TV versus the movies in fifties America

In recent years much has been predicted concerning the demise of movie theatres as a result of the popularity of streaming. Why, it is argued, would cinemagoers make the effort and pay money to visit a movie theatre when they could sit at home and watch the film on their TV screen through something like a Netflix subscription ?

Microwave repeater station

Back in fifties America, long before the Internet was even thought of  and movies weren’t available to hire or buy, our man in America, Alistair Cooke, was voicing  the fears of many movie makers who saw TV as their most dangerous rival. In a broadcast dated 10th June 1954 and afterwards published in the Listener, Cooke pointed out that since 1950:

’… the paying audience for movies has been going steadily —at first violently– down. It is now down by about thirty per cent….fewer and fewer people are going to the movies. This in as four year period in which the national income is higher, the number of people in jobs greater, than at any period in American history…’

The effect on Hollywood, according to Cooke, was devastating. The fifty or sixty big-time stars remained unaffected, but the bit players and others employed in the movie industry were certainly victims of the down turn:   

‘…  Feature players who have been doing nicely for ten, or even twenty, years suddenly do not appear any more. There is a lot of doubling up of casts, and economical commuting of actors between studios. About fifty per cent of the writers on long-term contracts have been fired, and there had been a general paring-down of technical crews, and rehearsal time , and costs….’

Movie makers were loathe to  admit that TV was the villain of the piece, but everyone in the industry knew the truth. And everyone who drove around the States could identify how the landscape was changing due to the mushrooming of the new medium.

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‘Socially Significant People ‘, according to Tatler in 1992 How they have risen…or fallen (2)



Mark Thatcher.


Ex-Harrovian, ex racing driver and Texan resident now runs a consultancy company in Dallas called Grantham—a homage to his mother Maggie’s home town. The consultancy’s interests include an ostrich farm and two security companies. Maggie’s decision to request a baronetcy for Denis was seem by many as a method of paving Mark’s future for him.


And those ‘ many’ were probably right. Most journalists ( and not just journalists ) visibly bridle when they are obliged to use Mark Thatcher’s, totally unearned  aristocratic arrested at his home in Constantia, Cape Town ( see Darius Guppy in previous Jot) title. Since 1992 he has been on the front pages for all the wrong reasons. In 2004 he was and charged with contravening two sections of the country’s Foreign Military Assistance Act which bans South African residents from any foreign military activity. Ultimately, in a plea-bargaining arrangement, Thatcher pleaded guilty to being involved in setting up a coup. He was fined R3m and given a four-year suspended prison sentence. As a result of this conviction he was refused entry to the U.S. and Switzerland and told to leave Monaco, where he had been holed up.


Trinny Woodall


Pencil-thin Trinny is the ex-girlfriend of Constantine Niarchos. She is a perennially glamorous, vivacious girl-about-town who is said to make men faint with desire.

 Still slimmish, still ( at 58) glamorous. Not sure she still makes men ‘ faint with desire ‘, but perhaps she doesn’t need to make rich men want her as she is a lot richer than shewas in 1992 thanks to her almost overnight success on TV as the co-host ( with Susannah Constantine) of ‘What Not to Wear ‘, which ran from 2002 to 2005. She subsequently co-wrote a number of best seller spin offs from the programme. She seems to have inherited business acumen from her father, a banker, and her grandfather, Sir John Duncanson, who was head honcho of the British Iron and Steel Federation.


Julie Burchill


Joined the NME as a teenager. At the age of 31 she was earning $110,000 a year for airing her controversial views each week with the Mail on Sunday. She has written several collections of essays and a bestselling novel, Ambition, which is now being made into a film. Has a son, Bobby Kennedy, by first husband journalist Tony Parsons, and another by second husband, journalist Cosmo Landesman. She communicates only by fax. Continue reading

Richard Hoggart and the Culture Wars of the sixties

I just missed being taught by Richard Hoggart at my University, which is a pity, since I was very
impressed by his arguments in The Uses of Literacyand would have enjoyed listening to him discussing some of the ramifications of his book in lectures and seminars. Never mind.

Jot 101 Richard Hoggart pic

Today the hot subjects of the chattering classes are the Culture Wars, especially those   being played out on social media. Hardly a day goes by without some academic or TV presenter being arraigned on Twitter for his or her remarks on cancel culture or identity issues. Back in 1961, however, there were different sort of Culture Wars raging in the columns of newspapers and magazines and Hoggart was one of the commentators whose words carried weight.


