Views of a Viewer

Source: Jean Bartlett, ‘Views of a Viewer’, The Radio Times, 4 June 1937, p. 3

Text: Perhaps other televiewers may be interested to read a brief account of the reactions of one household and its friends to the first six months of television. We ought to say, first of all, that we ourselves were enthusiastic amateurs in the old days of thirty-line television, and so were very excited at the prospect of seeing a larger, steadier, and brighter picture and were duly thrilled by the inaugural programme last November. Our modest criticisms of that and all subsequent programmes are made, we hope, with the realisation that television is still experimental. Not so, some of our friends who, having seen it once, sometimes inquire sympathetically, as if it were an invalid member of our family, how it is getting on, and then fade away to the cinema. But the loss is theirs.

The most important element of the television picture is, obviously, movement. The artists may be shatteringly beautiful, the lighting perfect, the scenery just right, but without movement it completely fails. We often say that if producers remembered this fact during every second of their preparations and rehearsals, every type of programme that has so far been televised would be successful and every failure could have been a hit. Programmes in our television vernacular, are either alive or dead. So many, among the alive, have been so good that it is almost impossible to select the best, or even the best type.

Talks are by unanimous vote the weakest point. (The Zoo talks are, of course, unique and all too short). They must be quite the most difficult programmes to present, and the difficulties have so far seemed insuperable. There seems to be no good reason why every broadcast programme should be translated into television. Why struggle with the impossible?

The subject of a talk may be profoundly interesting, but close-ups studies of the speaker’s face add nothing to it. With one exception – Sir Kingsley Wood – no speaker has appeared to enjoy television from the transmitting end.

Perhaps we are unduly prejudiced against pottery and masks, but there was surely a whole year’s supply provided in a few weeks recently. One talk on pottery was so dead that we blushed in the darkness, having invited some critical friends to their first experience of television. And then suddenly the screen came to life, and we looked at a potter working at his wheel, and talking as he made, spoilt, and remade a bowl. Such things are real television, and only when a talk can be illustrated throughout its length by dynamic pictures can it justifiably be televised. The appearance of the speaker at the beginning, and again, perhaps, at the close of his talk, is all that the average viewer wants of him.

We nearly always have a full house when ballet is included in the programme, and this is not just because we move in a circle of ballet fans, but because, in spite of the smallness of the figures compared with close-ups, good dancers can convey a wonderful sense of space, and make dance one of the most satisfying television subjects. The movements of the camera inevitably tend to destroy the dancers’ movements a little, but this effect is less noticeable when the scenery follows horizontal rather than vertical lines. The scenery is sometimes too elaborate for a picture in which everything is black and white, as, for instance, in the current television production of Casse-Noisette by the Vic-Wells ballet.

When an excerpt from a current West End production is part of an evening’s programme then we always have a large, self-invited audience and a very appreciative one that would like to see this become a regularly weekly feature. Shakespeare, on the other hand, invariably falls flat, even when distinguished artists are playing the selected arts, Non-Shakespeareans are frankly bored – they cannot get the hang of the thing before it is over; and lovers of Shakespeare are irritated by brief episodes suspended in mid-air and inevitably devoid of the play’s original stagecraft, and viewed from two camera alternately at rather uninteresting angles. The charming fairy and ballet scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, however, being easy to dissociate from the rest of the play, were also delightfully easy to watch.

Cabaret and light entertainment are attracting fans of their own who are gradually forgetting the earlier weeks when every item of this type lasted six times longer than anyone could bear. The difficulty here must be, as in ordinary broadcasting and the stage, to find really good comedians and entertainers with fresh material.

One amusing little point is provided by two rather deaf neighbours of ours. At home, they sit with their ears glued to a wireless set in full blast, and never, in ordinary conversation, hear a remark at the first time of speaking. Nevertheless, when they come to see and hear a television programme they are quite content with a volume that is guaranteed not to wake the baby, and they still hear every word. The picture evidently helps their hearing, and neighbours’ wireless sets can take heart – the television age is going to be a quieter one.

