Focus on the future 

7 November 2022


TV Mirror Annual 1956 cover

From the TV Mirror Annual 1956

Eight years ago I invited an actor friend to my house to see a television play. He had seen very little of TV, and never a play. I expected him to be impressed by this wonderful new “acting medium.”

He watched it for a few moments, then said scornfully: “They look as though they’re acting in a cupboard.”

Not for him the wonder of TV; the marvel of sitting in my drawing room and seeing people miles away. He regarded that play production as a crude thing, acted in cramped conditions against backgrounds that were only just discernible.

“The whole art of acting,” he said, “is to be able to use the stage — move about, keep the thing fluid and alive. These people are afraid to move more than a few inches in case they’re lost to sight or go out of focus!”

He was right, of course. Mere scientific marvels are not enough for nightly entertainment.

Nowadays we have to make few allowances. The drama studio gives us big areas of acting, highly detailed long shots and punchy close-ups. The whole of television has taken great strides along the road to perfection, not only in technicalities but general presentation. The reception end has kept pace, too.

But as we close our TV MIRROR ANNUAL, let’s take a look around at things as they are, and see where there is still room for improvement, not only in technicalities but in programme presentation and reception in the home.

The top of a TV transmitter

Symbol of the television age… the 750-foot mast of the BBC Sutton Coldfield transmitter which radiates the programme over a wide area of the Midlands

I give top priority to interference, particularly from motor traffic. Legislation to put an end to “snowstorms” on the screen has at last been introduced. It must be extended to include motorists, and those who continue to offend must be given a lesson in a little thing called public spirit. The silencer became compulsory to prevent the mass roar of car engines from making life hideous with noise; the suppressor will prevent one motorist from making a nuisance of himself to thousands of viewers.

In fairness, too, it will have to be compulsory for television sets to be cleared of all suspicion of causing interference with radio reception. Many of them are guilty, emitting a high-pitched whistling noise.

Picture quality must be made more consistent. This will be the responsibility of the programme services as well as the set manufacturers. The sudden change from brilliance to smudginess — particularly noticeable in the televising of films — must be overcome.

Television sound will have to be improved so that it is constant and clear at all times. Very often the picture quality emphasises the poorness of the sound — as, for example, when we have a brilliant close-up of a singer, accompanied by semi-distant or muffled sound. The quality of speech recording in BBC newsreels seems to have deteriorated since the introduction of magnetic film, and the technicians must find out why.

Getting away from technicalities, what of the programme material itself? Where are the weak links?

I hope and believe that there will be a radical change in the technique of the interview which often, in the present state of affairs, is false and forced, lacking in reality and sometimes downright embarrassing.

Television will have to outgrow the idea that any famous personality in any sphere of life is good interview material. The famous footballer may be grand on the field but a flop in the studio; the best of authors at a loss for words; the politician a bore; the military man stiff and pompous; the top-rank comedian completely unfunny.

If a subject to be interviewed is so bad that all the facts have to come from the interviewer (“Let’s see, that was in 1934, wasn’t it?” “Yes, in 1934”) then the item is a dead loss.

In every case, too, the question should be asked: “Does this person need to be interviewed, or are they capable of speaking for themselves?” There have been cases where the subject was so much at home and the story flowing so freely that the interviewer had to interrupt in order to justify his presence there.

The supposedly spontaneous interview which is obviously prearranged must be banned as an insult to the viewer, who really cannot be expected to swallow, for example, the artifice of a singer who is “persuaded” to sing, and chooses a song, the band parts of which are at that moment set up in readiness on the music stands.

Cheerfulness without gush, questions that really do demand answers — what more do we need?


Two women share a sofa

TV MIRROR once summed up Jeanne Heal in the phrase “She gave television a heart.” Here 75-year-old Miss Beatrice Sexton is demonstrating to Jeanne Heal how she reads Braille


There was a time when the announcers were regarded as an important part of any television session. Then, at intervals, the BBC said that it was dispensing with them — at least “in vision.” But they continued.

The programme companies of the ITA do not think that they are necessary for introducing every item. Time is money on commercial TV and if a programme can announce itself with a title — as it obviously does — then why have an announcer doubling the job? That is the argument.

But so far as BBC programmes are concerned many viewers resent the idea of McDonald Hobley, Sylvia Peters, Mary Malcolm, and the others, becoming mere voices. It seems to be the negation of all that television stands for and a flashback to the days of “steam” radio when it was impossible to show them in vision anyway.

Another big query regarding the future of TV — how Americanised will our programmes become? The ITA has undertaken to limit its imports of American programmes, and the BBC is likely to continuing Anglicising any ideas it does take from the other side of the Atlantic.


A man, standing, talks to a man sitting down

Huw Wheldon is in the front rank of TV interviewers, avoiding the artificiality which mars many a programme. Nowadays his chief activity is producing, and here he is making final arrangements before the screening of “Harding Finds Out”


But what do we really mean by Americanisation? Very largely it means the emotional level to which programmes will be allowed to develop. Americans are, first and foremost, emotional people who, unlike the British, believe that emotions are for public display. And “public display” nowadays means television. Joy, grief, embarrassment, they are all regarded as good camera material.

Will that eventually become the British view Our reserve, our “stiff upper lip,” the boast that “we can take it” — are they likely to become old-fashioned?


A woman sits at a piano

The announcers have been amongst the most popular television personalities for many years. Sylvia Peters, photographed here at home, has been with the BBC since 1947


What of the grisly element which has crept into American TV, which reached its peak a short while ago when a lung operation on a man was televised over public network?

Was it medical interest or sheer sensationalism which prompted the programme? At present the British answer is “sensationalism” and I venture to hope that it will always be so. Those responsible for our programmes must hold back from that slippery slope where every baring of emotions, every sensational feature, has to be capped by even greater emotion and sensationalism.

A group of people, looking shocked and disgusted, watch a television

WHAT ARE THEY WATCHING? Answer: An American television programme, over public network, of a lung operation on their father. British TV is coming under American influence. How far will it go?

The little couplet on our title page says that television “shows man to man, and values false and true.” May it never confuse the two.

Meanwhile, TV moves forward at a pace which is sometimes breathless. It will achieve greatness and sometimes blunder; it will please and offend — on the theory that amongst millions of viewers there are bound to be some who find cause for objection.

We shall all be critical. But we must not forget that the answer is often to be found in the switch.


Four men in suits and a woman

The sound side of TV still has its weaknesses, due to the fact that the microphone often cannot get close enough without appearing “in vision.” But often now a compromise is reached by using midget mikes, as in this action picture of the Stargazers


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