Saturday, March 26, 2022

17 years of new Doctor Who

17 years ago today, on 26 March 2005, Doctor Who returned to TV after an absence of almost as long. That first new episode Rose is still fresh and exhilarating, and readily available on iPlayer. It's easy to imagine someone starting with it now and quickly getting hooked. 

But I wonder how Rose would look to someone coming to it only familiar with Doctor Who from Jodie Whittaker's Doctor. Would it seem so very different? In the intervening years, there have been new lead actors, the move to high definition TV, and there's a lot more CGI - but in its pace and feel and imagination, and in the character and motivations of the Doctor, it's still recognisably the same programme.

How that contrasts with the first time Doctor Who turned 17, on 23 November 1980. The night before that birthday, State of Decay Part One saw the Fourth Doctor and his companions - two aliens and a robot - meeting vampires in a bubble universe, in a clash of old mythology and cutting edge physics. A few weeks before, on 4 November, is was announced that Peter Davison would be taking over the title role in the series, a markedly younger actor than the previous incumbents, promising new life for the then-venerable series. And a little before that, on 25 October, the first episode of Full Circle made a big impression on me; it's the earliest thing I remember.

For a long time, to me Doctor Who before then was essentially myth. My elder siblings shared tantalising memories of Doctor Who stories from just a few years before that I thought I'd never see. Old Doctor Who had been better, scarier, stranger - and theirs. Then came fleeting glimpses of what had been. At the end of 1981, BBC Two repeated some old stories, including ones older than my siblings. I vividly remember the awe with which we met Doctor Who's very first four episodes, relics of another age. 

For one thing, they were so strikingly different from the Doctor Who of 17 or 18 years later. They were black and white, but also dark and spooky and shot in a completely different way: long scenes with lots of close-ups, and little in the way of effects. There was also the character of the Doctor, this grumpy, cowardly, selfish figure - literally a different person, not just played by a different actor.

This extraordinary difference was evident to the people who worked on the programme. Jacqueline Hill, who played Barbara Wright in the first 18 months of Doctor Who, returned to the series in 1980 to play Lexa, an alien priestess. If Billie Piper, who played Rose, were to return to Doctor Who now, I wonder how much she'd share these sentiments:

"We did Meglos in different studios, and of course television had moved on in leaps and bounds so that the technique was completely different. The special effects were a lot more dominant. It was recorded entirely out of order and there was nobody working on the story who could remember as far back as me – which was something of a humbling experience. I did enjoy it very much, though, mainly because the part I played was so very different to the calm and unflappable Barbara. It was a happy reunion with a show that was really only the same show by name alone." (Jaqueline Hill in Doctor Who Magazine #105 (1985)

As it happens, this week I was in London to research more about the early days of Doctor Who and the people who made it - stuff now on the cusp of living memory. Since I was passing that way, I called in at a particular tree.

Memorial plaque for Jacqueline (Hill) Rakoff, 1929-1993

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

The Inheritors, by William Golding

Two years ago, Backlisted devoted an episode to The Inheritors, the second novel by William Golding, author of The Lord of the Flies. Ever since, I've been meaning to reread it, not least because panelist Dr Una McCormack asked me about the book's influence on the first Doctor Who.

In The Inheritors, a small group of primitive people face what Iain Banks referred to as an "outside context problem", a threat so far beyond the limits of their understanding that they don't stand a chance. In this case, we recognise - as the primitive people do not - that the strange "other" people who have settled nearby possess weapons and transport, and the intent to kill. As the book goes on, we realise that the people whose perspective we share are Neanderthals; the cruel, drunk and good-at-killing "others" are humans, the inheritors of the world.

It's a strange, heady book that builds on stuff in The Lord of the Flies: the idea of humans as essentially violent and primal; a reversal at the end where we see everything from someone else's perspective that changes our sense of what we have witnessed. The Lord of the Flies is a staple of the secondary school curriculum - I studied it for GCSE - but The Inheritors is a harder read, the action not always clear, and there's plenty of nakedness and sex.