I suppose the greatest thrills of of all for television enthusiasts have been those rare relays from outside the studios – the boxing match from the Alexandra Palace ring, the model aeroplane display from the Palace grounds, the archery, fire-walking, and other outside broadcasts – and, of course, as a climax to them all, the televising of the Coronation procession from Hyde Park Corner on Coronation Day, when television broke from the apron srings that tied it to the Alexandra Palace and came into its own.

Comments: Jean Bartlett was an ordinary television viewer, though at a time when there were few television viewers at all, reception in the UK being restricted to a few thousands sets mostly owned by people living in London. The BBC began a regular television service on 2 November 1936. Kingsley Wood was a Conservative MP. Scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream were broadcast on 18 February 1937 and 23 April 1937. The coronation of King George VI took place on 12 May 1937 (the broadcast showed exteriors only, not scenes inside Westminster Abbey).

One Day in the Life of Television

Source: Nicola Johnson, quoted in Sean Day-Lewis (ed.), One Day in the Life of Television (London: British Film Institute, 1989), p. 194

Text: I switch the television on when I want and I turn the television off when I want. Sometimes if me and my sister are fighting over which side we want to watch my Mam turns it off … By television I have learnt how very dangerous fireworks are. I have also learnt a few answers for some questions what I never could have known. I also learnt how to make things like cakes and pies by watching cookery programmes.

Without television I would never have thought that someone could kill another person, or that there could be a ferry disaster or a car crash that could happen to a close friend or even me. If there was no television I suppose I would be pretty bored but I suppose I could find something to do like draw or listen to the radio …

Comments: One Day in the Life of Television was a project organised by the British Film Institute which documented one day’s television broadcasting in the UK (1 November 1988) with impressions specially recorded by hundreds of television professionals and ordinary viewers. Nicola Johnson was a 12-year-old schoolgirl from Wallsend, Tyne and Wear.

Nineteen Eighty-Four

Source: George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (London: Penguin, 2003 – orig. pub. 1949), pp. 4-5, 10-11

Text:Behind Winston’s back the voice from the telescreen was still babbling away about pig iron and the overfulfillment of the Ninth Three-Year Plan. The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plate commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. but at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You have to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinised.

Winston kept his back turned to the telescreen. It was safer; though, as he well knew, even a back can be revealing. A kilometer away the Ministry of Truth, his place of work, towered vast and white above the grimy landscape. This, he thought with a sort of vague distaste – this was London, chief city of Airstrip One, itself the third most populous of the provinces of Oceania …

[Winston decides to write a secret diary]

… For some time he sat gazing stupidly at the paper. The telescreen had changed over to strident military music. It was curious that he seemed not merely to have lost the power of expressing himself, but even to have forgotten what it was that he had originally intended to say. For weeks past he had been making ready for this moment, and it had never crossed his mind that anything would be needed except courage. The actual writing would be easy. All he had to do was to transfer to paper the interminable restless monologue that had been running inside his head, literally for years. At this moment, however, even the monologue had dried up. At this moment, however, even the monologue had dried up. Moreover his varicose ulcer had begun itching unbearably. He dared not scratch it, because if he did so it always became inflamed. The seconds were ticking by. He was conscious of nothing except the blankness of the page in front of him, the itching of the skin above his ankle, the blaring of the music, and a slight booziness caused by the gin.

Suddenly he began writing in sheer panic, only imperfectly aware of what he was setting down. His small but childish handwriting straggled up and down the page, shedding first its capital letters and finally even its full stops:

April 4th, 1984. Last night to the flicks. All war films. One very good one of a ship full of refugees being bombed somewhere in the Mediterranean. Audience much amused by shots of a great huge fat man trying to swim away with a helicopter after him, first you saw him wallowing along in the water like a porpoise, then you saw him through the helicopters gunsights, then he was full of holes and the sea round him turned pink and he sank as suddenly as though the holes had let in the water, audience shouting with laughter when he sank. then you saw a lifeboat full of children with a helicopter hovering over it. there was a middle-aged woman might have been a jewess sitting up in the bow with a little boy about three years old in her arms. little boy screaming with fright and hiding his head between her breasts as if he was trying to burrow right into her and the woman putting her arms round him and comforting him although she was blue with fright herself, all the time covering him up as much as possible as if she thought her arms could keep the bullets off him. then the helicopter planted a 20 kilo bomb in among them terrific flash and the boat went all to matchwood. then there was a wonderful shot of a child’s arm going up up up right up into the air a helicopter with a camera in its nose must have followed it up and there was a lot of applause from the party seats but a woman down in the prole part of the house suddenly started kicking up a fuss and shouting they didnt oughter of showed it not in front of kids they didnt it aint right not in front of kids it aint until the police turned her turned her out i dont suppose anything happened to her nobody cares what the proles say typical prole reaction they never —

