A Superb Souvenir of the Year’s Television 

20 March 2020 tbs.pm/69971

The Television Annual for 1958I have in my possession a copy of The Television Annual for 1958 – and what a window of wonder it is for those ‘interested in the exciting modern medium of entertainment and information’. I know that because it says so on the flyleaf of the cover of this rather quaint look at the world of TV of the time.

To set the scene, in this year I am still in short trousers at the age of seven, with summertime ankle socks and those sandals with the side buckles (grey socks, lace–up shoes and gabardine mac in the winter) and have just moved up from ‘The Infants’ to ‘The Junior Boys’, where the use of a twelve inch wooden ruler on the knuckles for any misdemeanour such as cheating at arithmetic is seen as normal and necessary. My parents are yet to be convinced of the necessity of ‘having television’, so my personal viewing is limited to watching courtesy of friends who possess more enlightened parental guardians of morality.

The BBC Television Service is 22 years old (or 16 if you subtract the war years’ closure) and ‘the I.T.A.’ is just about 36 months into the contract with Associated Rediffusion (London weekdays) and ATV (London weekends). Granada, ABC Weekend, Scottish, TWW and Southern are all up and running by the end of August 1958. Tyne Tees, Anglia, and Ulster have been awarded licences but have not yet taken to the air (the companies celebrated their 60th birthdays in 2019).

This is the eighth edition of the Annual and is edited by Kenneth Baily, TV critic of The People, magazine, writer and former television scriptwriter of the time. His comments, promises the Annual, ‘are as provocative as ever’.

Kenneth Baily’s Teleview

So let’s look at what Mr Baily has to say in his Kenneth Baily’s Teleview editorial. His commentary in part relates mainly to 1957 (as this is the 1958 Annual), and he looks first at the prospect of Queen Elizabeth’s very first Christmas television broadcast, previously heard only on the radio, a tradition started by her grandfather King George V in 1932. It was felt that television was now installed in sufficient homes to undertake the transfer from sound to vision (although broadcast simultaneously on both media) and the broadcast was transmitted live from Sandringham on Christmas Day. Whilst most of the Commonwealth will hear the broadcast live on radio only, a film will be made of the television transmission to be flown out to Canada and Australia a few days later for showing on those countries’ television services.

Baily makes much of the sense of ‘family’ and the bringing together of Britain and the Commonwealth around the Throne and the ‘affectionate loyalty’ felt for the Royal Family which is the more sincere now that it is known far more personally than in the days before radio. Such was the deference of the time.

Original caption: “Television links monarchy to people. An outstanding and unforseen development in this link has been Prince Philip’s keen and lively use of television. He introduced the International Geophysical Year in the major BBC programme ‘The Restless Sphere’. He is shown in the studio then, with producer Anthony Craxton and executive Peter Dimmock.

The Duke of Edinburgh scores some Brownie points too, using the BBC television studios to promote his own pet project on educational matters – ‘unthinkable only two years ago’ notes Baily. The Duke, says Baily, ‘rehearsed and learned the technique for the programmes he conducted about his world tour and about the Geophysical Year’.

Baily now turns to The Independent Network – referred to as ‘growing like a lusty adolescent, rapidly increasing its frame’. Its flesh, the audience within reach of the network, ‘waxes fatter each month’ he opines. The BBC is already being given a run for its money, with the ITA already reaching seven million viewers with only half the network completed. He notes that comparisons between BBC viewing figures and those of ‘Independent Television – ‘the ITA, ITV, commercial, call it what you will’ are futile until ITV becomes a nationwide service.

Baily notes that during the last year, the BBC has made claims of a renewed loyalty among viewers, in particular its outside broadcasts audience levels are registering higher in those areas where ITA programmes are already being radiated. These same programmes had ‘sunk pretty low’ when the young ITV appeared on the scene. However, there are still ample grounds to believe that ITV will win over viewers from the BBC on a more permanent basis. He further believes that what he calls ‘ITA froth’ will grab viewers permanently from BBC ‘enlightenment’.

