My Addiction to British Television

And now, I am ready to reveal my history of addiction…to British television.

It started, as it often does, with early exposure.  During the 1970’s, I would sneak out of my bed to watch secretly from the stairs over the living room as my father viewed episodes of Masterpiece Theater, Upstairs, Downstairs, and I, Claudius

As the years passed, I could stay up later, and we had a second television.  I indulged freely, especially in British comedies: Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Are You Being Served?, Blackadder, Fresh Fields, and Last of the Summer Wine.  By the time I was out of college and lived on my own, it became fully pathological.  I told myself this was all casual viewing–perhaps somewhat unusual for a young American man in his twenties–but I could stop any time I wanted to.

Then came Keeping Up Appearances.  All control was lost.  It was the 1990’s, and I had a VCR, taping many episodes so I would have an emergency fix in the event of my local PBS affiliate pre-empting my Friday Britcoms for a fundraising event.  I marginalized and ultimately isolated myself socially, living only for my end-of-workweek dose of fish and chips and Hyacinth Bucket.

Once I began to understand I had a serious problem, I weaned myself somewhat, trying to get by on milder intoxicants such as Rosemary and Thyme, The Monarch of the Glen, and Doc Martin.  I experienced some success and was trying to rejoin the world.  Until, that is, I hit rock bottom.

That was Downton Abbey.

I will not go into all of the dark details of that infernal phase.  I will merely state that I emerged in 2016, fully resolved never to undertake viewing another BBC series–ever.  I studiously avoided all of my former addict friends, who would inevitably try to tempt me toward Sherlock, The Crown, Call the Midwife, Bridgerton, and others.  My newfound sobriety meant everything to me.  I now had control of my life again.  I had the outdoors; I had time to sleep at night; I could think again in my native American accent.

For six years, I was clean.  I took one day at a time, gratefully looking back on the dark days of my BBC-induced prison as they receded toward a distant and faint horizon.  I truly began to feel safe–to feel free.

And at such a moment, such a hapless soul as I would least suspect a seemingly innocent, apparently harmless influence to enter my life: a colleague in teaching and in writing–a wise, seasoned professional.  This individual would provide sage commentary on my verse and engage me in provocative professional discourse regarding the education of adolescents in our modern, digital-media context.  Cherishing influence and inspiration wherever I can find it, I placed a high value on this new acquaintance.

But we can never fully know the dark secrets carried in silence by those who move in and out of our cycles and circles.  We catch dark glimpses in moments of grim revelation–and often at the most unlikely of moments.  One minute, this professional associate and I can discuss the implications of parental disengagement from the learning process, and in the next, this individual might say, “You should check out Foyle’s War.”

And in an instant, six years of sobriety come to a violently abrupt end!

And in this age of instant digital access, I am defenseless against my cravings and urges.  Data streams into my television, and I disappear into a vortex of swirling episodes set in an English countryside at the start of the Second World War, and I am extruded through past decades into the glory and decadence I had fooled myself into believing I could escape.

Ah! One can only surrender.

10 thoughts on “My Addiction to British Television

  1. Hahahaha. Cue Curtis Mayfield’s’ Pusherman’….Sorry not sorry !!! Just welcome the sweet surrender, Paul. We can only run for so long.

  2. OH MY GOSH! I’m so glad to meet another Keeping Up Appearances fan! My children and I have watched every episode a handful of times….we sometimes rattle our tea cups on saucers to be like Elizabeth, and we often call our Ansley (my youngest daughter) Onslow just as a play on the name…..Daisy, Rose, Hyacinth (“Bucket residence, lady of the house speaking…..not bucket, it’s bouquet…..”), and Violet “with a swimming pool and room for a pony….”…..and Sheridan, goodness gracious Sheridan. (But Richard, oh dear LORD, poor Richard)….that poor man……
    I have resisted Downton Abbey and Bridgerton on the principle of time and mental energy. Have I made the right decision?? Talk to me. I might need to jump off the ledge……

    1. Kim, I cannot explain why, but Keeping Up Appearances is simply my favorite show of all time. Richard is my hero. Onslow is the Buddha. Emmet and Elizabeth are my soul mates. I may have to write a separate post about another series called The Monarch of the Glen. The creator, Julian Fellowes, seems to have been working out a larger concept that he applied brilliantly to his later work, Downton Abbey. The latter is more than a mere soap opera, I assure you. I have always had a special feeling about you and your family…perhaps due to a shared pathology? Haha!

  3. British television-!! Have loved it all my life. In addition to KUA in the realm of humor, my husband and I enjoy As Time Goes By. I especially love the new All Creatures Great and Small series. Probably our all-time favorite is Upstairs Downstairs; we rewatch that old series regularly. You can so see where Downtown Abbey borrowed more than a bit — sorry — but performances are riveting in UD, much more like a stage production. I say – go ahead & give in!

    1. I dream to be one day a curmudgeon like Lionel, eating custard tarts. I adore As Time Goes By! My father and I once watched the entire series of Upstairs, Downstairs in about three weeks. Yes, I am resuming my old ways. I have been away for far too long!

  4. This made me smile! While I’m sorry to say I haven’t seen many of the shows you mentioned, I did binge watch Bridgerton this week and loved it. Perhaps, I’ll try Downton Abbey next😊. Thanks again for sharing, Cuz…I always enjoy your blogs 💕

    1. I’m going to make my way to Bridgerton soon. I believe I will write a post about Downton Abbey because I have been explaining to a few people lately why I resisted it at first, thinking it was a facile soap opera. Its creation, however, has an interesting story. So kind of you to read my posts, Cousin!

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