Don's Diary

May 7, 1999


Today sees the launch of TV Living, a book based on a study funded by the British Film Institute that takes a long, hard look at the UK television audience.

The BFI has booked a lunchtime slot at the Groucho club in London for the launch. Journalists are lured with wine, canapes, and the slim but enticing possibility of witnessing the stars of the film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels having a fight with the guitarist from Blur.

Wandering into Soho just before noon, my co-author, Annette Hill, and I assume a journalistic grilling to be the only local threat. But sunny London streets can harbour evil surprises: the next day a nailbomb will rip holes through the space where we relax with a coffee before the press launch.

Inside the Groucho, BFI luminaries are chatting to a worryingly small number of academics and journalists. A crack team of catering enthusiasts are crushing our vegetarian canape dreams by stuffing fish and sausages into everything.

The room fills up. Roger Bolton, the documentary-maker and suave presenter of Channel Four's Right to Reply, is in one corner. He is thoughtful and friendly. The chances of propelling this event on to the front pages by linking it with one of those mythic Groucho club scraps between media types seems remote.

We talk about the book. TV Living is based on 500 "ordinary people" across the UK who kept diaries over a five-year period, penning 3.5 million words about their lives, television watching, and the relationship between the two. The qualitative, longitudinal methodology has produced a much richer picture of the TV audience than, say, surveys or one-off interviews might have done.

Not all the journalists are fazed by this emphasis on depth and complexity. One reporter wants to know who was the most popular character on EastEnders.

Of course, we too are guilty of boiling the book down to a few juicy soundbites: n People feel guilty about watching TV, especially in the daytime. They feel it seduces them away from other activities

* Men secretly love soaps

* The elderly object to TV sex only when they feel it cheapens a meaningful, loving experience. And so on.

Soon the journos have got what they came for and exit. No more wine.


The papers have covered it - phew - and with some intelligence. This means, inevitably, that dozens of local radio stations phone for interviews. I explain the unique complexity and richness of the research. They ask who is the most popular EastEnders character.

David Gauntlett Lecturer, Institute of Communications Studies, University of Leeds.

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