The period of the 1960s can be discussed as the decade of significant changes in the history of the British Television because of the intensive growth and development of television for the society and principles of broadcasting.
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Many changes in the nature of the British Television and in used technologies which were observed and developed during the 1960s are associated with the effects of the Pilkington Report on the government’s vision of the role of broadcasting in the British society. The Pilkington Report was published and presented in 1962 as a result of the Pilkington Committee’s work.
The committee was organised in 1960 in order to explore the situation related to the development of the British Television regarding the impact of broadcasting on the society and the television’s possibility to respond to the public’s interests.
The chapters of the Pilkington Report presented the range of improvements proposed by the committee to be realised in relation to the most significant aspects of the British Television’s development.
In spite of the fact that the main ideas presented in the Pilkington Report were actively criticised by the broadcasters, government, sponsors, and by the public, the effect of the report on the further growth and development of the British Television in the 1960s was significant and rather positive because the necessity of the third television channel was stated and the BBC2, which was launched later in 1964, responded to the new needs of the television audience; because the focus on the development of colour television on 625 lines was stated; because the attempts to reform the independent television were realised and led to the improvement of the television quality; and because the more obvious focus on the television quality was proclaimed in contrast to the spread of ‘triviality’ on television.
The Origin and Main Points of the Pilkington Report
The Pilkington Committee is the Committee of Inquiry which was organised in 1960 in order to explore the situation associated with the development of the British Television, to provide the ideas on the future of broadcasting, to advise on the definite television services, and to present important recommendations on improving the quality of television.
The committee was headed by Sir Harry Pilkington (Milland 2004, p. 76). Thus, the Pilkington Report included the thoughts on the future of the British Television in relation to the allocation of the third channel, the development and re-organisation of the Independent Television (ITV), and the rejection of the general principles of the commercial television.
Moreover, the Pilkington Report presented the detailed discussion of broadcasting as the important factor for the development of the British society. This factor influenced the development of the British Television significantly because the concepts of the broadcasters’ social and moral responsibility were re-thought.
Therefore, the authors of the report state that “by its nature, broadcasting must be in a constant and sensitive relationship with the moral condition of society. Broadcasters are, and must be, involved; this gives them a responsibility they cannot evade” (Report of the Committee on Broadcasting 1962, p. 15).
From this point, the purpose of broadcasting, which is reflected in the stated principles is in influencing the morality of the British society. Thus, according to Milland, “Pilkington produced the most cogent, best-argued and best-written statement of the principles” (Milland 2004, p. 77). In this case, the report can be discussed as good in promoting the idea and purpose of broadcasting from the point of the television’s role for the society.
The authors of the report also rejected the idea that the future of the British Television was in the development of the commercial principles related to broadcasting because the orientation of the ITV on advertising was actively criticised.
As a result, the authors of the report proposed several new approaches to using the advertisements in broadcasting in order to support the idea of the social and moral responsibility, to discuss the audience as citizens, to reject the idea of the audience as consumers, and to provide the new principles of the commercially competitive television.
Despite the fact that the ideas on the re-organisation of the ITV were presented in the Pilkington Report, the ideas were not supported with the help of the associated legislation.
The authors of the report paid much attention to the issue of expanding the powers of the Independent Television Authority and connected the discussion of the controversial question with resolving the problem of the commercial television (Report of the Committee on Broadcasting 1962).
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It is important to note that the views of the report’s authors were not correlated with the observed social tendencies, and the committee’s proposals related to the principles of advertising on television were not supported with the necessary legislation.
That is why, the most important effects on the development of the British Television were observed in relation to the recommendations which were reflected in acts and policies. From this point, Television Acts of 1963 and 1964 supported the proposals developed in the report legally, and BBC2 was launched at the basis of the new 625-line UHF band (Milland 2004, p. 79).
It is also important to focus on the fact that the authors of the report demonstrated the opposite opinions on the role of the BBC and ITV for the society’s progress and for the future of broadcasting in Britain. Therefore, the report provides the critique of many aspects associated with the ITV’s content, idea, principles of organisation.
Thus, the content is discussed as poor in spite of its popularity because of the low quality of programmes and promotion of ‘triviality’ and violence.
According to the report, the ITV pays much attention to the foreign programmes which can erode the British culture and traditions, and the focus on commercial principles and advertising contributes to the progress of the vulgar materialist culture in the British society (Report of the Committee on Broadcasting 1962).
