11 December 2017 xEvents

The ghosts of Christmas past

Remember when print reigned supreme at this time of year? It was not so long ago.

It is a mark of how fast this industry is changing that one of the most important feats of print production is no more. For at this time of year, web offset and gravure presses, finishing lines and 40 tonne trucks were pressed into service to move stones for and to deliver 11 million copies each of Radio Times and TV Times. In those pre-internet, pre-programme guide days, every household in the country needed a copy to plan their Christmas television viewing.

Production, from scanning of images through page make up, plates, paper and printing needed to be organised with military precision while regular threats of strike action added an extra measure of piquancy to the seasonal fare. It was the print equivalent of Santa's reindeer-led delivery system. Looking back it was the apex of analogue printing technology, but now a museum piece from a lifetime ago, such has been the changes in digital communications, viewing habits, and the disappearance of these mega issues.

Radio Times, and now What's On TV, will produce their biggest issues of the year, but requiring an extra shift or two not all the printing capacity that the UK's major magazine printers can offer. Production will be slick and trouble free, but perhaps something has been lost down the years. When the Morcambe & Wise Christmas special comes on the screen, we should remember that we found out about it through print's Christmas miracle.

Gareth Ward

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