So Hoggart’s review of Richard Wollheim’s Fabian pamphlet Socialism and Culture (1961) in the New Statesman, though seemingly passé in today’s overheated political climate remains a perceptive commentary on a raging issue of the time which has implications today for the qualities of intellectual debate in newspapers, on social media and the inherent values ( or non-values) of those producing TV. It is also interesting as being, probably, the last critique on cultural life in which those horrible terms ‘ high brow’ and ‘low brow’ are used, in this case,  in a derogatory way.


Hoggart takes issue with the crude, unintelligent and lazy discrimination used by some commentators on social culture in the past that identified ‘ lowbrow ‘ culture with that enjoyed by the ‘ lower orders ‘ ( presumably the working class ) and ‘ mass culture ‘ with that enjoyed by the ‘ 80 per cent who have not been to a grammar school’ ( presumably most of the working class plus a section of the lower middle class).


‘ The crucial distinctions to-day are not those between The News of the World and The Observer, between the Third Programme and the Light Programme, between sex-and-violence  paperbacks and ‘ egghead ‘ paperbacks, between Bootsie and Snudge and the Alan Taylor lectures, between the Billy Cotton Band Show and the Brains Trust, between the Top Ten and a celebrity concert, or between ‘ skiffle ‘ and chamber music. The distinctions we should be making are those between the News of the World and the Sunday Pictorial, between ‘ skiffle ‘ and the Top Ten; and for ‘ highbrows’ between The Observer and the Sunday Times, or in ‘ egghead ‘paperbacks, between Raymond Williams and Vance Packard.
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Gilbert Harding—-the ‘rudest man in Britain ‘?

Gilbert Harding manners cover 001The recent sudden fall from grace of Tudor historian and broadcaster David Starkey over his remarks on the Black Lives Matter campaign recalls to mind another broadcaster of an earlier decade whose detractors also dubbed him ‘ the rudest man in Britain’—Gilbert Harding. This shared reputation comes to mind as we discovered a copy at Jot HQ of the very funny and often wise treatise on good behaviour, Gilbert Harding’s Book of Manners(1956).

The two men had a number of other things in common. Both were from humble backgrounds and both were graduates of Cambridge University. Starkey came from Kendal, where his Quaker father worked as a factory foreman and his mother was once a cotton spinner. Harding was born in Hereford, where his mother and father were the ‘matron’ and ‘master’ of an orphanage in the city. When his father died aged thirty the young Gilbert was sent to a charitable educational institution. In contrast, Starkey, who considered studying science before opting for the humanities, had a somewhat easier path to academic distinction, though he had a breakdown at age 13. Starkey is openly gay, whereas Harding had to hide his sexuality at a time when homosexuality was illegal.

Both men became broadcasters, almost by accident. While teaching at the LSE Starkey, having obtained his Ph D on the household of Henry VIII, became a panel member of BBC Radio’s ‘Moral Maze ‘, which is where he obtained his reputation for plain speaking. By this time Harding had been dead for over twenty years, but it possible that the young Starkey might have been impressed enough by the broadcaster’s irascible performances on ‘What’s My Line ‘in the fifties to have thought about modelling himself on him at some future time. Harding had entered the BBC in his late twenties after short spells as a schoolteacher, policeman and foreign correspondent. Continue reading

Television—1930s style

TV set 1936

Many thanks TVHistory.Tv

We have noticed in an earlier Jot that one of the first—or indeed the first– mention of the word ‘television’ in poetry was in Poems by Michael Roberts (1936). But in the October 1936 issue of the literary miscellany Medley can be found a remark by the playwright and Punch humourist A.P.Herbert taken from The Listener.

‘This latest miracle (television) fills me with odd, inconsequent thoughts. For example, will it be possible, I wonder, to switch off the sound and retain the sight? This would enhance the wicked satisfaction of cutting off what one dislikes. One could continue to gaze at the golden girl who will sing sharp, without having to listen to her.’

This is an interesting observation in that the first regular high definition broadcasts from Alexander Palace began on November 2nd 1936. As Mr Herbert was writing in the Listener a month or several months before this time, he based his observations on the period when the Baird system was operating alternatively with the high definition electronic system. It was then decided by the BBC that the high definition system supplied the superior picture and therefore should prevail, and that essentially is the system that we have today.

