Network 21 TV


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.

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ICA talks archived
The Final Academy

ICA talks archived


I’ve linked to the British Library’s sound archive before but it was only recently that I had a browse through their collection of talks from the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. The public discussions cover the period 1981–1994, and while there’s a wide range of contributors the lion’s share of interviewees are writers. Most of the talks run from 60–90 minutes. The following is a selection from some of the contents:

JG Ballard and Matthew Hoffman in conversation, 1984. Ballard discussing his latest novel, Empire of the Sun.

Derek Jarman and Ken Campbell in conversation, 1984. Jarman discussing his autobiography, Dancing Ledge which was also published that year. (A revised edition appeared in 1991.) If Ken Campbell seems an unusual interviewer it should be recalled that he appeared in Jarman’s 1979 film, The Tempest.

Alan Moore and Charles Shaar Murray in conversation, 1987. Mr Moore caught in the year when the world at large became aware of comics in general and his work in particular.

Whose Fantasy? Hosted by Neil Gaiman (uncredited) with M. John Harrison, Terry Pratchett, Geoff Ryman & Diana Wynne Jones, 1988. One of a series of events examining British genre fiction. Neil Gaiman was the host of each discussion but is uncredited on the site for several of the talks. This one concerns fantasy and science fiction.

Whose Fantasy? Hosted by Neil Gaiman (uncredited) with Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Roz Kaveney & Garry Kilworth, 1988. The following day’s discussion was oriented more towards horror.

Laurie Anderson and Sarah Kent in conversation, 1990. Laurie Anderson’s latest album (and one of hers I like a great deal) Strange Angels is discussed.