I stopped watching TV when I was a junior doctor and accepted a job in an A&E department. The hospital accommodation (commercial rental rates, mind!) was pretty modest. The sink, bed, desk, chair, bookcase and wardrobe left no room for a TV, so I accidentally joined the TV free, though I intended to go out and buy a pocket sized one, as I'd only recently paid for a licence.
I realised some positive aspects in not having a TV. It can be a lonely existence as a doctor, moving somewhere new every six months. Without a television I got to know the five people in the other five small rooms; I'm not sure that I would have ever got to know a hospital porter, two nurses and two NHS managers otherwise. We enjoyed real life – talking, sharing experiences, and going to the pub.
Interacting with patients and their relatives is one of the very real privileges of being a doctor; it is amazing and terrifying at the same time. Just shortly after starting this particular job, one occasion made me think very closely about the influence of television, and I decided not to go back to watching.
An Eastenders character, with tragic personal circumstances, arrived in hospital, following an unexpected twist in the plot. The outlook was desperate, and following some (rather unrealistic) exchanges with the doctors and nurses, the other character involved made a short speech to camera. This allowed the character to get a few things 'off their chest' and paved the way for the inevitable death of the moribund actor out of focus in the background.
Eerily, a couple in very similar circumstances, had similar tragedy befall them in real life. I was tired, and said, unintendedly, one of the clichéd phrases penned by the Eastenders scriptwriter. Unexpectedly, the relative started quoting the Eastenders speech, almost word for word, appearing to address nobody in particular. I found this quite disturbing.
When I moved into private accommodation, I started to get letters from TVL. I ignored them all, putting them into the bin, even the registered letters which claimed to have been signed for. Thoughtful of the postman to sign on my behalf, because neither me nor my neighbours were signing for them.
When I bought a house, I made the mistake of opening the letters. I phoned, I wrote back, I explained about not having a television. Despite the promises of TVL, the letters continued to arrive. When a standard form letter arrived threatening the interview under caution; I was very upset. Phoning the Department of Culture Media and Sport gave me the contact details for Simon Foot, at the BBC licensing department. His number is on the image— feel free to give him a call if you are having difficulties— but despite a promise that I wouldn't be contacted for a number of years, the TVL letters still came— so I forwarded them unopened to him.
Then, fairly recently this letter arrived. It arrived on a Saturday morning, and of course those sending the letter are not available on a Saturday. Phoning TVL (don't waste your cash phoning, use 0800 3282020 – courtesy of www.saynoto0870.com ) got a lot of apologies and mostly bafflement that I had been written to, and confirmation from a manager that no evidence of TV use existed on their system.
Phoning the TVL court office on Monday was hopeless, either engaged, no reply, or total vagueness about the possibility of speaking to the signatory of the letter. I phoned Simon Foot, who initially assured me that this was 'just the top of the pile as far as our form letters are concerned', but that he would investigate. He phoned back after a couple of days, retracting his initial comment, but he wouldn't state what evidence or information they felt they had, but gave the impression that this was from a detection van.
Given that there is no TV, nor video, nor DVD in the house, and I am careful to never watch live streaming media on the Internet there is nothing to detect, so I questioned the accuracy of such equipment, quoting some leaked TVL documents on www.bbcresistance.com . Simon Foot made a rather patronizing comment, 'well, on the Internet, you can find information which claims that there are WW2 bombers on the moon'. I don't know about that, but on bbcresistance.com there is a movie of a TVL officer assaulting a customer.
Complaining further lead to conversations with Ian Price, Head Field Operations, Revenue Management Division. He initially was quite firm that there would be no alternative to the warrant going ahead, suggesting that this would be within a matter of weeks, as soon as they could agree time with the court. As they apply for a search warrant 'ex-parte', you would not know when this hearing in front of the magistrate would be, and you would not know when the warrant would be served. I could therefore arrive home after a day at work and find the front door taken off its hinges. He did agree to investigate further. Despite the distress and upset caused, this would still take a further 3 days. After 3 days he phoned back as promised. He suggested, but did not confirm, that this letter was the result of a postive detection and stated that the position of receiving equipment was accurate 'to within the diameter of a 50 pence piece' and that he had a report from a visit to my terraced home.
I don't live in a terraced house, but the identical address in another local village is. We quite often get each others deliveries and post. Is this mistaken identity by TVL? Without being able to see the evidence, I'll never know, but when I pointed this inaccuracy out to Ian Price, he became more sympathetic.
I've agreed to have my home searched. As you can see from the attached letter from Simon Foot, this means that TVL have suspended their application for a warrant, as though this gives me a choice in the matter of having my home searched. Suddenly though, all the urgency has gone out of this. Despite the initial threat of a warrant and search within weeks I am now promised by Ian Price a visit by a 'regional manager' sometime in the next 6 months.
This has been an instructive, though unpleasant experience; it has certainly given me sympathy with patients who fall foul of government policies and feel bullied by the system and its institutions. My conclusion from all of this is that you are simply better off never engaging with TVL. Reading and replying to their threats creates more problems than putting their letters in the bin.