Winston stopped writing, partly because he was suffering from cramp. He did not know what had made him pour out this stream of rubbish. But the curious thing was that while he was doing so a totally different memory had clarified itself in his mind, to the point where he almost felt equal to writing it down. It was, he now realized, because of this other incident that he had suddenly decided to come home and begin the diary today.

Comments: George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Blair (1903-1950), British novelist and essayist. His dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four is set in the future but serves as a satire of the time in which is was written (1948) and life under totalitarianism. Winston Smith is the novel’s rebellious protagonist. The act of writing a diary would be punished by death or twenty-five years in a forced-labour camp. Telescreens function both as means to broadcast programmes and as surveillance devices. The lower classes are referred to as ‘proles’.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

Source: Bill Bryson, extract from The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (London: Doubleday, 2007), pp. 54-56

Text: Saturdays and Sundays were the longest days in Kid World. Sunday mornings alone could last for up to three months depending on season. In central Iowa for much of the 1950s there was no television at all on Sunday mornings, so generally you just sat with a bowl of soggy Cheerios watching a test pattern until WOI-TV spluttered to life some time between about 11.25 and noon -they were fairly relaxed about Sunday starts at WOI – with an episode of Sky King, starring the neatly kerchiefed Kirby Grant, ‘America’s favourite flying cowboy’ (also its only flying cowboy; also the only one with reversible names). Sky was a rancher by trade, but spent most of his time cruising the Arizona skies in his beloved Cessna, The Songbird, spotting cattle rustlers and other earth-bound miscreants. He was assisted in these endeavours by his dimple-cheeked, pertly buttocked niece Penny, who provided many of us with our first tingly inkling that we were indeed on the road to robust heterosexuality.

Even at six years old, and even in an age as intellectually undemanding as the 1950s, you didn’t hav to be hugely astute to see that a flying cowboy was a fairly flimsy premise for an action series. Sky could only capture villains who lingered at the edge of grassy landing strips and to whom it didn’t occur to run for it until Sky had landed, taxied to a safe halt, climbed down from the cockpit, assumed an authoritative stance and shouted: ‘OK, boys, freeze!’ – a process that took a minute or two, for Kirby Grant was not, it must be said, in the first flush of youth. In consequence, the series was cancelled after just a year, so only about twenty episodes were made, all practically identical anyway. These WOI tirelessly (and, one presumes, economically) repeated for the first dozen years of my life and probably a good deal beyond. Almost the only thing that could be said in their favour was that they were more diverting than a test pattern.

Comments: Bill Bryson (born 1951) is an American travel writer. His memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid documents his 1950s childhood in Des Moines, Iowa. Sky King began as a radio show in 1946. It was first shown as a television series in 1951. It was cancelled in 1954, but new episodes were produced when it went into syndication in 1955, continuing to 1959. There were 72 episodes in total. Penny was played by Gloria Winters.

Links: Official Sky King website

Watching War Films With My Dad

Source: Al Murray, Watching War Films With My Dad (London: Random House, 2013), pp. 12-15

Text: War films were a mainstay of British male popular culture when I was growing up in the Seventies. To some the Seventies is all about flares and disco, or Mohican haircuts and punk or, worst of all, ABBA – but to me the Seventies is war films on the telly. I was blissfully ignorant of the idea that the movies were a way of British culture processing what had happened to it during World War Two: the nine-year-old me had little sensitivity (or even an atom of it) to what my grandmother who had lost her husband and brother in the war might make of my enthusiasm for war films. Or my mum, who’d never known her father or uncle. They were made for men, about men, with men in them. That’s certainly how I saw them when I was a boy – though I know I didn’t think about it too hard, either.

