Saturday, 29 September 2012

Armchair nation

I've just finished a history of watching television called Armchair Nation: An Intimate History of Britain in front of the TV, although it probably won't be out till next autumn. I hope to be blogging some of the stuff that didn't make it into the book over the next few months. One of the more surprisingly enjoyable days I spent researching it was at theNational Archives at Kew, looking at old Home Office files on the politics and aesthetics of the new transmitters built in the 1940s and 1950s at places like Holme Moss, Winter Hill, Caradon and Kirk O'Shotts. These masts were seen at the time as modern-day cathedral spires, announcing the arrival of the new god, television, into the region. I found this by one of my favourite contemporary poets:

The transmitter stands lonely in my mind,
Remote and cold, beyond the aerials
Of gable-ends and guttering, beyond
Ideas of Eiffels casting silvery bolts;

Remote as the front that brought snowfall
to The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau;
apologies from high on distant Pennines,
though something of a signal still gets through.

Paul Farley, ‘Winter Hill’

Mundane quote for the day: 'Last night I went to Elsa Lanchester's. Oh the horror of TV! It is so utterly, utterly inferior, yet just enough to keep you enslaved, entrapped, on the lower levels of consciousness - for a whole lifetime, if necessary. It is a bondage like that of Tennyson's Lady of Shalott.' - Christopher Isherwood's diary, 28 September 1959

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