Saturday, 24 August 2013

The bright box in the corner

I had a couple of TV-related pieces out this week. This was in last Saturday’s Guardian:

And this piece, on the history of the TV critic, was in today’s Financial Times:

Dennis Potter, whose career as Daily Herald TV critic I briefly mention in the FT piece, carried on writing about television throughout the 1960s and 1970s, mostly for the New Statesman and the Sunday Times. Unusually for a TV critic, he often mentioned his immediate surroundings while watching TV and talked freely about how it affected his analysis of what was on. ‘The bright box in the corner of the room can turn itself within minutes into a hell-hole,’ he wrote in November 1974 after the IRA pub bombings in Birmingham. ‘There, where the dancers cavort and pop singers clean their teeth with the microphone, where lewd comedians snigger and magical detergents remove impossible stains, there, inches above the carpet, is a chopped, edited, summarised version of a few of the terrors and miseries and endless conflicts which afflict our kind … We can look down and see the world boiling, and then we can go and put the cat out.’ At the height of the IMF crisis in October 1976, he wrote: ‘I do not think I have ever felt quite so low-spirited as I did on Monday night when reduced to watching Panorama in a hotel room in London while cold rain splattered on the smeared glazing which separated my few cubic inches of stale air from the dirty and darkened streets of what is now apparently the capital city of the damned.’  

Potter’s psoriatic illness made notetaking a great strain and involved a lot of enforced TV watching while bed-ridden. ‘The television set along the next corridor was almost permanently clamped to the commercial channel,’ he wrote of one hospital stay in March 1975, ‘the switch presided over by an amiably bronchitic master of ceremonies who between rattling coughs pronounced at suitable intervals that it was all shit.’

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