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

Author Archive: Simon Coward

Mime Types

A number of papers report the words of Mr W. G. Ellen of Standard Telephones and Cables in North Woolwich. A cable giving simultaneous reception of programmes on both sides of the Atlantic could “be laid but it would probably be ten years before it became economic.”

Clifford Davis in the Daily Mirror is exercised by a new phenomenon. I’ll let him explain:

The bright boys of both Independent and BBC TV have worked out a nasty little gimmick whereby singers’s come before the cameras, move their lips and appear to be singing although not a sound comes from them.

Somewhere in, the background, a technician puts on a gramophone record. And – while the singer mimes – viewers hear the record, not the actual performer.

Davis points his finger at Jimmy Young, at Max Bygraves in This is Music Hall and Alma Cogan in The Jack Jackson Show.

He concludes: “If singers haven’t time to rehearse or production costs won’t permit proper orchestrations, then I’d rather do without these popular songs altogether.”

Clifford Davis doesn’t mention the other situation where miming comes info play – on more complicated production numbers where it’s impossible to get a microphone consistently close enough to the singer(s) without intruding into vision. Here the full backing track will be pre-recorded by the production, but that’s quite a different thing to just playing a gramophone record. I’m sure things well get worse before they get better.

The Affluent Society

The Guardian‘s “Miscellany” column notes an unexpected increase in the sale of antiques, and suggests that this is the result of the introduction of commercial television – despite the fact that the field buys no advertising time on ITV. This is apparently because the companies that specialise in the hire of theatrical and film properties are “either too expensive or, more likely, cannot meet the increasing demands of independent television. At all events remote firms are now being ransacked by excitable art directors.”

Mr John Crawley, the BBC’s acting chief publicity officer, said last night at a meeting of the Publicity Club of London that it would be quite wrong to think the corporation wanted the Independent Television Authority to fail. “It would be love of sheer destruction which would make anyone want to see this considerable edifice which is being built up come toppling down.” He also rubbished some radio tittle-tattle: “All the rumours you have seen about the introduction of a merged Home-Light (programme) are without any foundation.” But for how long?

The Daily Express reports on a case of dustbins in Nottingham – Mrs Muriel Thomas, who owns 27 houses, insists her tenants should buy their own dustbins; the tenants and the council think she should. The magistrates side with poor down-trodden Mrs Thomas who claims to be “hopelessly out of pocket on these houses”. Apparently the tenants are well-to-do, Mr Thomas said, “They call Duchess-street ‘Television-avenue’ for about 25 of the 40 houses have TV sets. How odd that owning a single television set is considered a sign of affluence far in excess of that exhibited by someone who owns 27 houses.

The Curator of the National Film Archive, Ernest Lindgren, replies to The Times‘ summary of Sir Arthur Elton’s paper on film archives. Lindgren has little truck with Sir Arthur’s inclusion of the BBC and the COI as archive bodies. In a long letter mostly unconcerned with television he writes:

Of all the bodies groups together as archives by Sir Arthur Elton only two, to the best of my belief, fit this description – namely the collections of the Imperial War Museum and the National Film Archive. The libraries of BBC Television and the Central Office of Information, for example, although containing much material of historical value, are primarily production libraries, repositories of working material to be used in day to day production.

Cotton Reels

Fears that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is about to increase Purchase Tax are fuelling a recent increase in sales of cars, radios and television sets according to The Guardian‘s Financial Editor.

Meanwhile, it’s something of a come-down for the award-winning Sooty and Harry Corbett as today they are to be found “At School” on  BBC children’s television.

The evening sees the first of four plays under the title The Makepeace Story. Written by Frank and Vincent Tilsley and covering a period of 180 years the play cycle reveals “The story of cotton seen through the eyes of a Lancashire family.” The first production, which is produced by Chloe Gibson, covers the years 1774-1783 when the family was headed by Seth Makepeace (Patrick McGoohan). Interestingly, despite it being a serial of a kind, different producers helm each play: Campbell Logan, Tony Richardson and Alvin Rakoff are in charge of the others.

It’s unclear whether every play in the series requires location work, but a photograph of the series’ producers in Radio Times explains the absence of Campbell Logan because he was “on location filming scenes for the second play.”

Gravy Train

The Observer‘s Maurice Richardson was enraptured by a BBC wild-life film on Squirrels reporting that the film, made by Heinz Sielmann and introduced by Maxwell Knight and Monica Shorten, provided “twenty minutes of ecstasy”. “Squirrel proportions,” he notes, “seemed perfectly suited to the small screen.”

Not so good, in his eyes was the Sunday Night Theatre production “The Happy Hypocrite” which was “a most woeful travesty, better left unhowled.”

Two plays received more favourably were the BBC’s Monday effort “The Reluctant Debutante” and ITV’s “The Glorification of Al Toolum”, the latter described here as “amiable but by no means unintelligent”.

In the field of variety, Richardson declares honours to be even but adds, “I notice more and more how the turns which come across best are those like juggling or acrobatics, which depend on technical expertise rather than rapport with an audience, or mob-turns such as Morton Fraser’s Harmonica Gang… with its exquisitely funny dwarf.”

News is similarly level-pegging with ITV’s Christopher Chataway an advantage “somewhat offset by their rather erratic sense of news values.”

