The German Spy

Source: Anon. [Thomas Lediard?], The German Spy: or, Familiar letters from a gentleman on his travels thro’ Germany, to his friend in England (London: T. Cooper, 1738), pp. 312-318

Text: Letter XXXIV. Hamburg.

SIR,

I was just going to make my Observations on some other Pieces of Painting in my Friend’s Hall, when he told me, we might take another Opportunity for that; but for the present, he would shew me, for the Amusement of an Hour or two, the wonderful Operation of a curious Laterna Magica, the Invention of a very great Artist, and an extraordinary Improvement of that pretty Machine we generally call by that Name. He led me to his Attick Story, into a Gallery over his Library, which I found was set a-part, and prepar’d for that Purpose. It was entirely darkned, excepting two Candles on one Side, near which two Elbow-Chairs were placed, in which we were no sooner seated, than the Candles went out, as if it were of themselves. Immediately, upon a Signal given, a Curtain, at the End of the Gallery, was drawn up, and discover’d the most beautiful Firmament I had ever seen. On one Side, the Sky appear’d diversified with that Variety of beautiful Colors, which we see at the Setting of the Sun, after a fine Day; and, soon after, the Moon, rising in a clear Horizon, and the Stars appearing, bright and twinkling, as on a frosty Night, discover’d new Beauties on the other Side. I had not diverted myself with this beautiful Prospect above two Minutes, before there suddenly appear’d, on the Middle of the Stage, a fine transparent Globe, partly green, and partly blue, which, being in continual Motion round its own Axis, I soon discover’d was design’d to represent the Planet we live on. I observ’d round the Globe a motly colour’d transparent Æther, in which I perceiv’d seven Figures hovering, near the Surface of the Earth, so small, that, with the naked Eye, I could not make any Distinction between them: But upon making Use of a Perspective I had in my Pocket, I perceived that one, which seemed superior to all the rest, was the Figure I had frequently seen painted to represent the Goddess of Riches. I was preparing to take a more exact View of the Figures, with the Help of my Glass, when my Friend told me, I need not give myself that Trouble, I should soon see them distinct and separate.

He, thereupon, gave a Signal, and the Curtain fell; but it soon rose again, and discover’d the Goddess of Riches alone, as big as Life. One Part of the Stage represented a noble Palace, and the other a beautiful Garden, with pleasant Walks, fine Statues and Fountains. The Goddess herself sat in the Middle of the Garden, on a triumphal Char, cover’d with Purple, richly embroider’d. She was clad in a Vestment of Cloth of Gold, with a Mantle of Silver Moor, embellish’d with precious Stones. In one Hand, she held a rich Jewel, and a costly String of Pearls, and in the other, a large Bag of Gold Coin. Round about her were several open Chests of Money, and great Heaps of Gold and Silver Plate. The Horses of her Char, which were led by a Figure representing Subtlety, were adorn’d with Trappings, cover’d over with Masks, which seem’d to be so many Tokens of Deceit, Usury in the Figure of a Moor, having Bags of Mony in both Hands; Lust, almost naked; Treachery, with two Faces, and Fire in both Hands, were her Retinue; and in the Char sat forwards a little Person, in costly Apparel, but of a bold arrogant Aspect.

While I was viewing this little Figure more narrowly, the Scene chang’d, and discover’d the same Figure, as large as Life. She held a Looking-glass in her Hand, was adorn’d with Peacocks Feathers, and a Mantle embroider’d with Pearls and Rubies; which, together with her haughty Looks and Carriage, plainly discover’d her to be Image of Pride. The Stage represented a noble Square, in which were several Obelisks, triumphal Arches, Pyramids, and the like costly Vanities. The Goddess herself was seated on a Char, in the Form of a Throne, the Canopy of which was supported by a Golden Peacock. One of the Horses, which drew this Char, was decked with Trappings full of Eyes, as an Emblem of Curiosity, and the other was a lively Representation of Stubborness. They were led by the Figure of Scorn, and follow’d by three others, which to me seem’d to be the Images of Slander, Self-Conceit, and Disobedience.

I had hardly taken a distinct View of these Things, before there was again a sudden Change of the Scene; and, instead of those Beauties which had before offer’d to my View, appear’d a melancholy and disagreable Prospect. I discover’d a Figure, sitting in a despicable Carriage on a Chair which seem’d to be compos’d of Snakes, Salamanders, and Adders, interwoven into that Form, and this Person I plainly perceiv’d to be the Figure of Envy. In her Hand she held a bloody Heart, in which were visibly the Prints of her venomous Teeth. The Stage represented nothing but Ruins and Desolation, and the very Air seem’d to be tempestuous, and fill’d with black, heavy Clouds. The Furniture of her Horses were covered with Tongues, probably, to represent Detraction, and they were drove, by Revengeful Spite with a Scourge of Serpents, and Discontent with a Rod of Thorns. On each Side of this miserable Vehicle, march’d Restlessness, with a Larom on his Head, and Sedition with a Pair of Bellows in his Hand.

