Schools TV brings geography to life

From the TVTimes Midlands edition for 28 September – 4 October 1958

It is back to school for a second academic year for ITV on Monday — and the number of schools taking the Monday to Friday programmes will be increased to 580 by the entry of Southern Television into the scheme.

For the first time, the family of classroom viewers are to share a contribution from Scotland. For the first time, too, there will be an opportunity for everybody to take part in a competition with prizes.

For the first time — in the Friday art series — a boy and girl will be in the studio each week. And, for the first time, the schools broadcasts organisers have included geography in the curriculum.

Cameramen have recently completed work on the Tuesday and Thursday series. “La Dordogne — the Story of a River.” Beginning at its sources in the French Massif Central, which can be reached only in the late spring and summer, being otherwise snowbound, a French crew directed by Randal Beattie has followed the life of the river through all its phases and finally come down to the plain of Aquitaine.

The Bort-les-Orgues dam under construction across France’s Dordogne river, which is featured in nine programmes

The nine filmed programmes of the series are designed to show how the way of life along the river bank, both today and in the past, has been bound up inextricably with the physical geography of the valley.

Says education officer John Lloyd: “We chose the Dordogne because it is particularly rich in scenery, and the people, social customs, architecture and history of the area arc of exceptional interest.”

Why should a window in Bernard Braden’s house at Shepperton, Middlesex, figure in a programme for schools? The answer is that in bygone years a doodler with a diamond left his mark on the glass, and the engraved scrawl illustrates one of the properties dealt with in the Monday series, “Matter in Use.”

A diamond scrawl on Bernard Braden’s window helps in “Matter in Use”

Here, the aim is to elicit the science which is associated with the materials and natural substances encountered in everyday life.

Says the programme’s director, Cambridge graduate John Frankau: “Although these basic science programmes are planned for children of medium ability, even a six-year-old ought to be able to get something from them. On the other hand, there will be an attempt to provide such stimuli for further inquiry and research as will meet the needs of better-than average pupils.”

The series will point the way naturally to a wide range of possible follow-up activities — from a suggested discussion of what happens to moth-balls when they grow smaller in the wardrobe, to an analysis of a diet-sheet. The preparation of the Wednesday social studies series, “Process of Law,” confronted director Peter Robinson with a problem.

An ancient “trial by ordeal” – walking on hot iron – illustrates “Process of Law”

“Our difficulty has been in finding how to illustrate the working of the law in a studio,” says this Cambridge law graduate. “Most happenings connected with breaking the law occur out-of-doors, and, for another thing, it has been a teasing question how to introduce a courtroom scene.”

The programmes will explain the necessity for law, or rules, in any community, large or small, will outline the role of Parliament, and demonstrate the difference between a crime and a civil “injury.”

“The treatment will be documentary, and dramatisation will be used to clarify and bring home certain points,” says Robinson, who has brought in Jeremy Thorpe as narrator and interviewer.

Van Gogh’s The Reaper – a typical drawing to be used in the visual arts programmes

Rounding off the school week, the visual arts programmes, directed by June Neville, have a three fold aim.

Explains education officer Fernau Hall: “This is, first, to help children to appreciate black and white art — the basis of all visual art; secondly, to help them with their own work; thirdly, to heighten their awareness of the world around them.

“Milein Cosman, the distinguished graphic artist, will be in every programme. With him will be a notable guest, who will talk about the great works of the past and be seen in association with his or her own work.

St Bride’s Church in London – a splendid example of Wren design to be commented on in one of the programmes

“Frederick Gibberd, for instance, will glance back at his historic forerunner, Sir Christopher Wren, and will also comment on a model of his own best-known work — the new London Airport buildings.

“Thus, the children will see for themselves that there can be different attitudes and styles according to the interpretation of the particular artist.”

London Airport buildings designed by Frederick Gibberd

Two worlds link for schools ITV

From the TVTimes Midlands edition for 28 April to 4 May 1957

Looking back on the early days of Independent Television, it is hard now to realise what unutterable chaos we grappled with, before and during that first autumn quarter.

