What was Network 21? It’s easiest to grab an explanation from the people responsible:
NeTWork 21 was a pirate television station which broadcast a 30mns program on Fridays from midnight throughout April to September 1986 in London. It had never been done before, and has not been done since anywhere in the UK. The broadcasts took place on channel 21 of the UHF band, slightly below ITV, using a low powered transmitter covering 8-10 miles across London. Program content was literally hand made, shot with a Sony Video 8 camera, edited on Low Band U-Matic, and broadcast on VHS. They showed slices of London’s artistic buzzing underground life as well as casual glimpses of everyday life, something which the normal television stations never showed. We would also offer slots to whoever was willing to appear on pirate TV, saying, showing or doing whatever they wanted, with no pre/post-production censorship of any kind. Because of our low tech approach, we could easily film people, situations and events with minimum disruption and maximum interaction. We were also free to choose program content and style according to our own mood, without having to worry about ratings, advertisers or good taste standards. (more)
In 1986 the UK only had four TV channels, and none of them ran through the night so theoretically there was plenty of space available for other broadcasters. In practice any unauthorised activity was always swiftly curtailed. Those of us outside London could only read about these illicit broadcasts but now it’s possible to jump back in time to the gloomy heart of Thatcherite Britain via the Network 21 YouTube channel. All the clips are fairly short and lean heavily towards the (for want of a better term) Industrial culture familiar from the early RE/Search publications, Simon Dwyer’s sorely-missed Rapid Eye, and Cabaret Voltaire’s “television magazine” TV Wipeout: William Burroughs (reading at the London Final Academy event in 1982), Brion Gysin, Psychic TV, Diamanda Galás, Derek Jarman et al. There’s also Roz Kaveney on passion, and Simon Watney with a news item related to the AIDS crisis in the US. The network website has complete listings for each broadcast.