Original caption: “Champion swimmer Judy Grinham took an interest in the mysteries of a television studio when she appeared in BBC Sportsview’s third anniversary programme. Watching her is fellow-swimmer Margaret Edwards.”

He has a cynical view in that the British viewer is more discerning than those of our cousins across the Atlantic, where American viewers have not tired of ‘several years of cash quizzes and third-rate thrillers’. He asks whether we will tire of similar shows that have become staples of the commercial television diet in this country. Pinching the title of the popular quiz programme with Jerry Desmonde, The 64,000 Question, he submits, is whether the ‘cultured British public demand less pap and more inspiration from ITA’. He hopes this will indeed be the case as ‘commercial’ does not necessarily mean being ‘cheap, vulgar or moronic’. Whilst Baily applauds commercial TV’s About Religion, What the Papers Say, Robin Day’s Roving Report, Members’ Mail, Youth Wants to Know, Contact and This Week, together with a few peak-hour plays, it is clear that ITA’s audience is more than happy with ‘money-grubbing quizzing, brash variety and slick pocket thrillers’. And of course, advertisers will always want slots for their products where there are big audiences. He says this has relegated any programme that involves the viewer in a spot of thinking to outside peak viewing periods.

It is of course barely two years since the tube of Gibbs SR Toothpaste lodged itself in that fake block of ice as the first ever product shown on an ITV commercial break, (followed by Summer County’s Margarine product – quizzers, please note), but Kenneth Baily reminds us that it is by no means certain that British commercial television ‘can pay’ – or at least pay enough with permanence. The proof he says, is still in the making.

Back at the BBC, all is not well. Baily views that whilst ITA has calmly been consolidating its position (he insists on referring to what we now call ITV, ‘ITA’ – but at least he’s now dropped the full stops between the initials), the BBC is working through a long drawn-out crisis. Even in 1957/58, there are serious concerns over the validity of the BBC Charter and the very existence of the Corporation itself. To put his argument into updated language of the 21st century he questions going forward whether or not the BBC will be a viable organisation if it has to dumb down its output to retain its audience against ITV. He feels that there is a danger in the BBC splashing out ‘with loud varieties against ITA comics and girls’ (probably pronounced ‘gels’), whilst not doing what it does best: ‘outside broadcasting and informational programmes’. Baily feels that it’s surely a better route for the BBC that when viewers to the fledgling commercial channel grow bored and start turning back to the BBC, it needs to hook the viewer with ‘adventurous television’.

Original caption: “The growth of ITV has seen capital sunk in new studios. The mass of intricate and expensive lighting equipment needed for modern TV production is shown here in one of the new Granada studios in Manchester.”

He ends on a gloomy note, observing that when and if commercial TV viewers do indeed get bored with the froth and pap he referred to earlier, will the BBC really be adventurous? Or will it try to mimic the ‘ITA funfair a little more respectably and glossily?’ Baily ends his editorial Teleview with this question and feels the proof is still in the making – but speaks of the danger of a ‘seriously torpedoed BBC Charter’ looming ‘more darkly than does the danger of commercial television failing to pay in the long run’.

Odds and Ends

But nil desperandum! All is not doom and gloom in The Television Annual for 1958! These are the years when television stars began to become household names – Jerry Desmonde, Bob Danvers-Walker, Armand and Michaela Denis, Eamonn Andrews, Terry-Thomas, Patricia Driscoll and many others. Transatlantic names such as Bernard Braden and his wife Barbara Kelly are also becoming known to the British viewer and – particularly to viewers of commercial television – Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (I Love Lucy) were two of the early names.

Original caption: “‘Warhead’ was a programme on the ITV network calculated to rival the more serious enquiry programmes of the BBC. A thorough probe into nuclear armaments, it had (left to right) Kenneth Harris, Admiral Sir Charles Daniel, Lt. Gen. Sir Frederick Morgan, Marshal of the RAF Sir John Slessor, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Philip Joubert.”