This melancholy Scene was soon succeeded by another as terrifying. Here the principal Figure represented War, seated in his Chariot, branding: a naked Scymiter in his right Hand, and a burning Torch in his Left, in a wild, discompos’d Posture. At his Feet lay Muskets, Pistols, Battle-Axes, Balls and Bombs, and behind him was raised a Pile of Cannons, Mortars, Colors, Standards and Pikes. The whole Stage seem’d to be cover’d with dead Carcasses and, at a Distance, I discover’d a City in Flames. The Horses of his Chariot were lead by Rage, whose Head had the Appearance of a fiery Coal, and in his Hand he held a burning Link, almost consumed. Contention, with the Head of a Dog, Blasphemy, with the Tongue of a Serpent; Famine, gnawing a Bone, and Cruelty, loaded with Instruments of Torture, march’d on each Side of the Chariot, as the Attendants of War.

While my Thoughts were busied in reflecting on this Scene of Misery, it, on a sudden, disappeared, and the furious God of War was followed, at the very Heels, by the miserable Figure of a Woman, almost naked, which, I soon found, represented Poverty. She was seated on a paultry Cart, on which I could discover nothing but broken earthen Ware, some Pieces of mouldy Bread, and other the like Signs of Penury and Want. The whole Prospect, round about her, was waste and desolate, and discover’d only a few thatch’d Cottages, which seem’d to be the poor Remains of a general Ravage. This miserable Carriage mov’d very slowly, being drawn by two Animals, that had hardly the Appearance of Horses; but represented, in a more lively Manner, Debility and Sickness. Care, almost stiff and motionless, supplied the Place of a Driver; and Patience, bearing an Anvil, with a Heart upon it, which seem’d to be torn with Hooks of Iron, together with Servitude in Chains, were the wretched Companions of this doleful Figure.

This melancholy Scene was no sooner at an End, than a more agreable one appear’d, in which I discover’d a Woman of a staid, serene Countenance, sitting on a very low but decent Vehicle, which moved but just above the Surface of the Earth. In one Hand, she held a broken Heart, and, in the other, a Shepherd’s Crook. Every Circumstance gave me to understand, that this Figure could be no other than that of Humility; especially as she was accompanied by Faith, Hope and Charity, the latter having a Child at her Breast, and leading two more by the Hand. This humble Vehicle was drawn by Meekness and Sobriety, led by Timorousness. The Landscape, as I have before observ’d, was more agreable, than that of the preceeding Scene; but with what Satisfaction did I see it, in an Instant, changed into one of the most beautiful and noble Views, I had ever seen; upon the Appearance of a lovely Nymph, seated in a costly Char, which, as well as her Person, was embellish’d with every Thing that could please the Eye and the Imagination. I concluded, without any Hesitation, that this pleasing Figure must be the Goddess of Peace, and with that amiable Denomination it was my Friend distinguished her. Concord and Public Good, guided by Love, drove the Char; and Truth, Justice, Diligence and Liberty accompanied it. At the Goddess’s Feet lay all Manner of Mathematical, Mechanical and Musical Instruments, together with a Cornucopia; and looking more narrowly, I observed, in the Char with her, the little Figure, which, at the Beginning, I had discovered, with the Help of my Glass, to be the Goddess of Riches. I was just going to make some Reflections, on these Things, when, upon a Signal given, the Curtain drop’d, the Candles burn’d again, of their own Accord, and my Friend ask’d me, how I liked this Representation of the Instability and Vicissitude of the Transactions of this World, which were in a continual Rotation, and succeeded each other, much in the same Manner, as I had observed in this little Theater. I told him I could not enough admire, as well the Invention as the Execution of it; but this I would venture to affirm, that, the excellent Moral, which was hidden under it, far exceeded either. I added that there wanted nothing more to make it an inimitable Copy, but the Invention of a perpetuum Mobile, to keep that Rotation in a continued Revolution; which I did not doubt, but he, or some one or other of his learned Correspondents, would, soon or late, bring to bear. As I express’d a Satisfaction in what I had seen, my Friend gave me a Paper with about a Dozen German Verses upon it, in which he told me I should find the Content of the whole briefly express’d, and would serve me as a Memorandum of these Representations. I did not look upon them then; but upon perusing them, after I was retir’d to my Chamber, they put me in Mind of some homely, but expressive Lines, which I have seen at the Top of some of our Sheet-Almanacks, and, if my Memory does not fail me, are as follows;

War begets Poverty,
Poverty Peace:
Peace maketh Riches flow,
(Fate ne’er does cease!)
Riches produces Pride,
Pride is War‘s Ground;
War begets Poverty, &c.
The World goes round.
Omnium Rerum Vicissitudo.

