May 26th – The Festival of Televisual Nostalgia

Normal programming will resume tomorrow, but for today two of the three Buentoilliçan Broadcasting Service (BBS) stations will show only repeats of old footage. Generally the BBS is very good at producing new and interesting content, and rarely shows repeats, but occasionally there are those moments when old friends sit around a table and ask, ‘do you remember that show we used to watch when we were young? The one about the little girl who lived in a clock?’; today is for those moments, a chance to be transported, briefly, into the past.

It is for these reasons that most of the shows put on today are old children’s TV shows, although early episodes of long-running family programmes are also shown. Last year a memorable episode of Eldritch Visions, a weird science fiction programme that began in 1956 and still runs to this day, was shown. It was the episode in which the protagonist of the time, Jason Kettering, is cloned and this clone takes over his life. People who were children when the episode was first aired (in 1973) felt once again a sense of primal fear when the cloned Kettering smiles manically, something most younger folks didn’t understand.

The festival began in 1987 when the legend of broadcasting, Arlene Fulsome, died at the age of 104. Fulsome’s career was long and illustrious, as she worked in television essentially since its inception, as either the Creative Director of Fiction for the BBS, or some very similar, more hands-on role. Fulsome gained a reputation very early on for having an excellent eye for good scripts and potential adaptations, having already cut her teeth as the director of The People’s Stage, and throughout her tenure brought some of the most loved programmes to the eyes and ears of Buentoillitants. This was greatly helped by Fulsome’s genre-agnosticism; she broadcast gritty realist drama such as Kitchen Talk in the same sweep as the mystical, fantastic, All the Fairies I Once Loved. Fulsome ensured that the BBS had something for everyone. In celebration of her life, the BBS spent a day showing the highlights of her career, the gambles that had worked out and some which had not.

Whilst a small segment of today’s broadcast is set aside for a celebration of Fulsome, the day has morphed into a general festival of nostalgia. When the license fee collectors came around last week they took suggestions from each age group as to what they’d like to see again. The only age group not consulted is 0-10 year olds, who, it is supposed, don’t have much to be nostalgic about. Each age group has its own section of the day set aside, in which a few of their chosen programmes are shown, but at the end of each section there is another, ‘randomised’ section, where a programme is snatched out of the archives at random and shown for 30 minutes. Some years these programmes are the most popular, as people have entirely forgotten about them until that point, leading to an even greater sense of nostalgia.

The BBS archive is a locked sub-section of the Unfathomed Archive beneath Ranaclois hill, quite some way away from the actual Broadcasting House and transmitter atop Twoshill’s Barrow. Broadcasting House holds a number of recordings too, yet there is only space for the last five years of tapes; at the end of each month the oldest are carted across the City to the Archive. Perhaps it was in this transportation process that the Tugboat Wanderers incident occurred, seeing as the BBS archive is generally well protected from thieves and meddlers.

Tugboat Wanderers was a popular children’s television show in the late eighties and early nineties which featured five childish puppets living together on a tugboat that made its way through a strange world made up primarily of endless canals. They didn’t seem to have any true destination or purpose, and each episode, only 15 minutes long, focused on a meeting with another boat or canal-side dwelling, or some other interesting incident. Whilst the children of the time seemed to love it, the adults found it, frankly, somewhat unsettling; the puppets moved inelegantly, spoke with strange, reedy accents, and there was always the suggestion of some unknown threat lurking beneath the still waters.

I still have the nightmare, sometimes,’ wrote Daniel Yerman, in an article in the Buentoilliçan Broadcast Schedule, ‘It must have been part of an episode I watched, that got stuck in my head somehow, morphed and twisted. In it I am on the tugboat with the puppets, and we all hold hands in a circle, and then, before I know it we are in the water, sinking slowly to the bottom, and I can’t get free. I remember the quality of the water well, cold and thick, and there were these water weeds all around, red and green like seaweed except it was a river, I remember that much, it was a river very much like the Moway, but not quite. It would recur every night for months, but I didn’t tell anyone, because I knew they would tell me to stop watching TV and I liked watching TV. It always ends in the same way; suddenly I am outside my body, looking at the circle of children holding hands, and it’s as if I am looking into a fish tank at these little figures, all set in the water which has thickened still, and I know then that I am dead.’

Yerman implored the other residents of Buentoille to ask for any episodes they remembered which sounded alike to his dream so that he could have some sense of closure, and, to his surprise, many did, some out of kindness to him, some because they too had had the same dream. Someone at the BBS identified a similar episode, entitled The Wanderers Go Diving, and put it on as part of that year’s festival. It seems that someone must have switched the tapes, because instead of Tugboat Wanderers, what was actually broadcast to all of Buentoille that year was fifteen minutes of something else entirely. The BBS claimed after the incident that it was no mistake on their part, and that the alternate footage was not simply another tape that had been mis-catalogued; it matched nothing else they’d ever produced. Quite where it had come from was anyone’s guess.

What was on the tape? Nothing horrific, or even as unsettling as most people had found Tugboat Wanderers, just sixty five shots of household items, views, trees swaying in the breeze. The shots are grainy, often slightly out of focus, and last only for a matter of seconds each. In one a topless man writes something on a blackboard – ‘the square of the’ is all he writes before it cuts to the next shot – the whole shot is off centre in a frustrating way. In another shot someone climbs out of a bin, but it’s angled so you can’t see their face. No sound accompanies each shot, except a constant low hum, occasionally interspersed by a conversation between a man and a woman where no individual words can be made out, as if it was recorded from the apartment next door.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Getting Outside – It’s Good For You
  • Teacher’s Day
  • Municipal Pavements Day