Golding seems to root modern gender politics in the ancient past. His Neanderthals have clearly designated roles:
"A man for pictures [ie thinking]. A woman for Oa [ie having children.] (p. 117)
Except, as we see, the truth is more complicated and the male who says this often gives way to more gifted, able women who see pictures more clearly. Golding's not exactly a feminist here - he rarely gets through a page without mentioning breasts, though the Neanderthals would surely be used to seeing each other naked. The women might have better ideas and understanding, but its all told from the perspective of (heterosexual) men. 

I think there's something similar with racial or colonial politics. The Neanderthals and the humans are distinct groups, physically and culturally, and there's a sense of innate separateness - or apartheid. And yet there's a scene in which Liku can speak the same language as the humans, and begin to form a bond, while the humans effectively adopt one of the Neanderthals as their own. The suggestion is that whatever inequalities exist, it wasn't always thus and there is still a chance to change. (We now know, of course, that Neanderthals and modern humans interbred, that many people alive today have a direct genetic inheritance from Homo neanderthalis; my understanding is that this wasn't understood at the time Golding wrote this.)

So, what about Doctor Who? The first ever Doctor Who serial is a four-part story generally known as An Unearthly Child (the title of its first episode) but also as 100,000 BC or The Tribe of Gum (titles used by the production team for the serial as a whole).

When he began working on Doctor Who, writer Anthony Coburn was on the full-time staff of the BBC's Script Department, where his job included looking for books to adapt for the screen. Golding had been lauded since the publication of Lord of the Flies in 1954, and the BBC had adapted that and several other of his novels for radio. Surely then, Coburn at least knew of The Inheritors. But there's some suggestion that he drew on it directly.

In 2003, Alan Barnes listed for Doctor Who Magazine some of the connections between that first Doctor Who serial and what he referred to as "the most renowned prehistoric novel at the time", singling out the sense in the novel that Golding's Neanderthals do not "make" fire from scratch but carry burning embers with them (each fire inherited from the last).
"Clearly, the secret of fire-making has been lost, and so the fire must be transported as a constant. Likewise, in The Cave of Skulls, Hur tips ash ("the dead fire") over Za's kindling. Both Golding's and Coburn's Neanderthals have something like a religion - the first devoted to "Oa", a kind of "Earth-Mother", the other to "Orb", a sun-god. But perhaps the best reason for believing that Coburn was acquainted with The Inheritors lies in the similarities between Golding's Neanderthal names and Coburn's: the names of 'Ha', the leader, and the woman 'Fa', are echoed by Coburn's 'Za', for instance, with the male names 'Lok' and 'Mal' resembling ancestors of 'Kal'."(Alan Barnes, "Fact of Fiction: 100,000 BC", DWM #337 (2003))
I think there are more direct links than that. Both feature an unnamed "old woman" where all other speaking characters have names. In Doctor Who, she's credited as "Old Mother", but in the dialogue is only ever "Old Woman" - capitalised in the script. Both these old women mutter from the sidelines about what the leader ought to do. 
"'Mal! Mal! We have meat!' 
Mal opened his eyes and got himself on one elbow. He looked across the fire at the swinging stomach [of a doe they had scavenged] and panted a grin at Lok. Then he turned to the old woman. She smiled at him and began to beat the free hand on her thigh. 
'That is good, Mal. That is strength.'" (p. 58)
Both old women are murdered at key dramatic moments. When the novel's old woman dies, we discover she is the mother of one of the other characters; the Doctor Who story never tells us who Old Mother is the mother of, but that seems to have been part of an early draft.