As it is a double Satisfaction to me, to see any Thing curious, that seems to have had its Rise from our Country, I could not but please myself with the Imagination, that my Friend’s Verses, as well as the Invention of his Laterna Magica were originally taken from these Lines of one of our Philomaths: Tho’ I must confess he has beautifully augmented the Genealogy, with two very proper Characters; Envy and Humility; and not improperly made some Alteration in the Order: For, according to my Friend, Riches begets Pride; Pride, Envy; Envy, War; War, Poverty; Poverty, Humility; (tho’ this is not always the Case, because Pride is often the Daughter of Poverty, tho’ illegitimate) Humility begets Peace; and Peace; with the Assistance of Arts and Sciences, Liberty and Trade, begets Riches again. However, all these Changes are not capable of making any Alteration in the Esteem with which I profess to be, &c.

Comments: Thomas Lediard (1685–1743) was a British historian, diplomat and surveyor. He edited and introduced a collection of letters from a traveller in Germany to a friend, entitled The German Spy, and is possibly – though not for certain – the author of the letters. Its eyewitness account of a magic lantern show is the most extensive such report known to survive from the eighteenth century. My grateful thanks to Deac Rossell for bringing the text to my attention, and for supplying an accurate transcription (with some modernisation for clarity’s sake) and background information.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

"Gerald Cock Presents" – Review of Television Programmes

Source: Kenneth Baily, ‘”Gerald Cock Presents” – Review of Television Programmes’, The Era, 14 October 1936, p. 1

Text: Experimental programmes from the Television Station made by the B.B.C. during the past week have cast some illuminating light on things to come when the television service starts properly on November 2.

As watched on a Baird televisor in my own home, the programmes have, more than anything else, proved that real entertainment value is derived from television only when television technique is scrupulously adhered to and when subjects exclusively suited to the new medium are chosen.

This may sound obvious, but, in its planning and in these experiments, the B.B.C. is already drawing on other spheres of entertainment for television material. I believe that a few more weeks’ experience will show that television is an indifferent foster-mother for the conventional arts, and that it must conceive its own dream-children.

The unsuccessful programmes have been those where stage pieces and films, it seemed, just placed before the television cameras and transmitted. The first of “The Two Bouquets,” for instance, was not a success, and when “The Picture Page,” a pure television production, was shown later, that stage excerpt, in comparison, assumed the unmistakable guise of failure.

And films are made on too grand a scale to fit in to a screen 2 inches by 9 in the corner of the parlour. The sound track heard in proportion in a cinema, is too pronounced and obvious in comparison with the little picture by the fireside.

Half an hour of Henry Hall and the BBC Dance Orchestra proved without much doubt that Henry’s gentle and smiling personality is going to be a television attraction. Dan Donovan made an outstanding television début too. Dance band vocalists, hugging the mike in permanent close-up, will tend to bore viewers; but Dan’s mannerisms, and just the way he sings his numbers, are full of that which is going to be at a premium for television soloists – personality.

On the other hand, a fervent lady admirer of George Elrick – as he is heard – was disappointed by his television appearance.

Because of its personalities, Henry Hall’s band should avert the difficulties facing most televising bands – the viewer’s easy assumption that all bands look the same, and lack movement and “picture points”.

In a different way Younkman’s band, which I also saw, succeeded by filling the picture with agility and plenty of “gipsy” abandon.

Leonard Henry knew what he was about when he took his dummy gas mask to the television studio. Even his patter will need visual additions in television, and the mask gave them to it.

The real achievement to date, however, was “The Picture Page.” Its success came of its having been devised and produced exclusively for television. It would be impossible anywhere else – even in film – and that is as it should be with all material for televising.

Its very beginning was a hit, scored by specialised ingenuity. A boy bugler from off the Warspite was seen blowing a fanfare as he stood before a Union Jack, filling the whole screen; then he dissolved into the title of the programme in the form of a magazine page. Credit titles followed as the pages were turned.

Then came the only mistake. As link between the items in the programme, Joan Miller sits as a telephone operator before a switch board, plugging-in viewers to the items they are supposed to be calling for.

Instead of leaving the “pages” for a direct shot of Miss Miller, another “page” was turned, bringing into view a full-page photograph of her at the switchboard.

