New British TV: Show business is booming 

22 September 2017

Television viewers will be wooed with soft sales talk

From The Australian Women’s Weekly dated 28 September 1955

A year ago millions of Britons were somewhat appalled by the approach of commercial television. Retired admirals and junior clerks were writing to the papers condemning the idea as an invasion of their cherished privacy.

Since then they have begun dramatically to change their minds. It has been fun to watch the spec tacle of thousands of people climbing down out of their towers and venturing a closer peep at this monster which is going to bring salesmanship right into their parlors.

For along with the salesmanship, which may, after all, be painless, they also see the prospect of brighter viewing and the luxury of being able to switch to an alternative programme offering some of the greatest entertainers in show business.

The British are already addicts of television. This year, for the first time, the number of people watching television has reached and passed the number who listen to sound radio.

Commercial television in Britain becomes a reality this week, beginning with banqueting and ceremony at London’s Guildhall.

The new visual fare it offers in competition with the B.B.C.’s single television programme is highly various and rich in promise. Already lined up to appear on British screens are Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Roy Rogers, Gracie Fields, Orson Welles, Sir Ralph Richardson, Margaret Leighton, Robert Mitchum, Johnnie Ray, Richard Greene, Claudette Colbert, Robert Cummings, Norman Wisdom, Australia’s Shirley Abicair, the Crazy Gang, some of the biggest names in sport, and a host of national radio and television personalities who have already found fame on the B.B.C.

Many household favorites have been lured across to the commercial television studios by bigger and fatter contracts. It has brought a boom to British show business.

New plans of the commercial TV producers cater strongly for the housewife. For the first time, there will be morning television. It will provide a visual magazine starting with a daily serial, “Sixpenny Corner,” featuring dainty blonde film star Patricia Dainton and Howard Pays as young newlyweds starting out in life by running a garage.

The serial will be launched with their wedding and showers of confetti and an air of gaiety which is the general keynote of the new-form television.

Big stars like Elizabeth Allen will guide the housewife under the eye of the TV cameras on shopping expeditions to the famous London stores.

Television will invade the homes of the great, where they will be hosting visiting personalities, and giving news of the latest labor-saving devices.

There are question-and-answer programmes, home hints, “do-it-yourself” features, demonstration cooking session by experts, and a wise and charming columnist in hold the hands of those in trouble, mourn with those in difficulty, and suggest a way out by having the problem acted on the screen — complete with the solution.

GRACIE FIELDS AND JOHNNIE RAY relax in the sun at Gracie’s home on the island of Capri. Both singers are among a big group of stars lined up to appear on commercial television in Britain when it is introduced this week. Commercial TV has brough a boom to British show business. Programme companies will limit the import of American shows.

The TV screens will remain blank on Sunday mornings, so that they will not compete with churchgoing. But this is only a lull before all that promises to be best in the week breaks loose on Sunday night.

An example of a Sunday night programme:

8 p.m.: Sunday Night At the Palladium. An hour of “live” variety from the stage of the famous Palladium, with a great international star topping the bill. Already lined up as quests are Grade Fields, Bob Hope, Guy Mitchell, and Johnnie Ray.

9 p.m.: Theatre Royal. A hand-picked play, starring leading British and American players.

10 p.m.: I Love Lucy. The celebrated Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz husband-and-wife comedy show, which for five successive years has topped the American TV poll.

And then, after the late-night news, another great celebrity will have a solo spot before the cameras.

To soothe English fears that the new TV would mean an American invasion of their screens, the programme companies have agreed to limit American-imported shows to a quarter of the space in the weeks shows,

Only top American TV successes have been signed — “I Love Lucy,” Jack Webb’s famous“Dragnet” serial,“Hopatong Cassidy,” the renowned Ed Morrow interview series, “Person to Person,” the American evangelist Billy Graham, and the pianist Liberace.

Entertainment will be fairly evenly divided between film and “live” shows, and the programme companies are pouring in vast sums of money to corral the best talent and ensure slick production.

TV COOKERY EXPERT Mrs. Dione Lucas prepares the “mushrooms” for a coffee-meringue mushroom-cake. On commercial television she will demonstrate classic dishes.

Tonic effect

The mid-week programmes sparkle with serials (“The Scarlet Pimpernel,” “Dragnet,” ‘‘Robin Hood”) and great names as the hosts on musical shows (Sir John Barbirolli, Ted Heath, Jack Hylton, quiz programmes, interview series, record programmes, sports events.

Even the new’s programmes have enlisted celebrities as their commentators. Chris Chataway, the famous British runner, has left his job as a transport executive with a brewery company to become a newscaster.

There will be at least four plays a week — with no “repeats” except by public demand.

