It’s a Sunday in the 1980s. As an Observer reader, the reign of Margaret Thatcher baffles and depresses you, but you know there is more to life than politics. So you check Clive James’s television column, pour yourself a glass of one of the surprisingly good Australian wines which have just reached the off-licences and turn on a quality drama. Brideshead Revisited, maybe, or Boys From the Blackstuff. Whatever it is, it will be British, for in the 1980s, everyone agreed that British television was “the envy of the world”.
After the loss of empire, the British used to console themselves by saying that pretty much everything was the envy of the world. Foreigners were meant to envy our monarchy, although, as a young republican, I couldn’t help noticing that they were not rushing to replace their elected presidents with spare members of the House of Windsor. Others declared the police, the judiciary, Parliament were beyond compare.
But when the British said their television was a world-beater, they weren’t just bragging.
Carry on reading