Year One: Television and visual journalism 

28 March 2017


WHEN ITV was a-borning I remember my friend Mr Aidan Crawley, who was in charge of inaugurating Independent Television News programmes, speaking to me with immense enthusiasm of the wonderful new techniques whereby the news would be presented pictorially on the screen. He particularly stressed that still pictures would never be shown; everything would be live. I remember that I was very sceptical of these possibilities. It is true that in the United States TV is becoming so powerful that it can almost dictate to politicians, diplomats and sportsmen the hours at which they shall conduct their major activities and compel them to suit their timing to the requirements of the companies. We have not yet reached that stage in this country and I trust we never shall.

In consequence the major news events of the day can very seldom be directly reproduced and there must sometimes be much delay in getting a filmed recording on to The screen. Moreover the main news may originate in Parliament or the Foreign Office or the White House or the Quai d’Orsay and it is obviously technically impossible at this stage to produce a picture justifying the news. Consequently the ITN news programmes, like those of the BBC, consist very largely of a smooth young gentleman in front of the camera reading from notes or a teleprompter news which can be received and digested far more quickly over steam radio.

None the less TV has an immense future in some fields of pictorial journalism. Though the straight news can best be handled by the press and by radio, TV has the unique power to bring before its cameras in a few hours the people who have been making the news. It can interrogate them at close quarters and it can produce in vivid fashion key representatives in any current controversy and vividly portray the issues involved through the leading personalities of the day. But it must be recognized that this is ‘Features’ rather than ‘hard news’.

This is the field which I think Granada can claim that it has experimented with more imaginatively than have any of its competitors. Northern Comment seemed to me a particularly promising feature. Immediately after any party political broadcast two or three commentators were put on to discuss what had just gone before. This was first resisted by the Tories who obtusely insisted on an interval of three hours between their own programme and the comment. All three political parties have now agreed that the criticism should be allowed to follow immediately. I am sure that this is not only in the public interest but also in the interest of the political parties. It is very difficult to get people in this country interested in politics; and lively discussion will tend to get a wider audience for what were previously ex parte statements.

Three other programmes of Granada’s first year which attracted wide attention were Under Fire, What the Papers Say and Youth Is Asking. Many TV discussion programmes suffer from a sweetly reasonable debate between two or more experts. The Chairman often concludes by attempting to show the large measure of agreement between the two sides. (Granada’s ‘Row of the Year’ between Jack Jones, MP, and Hugh Scanlon was a noteworthy exception.) But many questions of the day are controversial and do engender strong feelings. Why not let them be expressed?

Under Fire, presented by Granada, provided one of TV’s most enjoyable features. This was a ‘no holds barred’ programme between a Northern audience and experts in London. On many occasions the atmosphere engendered approached that of a lively political meeting. But Under Fire was not confined to political questions:  the cost of bread, design in the home, smog as well as Suez and the Trade Unions are some of the topics this series has covered.

I take a great interest in the press of this country and have consequently looked at a good number of programmes of the feature What the Papers Say. This programme, it seems to me, could be more lively and controversial. I would myself leave one man to do the whole job rather than have a somewhat scrappy discussion introduced half-way through.

A workman picks his way through Studio 3, set out for the evening performance of ‘What the Papers Say’

Finally Youth Is Asking. This also seems to me a particularly promising programme. It is of interest to people of all ages and should serve to attract youthful minds not only towards television but also to a growing comprehension of current events and current problems.

I am sure that we are only in the very early days of these discussion programmes and my main criticism of them all in general — and I am speaking not only of the three Granada programmes to which I referred above — is that for fear of being thought one-sided there is an exaggerated desire to introduce too many different points of view. Of course this is desirable when it is a discussion, but if there is merely to be a five or ten minute feature commenting on some aspect of the news, I should have thought that one critic or commentator was enough at a time. It should be very easy to hold the balance fairly by inviting personalities of varied outlook and party allegiance from week to week. I think it is unreasonable for anyone to insist that the balance should be held exactly even each week; and any imbalance in one week’s programme could easily be redressed the following week.

I am sure that in these discussions and critiques TV would be well advised to resist the feeble-minded temptation to be ‘all things to all men’.

One of TV’s greatest dangers is to degenerate into undue frivolity. I have seen a good deal of the young men who are building up Granada. They passionately believe that if a serious programme is presented well enough, people will want to look at it, however serious the topic is. If they are correct in their view, TV may yet perform great services to the nation.

You Say

2 responses to this article

Richard 29 March 2017 at 6:30 pm

“a workman picks his way through studio 3″…? But but but but but we’re always told that Quay Street only had even numbered studios to make it sound like there were more…? Yours deludedly, Richard of ATVLandshire

Joseph Gallant 12 April 2017 at 10:34 pm

This format would certainly work in America on one of the cable news channels, or perhaps PBS or C-SPAN.

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