1 FEBRUARY 1963, Page 15


All Scholars Now


SOME years ago in America, enterprising television stations launched a University of the Air: a scheme which has be- come a smash hit with house- wives and truck-drivers and minor politicians who glossed over their eleven-plus. The programme was, and is, put out at a non-peak hour of night and morning, and comprises packaged courses matching real- life academic curricula. Well, ten a.m. on Sun- day saw me trembling and bug-eyed, in the wrong dressing-gown, to sit in on Headway, which is the equivalent in our older, more mature culture.

Ten a.m, is not a nice time to be alive on a a Sunday morning, It sets you muttering about TAM ratings and panic Pilkington-sops. But Headway is a fair start to deliberately educa- tional television for non-schoolchildren. The chairmanship of Lord Francis-Williams did strike me as a bit minatory for that time of day, with his pipe and his aggressive gutturals, but the two sessions on spoken and written English were quite nicely on the ball.

The difficulty is to know how bright or dim are the teenage targets of this self-improvement system. The lessons seemed to me just a shade elementary, both in content and approach, but 1 am going to assume that ABC has tested its market. I despised Watch with Mother until I discovered how much more the BBC knew about toddlers than I did.

Is all this social-conscience stuff merely a panic move, or do the ITV contractors really dig the educated mass idea? If they do, there is absolutely no reason in the world why television shouldn't break into the educational market in the broadest sense. There is genuine hunger for self-improvement in the air —not snobbery, but curiosity. (Good to see, inci- dentally, that the Spoken English session was very carefully respeotful of regional accents.)

(Continued on page 134) The ratings have produced the dread news of a great swing to the BBC. It may be, it just may be, that folk are being tired by soporifics and want to be stretched more often. Could television mount a GCE course for C-stream rejects of our tottering educational system? Would midnight semesters on literature and trig keep the nation awake? I bet they would. And educationally, Britain may be forced to such desperate measures soon. It would be a crafty idea to try them out now.

Two social-problem plays again on Sunday, Gawdelpus, The BBC's House on Three Floors sounded dire—a social document about the colour situation in London again! But it was so deftly written, with sharp, accurate characterisa- tion even in the minor roles, that it worked like a charm. On the other channel, I caught the latter part of This is Not King's Cross, a glossy drama about a literate wife and inarticulate husband. An astonishing drop in the level of dialogue accuracy here. The situation was genuine, but the speeches were heavy with staginess. And regardless of that, the perform- ances made it credible and smooth. Not ex- citing, but credible.

How about Dixon of Dock Green, though? It's so long since I forced myself through a whole session that I had forgotten what we used to regard as good sound run-of-the-mill series television. I don't think Dixon has deteriorated in any way. We have simply progressed past it. Last week's faded out on an inconclusive end- ing, which seemed to me to be an effort to make adult what had gone before. But it wasn't, you know. Everybody in this show is so goddam nice I keep vomiting on the screen; and in this quick-freeze weather, this can scupper viewing for TWTWTW; which is now getting negative reactions but still has the stuff and will pro- gress and remain a frontier-breaker if it keeps cunning and humble.