They Say… James Green


Frank comment from an outsider

Cover of 'Fusion' 3
From Fusion 3 in 1958

An outsider looks at A-R … for a start, that fusion introduction makes me sound like Colin Wilson. So let’s state here and now that I’ve no intention of being horse-whipped. Still that Outsider tag is probably justified, since this article arose out of a lunch date I had with your editor. I was sounding off about A-R in the approved John Osborne AYM manner when he pulled me up.

‘Don’t waste it on an audience of one’, he said, ‘put it on paper and tell the whole company.’ Let’s get one point straight. When you’re an outsider looking in it always seems easy to do the other chap’s job. But let the theorizing end and the practical business begin and the snags queue up. We can all be Stanley Matthews until the ball’s at our feet.

My newspaper work brings me in touch regularly with four ITV companies – each of which is taking on a distinctive personality. To my mind A-R is the least easily identifiable of the Big Four.

Think of ATV and the picture is of show business, variety, gimmicks, professionalism, the big drum, visiting Americans and Val Parnell. Turn to Granada and you sec Sidney Bernstein ruling the roost and hatching out a lot of good ideas and programmes, with here and there a bad egg in the entertainment basket.

ABC conjures up fast-talking Howard Thomas, a mixture of good and indifferent shows, and a general air of slow but steady progress.

Which leaves A-R. How do you sum up the company? It gives no impression of onemanship. Who is the single individual who can be cornered and asked for a quick answer to the 64,000 dollar question? This is important to everybody writing about TV because when key questions are being asked we look for an answer today. Tomorrow or later on is useless. And by answer I don’t mean a diplomatically phrased ‘it could well be that…’ or ‘when the consideration arises A-R will take due notice’ piece of nonsense.

Of course there are times when A-R prefers to play it strong and silent. However, when facts are getting out and questions being asked then let us please have a quick and definite answer. That way A-R will get a better Press than by letting limited information and guesswork produce half a story.


James Green
JAMES GREEN Began in journalism on a London suburban weekly and after service with the Royal Navy, joined The Star as a general reporter. First began writing about Radio and TV in 1951 and is now the Radio and TV Correspondent

Does the same team spirit and enthusiasm exist inside A-R that is found in your competitors?

This isn’t a matter of individual outlook. Some of the nicest people to be met in TV nestle under A-R’s wing. But collectively does the vitality and urgency which marked those invigorating early days of Channel Nine still exist?

Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me that the spirit is there and kept for private consumption rather than the public gaze. I hope it is so.

For my money you’ve slowed down. Some of the fun seems to have gone from life – which is surprising to an outsider when TV is so obviously one of the most alive-o industries with thousands of lookers-on-and-in only too keen to break into it.

Ignoring the financial side of things A-R snatched the viewing plum when it landed the London Monday-to-Friday contract.

But what unique contribution has the Company made to the service? Whatever your answer, here is a further question – has that contribution been as important as you expected?

I’ve been disappointed. A-R as one of the pioneering companies had to pay the penalty for the many and expected mistakes. It seems you stockpiled too much and these ‘canned’ shows played too big a role in your programme schedules. If you’re loading schedules with film it doesn’t leave much space for the live products of your staff.

So the impression gained from the screen was that A-R was more interested in the ready made product than in do-it-yourself shows. This impression remains. I’d like to sec A-R come out with a lot more live shows devised and mounted by the staff.

They couldn’t all be winners but a fair proportion might ring the bell.


It is in variety that I believe A-R needs a boost. Where is your Palladium show or ‘Chelsea At Eight’? Where are your Maria Callas’s or Bob Hope’s?

From time-to-time you get the celebrity names but usually it is left to ATV or Granada to scoop the pool.

Where’s your comedy rival to ‘The Army Game’? I’m not forgetting those Top Ten quizzes ‘Double Your Money’ and ‘Take Your Pick’. A-R screens them, yet can hardly claim credit for either.

I’d like to see better scripting in variety, better productions, less tclcrccording, more showmanship and, well – glitter.

You’ve had your successes with offbeat shows like ‘Fred’, ‘Son of Fred’, etc. – but they are no longer around. More’s the pity.

Drama has hit the heights. I remember Pete Murray in ‘The Last Enemy’ … some of the Ted Willis plays. Lately, the impact has seemed less strong.

I don’t put that forward as a necessarily correct view. However, it’s mine. I realize that A-R’s drama maintains a good standard and it’s not easy finding unusual stories popular with the mass.

In documentaries and features A-R has been seen at its best. Here you have had intelligent, first-class programmes which other companies must have envied and which assaulted the BBC where it thought itself unchallengeable.

You found an outstanding interviewer-reporter in Michael Ingrams, screened two talked about and enjoyed ‘Look Out’ and ‘Look In’ series and promptly forgot about him.

I’m not forgetting those major documentaries of Russia and America – both highly praised but using him once every six months or so seems a waste.

I’d also like to mention Caryl Doncaster, Dan Farson and Nick Barker. They’ve all added to A-R’s reputation.

Do you recall the documentary that the Company did on fan fever? I still remember it and I’d like to know why A-R hasn’t turned out many more like it.

Can I pay a well-earned tribute next to weatherman Laurie West? It’s not the easiest of jobs telling viewers why it was wet yesterday, was wet today and it’s going to be wet tomorrow.

I like Mr West’s friendly personality, his commonsense and understandable explanations about deep depressions and the like, and I’m sure the majority of viewers prefer his performance to that of the BBC’s weather team.

But let’s take a look at the programmes which follow him in a typical week this summer. On Mondays the London viewer gets two Granada shows and one from ATV.

A-R’s contribution? The ‘My Wife and I’ series, the American originated ‘Wagon Train’, ‘Murder Bag’ and ‘Undercurrent’ – I’m leaving out advertising magazines. That’s a reasonable bunch. Three live shows and one film.

Tuesdays it’s not so good a story. Two live shows from Granada and two more from ATV. A-R chips in with youth-club show ‘Who Knows?’, Bob Cummings and Late, very Late Extra.

Better on Wednesdays – two from Granada and three from A-R. A play, a quiz and musical variety.

Thursdays? Equally good. Two from Granada and the rest from A-R. These are ‘Cool for Cats’, ‘San Francisco Beat’, ‘This Week’, a ‘Jack Hylton Half-hour’ and ‘Palais Party’. Finally, Friday. Three from ATV, one from Granada, and ‘Gun Law’, ‘Turnabout’ and a Jack Hylton show out of the home stable.

Where is the highlight to the A-R week? Where are the shows that are adding something lasting to the development of TV?

Maybe I’m being too critical? A-R is pleasing millions of viewers with the existing schedules. I believe it could please many more and give fresh incentive to the staff by working on new shows and ideas.

However, until you strike your own path and present many more live programmes I don’t think A-R will increase its stature.

Jogging along in the middle of the road with a passable but not exceptional collection of shows makes for an easy life.

Personally, I’d like to see the resources of writers, designers, directors and the rest tapped much more frequently.

Does it matter that some ideas might fall by the wayside? Much more likely is that half-a-dozen shows will emerge which are worth staying home for.

Do I qualify for that horsewhipping?

About the author

James Green (1926-2015) wrote for the London 'Star' from 1946 until it merged with the Evening News in 1960; he stayed with the Evening News until it merged with the Evening Standard in 1980. He then worked in public relations whilst also writing freelance for The Stage and other newspapers about the media

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