Do you remember 4Later?

Back in the distant past of the late 1990’s, early 2000’s late night television in the UK was a game of Russian Roulette.You might stagger back from the pub pissed and get a classic post-pub film like Highlander, or In Bed With Medinner. repeats of 1960’s TV series like The Avengers or The Prisoner, or a naughty late night film on Channel 4. Sometimes your have Jobfinder (a teletext service which ran when ITV programming ended) or endless ads for chatlines where 50 year old women pretended to be teenagers in order to make middle aged salesmen have a wank in a cheap hotel in Daventry.

Then in 1997, Channel 4 came up with 4Later, a strand of late night TV which would encapsulate post-pub, as well as post-club, telly. Staggering in from having a few bevvies or dancing for hours on a good E you don’t want to come down watching chatlines, so Channel 4 made late night television something quite special. Broadcast from a Thursday through to Sunday with Friday and Saturday being the focus of the more weirder, trippier material, 4Later ended in 2002 thanks to the lumbering monster of Big Brother which by that point was providing Channel 4 with massive ad revenue, something looking back at 4Later was something that it probably never did.

Programming was esoteric. U.S prison drama Oz, was there, so was Babylon 5, so was a season of European erotic horror films which went under the title Eurotika! which yes, meant Jess Franco films were broadcast on mainstream British television. 4Later often had seasons of films, the Godzilla season was my personal favourite as it went under the title Vidzilla due to the fact that it tied into Vids, but I’ll get back to Vids in a bit.

Where 4Later shone was in the programming commissioned for the strand, which included Vids, a film review programme presented by Welshman Nige and Scot Steph who’d generally be ridiculous but would be wonderful in promoting films you’d never normally hear about on the BBC.

Following in the wake of Vids came Bits, another review programme but this time the subject is video games and the presenting team most people knew were Aleks Krotoski, Emily Booth and Emily Newton Dunn.

These were essential late night telly, Bits (and the episode above is a typical episode) is still something that hasn’t been matched in terms of video game programming. At the time of Bits, I was a massive PlayStation fanatic so this was the show for me when I was wasted after a night out.

4Later didn’t just stop there. There was the conspiracy/counter-culture Disinformation.

Troma’s Edge TV..

Jaaaaam, the remix of Chris Morris’s Jam.

The strand developed its own slogan Do Not Sleep

And indeed, it was often difficult to do so as so much good stuff would pop up in between the series of horror films and things like The Trip, which was ambient television for people coming down after a jolly good night..

Yet all this was a Golden Age for late night telly in the UK. In 2002 4Later vanished, replaced by endless Big Brother, Hollyoaks repeats and an increasingly commercial Channel 4 schedule which meant 4Later’s strand was no longer welcome, yet an early online community had sprung up on the strands website. Once it went, 4Later passed on into almost legendary status as I’ve often been in pub chats with people who asked if I remember some weird programme they saw when they came home at 3 in the morning one night in 1999.

You’d think in an age of digital TV, Netflix and YouTube that I’d not pine for 4Later, but it played an essential part in getting things on TV that you’d never seen now not even with hundreds of channels to choose from. You have to choose to sit in front of Netflix or YouTube so finding random oddities becomes harder as with all that choice our viewing becomes actually more structured. That’s a pity, thankfully there’s a lot of 4Later remaining on YouTube but so much is also lost and that for me is a crying shame to see so much wonderfully creative, not to mention fun, stuff has just slipped into the ether…

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