Do we still love Lucy?
6 Apr 2017 1 comment. tbs.pm/11605
I would imagine that there are still fans of Lucille Ball and Phil Silvers around. Vintage TV shows of the fifties and sixties have something that today’s light programming doesn’t always have – class. The entire family could sit down to watch any television show in the thirty years after the war, without worrying about bad language or sex putting in an appearance; always assuming they knew the risks of Till Death Us Do Part and The Wednesday Play. The likes of I Love Lucy or The Beverly Hillbillies were fun and harmless – some might even say unchallenging – and even though shot in black and white, provided ample family fare in an era of “one tv per household”. It is easy to see why some people feel that the fifties and sixties were the start of British television’s “golden years”.
These we’re the times when the medium began to experiment and find out what was good and what was not. A time when creative and imaginative writers tried selections of innovative ideas to see what “made the grade” with the rather conservative viewers. Vintage TV shows remind us of the times when the world was so much less angry and complicated. Sergeant Preston of the Yukon always got his man, as did Stryker of the Yard.
Today there are US TV Channels that specialise in showing vintage series. Viewers can relax to the sights of Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Gilligan’s Island and the rest. On a special channel for Westerns, cowboy buffs are pleased to see again Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Cheyenne and Laramie, as well as Hollywood feature westerns in abundance.
Back in Britain, viewers of Granada, in the North, wrote in and requested to see selections from TV’s past. So in September 1975 there was a Granada ‘festival of oldies’ under the banner of “Command Performance” on Monday night at 11pm. Series covered included The Untouchables, Rawhide, Route 66, Maverick, The Fugitive, The Big Valley and the perennial favourite Dragnet.
In 1976 the Birmingham Mail urged ATV viewers to write to the editor regarding the shows that they would like to see again and, within a month, a whole page of letters were printed with requests for the likes of Dr Kildare, Fury, The Outer Limits and, inevitably, The Lone Ranger. ATV granted some of the requests and in the spring and a selection of episodes from The Invaders, Rawhide and Garrison’s Gorillas were placed into the 7.45 slot on Saturday nights.
In the present day, the latest Freeview and Sky channels screen ‘golden oldies’ , such as CBS Action and CBS Drama, where Star Trek, The High Chaparral, Gunsmoke and Bonanza are receiving much attention. True Entertainment has revived The Avengers (British of course) and Ironside, while Horror has met with success in repeating both Land of The Giants and The Invaders.
The now defunct Big Centre TV in Birmingham made a particular feature of overnight screenings of ‘public domain’ programmes, which have lapsed in their US copyright and can make a very cheap source of material for low budget stations. Again the early Beverly Hillbillies, Dragnet and The Lucy Show made the running, with The Last of The Mohicans, I Married Joan and The Mickey Rooney Show, as part of the overnight package under the perhaps ambiguous title of “Revived”.
Those lucky viewers who were able to receive Talking Pictures TV have recently enjoyed Colonel March of Scotland Yard, The Invisible Man, Burke’s Law and The Westerner wrapped around a good range of old British feature films and “B” movies. This channel includes old British masterpieces and has not confined itself to American material.
There is clearly a generational interest in reviving old programmes but how profitable this can be for small commercial operations is as yet unclear. One interesting aspect is the audience demographics, where surveys have shown a surprising number of young viewers newly making acquaintance with television from before they were born. There are startlingly good repositories of quality writing and fine acting in many of these productions – made at a time when a more utopian vision of modernity existed than we feel today. This new young audience senses something of a golden age to be sampled and they seem to come back again and again. Perhaps nostalgia is not the word to summarise this phenomenon after all. It seems possible that fifties and sixties popular TV culture – both British and American – may at last be earning a serious and considered place in the history of the twentieth century