HOW TO WATCH CLASSIC TELEVISION FOR NOTHING
In spite of the bad publicity that the two main British broadcasters (ITV and BBC) have received over the years for their dumping of classic archive material, there is still a rich heritage of Classic British TV programmes available to the classic TV fan and even the casual viewer. With DVD companies currently raiding the archives there really never has been a better time to build up your collection of great dramas, comedies and documentaries. Network DVD are one of the leaders in this field, mainly releasing old ITV shows, but also some BBC classics, too, such as their recent issue of Birds of a Feather. The BBC also has a catalogue of classic material. Although most of these DVDs are modestly priced, it can still cost the avid collector a good few pounds to build up a collection of their favourite TV series.
What you may not know is that there are currently a number of websites where you can watch your favourite shows of yesteryear completely free of charge. Many sites that have not gone through official channels offer content that is of poor quality, generate annoying pop-ups and in some extreme cases can download a virus to your system if you are not careful. Also, be careful when purchasing TV programmes over the web that have not been officially released. Although some sites offer these they too are of poor quality and more importantly are breeching copyright laws. These sites may appear to look official and even try to make you think they are affiliated with law abiding sites, (such as this one), but rest assured they are breaking the law and if found the owners will be vigorously dealt with in the UK by the Federation of Copyright Theft (FACT), and in some cases those owners could find themselves in court facing charges.
With this in mind, here are some official sites where you can watch good quality TV shows:
On SeeSaw you can watch hundreds of programmes for free, or, if you choose, pay for content by renting premium shows from the UK as well as the US. Premium shows can be rented for as little as 99p and the site is completely legal. There are five categories of programmes; comedy, drama, entertainment, factual and lifestyle. Just looking at the free content can keep you busy for weeks. Fans of classic Doctor Who can watch complete stories without having to pay out a penny but more recent episodes such as Smith and Jones with David Tennant and Freema Agyeman are available for just £1.19 per episode or the entire season for £9.99. Currently SeeSaw are offering 7 Doctor Who stories starring Sylvester McCoy, Colin Baker, Peter Davison, Tom Baker, Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell free of charge. Also, check out their top 100 which currently gives you access to lots of free shows such as Hustle, Doc Martin, Big Brother, Footballers Wives, Bottom, The Young Ones and Fonejacker. SeeSaw can be found at http://www.seesaw.com/ and is my number one recommendation.
BBC iPlayer allows you to catch up with radio and television programmes from the past seven days. It doesn't offer classic TV shows. What is much more exciting, however, is BBC7 available online and on DAB. BBC7 offers some of the Corporation's all-time classic radio shows such as Hancock's Half Hour, Round The Horne and the immortal Goon Show. There are also audio broadcasts of Steptoe and Son, Yes Minister and Dad's Army or, if drama takes your fancy, you can listen to some classic stories such as The Secret Garden, The Fall of the House of Usher or Breakfast at Tiffany's. BBC7 is ideal if you want to listen while you work or simply relax at home with your eyes closed. It can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio7/
As you would expect, ITV Player also has a huge catalogue of TV shows to view. Unfortunately, what used to be an easy to navigate site seems to have become unnecessarily complicated of late. Clicking on the A to Z index of shows bought up a complete list. I selected the classic Roger Moore series, The Saint, only to be taken back to the player's home page. I typed The Saint into the in-built search engine and found the page. But when I tried to play the episode I got a message in the Player window saying "Sorry, the video could not be found." This was on the same page that had a hyperlink to TV Classics - but when I selected this I got a list of recent TV shows with not a classic among them. I'd be interested if you have more luck than me. The ITV Player can be found at http://www.itv.com/ITVPlayer/default.html
4 on Demand offers thousands of hours of video to choose from. Many of the shows, while not always current may be just a few years old, such as Trigger Happy TV and some shows are not available in their entirety, such as Desperate Housewives, but you can watch selected clips from them. 4oD is a good site to visit if you have missed a recent edition of your favourite show. It can be found at http://www.channel4.com/programmes/4od
Demand Five includes a mixture of programmes that you will need to pay for (this is due to specific deals with production studios) and free programmes. Sky Player will also cost you unless you're a Sky subscriber. You aren't restricted to watching on demand shows via a computer, either. Sky, Virgin TV and BT Vision have catch-up services so you can watch on your TV in the comfort of your living room and some games consoles now offer this service. However, of these Virgin is definitely the best. Not only does it offer catch-up TV but also entire series' that you may have missed, such as Smallville, Cold Case or Father Ted, to name just a few.
There's plenty of free content available, so if your pocket doesn't stretch to purchasing the official DVD releases, you can still be entertained for hours on end without having to pay out for the privilege. Fans of classic television have never had it so good.
* Note - all the above are only available in the UK
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