With the victory of the high definition system came a renewed demand for TV receivers—and a number of companies that had gained a reputation for producing radio receivers competed in this new market. Although these TV sets seem to have been basically superannuated radios that supplied the wavelength for the TV broadcasts, it should have been possible to turn the sound down and retain the picture. [R.M.Healey]


A.M.Low: the professor who wasn’t a professor

a-m-lowDiscovered in a July 1930 issue of Armchair Science, an article by the magazine’s ‘technical advisor’ A. M. Low entitled ‘Little Things and Big Minds’. In it Professor Low argues that we shouldn’t be impressed by large things—whether they are exaggerated claims for some patent medicine, or some mechanical apparatus, such as a typewriter. Machines are made from small parts, just as matter is composed of atoms and molecules; and big phenomena, such as broadcasting is powered by electricity, which is a flow of electrons. Small is beautiful, in other words.

This homily is a preface to the contents of the rest of the magazine, which is mainly devoted to broadcasting, the electron and diatoms. In addition, however, there are fascinating features on the newly invented saccharine, the proto-helicopter known as the autogyro, and tinned food. There is also a double-page spread entitled ‘On My Travels’ by Low, who looks about thirty (he was 42). Continue reading

Television in 1950- a prediction

Baird TV setPublished in the monthly miscellany Medley for September 1935 is this winning prediction from a competition run by The Manchester Guardian. It looks forward to what life might be like in 1950.

“ Last night the new tellie, ‘The Private Life of a Thwarted Ego’, started its run on the City Circuit. Pink One, the famous star of ‘Yes—Today and Hereafter’ and other colossal masterpieces, again shows she is the undisputed queen of Tele-Stereo-Appeal. Mr Malt Whimsy, her creator, has never painted her better. It is a long cry from her first appearance in those early crude ‘ Lunatic Lullabies ‘, but Miss Pink One has made the grade. As the pitiful but brave little Ego, caught in the Web of Circumstance, dazzled by the Lure of Gold, and finally falling by the Wayside, she was stupendous. By all means plug in to ‘Thwarted Ego, ’it’s the tellie of a generation!”

Several points here. Is this one of the earliest appearances of the word tellie, albeit spelt in a different way and used to describe a production to be viewed on a television receiver, rather than the receiver itself ? Also, what does the writer mean by the term ‘City Circuit ‘. Is this a channel ? Also, what opportunities would he or she have had in the UK, to view anything other than the experimental broadcasts put out around 1933/34 by the BBC late at night ? These generally lasted no more than ten minutes and consisted largely of fragments of drama and dances performed by a lady wearing a special photogenic costume. The fact that the writer could accurately predict the future success of a medium which was frequently derided as a flash in the pan at the time is impressive. This is almost as impressive as someone predicting the astonishing success of the Internet back in 1980. [R.M.Healey]


Nixon at the BBC (Face to Face)


Found among the papers of Hugh Burnett,producer of the Face to Face series of television interviews with John Freeman shown between 1959 and 1962, this amusing slightly tongue-in-cheek memo to BBC friends sent out well after the event in 1973. The show was and is (6 set DVD available) memorable for the probing style of its charismatic interviewer John Freeman (more than once causing interviewees to break down..) and also for the importance and variety of its guests. They included Lord Birkett, Bertrand Russell,Dame Edith Sitwell, Lord Boothby, Nubar Gulbenkian, Adlai Stevenson, John Huston, Carl Jung, King Hussein of Jordan, Tony Hancock, Henry Moore, Dr Hastings Banda, Augustus John, Sir Ray Welensky, Stirling Moss, Evelyn Waugh, Gilbert Harding, General von Senger und Etterlin, Lord Reith, Simone Signoret, Victor Gollancz, Adam Faith,Otto Klemperer, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Jomo Kenyatta, Sir Compton Mackenzie, John Osborne, Cecil Beaton, Danny Blanchflower and, of course, Richard Nixon, then (1959) the Vice-President…

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Hughie Green and his Gang

‘And I mean that most sincerely, folks’. This was one of Hughie Green’s catchphrases. Another was ‘Vote, vote, vote, ‘cos your votes count’. As the host of quiz show Double Your Money and Opportunity Knocks, a forerunner of Britain’s Got Talent, he had one of the most recognisable faces (and voices) on TV in the sixties and early seventies. Then, abortive lawsuits, womanising and alcohol all took their toll and he died largely forgotten in 1997 aged 77. But what many below the age of eighty might not know is that Green was once a child star who, with his very own 'Gang' of fellow child performers, toured the halls from the mid thirties. One of his star turns was a distinctly manic solo dance routine.

