TV, the child, and the critic 

24 July 2017


who was Postmaster-General in the last Labour Government, and a critic of the introduction of Commercial Television, here gives his personal views on the report* recently published for the Nuffield Foundation on research into the effect of TV on children



Cover of the TVTimes

From the TVTimes for 11-17 January 1959

This book, “Television and the Child,” presents the results of the first considered inquest upon the effects of television.

The section summarising the main conclusions ought to be compulsory reading for all executives dealing with television programmes. The optimist will be able to get evidence of the great potential for good that this new medium offers; the pessimist will say “I told you so.” But the picture is not half as bad as many expected, and equally is as far from good as was promised.

The book presents a very long and detailed study of the reactions of 4,000 city children to the children’s television programmes. Unfortunately, the study commenced before ITA had provided an alternative service. It is, therefore, neither full nor complete in scope, and enough time had not elapsed to see the full effect upon the minds of the children.

Despite these shortcomings, the book is a first class start upon what should be a continuing task. The programme contractors, who can now afford a social conscience, might provide the means for the authors to do a country-wide job in 1959.

One gets the impression that the BBC and, more particularly, the ITA have much to learn about children’s television. The authors have little to praise about the efforts of the BBC, while being more than critical about ITA.


Torchy and friend

Torchy the Battery Boy – one of ITV’s programmes for children


The BBC falls down badly in the report when only 2 per cent of the children actually responded to the “making and doing” programmes. The programme contractors had not at that time tried out the “making and doing” type of transmission. The authors tended to blame the producers rather than the children. Overall, the BBC had better balanced programmes, while ITA had fewer, shorter and less varied programmes.

ITA offered more of the “favourites” to the exclusion of balancing programmes. It was interesting to note that the advertisements appealed to the 10-11-year-olds but that the older and more intelligent children tended to be more critical both of the advertisements and the interruptions they cause. In this matter, they may reflect the reactions of their elders.

The battle for the audience has one deplorable effect. When one network puts over a serious programme, the other counters with a “favourite.” A sad case of the “bad” pushing out the “good.” Surely, in this field, the children should come first and other considerations take a back place.

What comes out of this study?

  1. That the BBC and the ITA should co-operate in doing a good job of children’s television and not try to steal each other’s audience.
  2. That variety and balance should be more seriously sought.
  3. That stimulating programmes rather than soporifics should be the object.
  4. That the BBC should not regard laughter as a sin and that the ITA should not regard entertainment as the sole object of life.

Television has the chance of doing a great job. It will finally be judged not by the figures in its balance sheets, not by the size of its audience, but by the social purpose that actuates it.

Programme planners and producers have a long way to go. This book can help them.


* “ Television and the Child” by H. T. Hinimehveit, A. N. Oppenheim and P. Vince. (Published for the Nuffield Foundation by the Oxford University Press, 42s).




A note on the book, issued by the Nuffield Foundation, says that it “shows how misleading some of the popular generalisations about the effects of television may be.” and goes on to quote the following statements in the report which challenge “some widely-held views.”

  • It is not true that most children become heavily addicted to television (this is the fate only of a minority; the average number of viewing hours a week is approximately 12½ hours).
  • It is not true that children view almost continuously from the time they get home until they go to bed (children view selectively and exercise a good deal of discrimination).
  • It is not true that television makes children do badly at school.
  • It is not true that in general television causes listlessness, loss of sleep, bad dreams or lack of concentration.
  • It is not true that television causes eye-strain.
  • It is not true that television makes children -more passive or aggressive.
  • It is not true that working-class children view more than middle-class children.
  • It is not true that television keeps children away from youth clubs.
  • It is not true that television stimulates much activity although it broadens interest.





The hero of this study is undoubtedly the child. He emerges as being more sensible, more resilient, and less easily warped than in this context he is generally given credit for.

It is to be hoped that the Nuffield Foundation will promote further work of this kind; for it is the only sure way of keeping prejudice and nonsense out of argument about television.

The survey’s main conclusion is that, so far as children are concerned, the jungle of TV is neutral.

The researchers found that most of the charges against TV are not true. The average viewing time is 12½ hours a week, and addicts are a minority of shy, insecure children who would have had a similar problem without TV.

The crime programmes don’t make them (the children) aggressive; TV makes no difference to their homework; in the long run it increases book reading; it hardly reduces social contacts outside the family; it does not cause conflicts in the family; it does not make them passive; it does not make them listless or lead to poor concentration at school; it does not deprive them of sleep and it does not affect eyesight. In fact, television does hardly anything at all to the kids.

“… after a year or two, the researchers found that the more intelligent children were reading just as many books as non-TV children and the less intelligent children were reading more books.

The kind of thing the survey discovered included: TV robs children, on an average, of less than 15 minutes a day which might otherwise be spent out of doors. And even here it is the vaguer outdoor pursuits, like casual wandering about, which suffer … TV displaces from the child’s activities things that were comparable, anyway; listening to the radio, or reading comics.


You Say

1 response to this article

Paul Mason 25 July 2017 at 6:08 am

As the target of this particular report in its era, I have to leave it to others to judge whether it damaged me or not. The early Dr Who episodes scared me, but not completely as I watched it into the early 1980s.
Children’s TV was rather twee and posh when I was young. Blue Peter (Val and Chris) often mentioned go to the fridge (we didn’t have one).
I must admit I was addicted to TV sometimes switching on early to watch the testcard and on Granada the “Picasso” card and the rather that heralded a generally lightweight channel.
The TV was a better teacher than those I had, All Our Yesterdays took me through World War II for example.
Like the four Yorkshire men from “At Last The 1948 Show” tell today’s kids that the TV was only on evenings generally, earlier weekends, that it was black and white, and there were only two channels they wouldn’t believe you. Anyway back to my crisp packet for another thrashing.

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