Moreover, the idea of the commercial television can be discussed as not realised completely and adequately with references to the ITV resources. In addition, the authors of the report conclude that the role of the ITV as the broadcasting organisation “seemed to lack that positive and active quality which is essential to good broadcasting.
We reject, too, its [ITV] view that television will be shaped by society” (Report of the Committee on Broadcasting 1962, p. 67). In spite of the fact that the ITV’s performance was discussed by the authors of the Pilkington report as rather trivial and poor, only few changes were supported by the government to improve the quality of the independent television according to the high aesthetic standards which were actively promoted in the Pilkington Report (Milland 2004, p. 76).
However, these results should also be mentioned as the important positive effects of the report, which are related to the quality of the British Television.
On the contrary, the authors of the report demonstrated the significant support regarding the purpose and idea of the BBC, and proposed the development of the third channel which could be discussed as the improved version of the BBC. Thus, the authors of the report stated that they “found in the BBC an all-around professionalism” Report of the Committee on Broadcasting 1962, p. 48).
Moreover, it is noticed in the report that the BBC “knows good broadcasting … they are providing it” (Report of the Committee on Broadcasting 1962, p. 48).
According to the Pilkington Committee, the notion of ‘good broadcasting’ is closely associated with presenting the high-quality serious programmes which reflect the reality of the British society because, following the principles presented in the report, the broadcasters “must not only reflect society; they must pick out and focus attention on that which is significant” (Report of the Committee on Broadcasting 1962, p. 285).
The BBC is discussed as the channel which completes this task effectively.
Furthermore, at the same time, the broadcasters “must care about public tastes and attitudes in all their variety in all kinds of programmes”, and this idea can be discussed as “the nature of the broadcasters’ responsibility” (Report of the Committee on Broadcasting 1962, p. 285).
That is why, the BBC’s “awareness of the nature, the magnitude and the complexity of the task of catering for the needs of the public” respond to the basic principles promoted by the committee in relation to the nature of broadcasting (Report of the Committee on Broadcasting 1962, p. 48).
From this point, the programmes of the BBC as the channel with the excellent reputation responded to the mentioned principles, and the programmes were described as sound and objective, made with references to the good taste.
The Allocation of the BBC2 and the Development of the High-Speed Colour Television as the Significant Effect of the Pilkington Report
The allocation of the third channel (BBC2) in 1964 accentuated the active shift in the sphere of broadcasting to the new standards and ideas of the high-quality television, which were proclaimed in the Pilkington Report.
It is important to pay attention to the fact that the Pilkington Committee achieved the significant results while attempting to propose the new standards for the commercial television when the government agreed to finance the BBC2 by the licence fee instead of referring to the advertising revenues (Milland 2004, p. 76).
Thus, the BBC2 was launched in 1964 as a result of the government’s new policies related to broadcasting and as the response to the recommendations provided in the Pilkington Report. Many positive commentaries on the nature of the BBC and the quality of the proposed programmes were provided in the report.
From this perspective, the BBC2 was launched to double the success of the BBC and to present more high-quality programmes oriented to the public’s interests, but contributing to the development of the educated society. Moreover, the decision to launch the BBC2 was important for the broadcasters because the new approach to television was also proposed.
Thus, the BBC2 proposed programmes and shows which could be considered not only as alternative to the programmes broadcasted on the BBC but also as experimental in their nature to meet the needs and interests of the audience.
Furthermore, according to Caughie, “the peculiar conjuncture in public service broadcasting produced by the Pilkington Report and the expansion of BBC2 opened a space in television drama in which social responsibility was particularly available for political appropriation and challenging reinterpretation” (Caughie 2000, p. 104).
On the contrary, many television series proposed by the ITV were criticised by the authors of the report because of their ‘triviality’, violent character, and focus on naturalism.
With launching the BBC2, broadcasters and directors proposed the new vision of the television show and focused on television drama. These new programmes and dramas were developed according to the principles of social responsibility mentioned in the report, and these programmes and shows were positively accepted by both the political leaders and by the public (Report of the Committee on Broadcasting 1962).
The opportunity for the ‘challenging reinterpretation’ of the programmes and dramas’ content also contributed to the reputation of the BBC2 as the alternative channel to meet the tendencies of the changing society. In addition, the BBC2 became the first channel which used the technology of 625 lines and the specific ultra-high frequency bands.
The focus on the use of 625 lines can be discussed as the most remarkable technological improvement related to broadcasting in the 1960s. It was proposed in the report to refer to the colour television depending on 625 lines and with references to the specific ultra-high frequency (UHF) bands.
