17 AUGUST 1951, Page 10

The Advance of Science


A LETTER Was published not long ago in that most respectable organ which I will call The Thunderer, noted for the large square article in the top right-hand corner of its central page, carrying, I believe., great weight with those who read it ; though its peculiar shape makes it singularly unattrac- tive to the eye and hence—as we all mostly read by eye, in great gulps, rather than line upon line—what one might call illegible. The letter, to return to what I was, trying to say, was about the future of the telecinema.

The writer states that more than a quarter of a million people saw the telecinema at the South Bank during the first ten weeks of running, while thousands of others were unable to gain admission. Not that this can seriously have marred their outing. The English crowd (for British I will not say . any foreigner can become a British subject and most of them do, but we who are English were born so and will please ourselves, in the great words of Mrs. Gamp) has unfortunately become queue-minded, and will wait for. hours in stolid anticipation of it does not quite know what. Nor is this attitude entirely formed by the bitter constraint of having to queue for food. Charles Dickens, who knew human nature inside out, has immortalised the crowd that waited outside Mr. Nupkins's house, looking through a grating in the gate which commanded a view of nothing. - It is further affirmed that the popularity of this invention can largely be attributed to the novelty of the techniques demonstrated, which include large screen television and stereo- scopic films accompanied by " panoramic or stereoscopic sound projection," whatever that may mean. " Wonderful stereoscopic films! Wonderful stereoscopic .sound projection! Whirr! Whirr!—all by wheels—whiz! whiz! all by steam."

I was honoured by an invitation to be interviewed at the telecinema. My companion, for I was generously given a free pass for two, had already visited the South Bank and pointed out to me its potential beauties, from which I gathered that at night you did not so much notice the tawdriness, the pretentious- ness, the litter (for a free English public scorns to use any of the rubbish bins provided for it even if the letter L is writ large upon them), because the lights were so pretty. But it was five o'clock of an east-windy, dusty, grey, uninteresting day.

As we neared the telecinema we saw the queue which stretched away round a corner to infinity, and were very _glad not to be in it. Inside the telecinema we were literally on velvet. A. richly carpeted staircase met our eyes and caressed our feet. From one courteous gentleman to another we were wafted to a foyer (if that is the word) carpeted from wall to wall—the house- wife's unattainable dream. Here I found an acquaintance of evacuation days, and we sat on a richly upholstered sofa (" couch " is now the horrible common usage) and gossiped ; beside us a television box in which we saw ourselves, very dis- concertingly, as we talked, but we were not yet being televised and could gossip freely.

The signal was given. I retired from the sofa and then came forward again to greet with (I hope) admirably feigned surprise my evacuation friend. Again we sat on the sofa, but now we were visible and audible to the cinema audience. We did what is horribly known as " chat " together. I enjoyed it. I find the sound of my own voice (the rather over-educated voice of the average Englishwoman which sounds so dreadful when you hear yourself on a record) quite intoxicating, and under my com- panion's skilful leading questions I was ready to tell the world anything, to answer any question. With admirable tact and determination my introducer headed me off, kept me at bay and gave me my cone.

Having done—and enjoyed—my bit, I was rewarded by being taken to the telecinema itself to see the stereoscopic and hear the stereophonic miracle of science. My companion and I were put in a little box in front of the circle and given " polarised " glasses, without which the stereoscopic films cannot be seen. After a few minutes we both fOundThat our heads and eyes were aching past endurance. One of our guides told me, not without modest pride, that oculists found the eye-strain imposed by the tele- cinema most useful in certain cases. It may be so, but I should not like to try it.

The first film was a kind of bogus scientist making wisecracks about the telecinema with the condescension considered suitable for the public. He was followed by a film from the Canadian National Film Board, the excellence of whose past work needs no comment. It was called " Oscillations " (or, for the French Canadians, Oscillations). It consisted of a number of wavy lines, geometrical figures, worms(?), starfish(?) and others moving in a kind of rhythmic slow dance upon a background of the violent blue well-knoWn in " Glorious Technicolor." When they had finished whatever it was they were doing, we were taken for a trip down Old Father Thames, in colour. But the effect of the colours (science has not got them right yet) and the stereoscopic- ness was that the whole thing looked like a cardboard model, with no touch of life and strangely dwarfish. We were then taken out by another 'very kind official and joined the queue for No. 76 or No. 46 bus.

But as for " novelty " ? In the early nineteen-twenties, in a cheap cinema in Melbourne, did not I and my little boys see it all? We were given glasses—not polarised it is true, but one red and one green. We saw a film with the glasses on ; the people were solid ; a girl in a swing came right out (apparently) into our faces and several people shrieked. But we did not have headaches. "Wonderful stereoscopic projection! Whirr! Whirr ! all by science ; whiz! whiz! all by science."

So ends the visit.