The direct shot followed this, and Miss Miller was supposed to be in the identical pose of her photograph. The effect was disjointed, and betrayed quite obviously which was photograph and which Miss Miller in the flesh.

Among the personalities seen were Fight-Lieutenant Swain, altitude record breaker of the RAF; Prince Ras Monolulu (I Gotta Horse); Mrs. Flora Drummond, suffragette leader; a Siamese cat; and Diana Sheridan, the photographer’s model.

“The Picture Page” is really “In Town To-Night” gone visible: but, though it inherits from its sound sister the successful basic idea, as it was devised for televising it was literally an eye-opener for this viewer, who, expecting but experimental programmes, was amazed when such a polished production bewitched his screen.

Comments: Kenneth Baily was a radio journalist, editor in the 1950s of the Television Annual and author of an early history of the medium, Here’s Television (1950). His brother Leslie was a well-known radio producer. The BBC Television Service launched officially on 2 November 1936, but was preceded by test broadcasts, with the first broadcast of the magazine programme Picture Page taking place on 8 October 1936. The Two Bouquets was an operetta by Eleanor and Herbert Farjeon. Gerald Cock was the BBC’s first Director of Television. Picturegoing normally does not reproduce reviews, but because of the domestic details, the description of what may have been an afternoon’s (?) programming, and the very early use of the word ‘viewer’ in a television context, an exception has been made.

Kiddar's Luck

Source: Jack Common, Kiddar’s Luck (Glasgow/London: Blackie & Son, 1974 – originally published by Turnstile Press, 1951), pp. 104-107

Text: Our enthusiasms were kindled or quenched often enough by the accident of possession. It was the devil’s own job for us to get hold of any equipment that cost more than a few coppers. We were likely to hunger a very long time for anything we needed before chance threw something like it our way. For instance, we were regular cinema-goers and also ex-magic-lantern manipulators; each of us had spent long periods at shop windows looking at home cinematographs so impossibly expensive you could only dream of ever owning one. Well, long-continued desire is apt to produce not its true object, but an approximation of it. One day I found myself embarked on a mighty feat of barter which in the end denuded me of my best cigarette-card sets and a ball-bearing skate, but enthroned me in the possession of a workable cinematograph projector of a sort. It wasn’t any great shakes, really: a tin cabinet bearing a curved chimney and holding an oil-lamp and its glass; then a gate and handle standing separate, which carried a barely-adjustable lens. With this illumination, the throw was limited to five feet. All the same, it was pretty terrific, we thought; and it would have been very much better if we’d had more films to show. The machine could take ordinary 35-mm. stuff, and what we had were mainly bits and snippets from news-reels. One of the big lads from our corner, actually, he was smaller than me by a lump all round, but as he was working, he rated as ‘big,’ had a job with Pathé, delivering news-reels on a tricycle, I think. Tich didn’t get the sort of salary later current in the world of films, in fact he was often hard put to it to keep himself in Woodbines. He was one of that great tribe of Briton who considered life a fair thing as long as the supply of Woods didn’t run out, and when it did would have parted with his grandmother and his only shirt so as to see once again the lovely white cylinder alight in his lips. When we were able to knock off some Woods, we used to waylay him as he came home from work to get lengths of film in exchange.

Thus we built up a collection of snippets. The best was a sequence from an Italian film showing a fire at sea. What made it so good was that it was in colour – not Technicolor, then still a belly-ache in the womb of time, but some kind of dye. It showed a bluish, moonlit sea, across which crept a two-masted schooner (probably a model, but the loyalty to the Battle-axe still latent in me continues to protest that it was genuine). The ship looked so ghostly against the ambience of blue as it bore upon the dark waves you felt that it was doomed, it and the crew we never saw since we were without benefit of close-up still, and sure enough the sign of calamity came upon it. There was a sudden puff of smoke amidships. ‘Fire!’ said a caption on a blue background, as I turned the handle faster because we all knew that. ‘Fire at Sea!’ said a caption on a red background, and I slowed down ready for the reappearance of the ship now being licked by red flames and a pretty lurid sight, I can tell you. ‘Ooh,’ said my audience. I turned more and more slowly in order to make it last, which it wouldn’t do for long, because that was all we had of that. There was no proper end to it. When last seen that ghost ship still bore its blossom of flame across the hopeless empty seas and left us with that slight after-yearning which is the sign of perfect pleasure.