So what we have here is evidence that young Green and his Gang performed at The Empire, Swindon in February 1937. Evidently, Mrs Barbara Slocombe, his landlady at 5, Farnsley Street, was a bit of a celeb spotter and kept an album in which she got her showbiz guests to sign, perhaps with a message, a calling card, and often with a signed photograph, or even a drawing. Several of Green’s gang obliged, but there is no record of the boy wonder himself leaving a signature. What we do have, however, is a postcard from Penge featuring a photograph of Green which was sent by one of the gang, Willie Mars, asking if Mrs Slocombe would kindly send on the sports jacket that he had left behind in her guest house.

I wonder what happened to Willie Mars.

Carroll Levis and the Meaning of Dreams

Found in The World's Strangest Ghost Stories by R. Thurston Hopkins (Kingswood: The World's Work, London  1955) this piece in the preface about the American writer, TV personality and dream therapist Carroll Levis. There is much on Carroll online with Pete Waterman claiming he invented reality TV and The Beatles in their earliest form as The Quarrymen failing in the first rounds of one of his TV talent contests(1957). Paul McCartney described him as the 'Hughie Green of his day.'

Thurston Hopkins is dealing with an earlier incarnation of Levis as a radio star and before that a sort of analyser of dreams (during the depression.) At the end Hopkins even brings in our own J.B. Priestley, also in his time something of a star...The radio show where the public's dreams are re-enacted seems ripe for rebirth.

In 1931, Carroll Levis, who presented the Levis Discoveries Radio Show to eight million aficionados, published Dreams and their Meanings, which was syndicated and featured in newspapers in Canada and the United States. The same year, he wrote a radio series entitled Dream Dramas. Listeners were invited to send a description of their most vivid dreams to Levis, who rewrote them into short twelve-minute playlets. The dreams were re-enacted by  a group of actors, under the direction of Carroll Levis, and at the conclusion of the dramatized dream, a three-minute analysis and interpretation was given to the listeners.

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Doctor Who fan solicits Abu autograph

An interesting fan letter from 2005 found among a collection of TV memorabilia. A very polite and thoughtfully composed letter from an ultra-keen collector of 'The Doctor.' He even goes as far as enclosing a pen, a good idea for an autograph hound on the street but unusual in a soliciting letter (surely?). 850 autographs is pretty good going...could only find one photo of Terence Brown in his role as Abu. By the way the factoid about the early use of dry ice sounds convincing but how true is it?

Dear Mr Brown

I am writing in the hope that you can add to my collection of Doctor Who autographs.

If possible, I should be grateful if you would sign the enclosed cards, which relate to the Doctor Who story The Krotons in which you appeared as the doomed Gond  student "Abu."  His death at the hands of the croutons  was one of the first major uses of dry ice in television drama, and was the catalyst for the Doctor and his friends becoming involved in Gond society. Also enclosed is a pen, which should help with signing certain cards, and a return envelope with sufficient postage for both the cards and a pen.

Of course, I appreciate that Doctor Who is only a very small part of your career, and that you make the firm not to sign certain cards, but I should be grateful if you would return them in any event.

Terence Brown as Abu

Please could you also let me have a signed photograph. I have made one using images from the Doctor Who website, as I realise you may not have any available, but please accept my apologies for the quality. I much prefer a signed picture of the actor, rather than their role in Doctor Who, so I should be grateful for a current photograph if at all possible. These items are solely for my personal collection of over 850 actors and crew from the programme, and I'm quite happy if you would like to dedicate them.

The Krotons is one of the Doctor Who stories for which I have only been able to obtain a couple of autographs, most recently from actor Gilbert Wynne.

I do hope that you will find the time to reply…

The earliest reference to television in literature

Sent in by loyal jotter RR. Interestingly we recently catalogued a literary magazine edited by Lawrence Durrell 'International Post' (1939) -- it had a TV critic and was full of promise but went to just one highly elusive issue. Our copy sold immediately at a substantial premium.

One strong contender ( I would welcome more examples from readers) must be this poem which appeared in Poems (1936) by Michael Roberts. We don’t have a date for this composition, but it was doubtless written when very short experimental broadcasts using the Baird process were being made late each evening from Alexander Palace during the period 1933- 36.My Christmas 1934 issue of The Radio Times lists these in the radio section. They consisted mainly of a series of dances performed by an elegant lady who was obliged to wear a special designed TV- friendly costume that emphasized stripes and zig-zags. There were also vocal recitals and other simple performances that would easily fit into the twenty minute slot.