Then there is the way these primitive people understand the world around them - and describe their own understanding. Throughout The Inheritors, the Neanderthals speak of the "pictures" in their minds that they endeavour to share with one another. Compare that to the following from Doctor Who's third episode (the red bits as per the camera script but not the broadcast version):
KAL: My eyes tell me what has happened... as they do when I sleep and I see things. Za and Hur came here to free them, and find out the a way to make fire. The old woman saw them and Za killed old woman. Za has gone with them... taking them to their tree [ie the TARDIS]. Za is taking away fire.
HORG: The old woman is dead. It must have been as your eyes said it was. (Doctor Who episode 3: The Forest of Fear]
There's something, too, in the way control of some "technology" (in the broadest sense) defines who has power - weapons and boats in the book, but also clearer thinking; fire in Doctor Who. As Alan suggests in DWM, the second Doctor Who story then builds on that idea - the Daleks threatening to obliterate all other life on their planet with a neutron bomb. I wonder if something of that second story was also inspired by The Inheritors, or at least the review by Arthur Koestler in the Sunday Times of 25 December 1955, which was then quoted on later editions:
"An earthquake in the petrified forests of the English novel." 
As I said in response to the Backlisted episode, The Inheritors surely influenced the 1970 story Doctor Who and the Silurians - in which a prehistoric people wake up to discover "their" Earth has been conquered by humans - and then the novelisation of that story, which begins with a chapter all told from a Silurian's point of view. There are other Doctor Who stories too, directly or indirectly. But then, if The Inheritors influenced the very first Doctor Who story, all of Doctor Who draws a line back to that book.

Backlisted suggested Golding's influence on Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker (1980), which I want to reread soon. But I now wonder if the racial aspects especially of The Inheritors fed into Nigel Kneale's Quatermass and the Pit (TV version broadcast 1958-59), and into Pierre Boulle's novel La Plan├Ęte des Singes (1963) - the source of the Planet of the Apes film series. There's the "Dawn of Man" sequence that opens 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), with two groups of primate clashing, one inspired to use weapons. I can see the interest in humanity's primitive urges, and also the reversals of perspective, in the work of Iain Banks - the "outside context problem" referenced above is a feature of Banks's Excession (1996).

There's more, I'm sure - all inheritors.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Putin's People, by Catherine Belton

This extraordinary, meticulously researched book is an essential read just now. Belton charts the rise and rise of Vladimir Putin from his early days in the KGB to the present day (or 2020, when the book was published), to show where everything going on at the moment came from. There's a lot to take in: the scale of the kleptocracy, the astonishing sums of cash involved, the huge number of people caught up in it.

There's a lot on Russian links to Donald Trump, going back many decades, and lots on Putin's long-standing interest in Ukraine. There's lots on Russian support for Brexit and the corrosive effect of "black money" in London. What a lot of damage has been done; the horror of it all is exhausting.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Pincher Martin, by William Golding

Cover of Pincher Martin, novel by William Golding, illustration by Paul Hogarth
It took a while to get into this 1956 novel by William Golding, and after the first few pages of a man struggling in water mixed up with bits of other stuff - conversations, images of life - I turned to the back cover hoping the blurb might provide a steer on what was going on. What's there contains a whopping spoiler for the end of the novel, and so does what follows here...

The back of this Faber paperback offers no teaser or summary of plot: instead, there are two quotations from reviews praising the "technical wizardry" (Kenneth Tynan in the Observer) and "sustained imaginative intensity" (unknown in the TLS). Tynan's particular praise is for, "the shock ending, which throws a new and doubly alarming retrospective light on the whole book". Rather than illuminate what's happening in the book, the message is to persevere. Which is a little ironic.

Pressing on through page after page, things became more clear. Christopher Hadley "Pincher" Martin has been shipwrecked, his ship torpedoed in what seems to be the Second World War. Martin kicks off his seaboots and struggles through the water to a rough, sheer bit of rock, stunned and exhausted, while bits of his former life flash before his eyes. There's then the promise of a harder, grittier Robinson Crusoe: the rock offering little comfort or useful materials, and Martin already half-mad.  

The glimpses of his life don't make us like him very much: a not very good actor, whose management were going to let go anyway before his call-up; a wannabe writer who has not written anything; a philanderer who once assaulted a woman who spurned him (an event, I gather, based on something Golding really did). Then there's the suggestion that the shipwreck was all his fault for giving the wrong order. There's a sense these privations - exposure, starvation, constipation, hideous sickness - are a punishment. Towards the end, there's a figure on the rock with Martin, suggesting this is some kind of purgatory.