This proposal was supported by the broadcasters and government, and the necessary preparation for using the new technologies was started in 1962 (Milland 2004, p. 80-81; Report of the Committee on Broadcasting 1962). As a result, the quality of broadcasting was increased significantly, and the audience could see the positive result with references to the BBC2 launched in 1964.
The Focus on the Quality of Television Programmes and the Avoidance of ‘Triviality’ as the Effects of the Pilkington Report
It is stated in the Pilkington Report that the trivial approach to broadcasting is the main problem associated with the quality of the programmes which can influence the society and its morality.
The authors of the report state that the trivial approach can be reflected “in a failure to respect the potentialities of the subject matter, no matter what it be, or in a too ready reliance on well-tried themes, or in a habit of conforming to established patterns” (Report of the Committee on Broadcasting 1962, p. 34).
As a result, many programmes broadcasted by the ITV were discussed as trivial in their nature because the broadcasters were oriented to the public’s interests without paying attention to the issues of morality and without following their professional code (Report of the Committee on Broadcasting 1962, p. 66).
From this perspective, the important effects of the Pilkington Report are the positive changes in the quality of the broadcasted programmes because the broadcasters chose to concentrate on proposing the high-quality programmes and shows where violence and naturalism were replaced with the focus on realism.
Thus, the idea of the necessity of high-quality programmes is clearly reflected in criticism of the ITV content presented in the report.
It was also stated in the Pilkington Report that the quality of television was closely associated with the quality of drama, programmes, and series broadcasted (Report of the Committee on Broadcasting 1962, p. 65).
As a result, the demand for the new drama was accentuated. Much attention was paid to the progress from naturalism, which was often associated with ‘triviality’ and as it was discussed by the television critics, to realism.
Thus, Caughie states that in the 1960s and after, “in writing about television drama at every level, naturalism appears simply as bad realism, associated with sordidness, boredom, the kitchen sink” (Caughie 2000, p. 96). That is why, the focuses on the new realistic programmes and shows are necessary in order to promote the high-quality television and respond to the interests of the public.
The genre of the realistic drama-documentary developed, and BBC as a ‘serious’ channel and BBC2 as the alternative channel broadcasted the most powerful dramas among which it is necessary to concentrate on Up the Junction (1965) and Cathy Come Home (1966).
According to Caughie, in Cathy Come Home, the principles of the documentary drama are reflected even more vividly than in Up the Junction.
There is the “journalistic sense of message, a message given an urgency which seems to require a stronger central narrative and a greater authority for the documentary evidence”, and moreover, the documentary voices “are no longer at odds with the image, as they are in the quite radical juxtaposition of the love scene in the derelict building in Up the Junction” (Caughie 2000, p. 119).
Thus, Caughie discusses the fact of the focus on realism typical for the programmes and drama documentaries of the 1960s as important to speak about the positive effects of the shift on the development of the television content’s quality. From this perspective, the Pilkington Report was rather effective to affect the quality of the contents proposed by the broadcasters.
In spite of the fact that the Pilkington Report published in 1962 was actively criticised by the broadcasters, government, sponsors, and the public, the role of the report in the development of the British Television in the 1960s is significant.
The examples of the main positive effects of the Pilkington Report on the progress of the British Television are the allocation of the third channel, the shift to the new colour television on 625 lines, and the improvement of the content quality.
Although such proposals as the re-organisation of the ITV and the reformation of the principles related to the commercial television were not supported by the government and reflected in the associated legislation, the Pilkington Report drew the government and public’s attention to the issues.
Although the Pilkington Report is often discussed as ineffective to propose the successful improvements because of the focus on radical discussions ands conclusions, the role of the report is significant because some of its recommendations contributed to discussing the period of the 1960s as the era of the British Television’s progress.
The focus on the new technologies such as the 625 lines and UHF bands is closely associated with the report’s recommendations; the increased choice of programmes is the direct result of launching the third channel; and the concentration on the social responsibility of the broadcasters is also the direct effect of presenting the Pilkington Report in 1962.
Caughie, J 2000, ‘The rush of the real’, in J Caughie (ed.), Television drama: Realism, modernism and British culture, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 88-124.
Milland, J 2004, ‘Courting Malvolio: The background to the Pilkington Committee on Broadcasting, 1960-62’, Contemporary British History, vol. 18. no. 2, pp. 76-102.
Report of the Committee on Broadcasting, 1960 1962, HMS Office, London.