by JAMES GRAHAM NEITHER the BBC nor ITV
is usually improvident with its money. Some people have called them careful even beyond the normal calls of good husbandry. But the one ordinance calculated to unlace the tightest purses in television is that of prestige.
Vast sums of money are spent to win prestige. Competition for it is at times fiercer than that of
am ratings. Some producers spend the whole of their working live; in pursuit of IL
l here arc several ways of acquiring prestige in the television sense, Programmes that attract a lot of notice in newspapers. or have political advantages—say, a favourable mention in the House of Commons-appear to be the ones most favoured by the prestige-makers. The programme need not go out at a peak viewing hour. On the contrary. one of the most expensive series in television in this country was pushed out just after lunch on Sundays, and not to my knowledge ever repeated. But the surest Source of prestige is an award. Anyone can give an award. The more august the donor, the higher the honour, and the more sought-after the prize. So that a highly-placed and powerful organisation can affect the very standards of television by giving awards.
If the prize is big enough in terms of publicity and image changing—that extraordinary process, mysterious to me and I suspect to most other people, whereby companies improve their standing with the public — then the BBC and the programme companies_ tailor certain programmes in the year to compete for the top prizes, and to the standards set down by the awardgiver. At Montreux the BBC announced in advance of production the programme they proposed to enter for this highly-prized award in the Light Entertainment field.
In Britain. organisations which can or should have an interest in raising television standards have been very slow to latch on to this. The Arts Council, newspapers, even the Church herself could at very little expense create an annual award of prizes for good television, and thus exercise an influence on standards. The financial outlay could be quite modest. No gift of money need accompany the award. Most donors are satisfied with a plastercast of an indifferent work of sculpture, and the producers themselves seem quite happy with it.
In Britain the only awards of any fame in television arc given by the producers' and directors' own guild. 'They get together and single out one of their colleagues. Such is the paucity of awards in Britain that an accolade even there is treasured as the first step to canonisation.
In practice both the BBC and the independent companies go abroad for their award-giving festivals. Montreux is one. The LINDA festival which ended at Monte Carlo on Saturday is another. UNDA is the Catholic international association for radio and television, and gives a number of highly-valued prizes each year. Six were distributed this year and one went to the BBC for their modern musical drama of the Bible 'story of Job. It was enterprising and original and they well deserved their success. But the more surprising success was that of Ireland for Father Casey and the Land War, a documentary about rack-renting landlords in south-western Ireland at the turn of the century. 1 was not present at Monte Carlo, hut my correspondent who has long experience of television tells me that the Irish production was outstanding. And all. the more impressive when one remembers that Telefis Eireann has only been around for a couple of years, and that a team of young priests produce a weekly magazine programme under difficult circumstances.
The general production standards at Monte Carlo, I was told, were very high. especially in the drama section, but that there was . evidence that the money spent on programmes by some continental countries was apparently far greater than that spent by British companies. The range of continental pro
duction, therefore, was wider than ours. As Britain was a pioneer in religious television drama it would be a pity to fall behind for lack of support. It was also surprising that the whole Catholic world could only offer five or six productions of valued for the teaching section of the festival.
Before the UN DA festival proper, UNDA gave an official prize at the earlier "Festival du Prince". This was presented to Japan for a story of children in a working class district of Tokyo. It was wholly in keeping with Pope John's emphasis on the finding of goodness, and the virtue is not a monopoly of Christianity.
* I don't suppose that ABC television will be entering their play last Sunday, The Pretty English Girls, either at UNDA or anywhere else for that matter.
Apart from the fact that it had something to do with illicit drug traffic I never discovered what was going on, nor why. It was so confusing that I was surprised to see the name of Peter Hammond. one of the better directors, at the end of it.
I can only assume that he didn't understand it either. Could they have lost some pages of the script?
Perhaps ABC television and the BBC arid the other independent companies could also take a leaf from Pope John and look for goodness as a theme for
drama. don't say this tendentiously. I believe it would he a startling change, and a landmark of improvement. Meanwhile, a warm welcome to Mr. Pensy Jones, who has been appointed religious programme officer at the ITA. Mr. Jones has produced Sunday Break and Living Your Life for many years. His appointment can only strengthen the hand of the ITV religious programmes.
Look and Listen
Btitastv Sunday: "Who is God?", by Fr. Desmond Wilson, II a.m. Meeting Point. "Feeling of Guilt", nutlet includes Fr. Thomas Corhishley, S.J. 6,15 p.m., repeat 10.40 p.m. BBC Radio. Sunday: Hymn singing from Portsmouth Cathedral, R.30 pm, Light, Tuesday: "Monasteries and the Wool Trade". dramatised account of the founding of Fountains Abbey. Yorks., 2.40 p.m. Home, Saturday: "Lighten Our Darkness"— evening prayers by Fr. Hugh \ leKay, O.F.M. 10.45 p.m.
ITV. Sunday: High Mass from St. John's, Ogle Street, London, 11 am. ATV "God's Cross in Our World", Last programme, AR-tv.
Sunday: Live debate from Oxford University on the motion "This House asserts that Oxford is no longer a Christian University". 6.15 p.m. ABC (Networked).