When, in 1936, the largely unsuccessful and decidedly clunky, Baird method was replaced by the electronic EMI-Marconi process, a greater flexibility in programming was possible. The time allocated to television was greatly extended and in the three years in which it operated, television gave broadcasters like John Betjeman, John Piper and Geoffrey Grigson, opportunities to become well known to an albeit ( the broadcasts only  reached London and parts of the Home Counties) limited audience.

Alas, all this growing potential came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of the Second World War. [RR]

Origin of the Dalek

Sent in by loyal jotwatcher RMH this very topical offering...By the way Kulfi is delicious, especially pistachio or mango. There are also a few local India restaurants/ canteens near the BBC which serve Kulfi. Some in the nearby Acton area have been there long enough to support his theory...

The otherwise excellent Dr Who drama, Adventures in Space and Time (televised on 21 November) deftly skated round the origins of the Dalek shape. There was a scene revealing a miniature mock up of the Tardis interior, but the Daleks emerged from the design studios as full sized models. Thus the important initial stage in the design process was missed out. Which is a pity. When, a few months ago, I interviewed Roberts Banks Stewart, a Dr Who scriptwriter from the early days of the programme, he assured me that the BBC production designer Ray Cusick, who died recently, had got the idea for the Dalek from salt and pepper pots used in the BBC canteen. Apparently, his sketches of these were shown to Terry Nation , who was so delighted by them that he got the BBC design people to create a full size model. The rest is history.

By I’m not entirely convinced. At least ten years ago I was visiting a small Indian restaurant off the Commercial Road in London when I saw a battered metal sign displaying some Dalek-shaped kulfi cones. The sign was worn and battered, which suggested that it may have pre-dated the arrival of the Dalek. Unfortunately, I can’t recall any company name on the sign or any other evidence that would help me arrive at a date of manufacture.

Then just six months ago I discovered that someone had posted a photo of a newer advertising placard advertising similar-looking Dalek-shaped kulfi cones. Now, it may have been that forty or more years ago some ice cream company in India wanted to cash in on the popularity of the Daleks. Or-- just as likely-- could Ray Cusick have been inspired, even subliminally, to create the prototype Dalek after  visiting an Indian restaurant in the UK, or indeed in India itself ?

Dr Who fanatics would be wise not to exterminate my theory without providing evidence to disprove it.

I once met Jane Grigson

Sent in by faithful jotter R.M.Healey. My nearest thing to this was walking through Elizabeth David's hall past some serious antiquarian cookery  to get to the garret of her sister to buy some books. Belgravia?

I met the woman who has been called one of the greatest writers on food in the twentieth century in the early autumn of 1985. But I wasn’t so much interested in her own writings, but in her husband, the poet and critic Geoffrey Grigson, twenty three years her senior, who was slowly dying.

Earlier that year I had compiled a festschrift for Grigson’s 80th birthday and he had sent me a letter of thanks dictated by his daughter Sophie, who had not yet embarked on her own career as a TV chef and food journalist. At that time I hadn’t fully realised how ill he was (I think it was prostate cancer) because I plagued Jane with letters and phone calls begging to visit them both. Eventually, she relented and one weekday in October my girlfriend and I caught the coach from Victoria to Swindon.

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I once met Snoop Dogg

Winter, London,1997. It was at the Elbow Room in Notting Hill Gate, a bar and snooker hall. The occasion was  the Low, Howard, Spink advertising agencies  creative departments afternoon out and 'jolly.' Snoop Dogg was recording an interview with MTV - in the days when MTV was still cool. We noticed the rapper Snoop and his crew at the bar. His crowd  included his father who joined us admen in a game of pool. Being gentlemen and somewhat affeared of his entourage (blokes with big coats) we thought it best to let him win. He was in fact a good player and a very nice man known affectionately to all as 'Pops.' I also shook hands with Snoop Dogg (a soft, loose grip) and my boss insisted on having a picture of his dog ('Mr. Patch')  taken with the great man.  As I recall he was slightly mystified by this request but went along with it in good cheer.

Photo above is of Snoop with the late show-biz dog 'Lucky' not 'Mr. Patch.' Sent in by Damian - a longterm jotwatcher.