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

Something for the Weekend

In the briefest of News in Brief snippets, The Times reveals that “The Rev. L. M. Charles-Edwards, vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, has been appointed religious adviser to Associated-Rediffusion Ltd”. That is the only television-related news in The Times today.

As they have nothing more to say, let’s turn to The Guardian. The paper’s London Staff report that Sir Miles Thomas addressed the Advertising Association yesterday, and he was generally “impressed by the way in which British screens showed television advertising which was handled in a restrained and delicate manner.” He said, “I see no evidence of the sometimes brash and vulgar element which has appeared on other screens. We seem to combine wit and our selling approach in an attractive degree.”

The Guardian’s Radio Critic (RC) enjoyed last night’s Look programme on “Vanishing Animals” which Peter Scott presented on BBC television. Scott’s broadcast, writes RC, “was an object lesson in how one man with the simplest means can hold the screen for half-an-hour.” In fact Look programmes in general, “are like much which is best in television – a natural combination of intelligent talk and satisfactory visual images.”

Yesterday’s Show Business, which featured Richard Murdoch and Kenneth Horne was bold, “and dared to make a joke about Burgess and Maclean. The BBC grows noticeably less timid now that it is not the only voice.” The programme even contained some jokes about independent television: according to Vic Oliver, “It has just been reported that Chris Chataway has read the news in 3 minutes 58 seconds flat.” ITV might soon be able to make similar jokes about Roger Bannister on the BBC.

RC’s attention then switches to some of the BBC’s new afternoon programmes and alights on Sketch Book and Family Affairs. In the former, “Harry Rutherford drew people and places in Rochdale, a good idea though it wanted a bit more general background.” As for the latter, “a qualified panel – doctor, psychologist, clergyman and so on – discussed people’s problems, but there was no attempt at dramatisation, and if the BBC wants to help people, this seems the proper way to do it.” It’s a fair enough comment, and sensationalising any of this almost certainly wouldn’t be and improvement. On the other hand, is there actually any benefit in putting this programme on television rather than the radio?

As we near the political party conference season RC reiterates, in a separate piece, the state of play. RC writes that “Telerecorded summaries of the Conservative party conference at Bournemouth and the Labour party conference at Margate will be given by BBC television. Robert McKenzie will comment from the conference halls, and Geoffrey Cox of the News Chronicle, will introduce the recorded extracts in the evening.”

There will be three evening programmes from Bournemouth (on 6, 7 and 8 October) and these will include live interviews with some of the people there. Although Labour was offered as much they agreed to admit the cameras for only a single session on Tuesday, 11 October. The other matters arising from their conference will be covered in the news.

Looking at the other side, of course, is Bernard Levin. Fearing that The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel will be “an interminable series” he turns his attention to the ITV news. And the ITV news puzzles Mr Levin. Firstly, he is unsure what the ITV news is trying to do: “To begin with it is not trying simply to tell us what has been going on in the world during the day… it is giving us a selection of items.” Unfortunately, “it must be said that no rational method is discernible in the choice of subjects or in the order in which they are presented.” Levin thinks that “the choice is clearly designed to be much wider than that of the BBC, and much more frivolous” and so “The result is rather like a meal consisting entirely of hors-d’oeuvre – tasty in parts… but not filling.”

Levin moves on to the methods of delivery. “There are,” he says, “several different methods.” The first is “for the newsreader simply to read the item off a teleprompter” which he finds acceptable so long as “the news-reader’s manner is agreeable, by which test they all pass except Mr Robin Day.” The second method is what Levin calls “the illustrated item” in which “There may be a few seconds of film shot at the scene being mentioned… or there may be an interview with some person in the news or in a position to comment on it.” Levin also approves of the fact that, in his opinion, “the questions asked are by no means simply the silly ‘feed’ lines that the BBC interviewers almost invariably use, but are often pertinent to the point of embarrassment for the interviewed.”

Levin’s third and last method of presentation is “the news film” and he feels that “it is not necessary to say much more than that it is terrible and ought to be scrapped immediately.” After a promising start, “it since appears to have become the subject of a competition for the man who can discover the least interesting news item of the week and photograph them least effectively.”

The Daily Mirror takes the opportunity to look back at ITV’s first week. It begins by reminding us of some of the things the great and the good said about commercial television before it started:

  • Archbishop of York: “Resist it for the sake of the children”
  • Lord Simon of Winchester: a “national disaster”
  • Lord Hailsham: blasted ITV before it was born but has now agreed to appear on it.

But the Mirror’s verdict: “In its first week ITV has been a quickfire success. Its entertainment has been enterprising and balance. In general, the advertisements have been expertly handled.” In addition, “the arrival of ITV has worked wonders at the BBC. The BBC is meeting competition with better service.”

The Mirror notes that its rivals don’t necessarily share its view. In particular, “The Daily Express – an apostle of independent enterprise – isn’t at all cheerful about independent TV. It proclaims that ITV should be handed over to the BBC. Hasn’t the Express got its crusades curiously confused?” Indeed.

Now, stuck for something to do? Want to get away from sitting in front of the small screen? Why not try the fourth one down?

1955-09-29 Burton Manor residential courses

Lastly, to today’s The Stage which, being published weekly – and on a Thursday to boot, only now has the opportunity to review ITV’s opening night.

Andrew Gray finds the opening dinner and speeches at the Guildhall “made a rather sombre start to what was supposed to pep up our screens” but enjoyed the “light and fast” variety programme which followed it. He too mentions Derek Roy’s line, “You BBC deserters, you…” but also picks up a fun line in Roy’s song: “With the ITA or the BBC, where will the Richard Dimbleby?” Gray attributes “the biggest laugh” going to Harry Secombe “with a perfectly natural impression of an announcer being left ‘on vision’ too long and having to hold his smile. This was brilliant TV stuff, and, he told me later, done on the spur of the moment.”

Gray felt that the opening commercial for toothpaste “didn’t jar” but that “it was a trifle difficult to take in other advertisements for drinking chocolate and margarine directly after. However, as the evening wore on this feeling wore off.”

The Mayfair Hotel played host to the press for the whole evening where a 21″ television set was set up “by courtesy of the ITA” so they could watch the first ITV programmes. Later in the evening, the ITV cameras moved to the hotel itself with the result Gray could watch this later output both “in person as well as on screen”.

Obviously, its reviews continue beyond ITV’s first night, and I’ll look at those on Sunday.

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