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

One Pair of Eyes

Maurice Richardson, of The Observer, becomes the latest to use the end of the first week as an opportunity to take stock of the new channel’s output and compare it to the BBC. Throughout, Richardson refers to the new service as “The ITA” as though the regulatory authority also has direct control over programme production, casting and so on, all of which is a little concerning in someone whose job, it appears, is to write about television.

Richardson begins by echoing what others have said: that independent television has started well enough and that it also seems to have encouraged the BBC to up its game – and that can only be a good thing. He is surprised that the BBC has done better in sport, although he seems to have missed the fact that the BBC, having advanced knowledge – as we all had – of the coming of commercial television has sewn-up exclusive rights to many of these.

One of Richardson’s problems, is that unlike The Guardian’s Bernard Levin and their Radio Critic, and the Daily Express’s Cyril Aynsley and Robert Cannell, he has to tackle both stations on his own, and so he bemoans missing part of a boxing match on the BBC in order to see Bud Flanagan on ITV.

Fortunately, the two discussion programmes Free Speech and In The News were scheduled at different times, and like some before him, Richardson found the former “lively and natural” and the latter “disappointingly lame.” The BBC play Mr Maypole, one of those given a TV-tryout on the BBC by Henry Sherek, was “a pathetic little tadpole of a play” whereas ITV’s production of A Month in the Country, “a most encouraging ninety minutes of serious film-theatre.” Richardson picks up on the intrusion of advertisements in this production and adds, “I get the impression of a little more tact being used in the selection of which intervals to plug with what spots.”

One commercial which did get his approval was a take off of the BBC’s Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? for Cadbury’s which featured “either Compton Mackenzie or his double”. Does he really mean this? I’m not aware of any connection between Mackenzie and AVM. Either way, that advertisement gets a gold star whereas, “The stripe of disapproval falls on Cow and Gate for permitting, however unwittingly, the faintest association of anything so phoney as astrology to become connected with the vitally serious process of lactation.”

Lastly, Richardson looks, briefly, at ITV’s Crossroads – a variation on the BBC’s Is This Your Problem? – which “was equally well intentioned,” but “lacked the assured production of the BBC.” So at least he, it appears, finds something of merit in the BBC series.

The Stage’s television reviewer “A.G.” was kept very busy during the last week, so here’s a whistle-stop tour of what he watched.

ABC Playhouse – “Mid Level”: from a script by Berkely Mather, this pre-filmed production was “an exciting hour’s drama” and concerned a spy being hunted in order to end a series of plane losses. “Suspense was kept up until the last scene”. The hero, Dawson, was “played perhaps too intensely by Michael Gough” and “acting honours… go to William Franklyn for his easy-going, likeable playing of Bluey, a drifting Aussie”.

Saturday Showtime: was “piloted by former BBC bright boy, Bill Lyon-Shaw” and this was “no better, no worse than his BBC work.” Harry Secombe did well with his material which “was either good or poor, with no in-between standard” and “was best when playing the role of a sloppy bull-fighter (second reserve), who gets ever more nervous as he realises he may have to fight the bull – after 10 years of pleasant waiting to do just that.” On the other hand, Harry “was wasted in the Casbah scene, created to launch Wilson, Keppel and Betty, who put over their well-known eccentric dancing act to perfection.” A.G. notices a production problem too with the juggling Balladinis skills not always being put over well to the viewers as some of their white balls “were quite invisible” against the white background.

Colonel March of Scotland Yard – “Passage at Arms”: this concerned a fencing match between England and France and unfortunately March himself “only appeared in a few sequences, most of the detecting falling to his assistant.” Although “The climax was a trifle too theatrical… smart direction by Arthur Crabtree helped a rather lame script along.”

People Are Funny: from the Granada, Tooting, Derek Roy sets problems for various volunteers, for example, “Some were sent off to paper a room for unsuspecting victims living near by, who got a radio set and their front room redecorated free of charge.” Unfortunately, “most receivers of prizes didn’t seen grateful” which “robbed compère Derek Roy of his climaxes”. The verdict: “Roy works very hard to make this show seem such an aren’t we devils programme, but he must have found the going tough. At any rate, this viewer did, coming to the conclusion that people aren’t really so funny after all.”

More tomorrow.

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