TV clips from all decades of TV since the 1950s.
LECTURE ON 'NATION AND TV' - How does british-ness get expressed on British tv? (often English-ness)
But below are particular clips I would like you to view - but do it from University computers as your own IP will not be recognised by the British Film Institute website which provides the clips.
YOU do need to watch progs/clips to back up what I talk to you about. And read the little essays that accompany the BFI clips.
a) how the clips express the nation:
b) AND what images/elements/symbols - (visual or sound) they use to convey
British-ness gets expressed not only in 'elite' voices and images (on 1930s to 1950s TV especially) but also, as society was changing and people had more money and were less deferent to the social, cultural, and political elites, tokens and symbols of british-ness and 'Nation' increasingly could be found in working class situations and people on TV. This could be seen particularly in comedy of the mid-60s (Steptoe and Son/Till death us do part - see links below).
Comedy is by definition light-hearted. It does not usually (and certainly not in sit-com) reflect strife or suffering, or focus on the political (despite 'Yes Minister') - that way, audiences accept (or 'legitimise') new sit-coms depicting unfamiliar settings e.g. working class/rag and bone men (Steptoe and Son) which until then had not been seen before (i.e. audience were used to polite-sounding and polite-looking BBC pre-60s TVcomedy). The heavy-going political left-wing dramas of the early 70s were not perhaps always the best means by which to encourage the general viewing public to be more accepting of new images or 'representations' of the variety and conflicts of people's lives. Of course there are 'black comedy dramas' which are both funny, political, and heavy at the same time, e.g. House of Cards (1990).
Reinforcement of OUR cultural attitudes and encouraging understanding of a new addition to a genre takes place by (and through) easy-to-follow and 'laugh with' material. And when we laugh, we tend not to resist or question further.
Thus the POWER of TV to
a) shape, influence, and
encode perceptions and expectations of the audience (restricted by the
agreed geographical limits of national broadcasting systems - IPTV (internet tv) being the exception to this);
b) extend our sense of our cultural identity. (e.g. we are british; we share with programme makers a set of symbols of british identity - the 'being british' code. TV mixes these into programmes; we recognise them and in comedy laugh at their use and enjoy this. Even if the symbols are mocked, it is often intended that we should maintain an ongoing respect for these symbols and for our britishness - that we share with the programme we are enjoying. Except for the late-night satirical programme That Was The Week That Was (TW3) in 1963, there have been few popular comedy/entertainment programmes that have been destructive as opposed to gently mocking of national symbols and identity, and of figures of authority;
c) reflect the shift from class to mass society (Hoggart's famous theme in his 1957 book: 'The Uses of Literacy') where people enjoyed mass culture - a common culture that was broadly liked and enjoyed by most people in say the UK ec. as opposed to people tending only to like cultural material that reflected their own sense of their own social class. The idea that there was a tight fit between a defined Class and a defined type of Cultural taste (e.g. the upper-middle classes usually only like classical music and not pop music) was breaking down in the late-50s. This process can be seen in the widening acceptance of pop culture and pop music accelerated by the 'harmless fun and enthusiasm' and indeed, the 'new swinging 60s britishness' of The Beatles around 1963 onwards. By 1967 BBC radio had endorsed the pop age by creating Radio 1 which offered all day pop music - light, unthreatening, and happy happy happy. Who could object to that?
Steptoe and Son clips:
The Good Life based in Surbiton (
Or Upper-class England of a dreamy past of long summers, Oxford, grand houses, society balls, wealth, art, culture, and of course ultimately upper-class decline into drunkeness as well as loss of wealth due to the Second World war - beautiful people and their pre-war worlds extinguished by harder times. The classic series for this was the adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's greatest novel, Brideshead Revisited. This was ITV-made drama at its best when ITV was strong on this in the late 70s and early 1980s. Now with the challenge of digital TV and masses of commercial channels, ITV is struggling to get audiences and spends little on drama, culture and childrens programming.
Brideshead Revisited clips:
But dramas such as Oi for
Also look at the selection of clips in the section on Thatcher's
Children and there you see quite a few pieces drawing on violent youth
as the symbol of Britishness (the 'metonym' -
condensation of whole by part - remember my e.g. in
lecture: the Crown (part) stands for/symbolises Monarchy (whole)). 1980s TV
dramas about 'post/anti-authority' youth violence can be linked back to Derek Jarman's 1976 film 'Jubilee' in which
Jubilee synopsis from BFI site.
Equally there have been drama-documentaries and documentaries that have captured either traditional images of Britain according to well-embedded images: Monarchy, pearly kings and queens (the East End of London 'monarchs'); of porters running round in the old Covent Garden (the famous fruit and produce market - now a fancy goods arcade in Central London) - OR modern images of a nation down-at-heel or in crisis underneath the apparent wealth (Cathy Come Home).
See: London Moods 1961 BBC from the famous series: Monitor
Cathy Come Home
REMEMBER that nation is not only expressed by positive or negative symbols of us,
but also by (usually) offering negative symbols of other groups/nations/ people who are NOT US - the 'other'.. eg. the famous 'Don't Mention the War' segment of an episode of
Or 'The Germans ' segment in an episode of Rising Damp (70s sit com/ITV)
Or any part of: 'Allo
This latter mass popular approach covered up the brutality of real life just as 'reality TV' series and celebrity culture does today. It dumbs down our awareness by selling us ways of thinking and sets of ideas (ideology) that do not encourage us to challenge and question the difficult world in which we live and thus not question the role of media in manufacturing that world. We know it will all be ok in the end so don't worry, there will be resolution...phew!