Tonight’s ABC Midlands… in 1965 

7 March 2018

The Midlands listing magazine TVWorld gives us a run down of what’s on ABC on Sunday 7 March 1965. Things worth noting include:

ABC, your ace in the hand

ABC, your ace in the hand

ITV in the 1960s has, rightly, got a reputation as a drama and light entertainment powerhouse. However, that has led to people thinking of ITV as lightweight, fluffy and throwaway. This morning’s schedule proves that wrong, with a series of very heavy ‘Sunday Session’ adult education programmes.

When ‘Sunday Session’ was established in 1963, it had been aimed at a more remedial audience, featuring programmes on how to write a letter, how to balance your chequebook and how to do simple home repairs. Within a year, the horizons had expanded from bringing adults with limited schooling up to speed into what we see here: serious A-Level and even degree-level lectures and discussions on psychology and the constitution, plus the opportunity to learn French for your next long weekend in Calais.

The modern ‘pop’ psychology that runs in every newspaper and magazine these days hadn’t really caught on in Europe at this point, so Psychology for Everyman at 9.50am would’ve been remarkably heavy and clinically detailed by today’s standards.

Power in Britain at 10.15am is likely a response to complaints made by the then-opposition Labour party in 1962/3 that ‘civics’ – what modern schooling calls ‘citizenship’ – wasn’t being taught to children and they were being left ignorant of how the levers of power worked – the dark hint being that the Establishment didn’t want young working class people to know how to govern as they might try to do so in future. This programme aims to bring the adults who had not been taught such things in their time at school up to date.

10.40am sees Mesdames, Messieurs… whose title was not the only thing in French – the end credits followed the precedent set by Associated-Rediffusion’s French-teaching schools programmes by remaining in the subject language, thus crediting the director as being the rédacteur.

Auto-mechanics at 1.40pm isn’t counted as a ‘Sunday Session’ programme, although it does count as adult education. The general interest in the subject – especially amongst men, the target audience for ABC on Sunday afternoons until 5pm, since women will be cooking and washing up – puts it after the lunchtime closedown.

Note that all four programmes are produced by ABC and ATV London, both of which (and especially the latter) have an undeserved reputation for having a lighter touch than this.

None of the ‘Sunday Session’ programmes have advert breaks and none have advertising between them. The money to make them – and to make a profit on them – was found by the time counting towards the maximum advertising allowance for the day, and that time being parleyed into the lucrative peak period.

Isobel Allen is the associate producer of Power in Britain; Dilys Howell directs a script by Vivian Rowe with advice by Mary Glasgow for Mesdames, Messieurs…, while Marjory Ruse directs Auto-mechanics. Adult education (and schools) programmes were seedbeds for females working their way up a male-dominated industry, and many of the names seen at the foot of such programmes in the 1960s would be in primetime or in film by the late 1970s.

Until after 3pm, there’s nothing of interest for children on ABC, or indeed on any ITV channel or even the BBC. When the first deregulation of broadcasting – the removal of the ‘Toddler’s Truce’ and allowing religious programmes to fill the ‘closed period’ on Sunday evenings – was proposed by the Postmaster General, he specifically made it a rule that Sunday daytime programmes must never appeal directly to children, who must not be distracted from going off to Sunday school at their local church.

The Postmaster General, the Independent Television Authority and the BBC all lived in fear of upsetting church authorities – particularly the established Church of England. The power of the church at this time and its influence in every day life should not be underestimated.

‘Chinese Farmer’ – the theme to ABC Farming Comment

In 1958, ABC had started a rural affairs programme called The Other Man’s Farm, which had proved expensive to make but very popular with a general audience in the cities. The interest was maintained by ABC with a cheaper magazine-style show, Farming Comment, at 2pm, presented by Stuart Seaton of the National Farmers Union. Here it is shortened to just 5 minutes because of the sports coverage – it usually ran for 15 minutes each Sunday.