[…]

I have a clear memory of being taken to see A Bridge Too Far at the cinema when I was nine. It was a really big deal – we didn’t go to the cinema much, and this was a major dad-and-lad event. I think we went to Bletchley but I could be wrong. It might have been the bright lights of Aylesbury, possibly Luton. These were the days of the B-feature, huge cinemas that you could stay in of an afternoon and watch the whole programme all the way round again. I remember seeing The Eagle Has Landed like this: we’d missed the start so stayed and caught the painfully slow first half of exposition and plotting. That was definitely in Luton. And the B-feature was a short about trains.

Now a Sunday-afternoon teatime staple, A Bridge Too Far tells the story of Operation Market Garden. Every male human of my ilk has seen this star-studded war epic, a tale of British pluck and tea, American guts and glory, immaculate German uniforms and ruthlessness, lofty failure, etc., etc. And when I say star-studded I mean star-studded: Connery, Redford, Hackman, Bogarde, Caine, Hopkins, Caan, Olivier – and loads of other people you need the first names for. And Cliff from Cheers in a cameo that irresistibly draws the eye away from Robert Redford, proving that a spud-faced bloke is better than any handsome git any day. Directed epically in an epic style by Dickie Attenborough, with an epic script by William Goldman, it tells the epic tale of the failed Operation Market Garden at a personal as well as, um, epic level. It has tons of guts, tons of glory and stars vying for screen time. It ends poignantly, asking us to ask: why? And it is, like all historical films, shot through with inaccuracies, riddled like a machine-gunned evil Nazi’s corpse. Some of them proper howlers.

And A Bridge Too Far was a big cinematic event for my father, too; living, as we did, in a village in Buckinghamshire with one bus a week. It also wasn’t dad’s thing much – he has always had a restless energy and concetration that didn’t suit the essential passivity of sitting in a cinema seat.

My Dad was an airborne sapper (engineer) officer from the 1950s through to the 1970s and the battle at Arnhem is probably the central event in British airborne culture and history. He knew many of the men who had been there – he did his National Service in the 1950s and then stayed on in the TA. So how Arnhem was represented on the big screen was a properly big deal. He also knew and still knows the battle backwards. An essential truth, how the men fought at Arnhem – bravely and against increasingly overwhelming odds – is in the film, no doubt about it. But it has to be right. Aged nine, I was a willingly thirsty sponge for all of this. But old habits die hard. When I first broached with my father that I’d be writing this book he muttered about how he’d seen War Horse the night before and how most of that was wrong. So watch a war film with me or my dad, or, worse still, me and my dad – at your peril …

Comments: Al Murray (born 1968) is a British comedian, best known for his ‘The Pub Landlord’ character. His memoir Watching Films With My Dad is predominantly about watching war films on television, and their relationship to true history. The chapter goes on to detail the historical inaccuracies in A Bridge Too Far and several other war films of its period.

Babycham Night

Source: Philip Norman, Babycham Night (London: Macmillan, 2003), pp. 148-149

Text: To help the little invalid through these long daytime hours, my mother rented a television, a Ferguson model with a seventeen-inch screen and twin frontal knobs set in a strip of gold mesh. But it was an inconstant companion. The solitary black-and-white BBC channel usually did not begin service until mid-afternoon and there were frequent shutdowns, or ‘interludes’, when they killed time with film sequences of a clay pot being thrown on a wheel, or a punt-prow gliding somnambulistically through plantations of river reeds. Unless you lived within a couple of miles of the BBC’s London transmitter, reception tended to be poor; on the Isle of Wight, it was atrocious. At regular intervals, the picture would collapse sideways into horizontal black and grey stripes, or flick downwards in individual squares like frames of film. The only person we knew who could put it right was a taxi-driver from the Esplanade rank named Mr Stiles. We’d have to wait for hours, or even days, until Mr Stiles had time to drop by, in his peaked chauffeur’s cap, and twiddle knobs until the picture stabilized again.

With the television’s arrival, I ceased to be totally bedridden and became capable of the few brave steps from my parents’ bedroom into the adjacent sitting-room, where I would lie on the big brocade Chesterfield sofa, covered with a rug. In the curtain-drawn twilight considered necessary for TV-viewing in those days, I watched all of what little was on – Test cricket, Russian ballet, the afternoon adventures of puppets like Andy Pandy, Mr Turnip and Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men. I knew every note of the long drawn-out overture played as a sound track to the test card before transmission began. Beside me in the darkness watched Mrs Kennie, knitting-needles ever in play. ‘Verra gude,’ was her invariable judgement on everything.

