Strange as it may seem now, back in 1987 UK television viewers only had four channels to choose from, and none broadcast a complete 24-hour schedule. BBC1 had only made the move to full daytime programming the previous year – importing cheap fillers such as Neighbours to do so – and the evening’s transmission would end with a rendition of the national anthem before closedown, typically between midnight and 1am.
It was not until ITV’s introduction of Night Network in August 1987 that dedicated through-the-night programming really started to gather momentum. ITV’s first overnight programming had actually launched in the Yorkshire region in August 1986 with simplistic music playout and Jobfinder services but it was Night Network, originally broadcast only in the London, Southern and Anglia regions, which proved to be the watershed for a structured through-the-night format.
Starting on 28th August 1987, Night Network aired between 1-4am on Friday and Saturday nights, and 1-3am on Sundays, showing a mix of quizzes, music videos, celebrity guests and imported serials. Regular features included Video View (where a panel of three celebrities would watch the latest music videos and hit a button when they had seen enough, Britain’s Got Talent-style), Rowland Rivron‘s Bunker Show, Tim Westwood‘s N-Sign Radio, Emma Freud‘s Pillow Talk (where she would interview guests on a king-size bed), Barbie Wilde‘s Small Screen video reviews and Sale of the Century‘s Nicholas Parsons hosting the Alphabet Game quiz show. The programme resurrected cult series such as Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and the 1960s Batman, and also featured comedian Craig Charles in his pre-Red Dwarf days combining his own performance poetry while playing keepy-uppy with a football. Seriously.
As the concept of through-the-night television began to gather momentum – within a year of its launch every region had rolled out a night-time schedule of some description – Night Network was gradually squeezed out in favour of other programmes, and finally ceased altogether in March 1989.
For the duration of its short-lived existence, I was an avid watcher. (I was something of a nocturnal creature then, as I still am now.) It wasn’t big-budget or high-concept or even particularly good for the most part – indeed, much of it was utter crap – but it was ground-breaking for British television back then, and I’m glad to have been a part of that revolution in a tiny way.