Television in UK, Part 1–British Television

This is an installment in a series of posts about moving to the UK for a Ph.D, specifically at Durham University.  To read more posts like this, see our list here.

Despite all of the books to read, study sessions to attend, and papers to write, you might find a little time to unwind with some British television.  It works a little differently than the USA, so there is a bit of a learning curve.  Here are some things we discovered along the way.

  • According to UK law, you MUST have a license to watch any live events: sports, shows, etc.  That includes anything that you might watch on a TV set, stream on a computer, or tablet, etc.  The license costs £145.50 for a color television and £49 for a black and white television.  Wait, does anyone have a B&W television any more?!?
  • Check with your landlord or letting agency.  They may have included the licensing fee in your rent.  The fee is good for a particular address, not necessarily the person.  To check to see if yours is paid, visit the UK licensing site here.
  • There are several stores in and around Durham where you can purchase a television: electronic stores, general merchandise stores, etc.  If you want to save a few pounds, consider visiting the Charity Shops (that’s British for Thrift Stores).  The British Heart Foundation Shop on the North Road has a particularly large selection of electronics.  Make sure you get one that has access to the free digital stations.
  • There is a large selection of over-the-air stations in the UK.  You can get several stations from the BBC, iTV, and others with a simple aerial (that’s British for TV antenna).  They also broadcast stations that carry American sit-coms, cooking shows, dramas, movies, etc.  The kids have been pretty excited to find Star Wars, Top Gear, and even Rocket City Rednecks (go figure).  You will find several radio stations on TV also.  You don’t have to subscribe to a television service to get a large selection.
  • Adding a television subscription will get you more television options including more European sports.  One helpful website to help select those stations is USwitch.
  • A word to the wise.  Many television programs here are very family friendly and fun to watch.  Note that there is something called the “Watershed.”  After 9pm,broadcastersare allowed to show much different content.  Thiscan be quite a surprise to those who are more accustomed to not seeing or hearing such things on broadcast television.  According to the BBC’s Editorial guidelines, the watershed is as follows:

    “The 9pm television watershed is used by broadcasters to distinguish between programmes intended mainly for a general audience and those programmes intended for an adult audience.  However, parents and carers share in the responsibility for assessing whether programme content is suitable for their children, based on their expectations of that content.

    The 9pm watershed signals the beginning of the transition to more adult material, but the change should not be abrupt.  Programme makers and schedulers should also take into account the nature of the channel and viewer expectations.  The strongest material should appear later in the schedule.  If sudden changes of tone are unavoidable they should be clearly signposted, for example by giving clear information about scenes of a sexual nature, violence or the use of strong language.”  You can read this in its original context here.

There are many things we have enjoyed about British TV.  It has made it feel even more like our home.  Now, gotta get back to reading, studying and writing…





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