Well, that was our best piece. Now for our worst. One tremendously wet night I was out buying that week’s Gem on the windy corner where Geeling, the newsagent’s, was. Lord, it was wet. There was such a wind about, too, that you could see the rain coming at you, flung in whole sheets all the way across the Junction, shawls of it, ropes of it, lashing round your legs, clapping down like a watery cloche over your bent head, and flattening in liquid running veils on the lit shop windows. There were few about, you bet. The shops stayed undisturbed behind the wet gaslight they showed outside. Even the fish-and-chip was so blinded and sealed up in this flat rain, you couldn’t taste a smell from it. But in the dark doorway next to it, there stood a small figure who gave me a hail. I swung the peak of my dripping cap around. It was Tich, the big lad from Pathés. He was broke and hungry; he wanted some chips. What’s more, he had on him the biggest roll of film I’d yet encountered – oh, there must have been two hundred feet of it. Of course, I’d only the penny for my Gem, but there wasn’t going to be anybody else about on such a night – Tich reckoned it would have to be a deal.

So it was, indeed, but what a disappointment. The whole film showed nothing but a visit of the King and Queen to a Tyneside shipyard. At least that is what a caption said. You see, it is a well-known fact that whenever any distinguished visitors are due on the Tyne, you reach for your mack; if they are going to a shipyard, reach for two macks because if there is any place wetter than a shipyard on a rainy day, it must be in Davy Jones’s province. Not that you could see any rain in this picture; all you could see was a soup-plate, Queen Mary, stalking a saucer, King George. Sometimes other pieces of china strolled across or retreated into the murk, but they were just flashes of pans, you might safely say. Just at the end, a ghostly motor-car wrapped itself round the crockery, and a line of washing waved to it. That was all this immense footage gave one. Whenever I showed it to younger audiences they yelled that my lamp was going out; and they never asked to have it run through again.

One night we got an idea for the salvaging of this wasted footage. Why not scrape the roll free of film and draw cartoons on it. You can imagine what we’d let ourselves in for. It isn’t easy to draw on celluloid, less so if you are rationed to the 35-mm. frame for space, and only two of us were any good at drawing anyway. After many hopeless attempts, we hit on a formula. Our characters would be match-stick men, so that any one of us could follow the master-drawing; and their adventures would be limited to what could be done with the simplest of props, a lamp-post, say, or a chamber-pot. This worked, you know. It enabled us to set up a sort of poor boy’s Hollywood of doorstep Disneys. We had script and production conferences properly controlled by the general awareness that anybody who thought he had a good idea would presently have to make it. A wearisome labour it was, too. Amazing what a perseverance boys will put into a task if nobody has told them to do it. Night after night with homework shelved and forgotten we struggled with spluttering pens over the celluloid coils. The result was a great success with our public. We hit Broadway to some extent when we were invited to put on a show at a rather posh girls’ party. After that we dreamed of greater ventures and performed none.

Comments: Jack Common (1903-1968) based his novel on his own working-class childhood in Heaton, an inner suburb of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, covering the years 1903-1917. Common gained little recognition as a writer in his lifetime (George Orwell was a friend and admirer), but has more recently enjoyed critical acclaim. This passage from the book takes place during First World War period.

Magic Lantern

Source: Ingmar Bergman (trans. Joan Tate), Magic Lantern: An Autobiography by Ingmar Bergman (London: Penguin Books, 1988 – orig. pub. Laterna Magica, Norstedts Förlag, Sweden, 1987), pp. 14-16

Text: More than anything else, I longed for a cinematograph. The year before, I had been to the cinema for the first time, and seen a film about a horse. I think it was called Black Beauty and was based on a famous book. The film was on at the Sture cinema and we sat in the front row of the circle. To me, it was the beginning. I was overcome by a fever that has never left me. The silent shadows turned their pale faces towards me, and spoke in inaudible voices to my most secret feelings. Sixty years have gone by and nothing has changed; the fever is the same.

[…]

After breakfast, everyone went to bed for a few hours. The internal domestic routine must have gone on working, for at two o’clock, just as dusk was falling, afternoon coffee was served. We had open house for anyone who cared to come and wish the parsonage a happy Christmas. Several friends were practising musicians and part of the afternoon festivities was usually an improvised concert. Then the sumptuous culmination of Christmas Day approached: the evening meal. This was held in our spacious kitchen, where the social hierarchy was temporarily set aside. All the food was laid out on a serving table and covered working surfaces, and the distribution of Christmas gifts took place at the dining-room table. The baskets were carried in, Father officiated with a cigar and glass of sweet liqueur, the presents were handed out, verses were read aloud, applauded and commented on; no presents without verses.

That was when the cinematograph affair occurred. My brother was the one who got it.

At once I began to howl. I was ticked off and disappeared under the table, where I raged on and was told to be quiet immediately. I rushed off to the nursery, swearing and cursing, considered running away, then finally fell asleep exhausted by grief.

