THE TROUBLED SCREEN 1955

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“THE people themselves will decide the future of television. Behind all theshouting of big business, show -business, public corporations and governments,
the viewer’s voice will prevail. . . .”This is Charles Chaplin speaking. On one of his visits to London I
asked him what he was thinking about TV. The great film star, the astutepicture business man, went right back to the likes and dislikes of the people
“THE people themselves will decide the future of television. Behind all theshouting of big business, show -business, public corporations and governments,
the viewer’s voice will prevail. . . .”This is Charles Chaplin speaking. On one of his visits to London I asked him what he was thinking about TV. The great film star, the astutepicture business man, went right back to the likes and dislikes of the people
in Every Street.
He said: “No artistic medium has yet lived which has not played to the convenience of the public and to the public’s emotional needs. The people
want to see the riches TV can bring to their homes, including films. They will also want to go on seeing films, and plays, and music -hall, and
circuses from the auditorium seats.” Is it so simple? I asked Charlie: “Are there not one or two snags? For instance, the critics of commercial TV-many of them very learned mensay the public will get only what it suits the advertisers to give them.” “Advertising is death to TV,” came Chaplin’s retort. “Advertisers bind
the artist. There is no artistic freedom in promoting business. You can say show -business is hard commercial business; but it is the talent of the artist,
given full rein, that has always made show -business money. There are men who think people will watch TV to see quiz shows offering cash prizes.
They will. And fine for the cinema industry. For they will tire, and creative drama will win them back.” But whether TV is commercial or non-commercial, Chaplin seemed convinced that it is no threat to cinema or theatre. In the long run, he felt, people would never surrender the herd instinct which takes them out in the
fellowship of shared entertainment. roused among them.”Television,” he went on, “will gear itself to the other entertainment
forms. That is another way of saying it will do what the public wants from it. Sometimes people want to see TV. Other times they want to go to a film
or sports event. It is only a matter of time before the business men in show – business will accept this truth.”My view is that they will find the deciding factor in the cost and distribution of TV; and I say the only answer is in shilling -in -the -slot TV. “Show -business balance sheets are only sound when they keep in step
with the public’s instinct. A man instinctively values that for which he pays on the nail. Instinctively, he is slowly rendered hopeless by getting TV
virtually free for three hours each night. In the end he will give up the search for value that way. And, in the end, he will give up the search for value in a TV service which is really trying to make him buy liver pills.” We can perhaps forgive Charles Spencer Chaplin his remote and rather god -like view of TV. To him TV must still seem a toy, being played with by little men, who have still to put away the childish worries and jealousiesh has roused among them.
But meanwhile we have to live with the adolescence of TV.
Certainly some of us find the viewing of it just about as irritating as having an unpredictable
teen-ager ever at the elbow! So far as Britain is concerned, TV is the BBC-though another brand is round the corner. And what has been started the BBC way can hardly be changed, at any future date, into a pay -as -you -view system of TV. It also seems unlikely that the new commercial system, now legislated for,
can ever adapt itself to the coin -in -the -slot method.Charles Chaplin seemed to me to be speaking most significantly when
he stressed the importance of people’s convenience. This strikes right at the heart of the TV matter. For TV demands adjustments in the time -table
and pattern of family life. It seems likely that large numbers of people in Britain today are letting cinemas, theatre and sports events go by default
simply because the TV is on and something good may turn up for them. This does not mean that they prefer TV, or are even actively choosing it
instead of other pursuits. It is simply more convenient for them to sit around and wait while the bran -tub of Lime Grove disgorges itself.
At present, ease and convenience are the real powers of TV, greater than “the visual impact” about which theorists talk, and greater than the Lime Grove programmes having the highest “viewer appreciation” marks. The ease of viewing cancels out a great deal of the care taken by the BBC in planning a mixed bag of programmes each night, on the assumption that viewers will switch on only to the item they really want. It is more convenient to leave the thing switched on all the time, or at any
rate most of every evening.In the end this convenience may be less valued as what is watched palls more and more. But that is only a supposition. I cannot see that the BBC-or any other TV corporation-can do anything about it. Chaplin is probably correct in saying the viewer himself will in time decide that TV
all the time, every night, is a mug’s game.In specific TV activities, however, the viewer’s convenience could well be more actively met by the BBC. A ninety -minute play at least once a week, and sometimes twice, does not conveniently fit the leisure time of many households. The plays get high audience figures because-pity us!
-we have no alternative. But few can ever be worth a solid ninety minutes of sitting. A poor appreciation figure received at the BBC for a play is often
explained away by denigrating the author’s “dramatic sense,” his plot, his lack of pace, or lack of characterization. It would often be more realistic to admit that all these were poor because they were spread too thinly over too long a time. It would be more convenient to the viewer for plays to be
fewer and frequently shorter; and it would be less strain on some of the playwrights. There is a notion at the BBC that the viewing audience needs “cushioning,”
between the more serious items on the screen, in the relaxation of light entertainment. It would, however, be more to our convenience if the
light entertainment for which we stay indoors and stop doing something else were more often worth our sacrifice. Filling the “cushions” for the
sake of having “cushions” in the theoretical plan is not a realistic way to produce light entertainment. Empty cushions are flat and let you down. In this book Henry Hall gives facts which-to say the least-question the BBC’s cry that this country lacks light -entertainment talent. Moreover, the people who have not got TV, and rely on sound radio, will today find a great deal of talent working there weekly. It would be both convenient and worth while to the viewer if TV could bring him a half-hour relay from the Palladium; and if it could bring him the Askeys, the Terry -Thomases, and the Jimmy Edwardses who are so busy on sound radio.
Television cannot go to the Palladium because theatre managements and performers’ unions fear that even the occasional televising of live theatre shows will lessen audiences at the theatres. The stars busy in sound radio cannot appear in TV because they are mostly occupied at night in the live theatre. They are on the radio only because they can record their shows in the daytime. But the same performers’ unions will not agree with
the BBC over terms for film recording for TV. The public, which has been inconvenienced by this deadlock for several years, has never once been given the full facts from which it could judge for itself whether the BBC terms are inequitable, or whether the unions’ objections are nothing more than obstructionist policy born of
fear. If the latter is the case, why does the BBC refuse to rally public goodwill to its side by stating the terms it is offering?
In its attitude to the public the BBC is an odd mixture of school-marm and slavey. With superior haughtiness it considers that the policies at the
heart of its services must never be ventilated. It feels so self-sufficient that it sees no reason why it should share its problems with the people paying
its keep. By telling us exactly what terms it is offering to the entertainment unions and sports promoters for rights essential to TV’s progress, the
BBC could rally public goodwill to its side. Lacking this, we are inevitably inclined towards the assumption that its terms are shabby ones, rightly
scorned by the unions and promoters. In that event the BBC cannot escape the indictment that it values the proper development of TV too little, and
the convenience of its paying public hardly at all. On the other hand, like a timid slavey running at her master’s bidding, the BBC now plans its TV programmes according to what it thinks are the wishes of the great majority TV audience. In TV, programme planners are