There are weird and wonderful contributions from some of the above names (Your Friends the Stars) but there’s also a strange item entitled Television and Human Understanding by ‘a Doctor’, who prefers to keep his anonymity for professional reasons. He is known to viewers from the BBC series Is This Your Problem? One wonders what his problem was.

Original caption: “Cameramen take risks when [Bob] Danvers-Walker goes out on a story. Perched on a Devon cliff top, this camera crew brough pictures of Bob going down the cliff-face in a commando landing exercise.”

Tony Hancock makes some observations (in hindsight, somewhat prophetically) on Problems of a Funny Man and someone called Hughie Green (already known from Radio Luxembourg – Opportunity Knocks has yet to move to television) ‘tells his own TV story’. Howard Thomas (ABC Television Ltd) writes on The Battle for Your Favour, Robin Day pens a piece about Independent TV News and Cliff Michelmore lets us peek into the work of a television interviewer.

Beryl Radley recalls some highlights of her BBC series Having Your Baby – a series for women ‘devoted to the modern care of pregnancy and birth’. Cameraman Ken Higgins and his assistant Tony Leggo (who later served time on Doctor Who) work on the series, ready to film expectant mothers as they came through the hospital door. Philipa (she’s not given a surname), Ms Radley’s secretary and continuity girl, greets the mums-to-be ‘list in hand’ to explain to mothers what they were doing, and making sure all written consent to be shown in the series was recorded.

To provide ‘human interest’ one woman would be featured in each programme of the series. Sound film was not possible – the technical complications were far greater than could be managed in the time – given that it was unknown when a mother would be admitted during her labour, so commentary was dubbed on later. The mothers, says Radley, were ‘perfectly ordinary – not specially chosen ones’ – people with whom afternoon audiences could identify themselves. ‘That’s just what happened to me!’ – ‘Isn’t he wonderful?’ ‘What a dear little mite!’ The moments of birth of all the mothers who agreed to take part were not shown (this is the 1950s) although the last stages of labour and the first moments after a birth were filmed with permission.

Notwithstanding the main subject of the series, Beryl Radley recounts filming a scene in the ‘lying-in ward’ where mothers are given their midday meal. A second take had to be made as close-up shots were required by cameramen Higgins and Leggo and the plates of half-eaten stew were taken from the mothers and then the scene set up a second time. The stews were returned to the women for the second take but not all got their own plate back. Oh the hilarity amongst the ladies! Beryl notes that those close-ups turned out to be ‘the gayest we had in the whole series’.

Eventually, a couple chosen for the birth scenes (a reminder – labour and just after the birth only) were chosen and the mum was admitted during the night, so the crew were scrambled to get to the hospital in double quick time no doubt. Radley says the couple were so caught up in their own happiness that they ‘quite forgot we were there’. When the film was shown to the joyous couple many weeks later they looked at it with the eagerness of seeing something for the first time and asked, ‘Could we see it again?’

Ahhh.

The editor, Kenneth Baily himself, in addition to his comments on Television and the Crown, ITA Progress and BBC Problems writes a second piece unfortunately entitled Matt Dillon Came on My Phone! – oh, wait a minute, it’s about a transatlantic telephone call from actor James Arness who played Matt Dillon in ‘Gun Law’ (later, Gunsmoke), the US western series shown on ITV. The series used Gene Autry’s ranch for filming and also starred Dennis (much later, McCloud) Weaver as ‘Chester’.