The party went on.

Later in the evening I woke up. Gertrud was singing a folk song downstairs and the nightlight was glowing. A transparency of the Nativity scene and the shepherds at prayer was glimmering faintly on the, tall chest-of-drawers.

Among my brother’s other Christmas presents on the white gate-legged table was the cinematograph, with its crooked chimney, its beautifully shaped brass lens and its rack for the film loops.

I made a swift decision. I woke my brother and proposed a deal. I offered him my hundred tin soldiers in exchange for the cinematograph. As Dag possessed a huge army and was always involved in war games with his friends, an agreement was made to the satisfaction of both parties.

The cinematograph was mine.

It was not a complicated machine. The source of light was a paraffin lamp and the crank was attached with a cogwheel and a Maltese cross. At the back of the metal box was a simple reflecting mirror, behind the lens a slot for coloured lantern slides. The apparatus also included a square purple box which contained some glass slides and a sepia-coloured film strip (35mm). This was about three metres long and glued into a loop. Information statd on the lid that the film was called Mrs Holle. Who this Mrs Holle was no one knew, but later it turned out that she was a popular equivalent of the Goddess of Love in Mediterranean countries.

The next morning I retreated into the spacious wardrobe in the nursery, placed the cinematograph on a sugar crate, lit the paraffin lamp and directed the beam of light on to the whitewashed wall. Then I loaded the film.

A picture of a meadow appeared on the wall. Asleep in the meadow was a young woman apparently wearing national costume. Then I turned the handle! It is impossible to describe this. I can’t find words to describe my excitement. But at any time I can recall the smell of the hot metal, the scent of mothballs and dust in the wardrobe, the feel of the crank against my hand. I can see the trembling rectangle on the wall.

I turned the handle and the girl woke up, sat up, slowly got up, stretched her arms out, swung round and disappeared to the right. If I went on turning, she would again lie there, then make exactly the same movements all over again.

She was moving.

Comments: Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007) was a Swedish film and theatre director, whose films include The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries and Persona. He was the son of a Lutheran Pastor, and his childhood was spent in Uppsala, Sweden. Toy cinematographs that could show a mixture of slides and short film strips were quite common. Black Beauty is the American feature film of 1921, based on the novel by Anna Sewell. Mrs Holle may be connected with the fairy tale of Frau Holle, or Mother Holle, collected by the Grimm brothers.

Everything to Lose

Source: Frances Partridge, Everything to Lose: Diaries 1945-1960 (London: Victor Gollancz, 1985), pp. 332-333

Text: July 13th. [1959] Ralph came with me to London for the night, Burgo driving up with Robert. Ralph was reading Burgo’s translation in the train, I Robert’s new novel.

Visiting Robert’s flat, we admired his new carpet, chair, and moving Irish gramophone records. then came the television set, but ah! there we were unable to follow him. He showed us Tonight, said to be one of the best programmes. It certainly riveted one’s attention in a horrid, compulsive sort of way, yet I was bored and rather disgusted, and longed to be able to unhook my gaze from this little fussy square of confusion and noise on the other side of the room. It’s so old-fashioned and amateurish! ‘Ah, here’s one of the great television personalities – the best-known face in England!’ said Robert, and a charmless countenance with the manner of a Hoover-salesman dominated the screen. lt’s contemptible, it has nowhere near caught up with any of the other modes of expression; it’s the LCM of the common man, one’s mind has to shrink to get inside it. It’s as lightweight as a feather duster, yet vast numbers of people are daily and hourly beaten on the head with it.

Comments: Frances Partridge (1900-2004) was a writer, translator, diarist and member of the Bloomsbury Group. Robert is the broadcaster Robert Kee; Ralph is her husband; Burgo their son. Tonight was a popular BBC current affairs series, broadcast 1957-1965. The main presenter was Cliff Michelmore. LCM stands for ‘least common multiple’.

These are the British

Source: Drew Middleton, These are the British (New York: Knopf, 1957), pp. 244-245

Text: Television is the greatest new influence on the British masses since the education acts of the last century produced a proletariat capable of reading the popular press, a situation capitalized by Lord Northcliffe and others. And the mass attention to “what’s on television,” like every other change in Britain, has social connotations. Among many in the middle class and the upper middle class it is close to class treason to admit regular watching of television. “We have one for Nanny and the children,” a London hostess said, “but we never watch it. Fearfully tedious, most of it.”

