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

Doubling Up

The Guardian reports the words of Mr E. T. Bryant, the borough librarian of Widnes who has written in his annual report that television is by no means, “the menace that some librarians suggest” but equally that “it is only a half-truth to claim that it stimulates reading.” He noted a surge of interest, after the television dramatisation, for George Orwell’s 1984 but tempered this information with the fact that it did not appear to tempt any Widnes readers to investigate any of Orwell’s other works.

Two separate pieces in the same paper relate to new grumbles about the fourteen-day rule and in particular the sudden decision by the BBC to drop all discussion about the budget which seems to have been the result of some kind of governmental intervention – although the PMG denies he has put pressure on the corporation. The commercial television companies are at liberty to discuss the budget itself, but must not stray too far from the point. The BBC has claimed that “the reason for its last-minute change of heart (which tears the heart out of three important programmes on the same night) is that although there has normally been a liberal interpretation of the fourteen-day rule at Budget time it is now to be taken literally.” The paper’s London Correspondence column even suggests that rehearsals for Sunday’s Free Speech have already begun.

On the BBC programme In The News, Mr Wilfred Fienburgh (Islington North, Lab) described the rule as “an insult to the British public”; Mr Frank Byers, a former Liberal MP and Chief Whip called it “preposterous” and added “I am not prepared to be gagged for even seven days. We may be running the risk of being gaoled to-night because it is possible the fourteen-day ban may well be debated in the House of Commons within fourteen days.”

The Guardian’s Bernard Levin has been watching Double Your Money, a programme he mistakenly attributes to Associated Television when it is, of course, made for Associated-Rediffusion by Arlington Television and Radio Ltd. He says that the series is based on the American show Sixty-Four Dollar Question, which is more or less right, though how whether it’s based on that – a radio show – or the later television version, The $64,000 Question might be debatable. In the initial stages of the quiz, the contestant may – through answering questions correctly – double their money from £1 up to £32, although Levin finds the questions at this stage of the contest to be so ludicrously easy that “a mentally defective Aborigine who was deaf in both ears would have little difficulty in leaving Double Your Money £32 richer.”

So Levin finds this early part of the contest tedious but enjoys more the appearances of one Plantagenet Somerset Fry who is, on a weekly basis, being asked one further question with the aim of reaching the maximum jackpot of £1024. Levin notes that, by contrast, the jackpot questions “are sensible and extremely difficult”. Mr Fry, who Levin describes as having “a beard, a wing collar, staring eyes, large feet, and incisive yet diffident manner and overwhelming entertainment value” wants the money to write a book. He has so far earned himself £256.

ITV’s Thursday play this last week, The Aspern Papers, is apparently the first in that timeslot to be performed live and from this aspect, Levin suggests that “Technically, it is clear that Independent Television has a very long way to go before catching a glimpse of the BBC’s rear light.” The actors Robert Urquhart, Margaret Halstan and Rosalie Crutchley are all praised although he concludes that, “It need hardly be added that the advertisements which broken into the play did so at the most moving and delicate points and were the noisiest and most idiotic of the week.”

There’s not much in The Times but it reminds us that the eighth of the BBC’s permanent television transmitters at Pontop Pike near Newcastle-upon-Tyne will be making regular test transmissions from 1 November and will open on 15 November.

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