no longer indifferent to the “popular mass.” Popping in a few “minority interest” programmes of information, music, ballet and opera, does not
change the general urge in TV planning, which is, today, to continue winning the big audience figures given to endless quiz programmes,
unsuitable variety, and plays mostly indifferent and nearly all untailored to fit TV.The standard of taste in TV programme planning has been pegged
down by the planners. The test is to compare the number of serious plays and Shakespearean productions televised every year in the three or four
years following the war, with their all but total absence in the past year. The TV planners are every bit as mesmerized by the audience -research
viewing and appreciation figures as any commercial sponsor will ever be mesmerized by the sales figures won for his product by TV plugs. The production of minority -interest programmes, a legitimate service, and mostly finely achieved, can no longer be allowed to hide the sheepish following of the highest viewing figures in the variety and drama departments. The quiz which scored high is kept on ad nauseam, with the same personalities; and then it is copied ad nauseum by other quizzes under different titles. The variety pattern which scored high is repeated again and again; and then with different artists when the first ones tire.
According to the audience -research figures, mass audiences watch plays and variety. But since they have no TV alternative this counts for
little. A national Sunday newspaper, using exactly the same “scientific opinion poll” as the BBC uses in its audience research, found that, over
four to six years of viewing, plays and variety were appreciated less and less until they reached a minus figure; indeed, the only category of TV
programmes this survey showed to have an increasing appreciation index was the documentary category. In documentary programmes TV as a medium is still being developed with ambition and initiative. In informative programmes (the “Talks Department”) the courage to admit controversy, new presentation ideas
and polish are pushing the use of TV into exciting fields. But on the drama and variety fronts production has become a sausage machine.

The same kind of plays and the same kind of light entertainment pass endlessly across the screen.Justly, to the majority audience is due the major TV output of popular entertainment in drama and variety. But because of a slavish following of safety -first viewing figures, the potentialities of TV are being only half –
used to provide popular fare. Experiment in technique and presentation does not automatically de -popularize a programme-as Lime Grove now seems to assume. The first TV quiz was an experiment. It was not, however, the final experiment in TV. The stage play, though useful in maintaining the TV output, is neither convenient in its timing to the viewing family, nor suitable in its construction for TV. It should be disappearing from TV while television’s very own form of dramatic story -telling increases. The past year has seen neither any disappearance nor any increase.Television is muddled, nervous, impetuous, afraid, because it is arrogantly
self-conscious. It lives too much to itself. It has got to break the barriers around it-some self-erected-not least of which is the one so foolishly separating it from sound radio. In these pages Sir George Barnes claims that TV must meet every demand of the BBC’s Charter, whether or not the doing of this provides the programmes best suited to TV.
There would appear to be an assumption here that the Charter is TV’s, and not the BBC’s; a forgetting of the fact that the BBC is TV and radio together,
and that the Charter’s full demands are to be met by both services working together. Sir George hopes TV can serve serious music just as sound radio
has done. Yet it would seem obvious that this duty is best left to radio.He casts aside the idea that licence -payers’ money would go farther if some radio programmes were adapted to go on TV at the same time.With certain kinds of radio programme this could be done, without loss to the listener. To deny the possibility before it has been tried is defeatism, or fear.But no. TV has as little as possible connexion with the radio house next door. Yet, administratively, the BBC looks to TV to absorb its radio staff as and when promotions are made, or whenever radio may have to adjust its output in face of TV. The personnel can be shared, but not the artistic resources! Here is muddled thinking, arising from those strange domestic inhibitions which have grown up as the BBC has watched the
Cinderella TV rise in its midst.And now competition comes hovering over the BBC horizon. Who cansay what mistakes it will make, and what falls it will take, in its first steps..? Facing up to it, the BBC is in many ways strong, and in some ways impervious. But where the BBC rule of TV is muddled and weak there will
assuredly rise a fever of new thinking. This, we can but hope, will be to the BBC viewer’s benefit, whatever alternative attractions lure his eyes.

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ඊළඟ ලිපියYOUR FRIENDS THE STARS – 1954
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