Significantly, the middle class, when defending its right to send its sons to public schools, emphasizes that the working class could send its sons to the same schools if it were willing to abandon its payments for television. This may reveal one reason for the middle-class dislike for this form of entertainment. Television sets are expensive, and possibly the cost cannot be squeezed into a budget built around the necessity of sending the boy to school. The spread of television-viewing in Britain has had far-reaching economic and social effects. A sharp blow has been dealt the corner pub, by tradition the workingman’s club. Since the rise of modern Britain, it is to the pub that the worker has taken his sorrows, his ambitions, and his occasional joys. There over a pint of bitters he could think dark thoughts about his boss, voice his opinions on statesmen from Peel to Churchill, and argue about racing with his friends. “These days,” a barmaid told me, “they come in right after supper, buy some bottled ale — nasty gassy stuff it is, too — and rush home to the telly. In the old days they came in around seven, regular as clockwork it was, and didn’t leave until I said ‘Time, gentlemen, please.'”

Television also has affected attendance at movies and at sports events. The British have never been a nation of night people, and nowadays they seem to be turning within themselves, a nation whose physical surroundings are bounded by the hearth, the television screen, and quick trips to the kitchen to open another bottle of beer. My friends on the BBC tell me this is not so; television, they say, has opened new horizons for millions and is the great national educator of the future. It is easy to forgive their enthusiasm. But how can a people learn the realities of life if what it really wants on television is sugary romances or the second-hand jokes and antics of comedians rather than the admirable news and news-interpretation programs produced by both the BBC and the Independent Television Authority? The new working class seems to be irritated by attempts to bring it face to face with the great problems of their country and of the world. Having attained what it wants — steady employment, high wages, decent housing — it hopes to hide before its television screens while this terrible, strident century hammers on.

Comments: Drew Middleton (1913-1990) was an American journalist, who worked for the New York Times for which he served as its chief London correspondent 1953-1963. These are the British is a portrait of the British way of life.

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Sir Philip Sydney

Source: ‘Sir Philip Sydney’ in Andrew Clark (ed.), ‘Brief Lives’: Chiefly of Contemporaries, Set Down by John Aubrey, Between the Years 1669 & 1696 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898), vol. II, pp. 249-250

Text: When I was a boy 9 yeares old, I was with my father at one Mr. Singleton’s, an alderman and wollen-draper in Glocester, who had in his parlour, over the chimney, the whole description of the funerall [of Sir Philip Sidney], engraved and printed on papers pasted together, which, at length, was, I beleeve, the length of the room at least; but he had contrived it to be turned upon two pinnes, that turning one of them made the figures march all in order. It did make such a strong impression on my young phantasy, that I remember it as if it were but yesterday. I could never see it elswhere. The house is in the great long street, over against the high steeple; and ’tis likely it remaines there still. Tis pitty it is not re-donne.

Comments: John Aubrey (1626-1697) was an English antiquarian, archaeologist and writer, best known for Brief Lives, a collection of biographical sketches of people from the seventeenth century which was not published until after his death and exists in several forms. The poet Sir Philip Sidney was killed at the Battle of Zutphen and his funeral was held in London on 16 February 1587. Aubrey includes this memory of a moving screen effect from around 1635 in his biography of Sidney (spelled Sydney in his text).

Links: Copy at the Internet Archive

One Day in the Life of Television

Source: Nicola Irvine, quoted in Sean Day-Lewis (ed.), One Day in the Life of Television (London: British Film Institute, 1989), p. 213

Text: The television is on in the living-room and the cassette player is playing in the adjacent kitchen. One of my favourite programmes is on at 5.15 pm. and I try my best to concentrate on Blockbusters, amidst the barrage of questions, people arguing, and shouting at someone to shut the door. I live with four, sometimes five, other students (or ex-students) and the cooking and talking causes quite a racket. Then the telephone starts ringing

I love watching Blockbusters because getting the questions correct is due to a skill acquired from watching the programme repeatedly and not from a vast general knowledge. The ‘easiness’ and ‘hardness’ of questions goes in patterns and depends on the rhythm of the game, and also how badly a contestant is losing. For instance, you know that the answer to ‘K’, a picture card in a pack of playing cards, is ‘knave’ and not ‘king’. This will give the slower contestants a chance to win a point because the quicker competitor will immediately guess ‘king’.

As with most of my experience of watching game shows (which I do rarely) I shout insults at the television, regarding the contestants. The schoolchildren on the programme are invariably those types who are considered ‘characters’ or what a school report would describe as ‘outgoing’. On television they appear obnoxious and embarrassingly precocious, as emphasized by their cuddly mascots. I am further aggravated when Bob asks them questions about themselves, especially when they say they want to go into advertising. When I was at school, people wanted to be teachers and nurses and footballers, but now everyone wants to awaken to a Maxwell House 7 a.m. shoot and be a media person …

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 Irvine was a student in Birmingham. Blockbusters (originally broadcast 1983) was a long-running British TV quiz show, based on an American original, and hosted by Bob Holness.