And so to The Stage‘s “TV Page” which carries the most detailed version of the story they headline, somewhat erroneously ABC-TV Becomes ATV-TV. I hope they will forgive my relaying their story in full:

As a result of discussion which has taken place between the Chairmen of the respective companies, Prince Littler and Sir Philip Warter have agreed to work together in the provision of studio facilities in the London and Birmingham areas.
The companies have also agreed within the terms of the Television Act to co-operate over the provision of the best available programmes on the days and in the areas for which they have been appointed programme contractors by the ITA.
In order to avoid confusion between the identity of the two companies, Associated Broadcasting Company Limited has consented to change the name of the company to Associated TeleVision Limited, and with effect from October 8 Associated Broadcasting Company Limited will be known as Associated TeleVision Limited or, in its abbreviated call sign form, as ATV.

And lastly, the “Telebriefs” column notes that the Oxo commercials featuring Harry Corbett and Sooty have won first prize in the TV section of Monte Carlo’s International Film Festival.

That’s it for today: bye bye everyone, bye bye.

The Weather and Winter Hill

As suggested a few weeks ago, the construction of the ITA transmitting mast at Winter Hill near Bolton is running behind schedule, with only 120ft of the 450ft mast complete. Thoughtfully, The Guardian clarifies that it’s “the first 120ft” which has been finished. The cause of the delays: the weather, and specifically fog. The Guardian quotes a worker saying, “Some days we have thick fogs until lunch-time. We can’t see men working on the top of the mast, and can’t pull steel up from the ground when we can’t see where it is going.”

There’s a new musical film Empire Cinema, Leicester Square – It’s Always Fair Weather – and The Guardian‘s Penelope Houston records that “it tilts, with slightly self-conscious daring, at television commercials, the degrading practice of TV ‘human interest’ programmes, and the jargon of advertising”. Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey, Cyd Charisse and Dolores Gray star.

The same paper’s man-with-a-telly-that-can-get-ITV, Bernard Levin, is moderately content with the appearance, on that very service, of Sir John Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra. Items were introduced by Archie Camden “whose gnarled and kindly face is evidently more at home blowing down a bassoon than talking into a camera”. Levin notes that ITV producers have so far failed to solve the problem that besets their BBC rivals – what to do with the cameras while the music is in progress. He writes, “The method they adopted throughout – which was to focus in close-up on the player or section prominent at that moment in the score – will not, unfortunately do. For if we cut from a long shot of the whole orchestra to a close-up of, say, the first horn the eye – generous fellow – insists that brother ear shall have a close up of horn too. But, of course, brother ear may not.” He concludes, “I suspect that the problem will not be solved until some producer has the courage to stick a couple of cameras on the edge of the balcony, focus them, and go home to bed.”

This leads Levin to note that those early to bed may be missing the best ITV programmes. He praises in particular, a discussion on emigration in Points of View, and The Peaceful Atom which “entertained and instructed”.

BBC Television output remains the province of The Guardian‘s Radio Critic (RC) and yesterday’s Information Desk with Nan Winton and Peter Haigh was “lively and amusing, because the job [of answering the public’s questions] has been tackled in a constructive and ingenious way.” In yesterday’s programme, for instance, Carl Dolmetsch played and described the recorder in response to a question from a parent about the instrument and whether her daughter should play one. RC mentions a brief, unlisted, programme after Information Desk, a kind of interlude in which a new book on Yugoslavia was “if not reviewed, described briefly” adding that, “this little item showed that no elaborate programme building is necessary for introducing books to viewers.”

Today’s viewers could see the last of “”Six portraits in crime by Berkely Mather” in As I Was Saying... and comedy with Dave King on the BBC while Associated Broadcasting give us Saturday Showtime with Harry Secombe and TV Playhouse: “The Rescue”.

Monkey Business

It’s a slow television news day today.

The Daily Mirror reports on the televising of the second half of a special soccer match between Third Division North and Third Division South. Unfortunately, the television cameras were only catching the second half action and four of the six goals were scored in the first half. What’s more, in the televised period, the players managed to kick the ball out of the ground twice causing a certain degree of delay. Although the paper believes that “The poverty-stricken Third Division anticipated its best advertisement of the season”, the screened portion was less than thrilling. (more…)

Zoo Times

The Times reports on “a joint announcement in London last night” about the plans the of Zoological Society of London and Granada Television to set up a permanent television unit at London Zoo. This introduction seems curious as The Times reported just such an announcement six days ago. Nevertheless, today’s paper does carry some additional information. In particular, with regard to access the material, Dr L Harrison Matthews said that it would obviously be wrong for them to grant exclusive rights to just one company, and equally impossible to have numerous companies working at the Zoo at the same time. Mr Sidney Bernstein, chairman and managing director of Granada Television was reported as saying that films would be shot in colour, against the day when colour television became practicable. (more…)

Suffering from Wind

Sir Arthur Elton has written a paper entitled “The Film as Source Material for History” and this is shortly to be published by The Association of Special Libraries and Information Bureaux. In this paper, Sir Arthur declares that “Buried casually in the world’s newsreels is the atmosphere and detail, the gesture, habit and behaviour, the shape and feeling that can illuminiate history as it has never been illuminated before.” According to The Times, Sir Arthur’s paper reveals a concern that, “certain large opportunities lying within the grasp of historians might be exploited but are in fact wasted and even partially destroyed.” (more…)

The Call-Up

The Daily Express reports that “The BBC last night put on its greatest effort in the battle for the Sunday evening viewing audience. Against Norman Wisdom in an hour’s commercial TV show, the BBC crammed £100,000 worth of stars into a 90-minute variety programme. On future Sunday nights it will have big attractions like the Show Band Show – a star feature from the sound radio.” (more…)