The world of British television off and on the screen, as it was sixty years ago.

A Long Time in Politics

The attempts by the Postmaster-General, Charles Hill, to prevent broadcasters from discussing the topics with which parliamentarians are, or will be, debating is something which exercises the attention of broadcaster and former MP Dingle Foot. Writing in The Observer under the headling “Freedom on the Air”, Mr Foot begins by noting that in 1737 Sir William Yonge wished the House of Commons to suppress the growing practice of reporting parliamentary debates in the newspapers, and Foot suggests that the current political parties and their followers regard broadcasting and television with much the same hostility.

Mr Foot notes that the restrictions have been in force as an agreement between the various parties since 1948 although this was condemned by the Beveridge Committee. He points out that the only defence anyone has yet mounted “is that the dignity and influence of Parliament would in some manner be impaired if debates were forestalled by discussions over the air.” “If this is a valid argument,” he writes, “we should reconsider the license which is given both to newspapers and to the platform. Editors and public speakers habitually anticipate Parliamentary debates. The only distinction is that they are using a different medium and their words reach fewer people.”

Foot also mentions new restrictions on political broadcasts which must now be confined to “those intended for the United Kingdom as a whole” and he notes the lack of justice this metes out for inhabitants of “Welsh Wales”.

His conclusion, whether correct or not, merits reproduction in full:

The real reason for these directives, we may suspect, is that unscripted broadcasts and television debates constitute a threat to the hegemony of the party machines. The strictly orthodox party man is at a distinct disadvantage if he is faced with an unfamiliar topic, or one of which the party has yet to make up its mind. This does not mean that no one who holds orthodox views can participate successfully in discussions over the air. But such discussions are best conducted by those with new mental inhibitions. They are apt to prove embarrassing to politicians whose main concern is to avoid giving offence to their party Whips.

The Observer‘s television reviewer Alan Brien finds “a week when no single item pushes itself forward for extended analysis” and so finds time to comment briefly on Who Said That? which benefited from “no studio audience, no scoring, no challengers, no guest artists, no buzzers or bells, no illuminated boards of little effigies of the panel”. The drama Caviar to the General was “a weak snigger of a play about Americans trapped behind the iron curtain” and was “equally insulting an inaccurate about both nationalities.”

On the box tonight: we reach the end of Cities of Europe and tonight film is the BBC’s contribution to the series. The subject is, unsurprisingly, London, and the film “We Live By The River”. This is followed by a short preview of the Edinburgh Festival and a play by Michael Pertwee entitled Night Was Our Friend. Here, Hugh Burden appears as Martin Raynor. a former fighter pilot who crashed in the jungle on a routine civil flight in the east and who, for two years, was missing. He eventually is discovered and brought home but during Raynor’s absence, his wife, Sally (Jill Bennett) has fallen in love with a local doctor named John Harper (Michael Ashwin). A short while later, Raynor dies in mysterious circumstances and Sally is charged with and put on trial for his murder. She’s eventually acquitted but there is much whispering, no smoke without fire, and so on. All of this is in the Radio Times, so presumably does not spoil the plot.

So who knows what really happened? Only two people, and one of those is Dr Glanville (Maurice Colbourne +60) and it is he who tells the story – in flashback, presumably, as the first-billed actor plays a character who is apparently deceased before the action commences. The play is produced by Reginald ‘Quatermass’ Tate.

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