Achtung! Absence makes the heart grow fonder

From Fusion 19, Associated-Rediffusion’s house magazine, published June 1961

Programme director Mark Lawton spent three months in Germany earlier this year producing two plays. In this article he sets out his impressions of German television.

It is almost impossible to write about German television. That may seem a funny way to start an article about this subject but it happens to be true because there is no television in Germany as we know it in this country.

The fact is that Germany has not yet established television as a medium of communication, for it almost wholly relies on precedents of techniques and organisation as established by the theatre and film industries.

A good illustration of this is that £45,000 was spent recently on a television production of ‘Hamlet’. But the whole thing was shot in a film studio by a film director using film equipment. The result, in my opinion, was that it was neither a good film nor was it suitable for television.

A similar thing happened with a production of ‘Under Milk Wood’. In this case it was directed by a stage director and presented from the point of view of the stage. It is not surprising that both productions, therefore, made very dull television.

I should say that the greatest drawback in German television is the lack of fully trained personnel and their unwillingness to learn the arts of television, relying wholly on the tricks of the trade from films and the theatre.

A typical drama production team which is together from the start of rehearsals, consists of a director, assistant director, a script girl (not a production assistant), a floor manager and an assistant. There is also a director, supervisor and manager of production. Each of these last three is concerned with the management side and is not involved with the artistic result.

Mark Lawton on the set at work on one of his German television plays.

Despite this large crew you are still lucky if you can record a play in the studio in five and a half days. Some of the existing networks take even longer – up to two weeks in the studio for one production.

The main reason for this is that the staff have never been properly trained for television so they are not of much help to the director and even the directors very rarely plot cameras until they are actually in the studio.

The result is that during my time in Munich I did not see one production which could compare favourably either technically or artistically with anything we do in this country.

The programmes now being transmitted have a smack of pre-war television days about them even though the money spent on each production is at least twice that of our own budget for a similar programme.

All of which may sound as if I returned a little dejected.

I forgot to mention that the two plays I produced were for a station that never was – the company concerned has not yet got permission to broadcast.

About Mark Lawton 1 Article
Mark Lawton was a programme director at Rediffusion

1 Comment on Achtung! Absence makes the heart grow fonder

  1. Do we not read hear the elemenets of arrogrance which eventually led the ITA to take away Associated Rediffusion’s franchise and force it into a minority “menrger” (49%) with ABC Teleision (51%) to form Thames Television?

    And where is Associated Rediffusion Television today? Its successor Thames Television was bought up by Freemantle which in turn was bought up by RTL Group (controlled by Bertelsman). RTL Group has its largest TV production facilities in Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia and is the largest commercial TV company in Europe.

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