Comments: Philip Norman (born 1943) is a British novelist, biographer and journalist. He was brought up in Ryde, on the Isle of Wight. Babycham Night is an account of his 1950s childhood. This passage dates from the early 1950s. Andy Pandy was first broadcast in 1950; Mr Turnip was a character in Whirligig (first broadcast 1950); Bill and Ben were the lead characters in The Flower Pot Men, first broadcast 1952. Norman’s ‘illness’ was feigned.

The "Televisor"

Source: ‘The “Televisor”: Successful Test of New Apparatus’, The Times, 28 January 1926, p. 9

Text: Members of the Royal Institution and other visitors to a laboratory in an upper room in Frith-Street, Soho, on Tuesday saw a demonstration of apparatus invented by Mr. J.L. Baird, who claims to have solved the problem of television. They were shown a transmitting machine, consisting of a large wooden revolving disc containing lenses, behind which was a revolving shutter and a light sensitive cell. It was explained that by means of the shutter and lens disc an image of articles or persons standing in front of the machine could be made to pass over the light sensitive cell at high speed. The current in the cell varies in proportion to the light falling on it, and this varying current is transmitted to a receiver where it controls a light behind an optical arrangement similar to that at the sending end. By this means a point of light is caused to traverse a ground glass screen. The light is dim at the shadows and bright at the high lights, and crosses the screen so rapidly that the whole image appears simultaneously to the eye.

For the purposes of the demonstration the head of a ventriloquist’s doll was manipulated as the image to be transmitted, though the human face was also reproduced. First on a receiver in the same room as the transmitter and then on a portable receiver in another room, the visitors were shown recognizable reception of the movements of the dummy head and of a person speaking. The image as transmitted was faint and often blurred, but substantiated a claim that through the “Televisor” as Mr. Baird has named his apparatus, it is possible to transmit and reproduce instantly the details of movement, and such things as the play of expression on the face.

It has yet to be seen to what extent further developments will carry Mr. Baird’s system towards practical use. He has overcome apparently earlier failures to construct light sensitive cells which would function at the high speed demanded, and he as is now assured of financial support in his work, he will be able to improve and elaborate his apparatus. Application has been made to the Postmaster-General for an experimental broadcasting licence and trials with the system may shortly be made from a building in St. Martin’s Lane.

Comments: John Logie Baird (1888-1946) gave the first public demonstration of a working television system before members of the Royal Institution and a single news reporter, from The Times, on 26 January 1926, in his rooms at 22 Frith Street, London. (Earlier exhibitions at Selfridge’s store in March 1925 had featured silhouettes rather than ‘true’ television with graduated tones). The 3x5cm images shown were composed of just thirty vertical lines, and were shown through a viewer pointed at the edge of a spinning disc. The BBC began experimental broadcasts using Baird’s 30-line system in 1929.

One Day in the Life of Television

Source: Josephine May, quoted in Sean Day-Lewis (ed.), One Day in the Life of Television (London: British Film Institute, 1989), pp. 133-134

Text: Madge Mitchell minces Mrs Mangel, or was it the other way round? All I know is that with 16 million others I am hooked on Neighbours. I even say ‘G’day’, and expression like ‘What a wombat’ have crept into my vocabulary … Voices floated back to me this morning in the street from two fashionably jean-clad teenagers: ‘Are they going to get engaged, Jane and Mike?’ At church on Sunday the sermon was all about neighbourliness. The priest had no trouble illustrating his theme from the serial. As a French teacher, I use it too. Exercises on the future tense are a doddle when the question is: ‘What will Mrs Mangel do next?’