And then the twist, as Martin's body is found on the shore and - in the killer final line - can't have suffered much because,

"He didn't even have time to kick off his seaboots." (p. 208)

Everything that precedes this is the last desperate vision of a drowning, dying man. Those boots, which surely killed him, are even on the cover of my edition, the only part of Martin visible, in a deceptively simple design by Paul Hogarth. Even on the last page I thought I must be missing something, and yet in that final line, what had been unfixed and uncertain all locks into place. 

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Disgusted, Mary Whitehouse: Pick of the Week

Our documentary, Disgusted, Mary Whitehouse, has made tonight's Pick of the Week on Radio 4, presented by Geoff Lloyd. Hooray!

It's the second of the five radio documentaries made by me and my brother Thomas, and presented by Samira Ahmed, to have made Pick of the Week - the last was John Ruskin's Eurythmic Girls in 2017.

There's been a fair amount of press coverage of the documentary, too. We were mentioned on the cover of Radio Times, which also described the doc as "exceptional" (see below), and there were write-ups in BBC History Magazine, the Daily Express, Guardian, HeraldDaily MailMail on Sunday, Daily Telegraph, Times, Sunday Times, and Total TV Guide.

As well as her blog post, Samira wrote a piece for the BBC website:

Generally, responses have been positive. Mary Whitehouse remains a controversial figure and there are those appalled we made the programme at all and refuse to listen (which is ironic, given what we cover in the documentary). There are those who did listen and still think we're wrong - some because we were too lenient, some because we were too harsh. 

Cover of Radio Times for 5-11 March 2022

Radio Times includes Disgusted, Mary Whitehouse in Today's Choices

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Roger Moore as James Bond

"The frank, uncensored story of what really happens in the making of a super-film," promises the back-cover blurb on Roger Moore as James Bond (aka Roger Moore's James Bond Diary). The star takes us through his 84 shooting days on his first Bond film, Live and Let Die, from Sunday 8 October 1972 when he leaves England for New Orleans to being told, if the rushes turn out okay, that he is done. 

On 14 October - Day 2 of shooting - Moore turned 45, the age I am now. There's a lot here about his aches and pains, his need of dental work, the various therapies employed and it's odd to think of myself, old and broken as I am, in better fettle than  Bond. There's also his anxieties and homesickness, and all the business that goes alongside making the movie itself.

"Daily more of the mechanics behind the mystique that is Bond become clear. The actual shooting, the rapport between my countenance and the camera, forms only a fraction of a field of operations which is a constant source of surprise." (Day 10, p. 27.)

The extra-curricular work includes endless press interviews, Moore is increasingly impatient when asked the same question each time: how will his Bond be different from Sean Connery's? There are endless photoshoots, appearances, charity galas, bits and pieces. Then there's the pop concert he goes to, where its announced to the audience that the new Bond is in their midst - and no one seems to care. He's self-effacing about this, and often very funny.

Yet Moore's wife Luisa is annoyed by how much this all encroaches into time he could spend with his children. Then there's the awkwardness of his various love scenes: how Luisa treats him on the days he's got sex on the schedule, the etiquette of what you say to the other actor during and after this stuff. It's Moore's diary, his version of events, but I often found myself wondering how it was for them

There's lots, too, that is amazing to see in an official, licensed release. In that sense, the book reminds me of Alan Arnold's absolutely extraordinary Once Upon a Galaxy: A Journal of the Making of The Empire Strikes Back which I now want to read again. Moore is candid about other actors fluffing their lines, mucking up shots or weeping. He cites various mistakes made by producer Harry Saltzman (such as, on page 32, making the wrong call on what the weather would be like, and so losing a day's shooting). There's stuff about Moore's children, such as his son needing an enema for trapped wind, that is personal, embarrassing and hardly relevant to the making of the film. But Moore seems to delight in this kind of thing: the gulf between movie fantasy and prosaic reality.

I wonder how much the cast and crew really enjoyed his constant pranking, which sometimes seems a bit cruel. I'm surprised, too, how little the other producer, Cubby Broccoli, features. Is that because he wasn't on set, or because he kept out of Moore's way, or because Moore had nothing funny or scathing to say about him, or because he knew better than to do so? Again, that's what make this so intriguing: Moore is sometimes brutally candid but we're not getting the whole story.

