In his Spectator column last week, Charles Moore referred to the BBC licence fee as “the most regressive and most ruthlessly collected of all government imposts”, and called the annual sum of £145.50 as “a seriously painful sum”. Personally, I have no problem with it. You see, I’ve never paid it.
For all of my adult life, I’ve never owned a television. In the past, this meant that one was limited to watching videos, which was extremely limiting. These days, however, with the advent of DVDs and the internet, there is not a huge difference between having a television and not having one. True, I can’t just switch on the box and veg out; I need to choose what I watch before I veg out. True, I don’t have easy access to every single programme known to man. But neither of these things trouble me. I can watch BBC programmes for free on iPlayer. I can watch Channel 4 On Demand. Films can be watched on DVD, or downloaded on iTunes, Curzon Soho online, and any number of other websites. The news is better consumed on the web, which includes all the video footage one could wish for at the click of a mouse. I have a nice iMac with a screen just as big as your average TV. What’s not to like?
Older people, and those not technologically savvy, might lack the skills to replace their television with a computer. Heavy consumers of televisual material, who sit there for hours on end and keep up to date with all the latest episodes of all the latest programmes, would be frustrated without a set. So would sports enthusiasts, insomniacs, and those with a fetish for watching shopping channels. But I suspect there is a large section of the population who could dispense with their television – and the licence fee – more painlessly than they might imagine, not to mention their costly Sky packages.
Best of all, every now and then I get a visit from the licence inspectors. When I tell them that this is a telly-less house, they look sceptical and demand to search the premises. They come in, look in all the cupboards, under the beds, and so on. The brazen intrusion of all this would bother me if it were not for the pleasure I derive from seeing them shuffle, red-faced, out the door.
Oh, and there’s another benefit too. I almost never have to sit through an advert.