Everyone watches, young and old alike. Everyone is portrayed. Nellie Mangel invited Harold to the church dance today and neither could be considered spring chooks. Young Lucy loses her mice and Helen gives Scott advice on budgeting. Daphne, expecting a baby, is not too well as she manages the coffee shop. Willingly or not, happily or not, these people are part of a community which makes up its differences and where no one is lonely …

Comments: One Day in the Life of Television was a project organised by the British Film Institute which documented one day’s television broadcasting in the UK (1 November 1988) with impressions specially recorded by hundreds of television professionals and ordinary viewers. Josephine May was a teacher from Henley-on-Thames. The Australian soap opera Neighbours was first broadcast in that country in 1985 on the Seven Network and in the UK on the BBC in 1986.

Hee-Hee for Tee-Vee

Source: Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle, ‘Hee-Hee for Tee-Vee’ in Whizz for Atomms (London: Max Parrish, 1956), reproduced in Willans and Searle, Molesworth (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1999), pp. 277-281

Text: Gosh super! we hav something to contend with which no other generation have ever had before i.e. the television cheers cheers cheers. Everybody know wot a t.v. is it is a square box with a screen. You switch on and o hapen, then just when you have given up hope and are going off to buzz conkers a great booming voice sa, ‘That’s an interesting point, postelthwaite. Wot does higginbottom feel? Higginbottom? ect. ect.’ It may be an interesting point but i could not care less and just go away agane when a ghastley face suddenly appere. It is worse than a squished tomato but it hold me in hypnotic trance and it is the same with molesworth 2, tho he always look dopey like that. We sit and watch more and more ghastley faces with out mouths open and even forget to chew the buble gum we are the slaves of the machine.

Of course all boys and gurls have to go through a time when there is no t.v. xcept at the postman’s down the road. Yore mater and pater then sa weedy things.

i will not hav one in the house.
the programmes are simply terible, my dear.
it is bad for children.
it destroy the simple pursuits of leisure.

Hem-hem if they only knew what the simple pursuits of leisure were like potting stones at vilage oiks or teaching parot rude words they would not hesitate for a moment. Anyway they get one in the end and sa ‘Children can only look for 1 hour at suitable programmes’ then they forget all about it until we are halfway through ‘1984’ and molesworth 2 sa ‘if that is the best a rat can do i do not think much of it.’ ‘The rat,’ i sa, ‘is exactly like thou, o clot-faced wet.’ Then mater become aware of our presence and hury the dreamy-eyed little felows up wood hill to blanket fair, as dear nana sa.

When you setle down to it this is wot hapens in your dulce domun (lat.)

Scene: A darkened room with glowing fire. Mum, Nana, me and molesworth 2 are goggling at the screen. So are the cats, dogs, rats, mice and various bugs about the place.

T.V. Are you a clump-press minder? (Grate cheers)
MATER: I thort he was an aero-dynamicist or a moulding-clamp turner……I really think……
ALL: Sshh

(Enter pater, third from the office.)

PATER: Are you looking at that friteful thing agane? Programmes are terible. Nothing to look at.

(With a roar and a ratle he put coal on the fire).

ALL: Sshh!

(Pater setle down. molesworth 2 aim his gat at very fat gentleman in specs. It is the same gun with which he shot mufin the mule, mcdonald hobley, a ping-pong champion, three midgets, a great-crested grebe, a persian student and lady Boyle and a budgerigar.)

MOLESWORTH 2: Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah. Got you.

ALL: Shh!

MATER: Do you not think it would be better if their heads were not three feet away from their shoulders?

(Pater go and twiddle knobs. First of all there is a snowstorm then what seems like the batle of jutland, then an electronic bombardment. Finaly a vast explosion.)

MATER: You have ruined it, clot.
NANA: Boost the contrast.
MOLESWORTH 2: Adjust the definition.
ME: Oh gosh, hurry up.

(Now picture is upside down, then leaning drunkenly, then it disappear altogether amid boos and catcalls. Finaly Nana do it.)

T.V. Are you connected with seaweed? (Huge cheer)
MATER: look at tibby the cat he canot stand Gilbert Harding…..
ALL: Sssh.
PATER: He’s a guggle-gouger…..

(And so it go on. Supper is not cooked, fires go out, kettles boil their heads off, slates fall off the roof and house burn down, but we are all still looking at a nature film in w. africa chiz in fact we have seen more monkeys since we got the t.v. than ever before xcept at st. custard’s where peason have the face of a wild baboon.)

Aktually t.v. is v. cultural for boys and improving to the mind. You learn so many things than when you go back to skool all are quite surprised.