Already the tonic effect of the coming invasion has been felt. The august B.B.C. has stirred from its complacency. Until now televiewers have had no alternative but to take whatever the B.B.C. decided to give them in its single programme — and the Corporation has been busy spring-cleaning some of its fustier departments to meet the competition of the new shows.

Announcers are now allowed to have a personality, and to talk in a more homely, personal way into the camera.

They’ve taken the starchiness out of newsreels, let in colorful phrases and taboo subjects like Group-Captain Peter Townsend, who was this week shown riding 13th in a race at Deauville for no other reason than that the B.B.C. now acknowledges his reported link with Princess Margaret as news.

In sport, British commercial television really aims to shine. Ken Johnstone, head of sport for Associated Rediffusion, one of the big programme companies, says: “We shall cover the field of sport from polo to ping-pong.”

ZOOLOGIST George Cansdale introduces his pet bush-baby, Polly, to Sheila McCormack. Animals are established favorites as TV personalities, and Cansdale, who runs an animal programme, has now moved with his menagerie across to commercial television.

Sports cover

His company has secured exclusive rights to televise from four of England’s biggest racecourses. They will cover also the National Hunt.

Leading racing-driver Stirling Moss will help commentate their coverage of motor racing.

The same company, in collaboration with Britain’s biggest boxing promoter, Jack Solomons, has arranged to televise leading amateur fights and some professional bouts. However, the big title fights will remain off the screen.

Now the companies are battling for exclusive television rights to Wimbledon tennis and the Australian Test cricket tour in 1956. And there are plans to cover athletics, soccer, water-polo, Rugby, golf, wrestling, and show-jumping.

ABOVE: Comedian Bob Hope is one of many American stars who will appear as a guest in a variety show to be televised from the stage of London’s world-famous Palladium.

British-style commercial television will be unlike the American brand, which seems to give the average Englishman the horrors. Only six minutes of sales talk will be allowed for every hour. These plugs will not be allowed to break into programmes, nor have any connection with them.

In England a sponsor will not be able to pick his own programme. He will just buy advertising “space.”

Even the style of the “commercials” themselves will be different, and designed to woo without offending. Many big advertisers of domestic products have decided to choose ordinary housewives to “sell” their products on the screen.

“We can’t tell an Englishman what to have for breakfast,” said one of the advertisers. “That only makes him furious. We have to sneak up on him unawares.

“Instead of bashing at viewers with song-slogans and fist-shaking salesmen, the idea is more to have an ordinary, homely woman talking naturally, sincerely, telling what a rough day she’s had, and then heaving a sigh of relief that she relax about washing her things. So-and-So’s soap powder makes things SO EASY.”

TELEVISION and radio cookery experts John and Phyllis Cradock have had this “dream” kitchen installed in their own home. It is their idea of the ideal kitchen.

Radio shops are now working overtime on orders to convert existing sets to multichannel television. The first commercial broadcasts open in London, but are expected to spread to transmitters in the Midlands next spring, and then to the north in the autumn of next year.

Sir Robert Fraser, Director-General of the new Independent Television Authority (he calls the new TV “independent” television, hates the word “commercial”), forecasts that the sale of TV sets in Britain will treble.

Already there are 4½ million receivers. He envisages also at least 40 transmitters covering the whole British Isles with “independent” television.

“TV is the greatest civilising force of all.” said Sir Robert. “Even if some programmes prove bad, so long as it’s not actually wicked it is a great force.”

With thanks to the National Library of Australia.

You Say

3 responses to this article

Joanne Gray 22 September 2017 at 11:53 am

Does anyone else think that the photo of cook Dione Lucas looks more like Nicholas Parsons in drag?

David Heathcote 22 September 2017 at 1:52 pm

Wikipedia > “Television broadcasting in Australia began officially on 16 September 1956, with the opening of TCN-9, quickly followed by national and commercial stations in Sydney and Melbourne, all these being in 625-line black and white.”

With the above in mind, I’m surprised that Australians were that interested in what was happening to television in the UK. But maybe the article was there to whet Aussie women’s appetite for telly.

625 lines from the outset, eh? That’s impressive.

Horace Linden 23 September 2017 at 1:10 am

“625 lines from the outset, eh? That’s impressive.”

According to the Vintage Radio Web Forum, the first 625 line television (CCIR system D) service was operational in the Russian Federation in 1948, followed by the Federal Republic of Germany in 1950 (CCIR system B). Both systems were effectively 50 Hz modifications of the US 525 line 60 Hz system which had been introduced into Europe by the US Army.

The government of post war UK (and also in Republic of Ireland) decided to continue with the outdated (even by post war standards) pre-war 405 line system and a 625 line service did not start until 1964 (sixteen years after the Russian Federations and the adoption of some variation by the rest of Europe apart from France with 819 lines).

So the Australians were adopting a variation of a system (625 lines) which had been well established by 1956 and was not at all remarkable or surprising.

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