Screen test

Tuesday 10th January 2012

QUIZ question: who holds the record for the longest television appearance in history? Estimates suggest her broadcast career totalled about 70,000 hours. Here are some clues: noughts and crosses, F, and Bubbles*.

As students, friends and I spent several afternoons of the 1971 summer vacation at the television studios in Whiteladies Road, Bristol. Here was a chance for us to express ourselves, meet important public figures, catch the eye of some big-shot producer, and embark on careers as rising stars at the BBC. It was all very exciting.

And all rather pointless.

The programme was a series of discussions called The Gap: – with a different subject after the colon each week: Work, Education, Politics, and so on. Made in black and white and broadcast on BBC 2 on Sundays, it clashed with the football on ITV.

The gap in question was ages. We under-25s sat opposite middle-aged professionals, whose expertise in whichever subject made our passionate pleas seem rather lame and immature. I gave up trying to get words in edgeways.

Until, that is, the week we debated Television.

I’d noticed recordings always ended when the producer stood up and waved to the control room, signalling a fading of the lights with the discussion still in progress.

Much of the argument had been about what we students perceived as the poor quality of prime time viewing.

“These programmes are popular,” came the repeated rebuttal. “We consult viewers all the time. This is what they tell us they want.”

As the lights faded, I chipped in with:

“But if you only broadcast for ten minutes a day, they’d watch whatever was on, even rubbish.”

It was the only occasion when the lights were brought back up and the producer asked us to return to discussing some previous point. I was snubbed, edited out.

* It was known as Test Card F, featured Bubbles the Clown (a stuffed toy), and Carole Hersee, the eight-year-old daughter of television engineer George. The X on the blackboard marked the exact centre of the screen.






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