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

Thanks for the Ad. Or Not.

The Times’ TV reviewer (TR) was pleased to sit down, last night, “to a substantial classic” in the form of Turgenev’s “A Month in the Country”, which was produced by Associated-Rediffusion under their International Theatre banner. TR found not the usual “sense of enclosed and occasionally cramped intimacy” often found in television drama, but instead “a large cinematic spaciousness”. Robert Hamer’s direction was “accomplished” and so were a number of the performances. In particular, “in Miss Margaret Leighton’s hands Natalya… had not only a tense nervous strength but a most moving vulnerability”; “Mr Laurence Harvey was a sincere, likeable Beliayev; and in their different ways Mr Michael Gough’s Rakitin and Miss Zena Walker’s Vera subtly confided in the invisible audience.”

TR noted that while the individual performances were remembered “vividly”, “the interaction of people… was not so surely caught.” In particular TR mentions “the viewer’s special disadvantage of being forced to watch the speaker when he would like to see the listener as well.”

This was the first 90-minute drama on independent television, or at least the first in a 90-minute slot. TR feels that “Mr Hamer was not well served by the interludes between acts” and notes that “after the first half-hour came a raucous transition to Much Binding in the Marsh and some remarks about brightness and whiteness; while Natalya’s great scene with Beliayev was followed by a boastful voice declaring ‘I brush my teeth once a day’. The intrusion of advertisements seemed unforgivably crass”.

This was not, of course, a live production. It was made on film over a period of around two weeks, a fact which Bernard Levin mentions in his Guardian review. And Levin was mostly impressed, writing that “round his Natalya Mr Clements set this lovely play dancing and tinkling into a thing of light and beauty.”

Levin notes that there were a few concessions and liberties with the text but although “opportunities abound to make ‘A Month in the Country’ a thing of crude and angular simplicity” he finds that “they were bravely eschewed.”

Levin praises similar names to those singled-out by The Times reviewer and has a similar beef: “the only flaw in the evening came from the particularly brash and vulgar series of advertisements that irrupted into the production at the most catastrophically inappropriate points.”

While they may not have been watching “A Month”, a teacher with the initials JWPT writes to The Guardian after noticing that Friday week his charges were more sleepy than usual. He asked how many had been allowed to stay up and watch the first night of commercial television and “from the forest of hands which were raised I selected three children to tell me what they had enjoyed the most. The first two were undecided but the third quite definite in his opinions. ‘The advertisements, sir,’ he said emphatically.”

Elsewhere, both The Guardian and The Times report that the BBC has signed-up Dr Roger Bannister to undertake what The Times describes as “athletic commentaries and interviews on television” but only “when his medical duties permit.”

The Times reports on activity at Westminster County Court yesterday where Stanley Seymour was awarded £79 damages “after he had alleged that he had been deprived of his television set for 12 weeks by a company who were supposed to repair it. The defendants, TV Insurance Services Ltd of High Holborn, were not represented in court.” The case stemmed from an agreement whereby Mr Seymour paid the defendants 16s a month “and they were to repair and maintain his television set for two years.” The problem arose when “in April the set went wrong and the defendants collected it. When it was eventually returned in July… the set had not been repaired and the cabinet had been damaged.” The Judge, enjoying a little waggish humour, noted that, “the word ‘Services’ seems to be a bit of a misnomer in the title of the defendant company.”

Richard Kilian, writes in the Daily Express on a not altogether favourable article entitled “Jingles for Britain” which appears in New York’s Life magazine on the subject of commercial television in the UK. The original article is a long one, but, hopefully, you can read it here.

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