Saturday, November 01, 2008

Things once common, now extinct. No. 7: The Interlude.


Nowadays the phrase 'nothing on the telly' simply means that there's nothing that interests you specifically. There will of course be a million things to choose from, 24/7. But at one time 'nothing on the telly' meant that there really was nothing. Zippo. Zilch. Daytime television didn't exist. Programmes began with 'Watch With Mother', at around 4.30, and ended with 'The Epilogue' at 11.pm. The only entertainment available beyond that hour was a bottle of Wincarnis and a Woodbine.

But even when the nightly extravaganza began, the programmes weren't continuous. There were a lot of comfort breaks, as it were, where nothing at all happened and the screen went completely blank. I suppose they had to allow time for the next set of puppets to be untangled, or for somebody to run round to Malcolm Muggeridge's house and wake him up.

Canny programmers knew that once their audience got up from their chairs they could be exposed to other attractions - the lure of the allotment, the siren call of the fretsaw - and then they'd be lost for the evening. How to keep them engaged?

They hit upon a brilliant idea: The Interlude. These little films were slotted in between the main programmes, the intention being to simply keep something on screen. It didn't matter what - a kitten playing with a ball of wool, a potter at his wheel, a plank warping.

I liked the Interludes, and I wish we had more of them now. The Interlude allows time for reflection. It offers both a window to gaze out of and a chance to look inward, an opportunity to wonder about all manner of things - like why am I wasting my life on this crap? Television has a moral duty to remind us of how awful it actually is, how it can never be a substitute for digging up carrots, or chewing on a twig. The Interlude served that purpose very well.

Here's my absolute banging favourite: 'The Spinning Wheel'. Watch this and be amazed at how energised your brain becomes, how quickly you can think of something better to do.

The Spinning Wheel