Must it be balanced? 

21 April 2016 tbs.pm/8919

From the TVTimes for week commencing 7 April 1963.


Keith Waterhouse[1] and Willis Hall[2] make up one of Britain;s best-known and busiest playwrighting teams. They have been signed up by ITV to write a comedy series[3] and when TVTimes asked for their views on TV in 1963 they sent in this report


Television, in the words of an old cliché, is the greatest invention since the printing press.

And ever since those pioneer suburban families drew the blinds, adjusted the brilliance control and settled down to the adventures of the Grove Family, the printing presses have been kept busy churning out millions of words under the general heading: Whither Television?

So we’ll scrub round that for a start. Never mind Whither Television – what about Whither Not Television?

Enough has been written about what television is. Let’s concentrate on what television isn’t.

[Television will not] replace the House of Commons, sex, reading, or a good tuck-in at the Chinese restaurant round the corner.

To begin with, television is not a church, school, museum, theatre or cinema.

It may report on what goes on in these institutions. It may do their publicity for them. But it will not replace them.

Nor will it replace the House of Commons, sex, reading, or a good tuck-in at the Chinese restaurant round the corner.

The theory that TV is going to take over the world was, of course, put out by TV itself. Unlike the printing press cited above, the medium has always taken itself too seriously.

The printing press, with no particular ambitions for itself and no hope of the third channel, has always been content to jog along churning out comics, sugar bags, Bibles, newspapers, air mail envelopes and the complete works of William Shakespeare without giving much thought for the ratio of one to the other.

Television has always felt obliged to compile or otherwise manufacture uplifting statistics proving that practically 99.5 per cent of its programmes are educational, wholesome and elevating.

Television, on the other hand, has always felt obliged to compile or otherwise manufacture uplifting statistics proving that practically 99.5 per cent of its programmes are educational, wholesome and elevating.

Why the guilt complex? Why the chip on the shoulder? Why the apologies?

The printing press. to quote our rival for the last time, has never bothered to measure the column inches devoted to Andy Capp against the space (admittedly acres) given to simple, wildly-confusing explanations of the Common Market.

TV doesn’t have to be on the defensive. For slowly, steadily and despite its self-delusions, it is making, in its quiet way, quite a reasonable little job of things.

The fallacies are not all one-sided. If one faction holds – wrongly – that TV is the be-all and end-all of just about everything, the other faction which writes the medium off as our old friend the one-eyed monster is just as wrong.

One of the brightest things about the TV Age is the way that viewers have progressed from 19-inch-screen-besotted lumps sitting hour after hour in front of their seats from Popeye to the close down, to the critical, discerning audience of today.

It seems a long time ago now since every bus queue diagnosed last night’s Emergency – Ward 10 in terms of who was dying, whether the newest patient really had fatty degeneration of the heart, and which sister was about to enter what alliance with whose locum.

We have progressed from a nation of television addicts to a nation of television critics.

Now the conversation, after a brief summary of the plot and a digest of its strengths and weaknesses, lends to dwell on the performances, production, standards of presentation and the microphone boom shadow that marred a particularly artistic shot.

We judge, compare, analyse and select. We have progressed from a nation of television addicts to a nation of television critics.

There is one fallacy, we are happy to say, which has been destroyed by TV all by its little self. That is the big “every-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words” myth.

(If this were true, instead of sitting here typing we would be collecting a substantial fee from the TV Times for a grinning photograph of our good selves.)

This is a myth that began with newspaper photography and developed with the cinema. But then. of course, movie pictures had a good 30-year start on movie words.

In television, words and pictures arrived hand in hand together. Even some of our best TV producers will admit that the combination rather worried them.

The idea of watching somebody merely sitting in a chair, talking, when for the price of a reel of film they could be showing us a volcano erupting, an airship exploding, or some small wild animal on its daily round, seemed vaguely wrong.

But without photo-stills, without bits of film, the wiser ones discovered that men like Lord Beaverbrook, A. J. P. Taylor, General Sir Brian Horrocks and John Betjeman can illustrate their own words with the colour of their own personalities.

[It is a] fallacy that TV has got to be impartial.

One last fallacy – one that will probably take an Act of Parliament to explode – is the fallacy that TV has got to be impartial.

There is nothing less entertaining (or, if you want to get it into the statistics, educating) than the sight of a commentator with a Labour M.P. on one side of him and a Tory M.P. on the other with, in extreme cases, a Liberal M.P. opposite, all pretending to be giving a balanced view but in fact concentrating on getting at each other.

(“I’ll come to your point about Polaris in a moment, but may I just reply to what Brown has said about wheel subsidies.”)

Balancing this kind of thing impartially against the light entertainment that TV always sounds slightly ashamed of, we’ll settle for Yogi and Boo-Boo any day.


  1. Keith Spencer Waterhouse CBE (6 February 1929-4 September 2009).
  2. Willis Edward Hall (6 April 1929-7 March 2005).
  3. We can find no trace of this series having materialised. It may have been buried under the success of their play and film Billy Liar.

    Notes by Russ J Graham

You Say

1 response to this article

garry 21 August 2016 at 4:47 pm

Looking at FOX NEWS and M.S.N.B.C. in the United States of America this has come to pass. It makes you wonder if [and it is a big if] If the recent E.U. Vote had been impartial [Here in the U.K with T.V. being impartial] Like the U.K. Newspapers.. A lot of those in the know are saying The U.K. would still be in the European Union. An interesting proposition but what would have happened if the above was the case? In the U.K. as far as Television is concerned we shall never know.

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