They Say… Leonard Marsland Gander


Frank comment from an outsider

Cover of 'Fusion' 5
From Fusion 5 from 1959

When Associated-Rediffusion first began to transmit in 1955 it was David’s challenge to the Goliath BBC. I think we all ought to remember that now, when, after a few near misses, the pebble has hit the complacent monster. We are all too apt to forget the impudent, and as it seemed, imprudent courage of the first assault.

The worst thing about metaphors is that they don’t mix as well as gin and French, and so I don’t want to pursue this David and Goliath business too closely. A-R TV isn’t so small and the BBC isn’t dead. Let me state my first interest in this effusion – apart from the money. It is to consider what part the TV critic has played in television.

In my opinion the influence of the TV critic has been valuable in providing entertainment for readers and publicity for individuals or organizations. It has been entirely negligible in its effect on the general spin of the wheel.

Now to my second point on which I can expand more. What is the function of the newspaper television critic? What is he trying to do? There is vast misunderstanding about this among television producers and planners, in fact among all those people on the other side of the fence. I find it exceedingly curious that this should be so. They understand well enough their own problem which is to entertain the public while at the same time maintaining as much artistic integrity as time space circumstances will allow. The critic is in the same boat.

When it comes to understanding the problem of the newspaper critic the average television man betrays an abysmal ignorance. This is evident in every reference made to reporters and newspapers in TV drama. Playwrights do not seem to know the first thing about newspaper technique and the producers even less. This applies to all TV organizations, not merely A-R.

L Marsland Gander
LEONARD MARSLAND GANDER is 56, and the doyen of London TV critics and correspondents. He was an apprentice reporter on the Stratford Express, West Ham; then chief reporter of The Times of India, Bombay, where he was also a correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Express, the Daily News, and the Exchange Telegraph Company. Appointed Radio Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph in 1926 he then, successively became a general reporter and a sub-editor. In 1933 he was made television critic, the first person so appointed by any newspaper in the world. After the outbreak of war in 1939 he was accredited as a Daily Telegraph war correspondent, serving in five campaigns.

The average TV producer, confused about the methods of the newspaper reporter, is equally at sea about the function of the critic. He thinks of Ruskin, Hazlitt, Shaw, and St John Ervine, failing to realize that none of these giants made his reputation within the framework of a modern newspaper. Newspapers exist, oddly enough, to propagate news. Anything that appears is the livelier for an admixture of topicality. A first night is news; the plot of a play not yet seen by any but the first-night audience is also news.

That is the big snag with television. At a first showing a TV play has been seen by ten thousand full houses. It may never be seen again. Has a notice about it any place in a paper that lives and dies on the day’s news? Yes, it can have if treated on the basis of a football match; the result is known but readers want to know the expert’s opinion and to re-live the thrills. But it is secondary to real news; if an economic blizzard came and newspapers were cut down, television criticism would probably be one of the first things to go.

Many people seem to think that there is some sharply defined dividing line between news and criticism in newspapers. This is not so. The function of a critic – and let me make it clear that I am speaking only of the newspaper type, not the lesser breeds without the law – is to entertain his readers, tell them something that they do not already know, while at the same time being constructive and generous. Style helps, but haste to catch editions, the telephone and the torture of a thousand cuts, or death on the stone, do not.

Some wounded television characters think there is no such thing as a good critic, only different degrees of bad ones. Personally I agree with Shaw that the golden rule is there are no golden rules. And I think Ruskin’s reminder that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless, such as peacocks, ought to be applied to all TV critiques and critics. Or maybe, just to complete this piece of literary exhibitionism, Hazlitt was right when he said that the art of pleasing consists in being pleased, whatever that may mean.

Perhaps one other thing ought to be said about TV critics. They have inherited the traditions of sound radio which from the start was not only mixed up with news but also with gossip writing and a certain amount of Press antipathy to a formidable new competitor. Luckily, in these more civilized times all is sweetness and light between the Press and ITV. All? Well, nearly all. That’s the best way I can express it.

Leonard Marsland Gander

About the author

Leonard Marsland-Gander was the TV correspondent of the Daily Telegraph

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