December 2006

Open University Broadcasting 1971-2006

O U pretty thing don't you know you're driving your mamas and papas insaneOpen University Broadcasting made its last broadcast in the early hours of Saturday morning surrounded by friends and family including nightshift workers, insomniacs and party-goers on a come-down too addled to change the channel.

Conceived at the height of the Summer of Love by Harold Wilson as a “university of the air”, Open University Broadcasting was born on January 3rd 1971. It was a precocious and preternaturally gifted child – within seconds of its birth it uttered its first words: “Welcome to Maths M001: Problems in Practical Calculus.” Almost literally overnight, OU Broadcasting became a firm favourite of a new breed of students and lank-haired, kipper-tied, polyester-shirted hippies who were “totally blown away by the theme tune, man”.

Throughout the 70s, Open University Broadcasting gave thousands of sartorially-challenged misfits the opportunity to partake in higher education without suffering the embarrassment of actually leaving their homes. In a time when only three channels were available on UK televisions, and before the great cultural leap forward of 24-hour broadcasting, Open University Broadcasting provided square-eyed viewers with the chance to stay up past the national anthem and enjoy thrilling night-time programmes such as History H233: Italian Renaissance Cheesecloth Manufacturing, Biology B176: Asexual Reproduction in Milton Keynes and Polyesterology P034: The Semiology of the Tie in Post-Capitalist Society.

In the mid 70s OU Broadcasting became embroiled in controversy following its decision to broadcast in colour, partly due to the expense of the move but mainly due to the fact so many viewers were stricken blind by the combination of paisley shirts and kipper ties so hideous that no man could view them without risking insanity.

By the 1990s the advent of the internet and DVDs led socially-inept night owls to rely less on OU Broadcasting. Desperate attempts to sustain its academic career with scraps of work for Coast and Lenny’s Britain plunged OU Broadcasting into a deep depression. And it was this, in conjunction with 35 years of late-nights and early mornings, which caused producers to take the decision to pull the plug at 5.30 am on Saturday morning.

OU Broadcasting was buried in the early morning schedules of BBC2. It was predeceased by Intelligent Science Programming on British Television and is survived by ITV Play, The Hits, BBC News 24 and the Big Brother Live Feed.