Under the umbrella heading of Your Friends the Stars, there are both bio and autobiographical pieces on Peter Cushing who was awarded the 1954 Daily Mail Award for the year’s outstanding TV actor, followed in 1955 with the top award of the TV Directors’ and Producers’ Guild. We learn that Cushing and his wife Helen Beck watch TV plays whenever possible and his hobby is ‘collecting and making model soldiers’. Jerry Desmonde provides an insight into The 64,000 Question (I’m tempted to add ‘dollar’ or ‘pound’ after ‘64,000’ but there doesn’t seem to be one in the show’s title – although the US original on which the British show was based did have a dollar sign). He recalls some contestants – Miss Jane Brown, a 73 year-old woman who answered questions on Dickens, who reminded him of his grandmother; 17 year-old dental student Tony Moore who won £3,200 [£81,000 in 2020, allowing for inflation] for his ornithological knowledge; another youngster Dorothy Burnell (‘a pretty girl’) who progressed right through the game on tennis questions but fell down on two details. She remembered the correct answers as she stepped out of the box. However, she had made such an impression before the camera that Associated TeleVision rewarded her with the chance of helping on TV commentary during Wimbledon.

Bob Danvers-Walker writes on the hazards of an OB commentator’s career and Jacqueline MacKenzie gives advice on how to get into – and stay – ‘in television’. She notes that once ‘in’, a huge capacity for beer and to linger in the TV pubs is necessary whereupon you might be offered a half-minute in a women’s afternoon programme, or contribute a noise in a commercial.

Independent Television News

An important piece is written by Robin Day on Independent Television News, the company set up jointly by the commercial programme contractors in 1955. Day believes that the most important result of two years’ commercial television is that for the first time in many years, a new national daily service of news had been brought into the homes of British people.

He explains that, until 22 September 1955, all the viewer had apart from the newspapers was a news service from the BBC with its ‘stern, unbending interpretation of truth and impartiality’. He agrees that Independent Television News Ltd also had an obligation of impartiality under the 1955 Act that established an Independent Television Authority but it was to be delivered in a different way. The company was determined to present the events of the time factually and accurately – but with ‘humanity and humour’ but perhaps more importantly, with a spirit of enquiry. Aidan Crawley, the first editor for ITN’s first few months set out these goals which were developed further by Geoffrey Cox when he was appointed in May 1956 and these tenets were tested to the full during the dramatic stories of the day – Suez (which resulted in petrol rationing), the H-Bomb, Sir Anthony Eden’s resignation, Khrushchev denouncing Stalin and others. In particular, the Port Said news story covered by ITN in depth led to Roving Report, a news-magazine offering that meant the company could concentrate at length on major story.

Finally, Day recognises that however good a reporter, interviewer or newscaster is, it is the cameraman’s pictures that are paramount – ‘the more film you get in a TV news programme the nearer it is to perfection’. It’s the cameraman that captures that anxious look on a Cabinet minister’s face, a policeman at the ready in ‘Murder Mile’ in Cyprus, a refugee child on the Hungarian border, a shattered building in Port Said. He does say however, that not always can a camera cover the news – and he predicts the day when parliamentarians will be no longer able to resist the chance of raising popular interest of proceedings in the Houses of Parliament. Well, we got there eventually… but one does wonder whether it was worth it at times.

The Great Interviewer ends on a humorous note about the lady who bumped into him on the Underground… ‘I do like the way you do your news. You don’t look as though you believe a word of it.’

The Battle for Your Favour

There’s a piece from Howard Thomas, Managing Director of ABC Television about ‘the Battle of British television’ beginning with a dramatic opener that could be likened to the opening voiced credits on a Quinn Martin American TV thriller series. (The exclamation marks are mine as I think he should have used them!)…

PLACE: Britain’s wavebands!
TIME: 7 hours a day, 7 days a week!
OPPONENTS: ITA v. BBC!
STAKES: Millions of pounds!
PRIZE: Admittance to your home!

Described by Thomas as the most expensive game of chess ever played, a matching of wits between a handful of men with millions to spend. The prize is us, the viewers and our viewing and buying habits. This is a Battle of British Television, a tussle for supremacy and ultimately ‘the struggle for the flick of a channel switch’.

And it was indeed a battle. Before September 1955, the BBC reigned supreme until those ITV johnnies came along with their frothy prize quiz shows, their ‘girls’, their transatlantic names, their I-Love-Lucys and their in-vision newscasters, their jingly station idents and their money-making commercial breaks.

