Autumn View(ing)

Originally invented by Americans as a way of flogging even more cars than usual, the idea of the 'Autumn Season' is deeply embedded in television scheduling culture. Although the BBC never actually had anything to 'sell' (well, unless you count things like the output of their record label), they nonetheless saw it as a good way of drawing viewers in with a largely manufactured sense of new programmes carefully tailored to suit cosy winter-draws-on evenings gathered around the telly. Needless to say, and indeed as you can see from this Dougal-meets-The-Machine-Stops cover, Radio Times was right behind this, although their attempts to construct a 'New... For Autumn!' narrative and fill the requisite amount of pages at the same time often led to desperate flanneling, bewildering leaps of logic and inappropriate levels of excitement about programmes that most viewers could probably take or leave really. And as you can see from these extracts from the Autumn Preview in the Radio Times dated 2nd October 1965, not everything that showed up in the run-up to Christmas was quite as thrilling as Rubber Soul...

You'd have to have had your ears filled in with cavity insulation foam whilst on your way to return your MBE in 'protest' at Ringo Starr having recieved one to have been unaware of the increased prominence, importance and relevance of the ever-amorphous concept of 'The Arts' in the mid-sixties. As this peculiar illustrative mish-mash featuring binoculars, a violin and a Bridget Riley painting calling to mind The Clown off Camberwick Green getting 'cultured' suggests, the BBC were only too aware of and indeed only too keen to reflect this, and Autumn 1965 saw the launch of four new arts programmes - Sunday Night on BBC1 and New Release, Intimations and the proto-aaaaaaaaahhhhh archfest Line-Up Review on BBC2 - which were to all intents and purposes the exact same programme only with a different producer and a marginally different chair.

It was a bumper autumn for Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, with a brand new series of their unprecedented hit Steptoe And Son - seriously, several of the earliest episodes were in the list of top ten most-watched UK television programmes for over a decade - and 'selected' repeats of Hancock's Half Hour at its 1959-to-1960 peak, which Radio Times are careful to emphasise featured Sid James alongside The Lad Himself. There is a bittersweet air to this repeat season and its conspicuous prominence, sat somewhere between celebration of what was even then already evidently a high watermark of the small screen, and a determined distancing from the shambolic mess that followed it. Since their acrimonious split in October 1961, the two hapless writers had systematically trounced the genius comic - well, maybe not with Citizen James, but you can't win them all - on both commercial and artistic terms, and in September 1965 Tony Hancock was hard at work on being 'between projects' while they continued to ride high. Elsewhere there are big-ups for the not exactly unexpected likes of Sykes, Harry Worth, The Benny Hill Show, The Dick Emery Show and Meet The Wife, but only right at the very end do they throw in a mention of Not Only... But Also.... And the series with John Lennon doing his guest-rhyming bit at that. You could probably just about argue that this was possibly intended as the setup for a convoluted 'not only but also' gag that they forgot to actually put in, but either way, small wonder that they wiped them all the second that Peter Cook's back was turned. Meanwhile, the less said about what may or may not be them driving a car at the head of that horse-scoffs-astrakhan-collar 'comedy' procession, the better.

Apparently the BBC were still pushing The Voord from Doctor Who And The Keys Of Marinus as late as 1965, this time as a popular beat combo. Who - sadly - did not get their own series, though fans of pop music could continue to enjoy Top Of The Pops and Juke Box Jury, along with Stramash!, an 'explosive new show' from Scotland with a name that apparently essentially translates as 'riot'. Somehow you can't help but suspect that it may not have lived up to its billing. Folk who like folk get a bit of a cursory brush-off with a vague suggestion that if they like that sort of thing then they might as well try Show Of The Week where they might potentially find the not particularly folky likes of Nina And Frederik, while jazz enthusiasts are casually told that there's so much jazz about that the BBC might as well not bother showing any of it; followed by a throwaway mention of upcoming performances by Thelonius Monk, Oscar Peterson and Jimmy Smith. The reason for this glib disinterest in those pesky styles of music that are popular enough to require deliniation is that anything more serious apparently comes under the simple banner of 'Music', be they 'public concerns or one-act operas specially mounted for BBC-tv at Glyndebourne', the Tortelier Master Class with 'this most televisual of maestros', or a headlining series for the unfortunately appropriately named baritone Tito Gobbi. Yes, well, we'll see how many people are still listening to Catch The Wind and Look Through Any Window half a century later, 'Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra'.

Despite the illustration showing what appears to be absolutely nothing being filmed on a blank white set, this was something of a boom time for standalone television drama, with new Dennis Potter, David Turner and N.F. Simpson works in the offing, not to mention The Wednesday Play, Theatre 625 and Thirty-Minute Theatre continuing apace. So much so, in fact, that it's nigh on impossible to come up with any pithy or perceptive observations about any of it. 1965 was slap bang in the middle of a time when everyone involved at every level treated television drama with the utmost seriousness and many believed it would come to be the benchmark by which all other artforms would be judged. Until television was invented by HBO in 1990, that is.