A Century of Cinema

Source: Susan Sontag, extract from ‘A Century of Cinema’ in Where the Stress Falls (London: Penguin, 2009), pp. 118-119 (originally published in a German translation in Frankfurter Rundschau, 30 December 1995)

Text: As many have noted, the start of moviemaking a hundred years ago was, conveniently, a double start. In that first year, 1895, two kinds of films were made, proposing two modes of what cinema could be: cinema as the transcription of real, unstaged life (the Lumière brothers) and cinema as invention, artifice, illusion, fantasy (Méliès). But this was never a true opposition. For those first audiences watching the Lumière brothers’ The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station, the camera’s transmission of a banal sight was a fantastic experience. Cinema began in wonder, the wonder that reality can be transcribed with such magical immediacy. All of cinema is an attempt to perpetuate and to reinvent that sense of wonder.

Everything begins with that moment, one hundred years ago, when the train pulled into the station. People took movies into themselves, just as the public cried out with excitement, actually ducked, as the train seemed to move toward them. Until the advent of television emptied the movie theatres, it was from a weekly visit to the cinema that you learned (or tried to learn) how to strut, to smoke, to kiss, to fight, to grieve. Movies gave you tips about how to be attractive, such as … it looks good to wear a raincoat even when it isn’t raining. But whatever you took home from the movies was only a part of the larger experience of losing yourself in faces, in lives that were not yours – which is the more inclusive form of desire embodied in the movie experience. The strongest experience was simply to surrender to, to be transported by, what was on the screen. You wanted to be kidnapped by the movie.

The prerequisite of being kidnapped was to be overwhelmed by the physical presence of the image. And the conditions of “going to the movies” secured that experience. To see a great film only on television isn’t to have really seen that film. (This is equally true of those made for TV, like Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz and the two Heimat films of Edgar Reitz.) It’s not only the difference of dimensions: the superiority of the larger-than-you image in the theatre to the little image on the box at home. The conditions of paying attention in a domestic space are radically disrespectful of film. Since film no longer has a standard size, home screens can be as big as living room or bedroom walls. But you are still in a living room or a bedroom, alone or with familiars. To be kidnapped, you have to be in a movie theatre, seated in the dark among anonymous strangers.

No amount of mourning will revive the vanished rituals – erotic, ruminative – of the darkened theatre. The reduction of cinema to assaultive images, and the unprincipled manipulation of images (faster and faster cutting) to be more attention-grabbing, have produced a disincarnated, lightweight cinema that doesn’t demand anyone’s full attention. Images now appear in any size and on a variety of surfaces: on a screen in a theatre, on home screens as small as the palm of your hand or as big as a wall, on disco walls and mega-screens hanging above sports arenas and the outsides of tall public buildings. The sheer ubiquity of moving images has steadily undermined the standards people once had both for cinema as art at its most serious and for cinema as popular entertainment.

Comments: Susan Sontag (1933-2004) was an American writer and critic. This is an extract from an essay written to mark the generally recognised centenary of cinema in 1995, and is reproduced in a collection of her essays. When it was first published in English, in the New York Times in 1996, the essay was entitled ‘The Decay of Cinema’.

Memoirs

Source: Sir Almeric FitzRoy, Memoirs (New York: G.H. Doran Company, 1925), p. 105

Text: September 14th. … Unlike the practice in the Queen’s time, the whole party in the house, King and Queen included, dine together. Jimmie Webb and Lady Cecily were also there from Mar Lodge. The King and Queen entered the drawing-room where we were all assembled, and shook hands with the newcomers, and then proceeded into the dining-room together. The Queen’s manner during dinner was much more vivacious than I had been led to expect, and she wore an expression of interest that belied her deafness, though Lord Cromer told me he did not think she heard a word he said.

After dinner we were called upon to witness a cinematograph entertainment; the scenes were mostly taken from the Coronation Procession, and the gilded coach was presented to us ad nauseam; very few of the figures were recognisable, and the oscillation of the medium affected the optic nerves most unpleasantly. The display opened with a vulgar presentment of the King on a very large scale, which elicited from His Majesty the characteristic remark: “Decorations on the wrong side!”

Comments: Almeric FitzRoy (1851-1935) was Chief Clerk to the Privy Council of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. This extract from his chatty memoirs comes from a diary entry for 14 September 1902, shortly after the coronation of Edward VII. The location was Balmoral in Scotland.

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