1950s >> 1958 >> no-651-november-1958

TV Review: Reflections on a Mirror

Can there be any point or purpose in reviewing television in a Socialist journal? This one-eyed monster, instrument of abomination and ruin, heap bad electronic ju-ju—is there anything to be said for giving it notice and space?

Of course there is. The alternative, in fact, is to take no notice and pretend it doesn’t exist: a hopeless pretence, since it exists now in the majority of people’s lives. True, its place in our culture is still a suspect, parvenu one; but that is only because the grown-up generations still remember the world without it.

The same thing happened and the same things were said about the cinema, the radio and the novel. Indeed, the history of those and other art-forms suggests that the primitive pot-boilers of early years are the classics of later ones. The ’seventies may even see the U-boys queueing at the National Telly Theatre, Observers under arms, to drink in early Dragnets or vintage Spot the Tunes.

The television is here to stay, at least until the feelies arrive; and while it stays it is making its own contribution to disseminating knowledge, stylizing thought and formulating ideals. It is doing those and other things now, today, this moment—and that surely makes it worth observation. What better time to start than at the beginning of, as it were, a new season? For the winter programmes are upon us; the image in the home is, reputedly, at its brightest.

It would be nice initially to he able to comment on some late masterpiece, another 1984 or Look Back in Anger, as drawing attention to what T.V. can do. Alas, there has been none and nothing approaching one; certainly not the production of Arms and the Man, which showed only the datedness of this, as many another, Shaw piece.

The most interesting things at the moment, in fact, are two trends in the lesser televisual spheres. One is the increasing amount of petty-drama space given over to the cops. Currently there are no less than three weekly series about policemen; Dixon of Dock Green, Dial 999, and Murder Bag. Will this affect the crime wave? Well, a curious fact about the present young delinquent generation is that they were reared under an educational obsession that a policeman is a friend. If he is now to become a fireside figure as well, there is no knowing what may happen.

The other is the sad documentary significance of Six-Five Special. For some time now the cameramen have been breaking this programme’s continuum of rock and skiffle with shots of faces in the crowd (possibly as calculated relief from the star turns, most of whom would once have got the raspberry on amateur night at the Queen’s, Poplar).

This fragmentary portrait gallery is one of the most melancholy commentaries yet made upon our way of life. Any eighteenth- or nineteenth-century artist’s record of an audience or a crowd shows rich variety of expression and character; Six-Five exhibits a hundred identical adolescent pans with the same glaze on the eyes and the same round-the-clock movement with the chewing gum.

And to think, as one watches, that some people still fear Socialism would lead to everyone being alike.

Robert Barltrop