There's something oddly melancholy about seeing the Home Service, the Light Programme and the Third Programme proudly announcing their brand new autumnal wares, blissful in their lack of awareness of the fact that they wouldn't really exist for very much longer. Nonetheless, there were some clues that all was not well across the pre-Flowers In The Rain wavelengths, not least the Home Service announcement that longstanding Current Affairs cornerstone The World At One was being replaced by the essentially identical This Time Of Day, accompanied by small print-esque statements about their most popular shows being shunted around the schedules. Things seemed a bit brighter - well, obviously - over on the Light Programme, with the launch of the Andrew Sachs co-penned Dear Girls, a fascinating-sounding daily soap set in the 'happening' world of fashion models and photographers. Over on the Third Programme, heavyweight epic The Thirties In Britain looks at the anxieties and intellectual climate that led up to what they tactfully refer to as 'strife', and considers whether there are any parallels with events in Britain in the early to mid-sixties. There is absolutely no reason to dig this series out of the Sound Archive and give it another airing now, obviously. Meanwhile, while there's no doubt that companion series The Negro In America was well-intentioned... well, it was a different time. Anyway, on a lighter matter, get a load of those illustrations. Radio Times was absolutely full of this sort of throwaway Pop Art/Post-Advertising icon-heavy visual collision, which probably went mostly unnoticed by people looking to see when Hardluck Hall was on, but is the sort of thing that really ought to be collected into one of those big lavish hardback books now.

Following the blockbusting news that the BBC will keep showing Westerns on Saturdays and 'A Film' on Tuesdays, there's more or less the same bafflingly-fanfared lack of innovation on display in sporting coverage, though admittedly the fact that there had never been a fully televised rugby season prior to 1965 does come as something of a surprise. Nature and Science lovers get to look forward to a similarly welcome but hardly thrillingly new line-up boasting the return of Horizon, Tomorrow's World and Look, while Variety boasts the all-new up-and-coming eight millionth series apiece of Billy Cotton's Music Hall, The Good Old Days and the sodding Black And White Minstrel Show. There's also yet another plug for Nina And Frederik on Show Of The Week. Someone must have REALLY been a fan.

Under the bafflingly mismatched Sam-Tyler-Meets-Captain-Zep heading of 'Spies... Cops... Spacemen', and in amongst a head-walloping array of clashing fonts, we get to possibly the most fascinating corner of this Autumn Preview. Alongside the expected likes of Dixon Of Dock Green and Z-Cars, there are three new series that speak volumes about where the UK - and the BBC - had its head 'at' circa 1965; imported procedural drama Arrest And Trial getting yanked over to the main channel after a well-recieved showing on BBC2, Dinsdale Landen fighting the Cold War undercover in the ficititious Soviet state Amalia in The Mask Of Janus, and full-blown paranoia as an electrical engineer gets falsely accused of spying in Moscow in An Enemy Of The State, with only the launch of BBC2 sci-fi anthology series Out Of The Unknown on hand to justify the 'Spacemen' tag. And it didn't even have that many spacemen in. 'The Past' promises a standard array of historical documentaries alongside BBC2 clip show Plunder, which intends to raid the BBC Archive for 'recordings of pre-1955 television programmes'. It's astonishing, frankly, that they'd survived long enough to be trawled for clip shows, and deeply ironic in turn that the clip shows in question have long since been wiped. 'Series' concentrates its efforts on promoting two new, erm, series - Jimmy Hill technically-advised weekly chronicle of the trials and tribulations of a second division football team United!, and city-types-go-rural gritty social issue hard-hitter The Newcomers, both of which ran to hundreds of editions yet only five of the latter now survive, along with absolutely nothing of the former. Unless anyone and their 'lockup' knows different. Finally, as well as a roster of returning Children's Programmes that includes - ha! - Doctor Who, younger viewers can also look forward to 'quirky' American cartoon that wasn't Hector Heathcote, unappealingly titled folk song showcase Dance And Skylark, and the first of approximately eighty four billion Radio Times billings for The Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe. They're also the only ones not to get an illustration, which seems a tad unfair given that the 'Series' one is almost as big as the boxout itself.

Anyway, that's Autumn on the BBC, and hopefully you'll have found loads of things that you want to watch. And Nina and Frederik. Incidentally, yes, I did know that the cover at the top of this article dates from 1966. It just looked a bit more eyecatching and in tune with the mood and tone than the genuine article. And if misleading viewers about contents isn't the true spirit of Autumn, then I don't know what is.

If you've enjoyed this article, you can find lots about sixties television in Not On Your Telly, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.