Syndicated to newspapers on 17 December 1966
“THERE HAS always been a disparity between the critical attention paid to plays and feature programmes on the one hand, and series and serials on the other. Yet it is the series and the serials that are, for most people, the staple diet of television viewing.”
The quote comes from this year’s report of the Independent Television Authority. I presume this means that in the Authority’s view critics get more fussed about This Week or Armchair Theatre than about such long-running, immovable dinosaurs of the TV scene as Emergency – Ward 10 or Coronation Street.
Since inertia is the most prevalent occupational disease in TV, it could be that critics are also in danger of catching it.
I suppose there is a limit to the amount of times you can go on expressing disgust, resentment, annoyance or irritation with programmes like Double Your Money or the Eamonn Andrews Show without being accused of conducting a personal vendetta against their producers, their stars or the company’s board of directors.
In other fields of art or entertainment, there are other sanctions backing up or rejecting critical opinion. The most powerful, of course, is financial.
But the BBC with its monopoly licence position and ITV with its monopoly advertising position are immune to almost any sort of pressure – with the possible exception of a discreet nod from someone on Cabinet level.
As long as they play safe, do not shock, subdue life to the lowest level of receptivity, they can thumb their noses at both critical and public opinion in the sure knowledge that their annual income will not be affected.
A programme like Crossroads, for instance, if it were made into a film would empty the most undiscriminating flea pits in the land. If it were put on the stage, it would be about as popular as Epilogues at the Atheists’ Convention.
Yet there it is, spread across the nation, not once a week like The Power Game, or twice a week like Coronation Street, but no less than five times a week.
When I first wrote about Crossroads over a year ago, it was an afternoon programme. “In this environment,” I said, “life is shrunk to the dimensions of a dried pea being pushed into a small hole by a lazy snail. Nothing is generated; nothing is achieved; nothing is finished. The nation is reduced to the status of watchers at a construction site where the workers are on strike.”
The result of strictures like this – most of my colleagues have been even more abusive and derisive than this relatively kind assessment – has been that Crossroads has been promoted to an evening spot just on the edge of peaktime.
Thus, one of the worst programmes on the air now gets over two hours per week of screen time – more than twice as much as any other adult programme on British TV.
As a series, its most unique feature is the total forgetability of most of its characters. With the possible exception of Marilyn, the Cockney barmaid, they are ciphers masquerading as people and they fade out of one’s conscious and one’s memory with the credit titles.
The plots have the sameness of pub conversation and not since the age of four when I was confronted with a crisis about sugar on my semolina have I been asked to occupy my thoughts with such trivial and mundane issues.
The Flying Swan, a better series on the same theme, was quickly smothered by the BBC when presumably they realised what it was doing to their reputation.