When I was a boy, balance was a quality required in a gymnasium; when I was a young man it was required on the dance floor; since then I have been warned to take a balanced view in politics and even in war. But now Balance has taken on a new meaning and become a very important consideration in my work, for the Television Act 1954 lays down in Section 3(1) (b)
‘the programmes (broadcast by the ITA) should maintain a proper balance in their subject-matter.’
There are nearly as many interpretations of this section as there are readers. There is one school of thought which seems to think that a proper balance is necessarily achieved by including serious programmes dealing with social problems or politics – something akin to the public service programmes included in American television. Another school of thought considers that the term ‘proper balance’ is a way of defining the sort of programmes which are broadcast by the BBC on sound on the Third: these people include ballet, opera, art, literature and the more high-brow drama and music within their definition. There is a further body of opinion that considers that a ‘proper balance’ is only another way of saying that the programmes should instruct and inform as well as entertain: this view springs from the BBC’s objective which is to ‘entertain, inform and instruct’. People who hold this view think that some 70 to 80 per cent of our programmes should aim to entertain, whilst the remainder should aim to instruct and inform: the latter being spread evenly throughout transmission.
Personally I have formed a different view after reading and re-reading the whole of the Act many times. In my opinion the Act is intended to ensure that the programmes are not solely directed and planned to attract majority audiences to the exclusion of the sort of programmes which attract and are interesting to minority audiences. My definition of a balanced programme is therefore ‘a programme entertaining and interesting to a minority as opposed to a majority audience’.
A-R and other programme companies have naturally carried out a lot of research to find out the tastes of our viewers. We have found out that there is a fair size minority audience for the following subjects among others:
Racing and Show Jumping – Jazz – Ballroom Dancing – Pop Music (Disc and Rock-’n-roll) – Classical Drama – Film and Stage Gossip – Exhibitions and Displays (Air Display, Royal Tournament, Chelsea Flower Show, etc.) – Athletics and Swimming – Classical Music – Science – Art – Minority Sports (Tennis, Billiards, Bowls, Darts) – Motor Racing – Social Problems – Politics, particularly foreign politics
And there are, of course, smaller minority audiences for nearly every subject under the sun.
You will note that I have left out of my list three most important subjects: Religion, News, and Education. Religion – thinking about things of the spirit – is clearly essential to a balanced life and therefore also to a balanced programme. The News is traditionally an important facet of broadcasting and one which viewers expect to have as of right. School Broadcasts, on the other hand, are a new feature in television but one which A-R thinks will be a great influence for good in education.
These three types of programmes do not fit my definition of commanding enthusiastic minority audiences: they are of interest and use to all of us, but the term enthusiastic is inappropriate for their audiences.
People with whom I discuss this subject – or more accurately, who discuss it with me – frequently say, ‘Yes, it’s true that your programmes as a whole are properly balanced, but you banish your good programmes – by which they mean the serious programmes they like – to off-peak periods’. This line of thought springs from the false assumption that our objective is to educate the public – the BBC’s ‘instruct and inform’ formula. There is no mention in the Act of educating the public. We are required to maintain ‘a proper balance in subject-matter’ and a ‘high general standard of quality’. In my opinion that means that we should provide entertaining and interesting programmes of good quality for minority as well as majority audiences. A majority has its rights however, and one of them, I feel, is that a majority programme should be transmitted when the majority are viewing. Enthusiastic minorities must give way to the majority and adjust their viewing hours accordingly.
I represent the Company on the Weekday Programme Network Committee and on the Standing Consultative Committee – the joint committee on which the ITA and all contractors are represented. I take the following general line in the discussions in these committees:
Between 7.30 p.m. and 10.30 p.m. the programmes should in the main be designed to entertain the majority of our viewers, since this is the time when the majority are ready and willing to view. Supper finished and not yet time for bed.
After 10.30 p.m. programmes of interest to minority audiences should be included. Note that a programme of special interest to a minority is not an automatic switch-off to the majority who may find their interest caught.
Before 7.30 p.m. at least one hour and possibly more should be aimed specifically at a children’s audience.
The remainder of the afternoon and early evening should have programmes aimed at minority audiences (‘Racing at Lingfield,’ ‘Roving Report’, ‘Answers Please’, are examples).
There is another Section of the Act which is not easily interpreted: though not normally considered as affecting the balance of the programmes, I think it is very relevant.
I refer to Section 3 (i)(d) which says:
‘Proper proportions of recorded and other matter included in the programmes should be of British origin and British performance.’
I believe that the object of this section is also to obtain balance. Clearly it would be wrong if our programmes expounded nothing but a foreign philosophy and showed nothing but a foreign way of life. It would equally be wrong if it was too exclusively British – too insular: no one would suggest excluding Mozart, Dumas, Danny Kaye or the Milan football team because they are of foreign origin. In Art, Music and the Theatre, giving them their capital letters, we are international and try to obtain the best that the world has to offer. Similarly in Television we should try to obtain the best that the world can give us: if it is a good programme we should try to get it, irrespective of origin.
Many people comment on the number of American half-hour programmes which we broadcast. The fact is that there are many excellent American programmes greatly liked by majority audiences, whilst similar British programmes are nearly unobtainable. A-R has been trying to find a good British series for months but with the exception of‘Robin Hood’, the British film series have not been very successful.
It may be of interest that I make the amount of programme of foreign origin and performance which we have shown since 1955 as less than 7 per cent of our transmission time: statisticians on the staff may like to check that figure. Again the critic will say, ‘True enough, but you show all the American stuff in peak hours’. To which I will reply ‘Majorities have their rights and the majority like “Gun Law”, “San Francisco Beat” and “Wagon Train” very much.’ Where the majority do not like a programme, for example, “Inner Sanctum” or “Patti Page”, then it is moved either to off-peak or off-the-schedules’ (the latter costs money as programmes are paid for even if not shown).
Summing up my view: The Company’s object is to entertain and interest their audience. The programmes which the majority like should be shown at the times when the majority view. Minorities are entitled to be given programmes on which they are enthusiastic but must accept the disadvantage of less convenient viewing times. Religion, News and School Broadcasts must be included in our programme schedules as essential to a sane, balanced life. British Television, whilst being international in searching for the best from all over the world, should not propagate a foreign philosophy or outlook.