Oh! those awful earbashing programmes


Talk shows: aren’tcha sick of ’em? asks Milton Shulman

Syndicated to UK newspapers on 5 February 1966

CAULIFLOWER TV KEEPS GROWING like a parasitic ivy on all channels. These ear-bashing, studio-bound programmes, which owe everything to radio and nothing to vision, have an unhealthy way of proliferating themselves.

The interview and the discussion are the two main off-shoots of cauliflower TV and at their best levels these can offer some of the most stimulating and rewarding moments on the small screen.

John Freeman’s Face To Face revealed what excitement could be generated by the confrontation of a serious mind with a serious and sympathetic interrogator.

In recent weeks one could have seen no fewer than four variations on this confrontation theme – The Reputation Makers, with Angus Wilson, Intimations, with Malcolm Muggeridge, The Levin Interview, with Bernard Levin, and People to Watch, with Robert McKenzie and Erskine Childers.

From the various samplings I have taken of these programmes, they are all more or less successful. Indeed, they have a builtin, cast-iron formula for success if the producer is sensible enough to get two essential elements right.


Most important of all, he must have – as all these programmes have – an interviewer who is not only articulate, quick and logical, but who is catholic in his curiosity and sceptical about values and judgments.

Pit such a man against another intelligent man with an established reputation or deep convictions or imaginative horizons and the resultant talk, if it is given time to develop, will usually be absorbing.

Naturally. there are failures. Sometimes the personalities involved develop such mutual antipathy or disinterest that a barbed or bored exchange of platitudes is the only result. But, on the whole, this is the best kind of cauliflower TV.

The discussion programme, on the other hand, seems to be going downhill at the speed of the devil on a bobsleigh.

Although there is a good deal of discussion on BBC-3, Late Night Line-Up and 24 Hours (a much improved programme, incidentally), the two programmes – aside from religion and schools – that devote their time almost exclusively to a group exchange of views are Late Show London and The Eamonn Andrews Show.

When one compares the calibre of speakers and talk of both these shows with former discussion programmes like Free Speech and The Brains Trust, one becomes apprehensively aware of what TV can do to crush into disrepute the once-civilised art of conversation.


Late Show London is the worst offender because it pretends to engage in serious talk and splatters all concerned with humiliation by the glib, cynical and fatuous way in which it goes about it.

Although it began as a magazine show aimed at reflecting the gaiety, variety and sparkle of London life, in less than a month it has been purged of everything but the talkers.

The Eamonn Andrews Show, too, seems to be in a desperate plight to find “the famous, frank and funny people” it blurbs.

On Sunday we had three actors – Michael Crawford, Martine Carol and James Booth – and a publisher, Gareth Powell, who might most charitably be described as non-famous, once-famous and non-funny people. With nothing important to be frank about, it’s not surprising they weren’t frank either.

Anyone in the theatre knows that actors can be as witty as Wilde, as wise as Shaw, and as profound as Montherlant only when they have memorised the appropriate lines.

The emergence of the actor as the wit, the sage, the commentator, the thinker of our time reveals into what a disastrous, intellectual abyss we are being plunged in order to please the moronic tastes of the telegawkers.

– Milton Shulman

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