The physical hazards alone were exceptional. There were many days in Television House when we could not hear ourselves speak for the noise of pneumatic drills and concrete mixers as the building was torn to pieces and put together again about our ears.

There was a week or more when we had no electricity and all work was done by paraffin lamps, and another dreadful spell when the building was without water.

The problems of starting the ITV school broadcasts service — the first programme is on May 13 — are discussed in this article by Rosemary Horstmann, Assistant Head of the School Broadcasting Section of Associated-Rediffusion Ltd. But first she takes a glance over her shoulder to compare the present-day problems with those she had when ITV first went on the air in 1955. She was then the company’s Manager of Women’s Programmes

There were also, of course, the larger problems of finding and training staff and performers, building a big organisation from scratch, and planning programmes.

Then it came. The moment on the evening of September 22, 1955, when the voice of the commentator said “Take it, Guildhall” and our first live remote programme was on the air. It was worth all the toil and sweat.

Life in Television House is no longer rugged, but the pioneering Haute still burns brightly, and for a small group of people of the first floor a date in May looms as large as did that first day of transmission.

At 2.45 p.m on Monday, May 13, the first Independent Television programme for schools goes on the air.

The School Broadcasting Section is hammering the programmes into shape. TV for schools must bridge the gap between two worlds: education and show business. The people who put the programmes on must have an understanding of both.

Such people are scarce, and in assembling our staff for this venture we have benefited from BBC experience, and put a production team of two on each series: a producer who knows more about teaching than television, and a director who knows more about television than teaching.

We have been fortunate in finding some people with qualifications on both sides: two of our producers, Alan Nicholson and John Frankau, have worked as floor managers, and one of our directors, Joan Kemp-Welch, is a fully-qualified teacher.

Apart from the need to combine different fields of experience, there is a great advantage in having a team of two on programmes such as these: I think any programme director would agree that the technicalities of direction at camera rehearsal take up so much of his attention that he is almost unconscious of what is said on the screen.

It is a valuable safeguard to have a producer present sufficiently detached from that hurly-burly to be able to assess the impact of the programme as a whole.

Moreover, we hope it will be possible for producers to leave the studio after the final run-through and dash to the nearest school that has a television set to view the results of their handiwork with children in a classroom. This can be invaluable in learning how to do better next time.

Thanks to the co-operation of members of our Educational Advisory Council, our production teams have been visiting schools and getting acquainted or re-acquainted — with their audience.

Alan Nicholson and Roger Jenkins, producer and director of the series The Ballad Story, spent an instructive day discussing poetry with different classes in a secondary modern boys school at Wimbledon.

Thora James has been talking to many groups of young people about to leave school or in their first jobs, and gathering material on the questions they would really like dealt with in her series On Leaving School.

The school programmes are to go out from Studio 9, in Television House — the studio from which This Week comes every Friday night. Eric Croall, our Co-ordinating Director, has been deep in plans with designers Anne Spavin and Michael Wield devising a flexible permanent set.

Scenery — in the sense of elaborate reconstructions of outside locations — forms no part of school TV plans, nor do we intend to build a classroom in the studios. The aim, rather, is to create an unobtrusive but effective background for the different programmes, and the imaginative use of lighting will play an important part in this.

As well as the stall behind the cameras, the performers in front of them also need the dual experience of television and classroom. Here, one is juggling constantly with different factors, balancing the desirability of having an experienced teacher with the necessity of having a trained interviewer, used to handling amateurs before the cameras, equating the extreme eminence of a V.I.P. with the fact that he has never been on television before and cannot spare much time for rehearsal.

We have been lucky in finding unexpected qualifications in Associated-Rediffusion’s staff. Redvers Kyle and Mitchell Raper, station announcers whose voices are well-known on Channel 9, both have teaching experience, and they will be seen in two of the schools series. Another series will be introduced by John Lord, the English teacher about whom you may have read in the TV Times of April 5.

John Lord’s was one of the hundreds of letters that came flooding in when this project was first announced. From these letters we are building a valuable index of people on whose experience we can draw in time to come.