MOLESWORTH 1: To the q. whether the hydrogen bomb should be banned i give a categorical ‘no’. unless there can be international agreement to co-exist in disarmament.
MOLESWORTH 2: That is a valid point, o weedy wet. Do you kno the population of chile?
MOLESWORTH 1: No. But everyone should look both ways before crossing the road and wot can be more dramatic than man’s fight against the locust, eh?
MOLESWORTH 2: The problem of asia is the problem of over-population and now i will pla brahms etude number 765000 in F flat….

You kno wot this mean he is going to zoom to the piano and pla fairy bells nothing can stop him …

Comments: Geoffrey Willans (1911-1958) was a British schoolmaster and comic writer and Ronald Searle (1920-2011) was a British illustrator. Together they created the comic character of Nigel Molesworth, a pupil at dilapidated boys’ school St Custard’s, whose distinctively mispelt exploits were first documented in Punch magazine (from 1939) and then in four books. ‘Hee-Hee for Tee-Vee’ is the title of a chapter in the third book, Whizz for Atomms. Searle also created the rebellious girls school St Trinian’s. The BBC television production of George Orwell’s 1984 was first broadcast on 12 December 1954 and aroused much controversy for its ‘horrific’ scenes. The quiz show parodied here is What’s My Line, first broadcast by the BBC in 1951 and based on an American original. Gilbert Harding was a regular panellist on the show. Dramatic picture interference was a common experience for television audiences in the 1950s.

Ancient Mysteries Described

Source: William Hone, Ancient Mysteries Described, Especially the English Miracle Plays, Founded on Apocryphal New Testament Story, Extant Among the Unpublished Manuscripts in the British Museum etc. (London: William Hone, 1823), pp. 230-231

Text: The English puppet-show was formerly called a motion. Shakspeare [sic] mentions the performance of Mysteries by puppets; his Autolycus frequented wakes, fairs, and bear-baitings, and ‘compassed a motion of the Prodigal Son’ On a Twelfth night, in 1818, a man, making the usual Christmas cry, of ‘Gallantee show,’ was called in to exhibit his performances for the amusement of my young folks and their companions. Most unexpectedly, he ‘compassed a motion of the Prodigal Son‘ by dancing his transparencies between the magnifying glass and candle of a magic lanthorn, the coloured figures greatly enlarged, were reflected on a sheet spread against the wall of a darkened room. The prodigal son was represented carousing with his companions at the Swan Inn, at Stratford; while the landlady in the bar, on every fresh call, was seen to score double. There was also Noah’s Ark, with ‘Pull Devil, Pull Baker,’ or the just judgment upon a baker who sold bread short of weight, and was carried to hell in his own basket. The reader will bear in mind, that this was not a motion in the dramatic sense of the word, but a puppet-like exhibition of a Mystery, with discrepancies of the same character as those which peculiarized the Mysteries of five centuries ago. The Gallantee-showman narrated with astonishing gravity the incidents of every fresh scene, while his companion in the room played country-dances and other tunes on the street organ, during the whole of the performance. The manager informed me that his show had been the same during many years, and, in truth, it was unvariable; for his entire property consisted of but this one set of glasses, and his magic lanthorn. I failed in an endeavour to make him comprehend that its propriety could be doubted of: it was the first time that he had heard of the possibility of objection to an entertainment which his audiences witnessed every night with uncommon and unbounded applause. Expressing a hope that I would command his company at a future time, he put his card into my hand, inscribed, ‘The Royal Gallantee Show, provided by Jos. Leverge, 7, Ely Court, Holborn Hill:’ the very spot whereon the last theatrical representation of a Mystery, the play of Christ’s Passion, is recorded to have been witnessed in England.

Comments: William Hone (1780-1842) was a British satirist, bookseller and campaigner against censorship. A Galantee show was one provided by a travelling entertainer of the first half of the nineteenth century, whose entertainments could include magic lanterns, puppets, shadows shows etc. Autolycus is a character in William Shakespeare’s play The Winter’s Tale. Hone’s book Ancient Mysteries Described traces the history of the English miracle and mystery plays, and here finds traces of their survival in the magic lantern show performed for a child audience.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive