Thursday, June 04, 2015

Listing the Past

Continuing my nostalgic theme from earlier in the week, of late I've been indulging in another of my obsessions: poring over old TV listings.  This can be a frustrating task, as the available listings, especially those from before the 1980s, are fragmentary and incomplete, typically giving only programme titles, leaving one to speculate as to the actual content.  Nevertheless, the information they yield is fascinating, indicating the ways in which our TV viewing habits have changed over the decades.   I find the fifties and early sixties especially interesting, as they lie beyond any of my memories of TV and also represent a time when the UK only had two TV channels, (and before 1955, only one), in the form of the BBC Television Service (which effectively became BBC One after the creation of BBC Two in 1964), and the ITV network.  Of course, back then, ITV was a network of affiliated regional franchises, which came on air piece meal between 1955 and the early sixties, with another major reorganisation in the late sixties.  To confuse the ITV picture further, in some regions there were separate franchises for weekday and weekend broadcasting, with different companies providing the services, (a situation which persisted in London until 2002).  Many of the early ITV franchise holders were themselves owned by various combinations of newspaper groups, film distributors and electronics manufacturers. 

But to get to the listings themselves, direct comparisons between the BBC and the various ITV franchises is difficult due to their incomplete nature: it is very difficult, pre 1965, to find same day listings for both channels.  However, a comparison between two days in 1955 - 13 Sep for the BBC and 23 Sep for Associated Rediffusion TV (weekday ITV franchise holder for London) - serves to show just why ITV was suddenly so popular amongst those who could receive it when it came on air.  It should be mentioned that 23 September was the first full day of broadcasting for ITV.  That said, its schedule for this day seems pretty typical for the era.  The first big difference between the ITV and BBC schedule lies in the extent of their coverage - ITV started much earlier, with some morning programming, clearly aimed at housewives (a daily serial and a DIY programme showing 'how to do practical tasks - those usually done by husbands').  The BBC, by contrast, didn't kick off until three in the afternoon, with a women's magazine programme followed by children's TV.  ITV had clearly not started producing Children's TV programmes at this stage, instead offering a preview of such shows in the equivalent slot.  But it is in prime time that the difference between the two channels really becomes evident.  The BBC's main offerings - a profile of film director Anatole Litvak, nature programme Zoo Quest and a play - seem rather staid and, well, worthy.  By contrast, ITV offered a motoring magazine produced by the RAC, a musical spot, a comedy, a game show, Around the World with Orson Welles and, horror of horrors, an American TV series in the form of Dragnet.  All-in-all, a far more populist line up, offering some kind of variety to viewers looking to be entertained.  Plus, ITV had the novelty of commercials between the programmes (and they really were a novelty back then).  Clearly, the ITV approach must have found favour with the public as, within a few months, the BBC schedules start to include game shows, serials, comedies and imported US series.  The modern schedule had been born...

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