The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

Television Circus

Category: Cinema + TV/Radio

While in America commercial TV rose out of an’ established jungle of commercial radio, salesman’s attitudes, publicity machines and a vast film business, in Britain it has burst into a more tribal and placid territory with the suddenness of an invasion. This mobile column has barged through the middle of many old British institutions: it threatens to bypass Parliament by bringing major discussions straight to the viewer, so that politicians bother more about the screen than about the back-benchers. It provides new scope for the Church to project discussions both serious and ridiculous. It has changed the whole pace of consumer buying, bringing salesmen into the drawing-room and regulating the movements: of packets in supermarkets. It provides a huge new weapon of education and information. It projects an Americanised, competitive world, full of mid-Atlantic accents and sleek cars, into the remotest villages where TV aerials stick up with the regularity of chimneypots.

No doubt its influence is often exaggerated; TV has a fairy-tale quality, and a knack of draining subjects of their meaning, leaving the faces remembered, but not what they said. But its indirect, insidious power of projecting images, ways-ol-life and associations of ideas is such that no institution can afford to ignore it. The keys to this new magical kingdom are essential for anyone concerned with salesmanship, politics or simply fame. TV already has its new boy net of men who have mastered this publicity machine: as the old boy net has its magic of antiquity, with the palace in the background, so the New Boys have a new synthetic magic, which can turn nonentities into national heroes.

At the big studios outside London the ephemeral dreamworld of television is carefully concocted by technicians and producers, in their factories of images and fame. Under the cameras dangling like bats from the roof, the disparate subjects assemble — an archbishop talking toa pop singer, a trade-unionist talking to a Tory MP: they troop on and off in endless cavalcade, all mixed together — professors, jugglers, Cabinet ministers, ventriloquists, dukes, chairmen, compéres and diplomats — all punctuated by quick glimpses of detergents and toothpaste. On the magic screen people who have never met each other before chat away with Christian names, as if they jostled together every day in some inner world of power.

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