18 hours of old films in one week’s viewing is much too much


Milton Shulman lets himself go

Syndicated to newspapers on 4 June 1966


THE GROWING reliance of all channels on old films to fill up their contractual hours is perhaps the most insidious element depres- sing programme standards and which will eventually lead to the deterioration of all TV.

Over Whitsun BBC-1 showed four old films while ITV in London were exhibiting three. During this week we were able to see five ancient films (all at peak time) on ITV and seven on BBC-1 and BBC-2 (all but one at peak time).

Something like 18 hours will be devoted to this chewed-over fodder of the cinema-most of it in peak time-and unless Lord Hill or Sir Hugh Greene calls a halt to this practice all TV. like Pay TV, will become merely another distribution outlet for the film industry.

As if this not enough, each channel now has a programme devoted to the glorification of old films and the plugging of
new ones.

Granada’s Cinema. with the saturnine Michael Scott in the chair. seems to have lost the wit and intellectual bite it had when Derek Granger was running the programme.

Although it still comes up with some amusing and freakish film clips, there is a lazy. desultory tone about the proceedings that is merely time-wasting rather than time-enhancing.

Typical was last week’s assessment of 50 years of 20th Century Fox. This turned out to be a series film snatches Shirley Temple, Carmen Miranda, Ethel Merman, Marilyn Monroe – without any effort to assess, diagnose or evaluate the overall contribution of the company to Hollywood or discuss the pressures or influences that had determined its output. A disappointing affair.


But the BBC has started a much more blatant exercise in self-plugging and humiliating abasement to the cinema industry.

This is called Film Preview and compered by the fast-talking, vitamin-crammed Philip Jenkinson. Put out at 6.30 p.m. Fridays it is nothing more than a half-hour trailer for the coming films to be seen on BBC with some uninhibited plugs for a few films soon to go on current release.

I cannot think why this programme should consist of this unholy combination of wholesale puffs for films on TV and in the cinemas, unless it is some arrangement to keep the filmmakers happy about so many rival films in the home.

But the result is that Mr. Jenkinson – who can be very knowledgeable about films – has to gush enthusiastically about every film he discusses and fill his script with lines like: “It’s crammed with great songs and wonderful dances… it’s one of the best musical numbers for a long time… who else could put so much into a number?” in the worst huckstering tradition.


For its own self-respect, I think this is a programme that the BBC must either axe or change to a more objective formula.

Of course, some of these old films are well worth seeing again. And if it was only the best of the cinema product, no one would have any cause for complaint.

But most of them were eight-rate when they were first made and a patina of dust has not made them any more appetizing.

Most of these films are about 15 years old and when they made up an occasional item on the schedule. they could obviously have no influence on the taste of the viewers.

But I can see nothing but complacency and inertia emerging from this creeping cinematic takeover of the small screen.

The presence of old films discourages TV companies from making their own programmes – they are much cheaper than an original play or series – and shrinks the already limited opportunities for creative TV talent.

It is astonishing that a Government that exhorts everyone to produce more is disinterested and gormless about the stifling of TV and its foreign currency potential.

For there can he no doubt that it is Government policy that has contributed in some measure to the danger of TV becoming a poor second cousin of the cinema trade.

A hint

Starved of funds the BBC has to resort more and more to non-creative measures to keep up their schedule and must buy old films rather than produce programmes of its own.

The commercial companies, uncertain of their future, have no guarantee that large sums spent on original production will be rewarded since they have no idea if they will be in business in a year’s time and on what terms.

And the pummelling of the audience with these old-fashioned techniques and plots is sure to further reduce that area of intelligent receptivity in the viewer and create a public even less capable of enjoying anything fresh, different or mature.

I might, incidentally, add that if Equity is seriously concerned about work for its members they would do well to make representations about this increasing use of old films and stop look making themselves silly by insisting on monopoly over the reading of nursery tales.

Milton Shulman

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