As early as day 5 we're told of plans afoot for the next Bond film, The Man With the Golden Gun, to begin shooting 18 months later in August 1974, and we really feel the weight and power of the Bond machine. But there's little on how much of a risk this all was, Moore the second attempt to keep the franchise going with a new leading man after George Lazenby had not turned out as hoped.

"The build-up of publicity and advertising for the film is fascinating. I was asking Harry [Saltzman] about the sort of money the Bonds have made in the past and he told me the biggest grosser was Thunderball which has done 64 million dollars to date. Diamonds are Forever, the last before Live and Let Die, had already grossed 48 million and it is only on its first time round [the cinemas]. OHMSS was the lowest and even that grossed 25 million dollars. I just hope ours will be as successful." (Day 52, p. 132.)

There's little sense he felt under pressure, I think because he could see the script and production were all good. But I wonder how Saltzman and Broccoli were feeling, especially given other tensions in the air. This is a film tapping into something of its moment. For example, early on, Moore was horrified to hear Saltzman shouting the N-word on set.

"He was not trying to start a race riot but simply calling to our English props man [by the] nickname he has answered to since the days of silent cinema. I pointed out that it might be better to to find him another name here in the racial hotbed of Louisiana so we have settled on 'Chalky'. As Bond, I make love to Rose Carver, played by beautiful black actress, Gloria Hendry, and Luisa has learned from certain Louisiana ladies that if there is a scene like that they won't go to see the picture. I personally don't give a damn and it makes me all the more determined to  play the scene." (Day 11, p. 31.)

There was more on this the following day: 

"Paul [Rabiger, supervising make-up] agrees with Guy [Hamilton, director], Tom Mankiewicz [writer] and myself that it would have been more interesting if Solitaire, our present leading lady, had been black as she was in Tom's original screen play, but United Artists would not stand for it." (Day 12, p. 33.)

A few days later, Moore reports on an argument on set, the black stunt team having objected to scenes being shot with white stunt performers blacked up (Day 17, p. 44). Two days after this, yet another photocall was the cause of further disagreement when Yaphet Kotto - the actor playing the villainous Mr Big - raised his fist in a black power salute.

"Whether he was serious or not I don't know but the sequel was a scorching row. [Publicity director] Derek Coyte pointed out that the pictures would rouse resentment from the rabid whites and could be seen as an endorsement of black power by militant blacks. We are making anything but a political picture but Derek said the photographs syndicated far and wide would involve us in a controversy which could do nothing but harm. Yaphet was incensed. At midday he and the black stunt men lunched together and during the afternoon Derek Coyte was ostracised by blacks who had previously been pally." (Day 19, p. 50.)

The next day, the black stuntmen were airing their grievances on local TV (p. 51). And these tensions were not confined to Louisiana. Returning to the UK, Moore shares a letter sent to him by a woman from North Wales, outraged by the sight of him pictured with Gloria Hendry as seen in the Daily Express (Day 54, p. 136).

Moore is unapologetic. It strikes me that George Lazenby had seen Bond as reactionary, but there's something here of Bond as progressive, just as they've tried to push things in the recent Daniel Craig films. Hardly perfect, but attempting to steer the juggernaut. 

I think there's something in that, too, when Moore first hears the theme tune for the film. In Goldfinger, Bond mocks the Beatles. Now a Beatle has written his title song, and Moore's response is telling:

"It is a tremendous piece of music and I will stick my neck out and say that three weeks from its release it will be number one in the charts. It's not last year's music, it's not even this year's music, it's next year's." (Day 66, p. 154.)

Back cover of the book Roger Moore as James Bond, with blurb and photo of Moore drinking white port in front of an explosion

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Doctor Who Magazine #575

The new issue of Doctor Who Magazine features "Silver Screen", in which Rhys Williams and I explore the writing and production design for the first episode of The Wheel in Space (1968) - a story by David Whitaker, designed by Derek Dodd. Rhys and Gav Rymill recreate the sets in CG, and Rhys has done the lion's share on this one - but it was very nice to coast in his wake.

