There are quite a few reasons why I feel a bit sorry for the kids of today, ranging from the seriously worrying to the comparatively trivial.
As this column is a fairly light-hearted affair, most of the time, let’s look at the less earth-shattering end of that scale, and look at an area where 21st century youth appears somewhat ill-served, as compared to the halcyon days of my own childhood and teenage years. It’s an area that has improved out of all recognition as a technology, whilst – in my humble opinion, anyway – declining markedly as an entertainment phenomenon. Yes, folks – I’m talking about television.
Television played a big part in my life when I was growing up, as I believe it did for many of my contemporaries. Not that it was permitted to wield such an influence over my generation as to render us pasty-faced for lack of an outdoor life, but it was still massive compared to the “wireless” of our parents’ childhood.
For us, the entertainment emanated largely from the box in the corner, and what bounty it provided. As a lad in my more innocent, pre-football fanaticism phase of life, the telly was a universe set before me, taking me anywhere and everywhere, as long as my homework was up to date. Here and now, I’m not really equipped to draw comparisons, as I’ve literally no idea what television offers school-age kids these days. I only know what they don’t get, and that’s the escapism, thrills and spills that I enjoyed.
Today’s kids would probably laugh like drains, but a lot of the magic of telly for me revolved around puppets operating magical machines whilst clearly being operated themselves by unseen agents pulling all too visible strings. These were the various action adventures created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, a treasury of futuristic space operas. Thunderbirds was my favourite by a country mile, though the indestructible Captain Scarlet had his devotees, as he battled against the menace of the Mysterons, while Troy Tempest nosed his way through the undersea world at the helm of his submarine marvel Stingray.
Later, the Andersons moved onto real life actors of only slightly less wooden construction, in series like UFO and Space: 1999. But those marvellous Thunderbird machines were my first and lasting love; I lapped up every cataclysmic moment and wished with all my heart to be able to climb aboard Thunderbird Two, a ponderous and yet massively impressive green craft piloted by my secret hero Virgil Tracy.
The Thunderbird machines served International Rescue, as this fine organisation swooped around the globe, saving folk in dire situations. The franchise even survives into this CGI era, but it’s not the same – they’ve meddled with the legendary vehicles’ design, and there’s no strings either – what sort of nonsense is that? As with so much else today, it’s gone slightly over the top and spoiled itself. I could ramble on about other TV offerings of my youth, and doubtless will in some future lament about the lack of quality entertainment offered today. But the fact that I still have the Thunderbird models embellishing my work space at home says it all anyway. Sadly, they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.