YES. Back in the dial-up days of technology, there was Windows 95 and a bit later, there was Windows 98. Groundbreaking at the time, nowadays a curious glimpse into the technological past. People used to survive using a 800×600 resolution? But one of the best things about Windows 95 (and a bit later, Windows 98) was a hitherto unimaginable level of customisation. You could have great big BMP files as your Windows background. You could change icons. You could even change your startup music (and I know, I briefly changed mine to the entirety of Kandy Pop by Bis). And, if you couldn’t be bothered changing all those things by yourself, you could just ‘down’ ‘load’ custom themes someone else had made, using the ‘inter’ ‘net’. For free!*
(*£14.99 per month to an ISP for net access, a further 1p to your ISP for each minute you’re online, and the cost of the phone calls. So, not free. But it was the future.)
When it came to user-made desktop themes, there were lots to pick from if you knew where to look. And, looking at them now, it’s interesting how much of a mid-to-late-90s snapshot they really are. You could find desktop themes based on the cool new music acts of the day (and previous days), the latest hip films, the coolest new videogames, and obviously the happening-est US TV series. But you could also get desktop themes inspired by parts of the British TV landscape at the time. Some of them will be wholly expected. Some others, not so much.
Join me now, as I squeeze myself through the fibre pipes of today’s internet and crawl back to a more innocent age. An age of paid-for web browsers, of USRobotics 14400 modems and your mum shouting at you for hogging the phone line. It’s time for Twelve Surprising Windows 95/98 Desktop Themes For British TV Programmes.
Bob and Margaret (originally uploaded March 1999)
An incredibly rare example of an animated British sitcom (for grown-ups) that actually lasted more than a couple of series. A few things were in its favour here. Firstly, it was good (that’s the trick Stressed Eric missed). Secondly, it was based on the Academy Award-winning short film Bob’s Birthday. Thirdly, and possibly most crucially, it was partly a Canadian production, with the latter two of the programme’s four series going as far as to be set in Toronto. In both phases of the show’s run, the premise of the show highlighted the mundane as much as high farce, as the titular twosome coped with topics from dinner party etiquette to a patient dropping dead in Bob’s dentist’s chair.
I’ll grant you, very little of this comes across in this Windows theme.
Hustle (July 2006)
I’m probably on my own here, but when BBC One – especially early noughties BBC One – goes out of their way to tell you their new drama series is cool, it basically comes across like your mum or dad telling you about this cool new band you really should check out. “Well, now I’m not going to like it on principle.”
That’s how I always felt about this series, which seemed to come with a hastily-applied level of gloss that the content beneath really didn’t deserve. A by-product of those early days of Telly Trying To Be More Like Film, perhaps, or maybe just that everyone seems so bloody smug. Anyway, if you’re less cynical than me, here’s a theme you might like. With it arriving in 2006, well into the Windows XP era upon release, but each to their own.
(Postscript: the BBC Three pseudo-spinoff programme The Real Hustle, where undercover con artists showed common tactics used by real-life scammers, was much better. Even if they really phoned in the content by the end – such as in the episode where Jess goes into PC World with an external hard drive up her sleeve, with which to connect to a laptop’s USB port and ‘steal’ all the software on it. Oh no, that poor 90-day trial of Norton Antivirus, ripped from the teat like that.)
Fireball XL-5 (January 2005)
That font. Ouch. I assume the hands controlling the mouse that selected the font were being controlled by strings.
Yes, Minister (August 1999)
I mean, I’m 99% sure either the upload or the title is wrong on this one, but I can’t discount the possibility all of the above actually happened in one of the later Yes, Prime Minister episodes. A misplaced memo means Bernard has to get involved in a clinical trial of hallucinogenic drugs, perhaps?
Rab C Nesbitt (August 1998)
Govan’s foremost street philosopher may have sent middle-England scrabbling for their writing sets to inform Anne Robinson that they need to page 888 when watching it, but that definitely didn’t hamper the sitcom’s longevity. Running as a standalone sitcom from 1988 to 2014 (and as a recurring character in sketch comedy Naked Video from 1986), this must surely take the crown of BBC2’s longest-running sitcom from a certain space-based sitcom. Mark the occasion with this background featuring not one, but two screencaps from a .mov clip of the series.
Black Books (March 2003)
How black? None more black. A decidedly low-energy effort by this fan of the Dylan Moran bookcom.
Rex the Runt (August 2002)
Aardman’s forgotten project. Rex the Runt – along with Big Bob, Wendy and Vince – was a frequent visitor to BBC2 between 1998 and 2001, and with good cause – Rex’s short episodes were packed with winsome whimsy, great gags and captivating cameos (ranging from Bob Holness to Eddie Izzard). I seem to recall they were even used as promotional mascots for Rowntree sweets for a spell. Beyond that, a future of increasingly sporadic repeats on digital channels beckoned, but at least there’s the opportunity to relive the series with this Windows 98 theme.
Coronation Street (August 1998)
Granada’s main export. And bravely, the person behind this particular theme held no truck with (then-) modern day Corrie. Snubbing the likes of Bettabuys (or even The Kabin), Nick Tilsley secretly marrying Leanne Battersby or the endless bickering of the McDonald clan, this theme went with the classics: a cat in a nook, and Hilda Ogden guarding the Network Neighbourhood. 10/10, no notes.
Waiting for God (September 1998)
This pre-watershed old-age sitcom, where Graham Crowden and (a 48-year old) Stephanie Cole play a pair of elderly residents of a care home, having as much fun as they can before being summoned to the choir invisible, isn’t the most likely to choices for a Windows backdrop. But hey, it was a primetime BBC1 hit that appealed to generations across the age spectrum, so who are we to judge?
Robin of Sherwood (October 1999)
Again, that font. Good lord.
Tweenies (April 2002)
One for anyone fitting into both of two categories.
- CATEGORY ONE: You like the CBeebies television programme Tweenies.
- CATEGORY TWO: You hate your eyes.
As Time Goes By (November 2000)
You can keep your Stargate, your Sliders, your Ally McBeal and your Buffy. If I’m having any TV programme greeting me each time I power up my Gateway Performance 600 it’s the autumnal romantic comedy starring pre-Dame Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer. Whose heart wouldn’t soar like an eagle being greeted by the above each boot? Each BSOD would make you chuckle on this inside, knowing you’re about to get an extra added glimpse of the above. Perfect.
And there we go. Thanks to Ben Baker for putting the idea for an update in my head with a Discord post about the Windows theme for One Foot in the Grave. If you like this update (or my other, better updates), you’ll almost certainly enjoy Ben’s latest Live Repeat on Noisebox Radio looking at the forty best TV themes of ALL TIME.