There's also another "Sufficient Data" by me and Ben Morris, this time on the subject of antimatter to mark 40 years since it killed poor Adric.

Tuesday, March 01, 2022

A Survey of Television, by Stuart Hood

I mentioned Stuart Hood in my last post because I recently saw him in an episode of the BBC's Talkback from 7 November 1967, with six members of the public - including Mary Whitehouse - responding to this passage from his then recently published book:

"If one works in television one most reconcile oneself to the fact that the bulk of audience reaction is from cranks, from the unstable, the hysterical and sick." (p. 38)

For all the caustic tone, Hood's point was that those making television for a mass popular audience really need a sense of that audience's responses, but the means of gauging a reaction are limited. Viewing figures, audience surveys and correspondence can rarely explain the success or otherwise of a programme, let alone offer practical advice on how to improve. Programme makers are more often led by instinct. Committees of public opinion only resulted in bland television no one wanted to watch.

"Committees are uncreative." (p. 49)

Hood was Controller of BBC Television between 1961 and 1964, then moved to the ITV franchise Rediffusion. His survey of the medium is full of fascinating detail and more of that caustic wit. 

"Scottish Television serves the 4 million people of the Scottish industrial belt, which contains - to judge by the programmes they watch - the most uncritical body of viewers in the British Isles." (p. 25).

On the facts, it's interesting to read that there were, he thought in 1967, 

"some one hundred and ten countries with television service (p. 4),

up from four in 1946. He details how these were, at the time of writing, organised in groups: the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) with associate members from the American networks, Australia and South Africa plus new nations such as Malawi, Chad and Congo; its mirror opposite International Radio and Television Organisation (OIRT) comprising East European countries, Cuba, the Republic of Mali, the Korean People's Republic, China, the United Arab Emirates and the People's Democratic Republic of Vietnam; the Asian Broadcasting Union (ABU); the African Radio and Television Organisation (URNTA). Seeing the members helped me understand why, for example, Doctor Who sold to particular countries and not to others.

Sales could also be affected by cultural differences.

"Maigret was judged unacceptable by the [American] networks not because of the English accents (although they are a stumbling block) nor because of the foreign setting, but because of little incidents which betrayed a different set of television mores. Thus when Maigret had occasion to cross-examine a girl in a maison de passe it was found surprising that no moral attitude was taken towards the little tart. Nymphomania, lesbianism, drug addiction were touched on and accepted as facts of life, neither swept under the carpet nor magnified out of proportion in the context of the plot. Added to all these was the incident in which Maigret and Lucas stood in a courtyard, saw a light come on in a window, watched and waited to be rewarded by hearing the cistern of a lavatory flush." (p. 139)

Hood is even more withering of programmes that do sell to the US: he thought The Saint and The Avengers "anodyne" mid-Atlantic fare, the "triumph" of selling to the American networks,

“only slightly tarnished by the fact that these series have usually been used as cheap summer replacements.” (p. 140)

He's even less impressed by programmes coming the other way: Batman is "subliterate" (p. 160).

For all he is withering about shows he clearly doesn't like, he's good on the way that the structure, tone and content of programmes is set by the structures imposed on television by technology, politics and other forces. He begins with the physics of television itself and the varying methods of producing a moving picture at a distance, and how that dictated form. During the General Strike of 1926, the Government wished to "commandeer the BBC as an instrument of propaganda", which John Reith fiercely opposed.

"His victory was one of the crucial moments in the history of British broadcasting. Both BBC and ITV benefit from his stand to this day." (p. 168)

Then, of Hood's own time at the BBC, there's the way subtle differences between the Royal Charter and the Television Act 1954 dictated the output of the BBC and ITV respectively. Under the Act, the Independent Television Authority - overseeing ITV - had to ensure that,

"nothing is included in the programmes [of an ITV franchise] which offends against good taste or decency (a question-begging phrase) or is likely to encourage or incite crime or lead to disorder or to be offensive to public feeling or which contains any offensive representation of or reference to a living person." (p. 20)

The last part effectively meant that ITV could not engage in the satire craze of the early 1960s: the BBC could screen That Was The Week That Was; on ITV, "it would have been a breach of the Act."

