by H. R. F. Keating
WAS 1970 the year of the 47 bloodies? Or was it the year when millions watched Mozart's Idomeneo? Any judgment of television's past 12 months depends on the temperament of the individual viewer putting in his average 16 box-glued hours a week.
But one ponderable there is. In 1970 the majority of us were cheated. The year's output was made for the colour viewer.
There may have been only a few programmes parts of which depended totally on being seen in colour (producers still pay lip service to the possibility of viewing in blackand-white) but there were hundreds which lacked the immediacy of the days when putting things over in contrasts of grey was the only way open to television's directors.
This is not my opinion only, though I make a practice with my black-and-white set of asking myself when things are dull-looking "Would it be lively in colour?" and frequently answer "Yes."
But I have no less an authority than TV Times to back me up: "Perhaps too many programme makers are beginning to ignore the effect when viewed in black -andwhite." Quote from November 5.
Yet in June last only 349,000 colour licences were taken out as against more than 15 million black-and-white. Cheated? Yes.
But I suppose a bloody in black-and-white is just as offensive, or innocuous, as one in colour, and 1970 was a pretty strong year for bloodies (the 71 were counted in one April week by a tough team from The Times). It was the year of Up Pompeii! and the revived Steptoc and Son.
Plenty of vulgarity there, though to me this is a token of a love of life which is far from deplorable. More than 18 million viewers a week agreed with me over Steptoe, I am pleased to report.
What I am not at all pleased to report is that 26 million watched the Miss World contest on BBC-1. Tastelessness needs to be redeemed by cheerfulness, to my mind, if it is not to be offensive.
And you can hardly blame the powers-that-put-on if, finding that this nasty affair attracts so many, they feel entitled to a bloody or two and some explicit sexual references in a good cause. So I, for one, retain happy memories of Ken Russell's uninhibited attack on Richard Strauss in Dance of the Seven Veils.
If the flesh was so attractive last year, how did spirituality fare? Not well on the whole, I think. Stars on Sunday, which cajoles the top-raters to perform in the religion slot, certainly hauled in the viewers by the million, and good luck to it. Congratulations, too, to The Question Why which went from strength to strength.
Certainly the Catholic Church had a poorish year in viewers' eyes, with dull documentaries on the Vatican and the Jesuits and a crude, scandal-mongering going-over from Man Alive. But, of course, with Ulster so much in the news religion can hardly be said to have deserved a good press. (Let it be added here that the Man Alive team redeemed itself considerably with its documentary from Belfast, Christians at War.) Altogether indeed there were some splendid documentaries in the year. I recall Generations Apart contriving to bring intimate affairs to the screen without offence and the excellent Family of Man contrasting the behaviour of primitive tribesmen and ourselves. (I look forward soon to a new BBC-1 series "Trials of Life" on the crucial stages of our worldly span.) And one of the highlights of my year's viewing was the Louis Melte series on India, from which the episode devoted to the dance produced the most sheerly beautiful television I ever remember. But music of all sorts had a fine showing, and I would nominate as my television experience of the year the nine symphonies of Beethoven conducted by Klemperer.
Not truly visual, you say? Yes, the sight of that humanly frail old man controlling by the power of the spirit music of such massive nobility was television as wonderful to watch as it was to hear.
And now we have come to counting our blessings there are other occasions almost equally fine to record. The great playwrights of the world were brought to our little screens, often with almost complete success.
We had on film the splendours of the Russian Hamlet, we had Ibsen, and above all we had Chekov for the millions in both The Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya.
And television has the double power of being able to give us both great drama and great novels. To David Turner, certainly my playwright of the year, we owe two marvellous adoptions.
Early in 1970 he gave us Zola's Germinal, which the whole team under the direction of John Davies succeeded in bringing to the screen with a truthfulness that lifted its sordid story to the heights. Now Mr. Turner is giving us Sartre's Roads to Freedom with an equal integrity.
Nor did original television plays fail us in the year, even though the current Play for Today seems not to have reached very high. But from the Wednesday Play days there were some excellent things indeed.
I name three: Tony Parker's Chariot of Fire, a compassionate and hard-thought look at the habitual committer of "in decent assaults," David Mercer's The Cellar and the Almond Tree, the crowning of his trilogy on socialist man, and Mad Jad by Tom Clarke, an affecting portrait of Siegfried Sassoon
I have left out much in my backward kok — a lot to praise and qiite a lot to blame. But that was one man's siew of a year's 'iewing, and at the end of it al I am certain that my feeling are of immense delight am gratitude. For ma 1970 on tie box was a good year, a blody good year.