Original caption: “A film unit makes preparations for shooting another episode in ITV’s popular ‘Emergency – Ward 10’, with Jill Browne and Rosemary Miller.”

Thomas recounts the end of the BBC’s monopoly – the ‘first rounds’ being fired by Associated-Rediffusion and Associated TeleVision (ATV) from London. Following this, five months later ATV spread northward to the Midlands, ‘reinforced by ABC Television’. Then in May of 1956, Lancashire’s contractor Granada Television went on air during the week with ABC providing its particular brand of ‘weekend television in the north’, in addition to its weekend service in the Midlands. Later in the year, Granada and ABC expanded their coverage into Yorkshire. Howard Thomas notes that from 250,000 London homes capable of receiving ITV in September 1955, the number of homes in Britain that could receive the commercial programmes by Christmas 1957 was 5m.

It certainly was ‘a battle’ for the first two years, although initially the BBC did little to fight back – in the first two years there was a predominance of 3:1 for ITV over BBC in every home where receivers could receive both BBC and ITV. The BBC did however, start a fight back in the battle for viewers and began buying in American series and tempted back ‘some of the bright boys’ they had lost to ITV.

Howard Thomas notes that there was a particular tussle between ITV and the BBC for weekend dominance. The planners at the BBC went all out to fight off the ATV/ABC ‘Palladium’ and Armchair Theatre on Sundays with the BBC ‘play’ by scheduling the play earlier to secure viewers. On Saturdays, it’s ITV’s The 64,000 Question and Hour of Mystery versus the BBC Saturday night comedy hour and BBC shows the US series Wells Fargo against a western on ITV. And there’s no expense spared – Thomas says that between them, BBC and the ITA companies are spending £80,000 – £100,000 a day (his italics) on programming [£2,000,000 to £2,500,000 in 2020, allowing for inflation]. All this to bring us the viewer, choice and more carefully planned programmes than when television was a monopoly.

Original caption: “‘Holiday Town Saturday Night’ was a summer series ABC Television attraction, featuring a bathing-beauty contest. Here, Marilyn Davies, New Brighton winning beauty, appears with the motor car which was won by the grand final winner.”

So that was the television world of 1958. Who could possibly have predicted that 60 years ahead lay three, four and five terrestrial channels, and direct broadcasting by satellite with hundreds of (mainly mediocre) channels from which to choose? In ’58, even the thought of a ‘teletext’ service would have seemed almost science fiction. Notwithstanding the late J L Baird’s early experiments, colour was still some way off and although ‘telerecording’, the filming of pictures on a TV screen was being used, ‘live’ television was still the general order of the day for plays and most other programmes.

Original caption: “BBC’s ‘Panorama’ cracked an April Fool’s Day joke about how spaghetti is “grown”. It was film-cameraman Charles de Jaeger (inset) who had this idea while on a serious assignment in Switzerland.”

It was a ‘cosier’ era, one of closedowns and start ups, of test cards and interludes, of ‘personalities’ we all felt we ‘knew’. For all the technical brilliance, slickness and choice of television today, it’s an era fondly remembered of family times watching Sunday Night at the London Palladium, What’s My Line?, Criss Cross Quiz and daft April Fool jokes involving the spaghetti harvest. We looked forward to our ‘weekend television’ with Holiday Town Saturday Night, Armchair Theatre and friendly in-vision continuity. We actually said, ‘Did you see…?’ the next morning at school and in the workplace.

And with that, I bring myself back to reality, raise a glass to 1958, remove my rose-coloured spectacles and find that in 2020, it’s a colder, less friendly place to be.

You Say

1 response to this article

Debbie castle 20 March 2020 at 7:44 pm

What a great read and a fantastic insight to tv and all it’s crazy ways. Im glad I was a 1960s baby tv and radio was very limited and rather beige. Radio was local and not national for me. Loved reading this. Well done

Your comment

Enter it below