Hood mentions TW3 eight times in the book, suggesting his own reckoning of its significance. There are multiple entries for police series Maigret and business drama The Plane Makers, and for sitcoms Steptoe and Son and Till Death Us Do Part. Surprisingly, there is no mention of other innovative and successful programmes created in Hood's time as Controller: Doctor WhoTop of the Pops and Play School. Perhaps he didn't think much of them; perhaps their significance only became clear when they'd been running for decades.

Hood has plenty to say about sitcoms. In his view, 

"the medium [of television] is a voracious consumer of talent and turns. A comic who might in the [music or variety] halls hope to maintain himself with a polished routine changing little over the years, embellished a little, spiced with topicality, finds that his material is used up in the course of a couple of television appearances. The comic requires a team of writers to supply him with gags, and invention" (p. 152)

The sitcom is a vehicle to enable this: effectively providing the comic performer with a structure for new material based on a familiar form. But whereas drama is innovative, sometimes uncomfortable or shocking, sitcom is part of a type of television altogether more safe. 

"Light entertainment is the most conservative department of television.” (p. 151)

He defines light entertainment as, 

“comedy, quiz games, light musical productions, pop programmes, outside broadcasts from night clubs and variety theatres. Its traditions are mainly drawn from the halls or from radio. They have been adopted television presentation but fundamentally the sequence of song, dance, spot comedian is unchanged.” (ibid)

Perhaps that's why he doesn't think Top of the Pops worthy of a mention. But I also think it's to do with his politics. He had been a member of the Communist Party and was later a member of the Workers Revolutionary Party, and Hood reviewed Asa Briggs' history of the BBC of this period for International Socialism. At the beginning of his Survey of Television, he suggests why a country such as apartheid South Africa may have been slow to embrace TV:
“Television is a great educator. Besides who knows what remarks the coloured citizens of the Republic might feel free to make in the privacy of their homes about the white people on the screen?”  (p. 5)
He's interested, then, in television as progressives, a medium of necessary change. And light entertainment,
“is a non-political tradition. Political satire has been traditionally avoided… It is more likely to be dictated by a determined political neutrality. Much of TV variety is of this inoffensive, traditional nature. It is popular and professionally presented and fundamentally unintellectual.” (p. 152)

This, I think, is why Hood devotes a lot to the advances in news and educational programming - the role of television in explaining politics and shaping the world. It's not that light entertainment couldn't be technically sophisticated - even groundbreaking. I've always heard The Black and White Minstrel Show spoken of in terms of embarrassment, a show that should have been cancelled long before 1978. It's odd to think of it as having been innovative and exciting.

"When The Black and White Minstrel Show won the Golden Rose of Montreux in 1959 there were some European representatives who doubted whether their audiences could follow the speedy cutting and rhythm of the camera work. Such sophistication is now general." (p. 169)

Compare that to the reactionary culture of the news:

"On one point only it seems unlikely that the BBC or ITN will take a step forward - by employing a woman to read the news. For one short period the BBC did employ a woman announcer who was at once intelligent and good looking; but the weight of masculine prejudice among her colleagues was too powerful and the experiment had to be discontinued. So too was ITN's experiment in the use of newscasters in the sense of men who write their own copy and then read it in front of the camera." (p. 108)

This all makes it sound like Hood's survey is of where television has been, but much of this is about where it is going next. He's concerned about TV schedules programmed not by humans but by "crystal clock and computer" (p. 84). There's stuff about the practicalities of 625-line television, brought in by the BBC the year Hood was writing, and the impact of more channels, of colour TV, of satellite broadcasting. The striking thing, in retrospect, and the irony given Hood's politics and predilections, is how conservative he was about the future we've seen come to pass.

Think of the BBC's new promo to mark its centenary this year, #ThisIsOurBBC: the rich variety of programming showcased, the social contract with the audience and nation, news and light entertainment mixed in with the drama, the whole thing posited as direct engagement with the audience, a two-way conversation. I think, from working on our documentary about Mary Whitehouse, that she had a media savvy understanding of the power of television. Ironically, Stuart Hood lacked the same faith.