Television in 1984


What will television look like in 1984? The programme makers of 1958 try to find out

Once again julie elwell-sutton culls our collective brain – this time for a vision of TV 1984

Cover of 'Fusion' 2
From Fusion 2 in 1958

If I thought that Good Taste in TV was a difficult subject to tackle, I can tell you I just didn’t know what I was talking about… this one is a real stinker! I’ve trudged the length and breadth of TV House, questioning the weak and the strong, burning up the wires between here and Wembley and have ended with a bulk of statements either too libellous to print or too technical to understand, but despite this, I managed to salvage a few serious opinions and at least one so unnerving, so night-marish, as to shake the knees of the most hardbitten TV Mogul. George Orwell’s Big Brother concept is about as lethal as Brer Rabbit, compared with our lot under the iron heel of mass TV. As one overwrought PA put it ‘There won’t be any Big Brother, just a world of people with pin heads and enormous eyes’.

Michael Ingrams has very definite ideas. He visualizes round-the-clock viewing, with the screen hanging on the wall like a picture; a vast number of channels, an automatically timed telerecording system in the home, so that any householder can go out for a whole day and still be able to play back any particular programme in his own good time, with library companies doing flourishing business in Teletapes. There will be worldwide TV links, and complete evenings or even days will be given over to integrated, planned-in-the-round programmes from one particular country (so you can watch out for a whole evening of Kabuki from Japan, or corn on the cob from just anywhere). He feels there might well be a strong cultural renaissance, because ‘coin in the slot’ viewing will enable small specializing managements to profitably give minority viewers the chance to see the non-pop type programmes, such as ballet, Greek tragedies and documentaries. Apparently we must expect sponsorship in TV, but through the back door – recorded programmes from the States will be beamed direct or via ‘pirate’ Continental masts and this inevitably will lead to a cry of unfair competition from the British counterparts, who will demand more say in the actual content of the programmes. Sports promoters please note, climb on the wagon now, give up this petty carping about TV affecting the Gate, or you are likely to find it very cold outside. For by 1984, opines Ingrams, all major sports will be run and owned by TV promoters, so that we shall have the A-R Rattlers playing in the World TV League against the Moscow State Moonrakers.

Next I visited the seat of Engineering to get Bill Cheevers’ more technical views. There was much that sailed over my head like one of Wordsworth’s clouds, but I’ll give you the gist of what I think he said. We shall certainly have colour 3-D TV, and multi-channels. We can expect a tremendous revolution in equipment, the miniature camera, weighing 4 to 5 lb. [1.8 to 2.3kg], which naturally allows for greater mobility. This increased mobility will allow us to get farther afield with our ‘Remotes’ teams, and open up unexplored vistas, a fixed centre for channelling programmes to viewers will probably be of relative unimportance. With the establishing of space stations, we should get excellent TV reception for nationwide hookups, and intimate looks at the moon may well be part of our daily viewing diet. We must expect a lot more automation and a great improvement in presentation. At the moment we are still too tied to the camera techniques of the film industry, a live show still looks as if it had been edited, by the film method of cutting from one camera to another, and the multi-camera method must be developed. Asked if everything would be pre-recorded, he gave me a very definite negative. The actuality programme must remain, because it holds more impact than the prerecorded, which often loses its bite by striving for perfection. Because of the speeding up in the tempo of life, he thinks an hour will then be the maximum length of a programme. Once again we have the picture frame screen and the ‘coin box’ viewing, and the quality of the programme content improving … the rest I must leave to your technical imaginations, … because this is where I have to opt out.

Another technical advance, culled from Wembley, that I vaguely understood was that programmes would be recorded on nylon thread, of course in 3-D colour, but this time projected onto a wide home screen … There will be interplanetary news and sports programmes, linked by Space stations…. Dave Vigo pointed out that with the advent of colour, the whole concept of set design, wardrobe and make-up would have to be revised, but that we would still have les girls … other comments made by those-who-shall-be-nameless varied from ‘Palais Party will still be with us, but Lou Preager will have a beard’ … to … ‘It will still break down just the same’ … and … ‘There will still be scheduled Amendments’ …!

I met Harry Hart in the Editor’s office, so he didn’t really stand a chance, with us both gazing at him earnestly, but he was game to the last and came up with one or two off-beat ideas. He naturally accepted 3-D colour, picture-frame screens and limitless channels, but he thought that instead of a ‘coin in the slot’ scheme, you would dial some central depot, and ask them to punch up on your screen your choice of programme, in fact, specialized viewing on each channel. Whereas light entertainment and drama would be pre-recorded and shown at some later date, reportage would be recorded as transmitted. Television will be used for traffic control, and Secretaries will have to hide their bosses under the desk, while saying they are out, because our phones will be equipped in glorious television. The art of reading and writing will virtually disappear, as the TV will be used as a visual dictaphone, so presumably we shall have to transmit our innermost thoughts to our nearest and dearest, visually; I feel it’s all going to be rather exhausting … imagine writing a visual love letter…. Apparently life will be so hectic, that all viewing will be done whilst travelling, or having a bath, there just wont be any other time for it … and get this … all advertising will be subliminal … so look out for the modern version of the pin and the wax image.

I asked Caryl Doncaster for her ideas on 1984 viewing. Newspapers in printed form will disappear, and will be replaced by a system whereby any viewer at any time can punch up the news, which will be recorded direct on to the individual screen. By then she hopes that the TV Acts will be modified to allow for a definite editorial line to be taken on everything that affects us. (I myself envisage that the Press Barons of today may well be superseded by the Visual Press Baron, and all Conservatives will automatically tune in to the Visual Times, and so through every political colour, to the Communists who will view the Daily Worker.) By the way, she thinks that cinemas will just become car parks!

The whole system of education is almost certain to be revolutionized and the standard will become exceptionally high; the best brains in the country and the world being channelled to schools on closed circuits, controlled by the Ministry of Education. The role of the present-day teacher will be reduced to that of a governess or nursemaid, present merely to keep order while the TV lesson is in progress. Sound radio will be a thing of the past, as extinct as the dodo.

And now I come to the last and most horrific suggestion of all; I may have caught Elkan Allan in an unconscious moment and I am still unable to decide whether to take him seriously or not, but he gave me these ideas with a completely dead-pan expression. He once read a Science-Fiction story by Ray Bradbury, in which everything was completely dominated by TV, there was an actual TV room, with all four walls a TV screen, so that they stood as if on the set, and the programme companies sent each viewer a script so they could take part in the programme themselves. Just think of all those hammy Hamlets and overblown Ophelias gesticulating in that nightmare room. As if this isn’t enough, Elkan added a few choice thoughts of his own. There will be no newspapers or books and each room will have a picture-frame TV to churn out the appropriate programme, so that in the kitchen there will always be a cooking demonstration in progress, done slowly enough for the mesmerized housewife to follow instructions while cooking the Sunday lunch. The nursery will have a perpetual game going on, and the bedroom a sleep-inducing theme … ye Gods, ‘The Day of the Triffids’ was never like this.


From the Dick Branch collection

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