Peter Rhodes on a legal logjam, money for fisherfolk and the enduring appeal of black & white telly

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Blind to the backlog?
Blind to the backlog?

According to TV Licensing, more than 7,000 people watch television in black and white - more than half a century after colour broadcasts began.

Maybe these viewers are colour blind or maybe they just like the experience of monochrome viewing in their chic and fashionable 1950s-themed living rooms. If you doubt the interest in old B&W sets, have a look online at eBay where dozens of old sets are on offer. Some, I dare say, are bought by penny-counting folk who know the B&W licence is just £50.50 a year, compared to £150.50 for colour.

Who checks that a household with a B&W licence is not viewing in colour? Nobody. Or as a TV Licensing spokesman explains: “It's entirely done on trust.” I'm not sure what surprises me more, a TV Licensing spokesman admitting the truth, or Auntie Beeb repeating it on the BBC News website.

For those old enough, the first memory of colour TV is as vivid as ever. I recall my father switching on our new TV during a BBC News report on a riot in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. A petrol bomb exploded in a flash of red and yellow. I remember thinking this was all wrong, that news ought to be in black and white. Filmed in colour, it seemed more like entertainment.

From this column May 29 last year, on the subject of court cases piling up in lockdown: “Until the backlog is cleared, instead of trying to make courtrooms safe and socially-spaced for the jury, why not scrap juries for a while and have trial by judges sitting alone?” Back then, the backlog of Crown Court trials stood at 40,000. Today it is approaching 50,000. Juryless trials have been discussed but no decision has been made and the system is tying itself in knots trying to make the jury system work, with plastic screens and social spacing in some courtrooms. But where are they going to find the jurors?

Having survived more than a year of the pandemic, how many citizens will now willingly mix with strangers at their local court? It's not just the health fear. People are desperate to get back to work, to earn money, to have a holiday. How will they react to the arrival of a jury summons offering a maximum allowance for lost wages of just £64.95 per day and no idea of how long they will be required? A recent gang-related trial in Birmingham dragged on for 12 weeks. Bang goes your summer.

At the end of December I suggested, in my low and cynical way, that the Brexit-battered fishing industry would be bought off with “knighthoods all round, a conducted tour of Downing Street, nice new Jags for all the lads and a million quid in used fivers.” In real life, the Government has unveiled a £23 million compensation fund instead. That's politicians for you. Lots of (our) money to spray around, but no imagination.

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