IT is high time that someone did some basic research on 1why people watch television. And I am not thinking about the TAM ratings or the Audience Measurement surveys. What I want to know is not how many people have switched from watching Coronation Street on Mondays to Coronation Street on Wednesdays, or whether the BBC has any programme in the Top Ten.
What I would like to he told is whether British audiences are satisfied with the present diet of serials, pop shows, quiz games and sport, or whether they want something different, either within these categories or outside them.
My own conviction is that producers rate the IQ of their audiences too low and that. they are mesmerised by the ratings. Because millions watch a particular type of programme, the programme planners go on producing that type of programme. There is no effort made to give us a new and better serial, or pop show, or quiz game, or what-have-you. The old stereotype has proved itself and no producer dare take the risk of changing the recipe.
But it is not just a question of better programmes of the kind we already have. It is just as important—perhaps more so—that some really serious thinking is done on new types of programmes altogether.
This is not just a question of catering for minority tastes. For my money, BBC-2 is doing a good job in that line. What
I mean is that the great British viewing public conceivably wants something more than even a better version of the oldfavourite programmes. It wants—or so I think—less candyfloss and more substance in its diet.
I am encouraged in this belief by the success of programmes like Brian Inglis' All Our Yesterdays and by series like The Valiant Years. And I think that programmes like the recent documentary on Hong Kong and David Dimbleby's interesting inquiry into the Ku Klux Klan last week are far more popular than even the authorities realise.
If this is so, then both the BBC and the ITV ought to take their courage in their hands and decide to improve the whole level of television.
There arc two ways they can do this. One is in the field of information. Unless my family, my friends and acquaintances and myself are, by a weird coincidence all untypical of the great British public, then viewers want to know what is going on in the world. There is no television so compelling as the camera on the spot when an interesting event is taking place.
With all due respect to the newspapers, none of them did anything like the job the cameras did when the Queen was in Germany. I don't think anyone who watched Dimbleby pare preside (that is the mot piste) over the Britannia's departure from Hamburg would bother to read a word about it next morning in the papers, except to confirm the evidence of his own eyes.
The second way in which television can improve its standards is in the related field of education. Documentary programmes would come into this field. But it should not be confined to this. I am thinking in terms of real courses of instruction and, specifically, of the oft-mooted University of the Air. This was one of the planks in Mr. Wilson's election programme and I personally regret that it has not appeared to loom very large in the Government programme since.
Mr. Richard Buchanan, M.P. for Springburn, Glasgow, is the sponsor of this idea. Speaking to students at the Opus Dei residence at Netherhall House, Hampstead, the other day, he outlined some very valuable ideas on it. Briefly, he said that it was not a question of whether we can afford to devote a fourth channel to such an idea; the question was could we afford not to.
He spoke of the need for more highly-trained professional men, of the necessity to channel people's interest along positive lines if society is to benefit from increased leisure; and so on.
This is all very true. And although Mr. Buchanan is rightly against "hair-shirt" education (viewing or listening in the early morning), he. is, I think, a bit too high-falutin' in his ideas,
Imaginative education courses starting at Sixth Form level and working up to degree courses, would, in my view, make fascinating viewing if they were presented properly.
Make them intrinsically interesting; match your French course to an outside broadcast or a travel tour in France; take your maths lecturer into an atomic station or a rocket launching-pad; act out history as far as possible on its actual location—these will make instruction really live and bring a new dimension to our viewing. And give the fourth channel to it entirely, at least for a start.
And if the viewers don't like it, I'll eat my TV Times.