IF ANY FURTHER sign were needed of the fatigue and inertia now paralysing television it is the sudden proliferation of talk programmes.
While the eye is being increasingly neglected, the ear is assaulted and pummelled hour after hour by what one might call cauliflower TV. It leaves the ear battered, bruised and sorry for itself.
Some talk programmes like Not So [Much A Programme, More A Way Of Life] and On the Braden Beat divide equally between the eye and the ear. But The Eamonn Andrews Show, Three After Six, The Explorers, Division, Take It Or Leave It, Dateline, and, naturally, The Epilogue, are basically radio shows that make only peripheral use of the visual medium.
These dinosaurs of TV could have made their appearance on radio in the mid-thirties with hardly a change of format or script. In the pioneer days of TV they would have been dismissed by any progressive producer as a retrogressive admission of defeat.
But their appeal to TV board rooms and planning executives is obvious. Cauliflower TV often gets a favourable critical reception because it usually has about it an intellectual or cultural aura. And, above all, it is cheap.
For these programmes there are no heavy costs for the sets, scripts, travel, filming, editing, or performers. University dons, journalists, writers, and politicians – the backbone of these programmes – can be paid a fraction of the cost of actors, well-known comperes, and other professional entertainers in other shows.
I would guess that Rediffusion by putting on Three After Six (three people talking to each other) instead of Here and Now (a film and taped actuality show) the company is saving money at the rate of £30,000 to £40,000 [£650,000 to £900,000 now allowing for inflation -Ed] a year. Since they get as much official acclaim for one as the other, who can blame them?
It would be foolish, of course, to contend that there was no place for some talk programmes on TV. What concerns me, as much as the misuse of the medium, is the general deterioration and lowering of intellectual standards of the conversation we hear on TV as compared with what we used to hear on radio.
Exempted from this stricture is Rediffusion’s The Explorers, in which Jack Hargreaves makes a serious attempt to probe the minds of serious men to give us some insight about their thoughts about the future.
Monday’s discussion with Professor Denis Gabor about the impact of automation on our society and the problem of leisure left me tingling with intellectual excitement and curiosity.
But what ABC’s The Eamonn Andrews Show is supposed to be doing I have not yet discovered. Entertaining people, I will no doubt be told, proving once more that the word “entertaining” is often synonymous with boring, vulgarising and embarrassing.
When it first began its guests included a sprinkling of relatively serious people like Randolph Churchill, Wolf Mankowitz and Ogden Nash. But the inability of Mr. Andrews, as compere, to sustain any serious talk and the impossibility of mixing slapstick and profundity soon led to the elimination of almost everybody but entertainers and clowns.
On Sunday the show reach its nadir to date. Representing the entertainers were Michael Mac Llammoir and Jeanette Scott, and the clowns were Michael Frayn and the Earl of Arran.
If the conversation has kept its centre of gravity concentrated on such topics as whether or not all blondes were dumb or whether humour is male of female (these subjects were touched upon), one could have dismissed the subsequent inanity as TV fodder on the same level as the ill-fated Celebrity Game.
But Mr. Andrews steered the talk into deeper channels, and this ill-assorted group found themselves talking about automation, computers, racial prejudice, patriotism and conformity.
From the Earl of Arran we heard that “the Irish have never produced anybody worthwhile,” that the Swiss are “mean, snobbish and smelly,” and that “wogs begin at Calais and that all foreigners are “bloody.” [sic on quote marks]
Now there will be protests from viewers about the use of the word “bloody.” I doubt if many will object to the far more xenophobic sentiments of the earl’s mind.
No one on the programme, I should add, intelligently contradicted the noble earl. To their credit, they were probably too startled to do anything but gasp.
If Lord Hill and the ITA is really concerned about television corrupting the public mind, let them stop worrying about the number of times people are kicked in the groin in thrillers and think a bit about the number of times they are concussed on the brain by programmes like the Eamonn Andrews Show.
One rule Lord Hill might seriously think about is preventing so-called funny programmes from tackling subjects too important and too delicate for their capabilities.
The ITA does not list the Eamonn Andrews Show among its “serious” programmes but it does list On the Braden Beat. The distinction is valid and proper. It is, therefore, up to the ITA to make sure that we are protected from stupidity and ignorance about significant matters merely because it is masquerading in the jester’s garb of “light entertainment.”
I had intended this week to discuss, too, the quality and standard of other examples of cauliflower TV but, because of space, it will have to wait for another time.