Outside of World of Sport and its predecessors on Saturdays, sport on ITV was generally regionalised, showing local fixtures and local-interest sports. Today it’s interesting to see a Lancashire team playing a Border Television team at the northern game of rugby league being shown on ABC in the Midlands – you really would expect ABC Midlands to diverge and show a rugby union game instead, as this is one of the few areas where ABC North and ABC Midlands carried different programming to one another.

ATV’s documentary production arm, ‘Pathfinder’

The 2.30 to 3pm slot (here bumped forward 15 minutes by the rugby) was always given over to something highbrow. When ABC controlled it, their arts series Tempo was here. When ATV was running it, they put on half-hour documentary features – this week, we’re looking at the social and political life of Tanzania.

When the ‘Godslot’ (officially the ‘closed period’) on Sunday evenings was established in the late 1950s – previously television had closed down for 70 minutes to allow people to nip off for Evensong – the programmes that filled the gap were very sermon, hymns and church-affairs led, presented by marginally telegenic vicars and canons and dry as dust. ITV immediately moved to break this down into something that would also attract general viewers, starting with ABC’s The Sunday Break, a television youth club. As the 1960s passed, the programmes moved away from straight religious lectures into discussions of morals and dilemmas – ATV giving us a discussion on values at 6.35pm and ABC talking religion and war at 7.10pm, and by the 1970s the slot was only vaguely one of religion, often featuring secular variety and singing under a very broad heading of ‘morally improving’.

1955’s Land of the Pharaohs at 7.25pm was a flop at the time, despite featuring a young Joan Collins and Jack Hawkins, who was sponsored by the Forestry Commission. It has since gone on to be considered a ‘cult classic’, thanks to a spirited defence by Martin Scorsese. Don’t let that make you consider watching it.

The Palladium show, an ATV Production by arrangement with Bernard Delfont

Val Parnell had been ousted from the board of ATV by Lew Grade in 1962. His last association with the company was Sunday Night at the London Palladium at 9pm, which here still has his name above the title and him credited as Executive Producer. Within a year he would retire completely and a year after that Lew would cancel the series – a mistake, as he admitted, if only because it ceded this valuable slot to the incoming London Weekend.

ABC Armchair Theatre at 10.05pm (the ‘ABC’ part was mysteriously missing outside of TVWorld and the Northern edition of the TVTimes) continues to push boundaries, this time by using comic actor Ronnie Barker as the lead in a specially written Edna O’Brien serious play. If this worked or not, we’ll probably never know – the episode, along with five others from 1965, is missing from the archives.

We finish the day with The Eamonn Andrews Show, “live from London” – which in this case means “live from Teddington” – followed by the weather and the Epilogue from the ABC/ATV joint studios, Alpha.

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4 responses to this article

Alan Keeling 7 March 2018 at 3:35 pm

Following the afternoon feature film, there’s No Time for Sergeants (1964/65), a Warner Brothers Television USAF sitcom starring Sammy Jackson as ‘hillbilly’ private Will Stockdale who gets into various escapades on the airbase. “A Hatful of Muscles” is episode 22 of 34.

Alan Keeling 7 March 2018 at 3:42 pm

Following Candid Camera is The Forest Rangers (1963/65), a 3 season juvenile adventure series made at Toronto International studios in Canada, an ITC/ASP production in association with CBC. This is a repeat of episode 5 from season 1 and also the first Canadian TV series shot in colour. A regular character in the series is Indian Shing Wauk, played by former British actor, Eric Clavering.

Alan Keeling 7 March 2018 at 8:26 pm

Following the ITN News, its Armchair Theatre and now in its ninth season, “The Keys of the Cafe has Ronnie Barker in a leading role, some six or so years before The Two Ronnie begins its lengthy run.

Arthur Nibble 8 March 2018 at 1:38 pm

I somehow reckon you couldn’t get away with the love forecast for Scorpio in a horoscope these days.

The rugby league championship appears to have been a three-county tournament which also included Yorkshire.

Judging from previous Sunday schedules, David Kossoff appeared to be the go-to guy for religious programmes.

Regarding the Palladium show, Palermo and Phillips were jugglers, and “Our Man Crichton” was based on “The Admirable Crichton”, a play by J.M. Barrie which isn’t as well known as another of his works, “Peter Pan”.

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