From 1972, Guthrie Moir, Controller of Educational and Religious Programmes at Thames, takes us through his department’s achievements and plans
“WE SEE OURSELVES AS AN IMPORTANT PART OF THE EDUCATIONAL EFFORT IN THIS COUNTRY.”
Guthrie Moir, Controller of Educational and Religious Programmes
A Place in The Country, Ballet For All, Cooking Price-Wise, Cooking Without Tears, The Craftsmen, The Garden Indoors, Living Architects, Living Writers, Looking At Antiques, Treasures of the British Museum, Last Programme, Challenge, Evidence, Finding Out, Images, Le Butin de Colombert, Let’s Go Out, Seeing and Doing, Song and Story, This is Life, The World Around Us, Writer’s Workshop, You and the World, Drama including Macbeth.
Guthrie Moir, Thames Television’s Controller of Educational and Religious Programmes, has been an ITV producer in these fields since 1958. A former President of the World Assembly of Youth, he is a member of the Council of Reading University and of the General Synod of the Church of England.
I always think I’m very lucky to be in Thames’ department of educational and religious programmes, because more often than not I find I’m working on things in which I and my colleagues have a particular interest. This is not to say that we tackle only subjects which appeal to us, but being a relatively small department in a big television company we do tend to be rather more specialised than others.
However we try to be as comprehensive as possible, and this is certainly true of our weekday schools programmes which cover the whole range of pupils. But this unique weekday aspect of our contract sometimes restricts my other two sections, adult education and religion. The weekend is the time when all ITV Network programmes in these two fields go on the air, and we alone can never produce an adult education or religious series and be sure of simultaneous national transmission. We had the rather absurd business just recently of Thames having produced a major series, treasures of the british museum, which although it was eventually taken by all the ITV companies had no guarantee of this at the outset. This is a great drawback, of course, because it means that the Board has to be ready to back any of the series I choose to put on with absolutely no certainty that the other companies will buy them. Each time Thames finances a project like the Museum programmes or our new series on National Trust houses, a place in the country, it is a great act of faith on their part. For this reason I am even more anxious than the most fervent of my colleagues to have a second channel in which to expand and experiment more widely.
But we already do far more than we are obliged to by the terms of our contract. As one example, Thames produces well over an hour of religious programmes a week when there is no obligation to produce any at all. I think the company can honestly be proud that in the London region at least there is a daily permanent place in the schedule for religion. It is often said, of course, that these programmes are too short and too late at night to be really meaningful. But on a good night our last programme will be seen by at least as many people as will go to church in the whole of the Thames area on Sunday, so it is not an entirely negligible congregation.
This is also reflected in the volume of correspondence that the programmes draw. I am much too exhausted myself at that time of night to feel like writing letters to a producer, whether his programme excites or infuriates me. But people do have the energy to write in and make positive suggestions, and we do our best to put their ideas into practice. One of the results of this has been the disappearance of the sermonette late at night, which probably did more harm than good to the churches. This sort of preaching at people has, I am glad to say, been replaced by the easy give and take of discussions and a variety of formats embracing all the arts.
We are fortunate not only in this direct contact with our viewers but also in our professional advisers. We are very much indebted both to our religious advisory panel of the Reverend Austen Williams, Father Michael Hollings and Dr. Kenneth Greet, and to our educational advisory council under the chairmanship of Lord Evans of Hungershall, whose advice in schools series is invaluable.
The schools section is the largest part of my department, and Thames has inherited the structure and some of the people who actually started schools television on a national scale in 1957 – a term before the BBC, in fact. We set out to provide more than just a support for the teacher, but to make demands on both him and his pupils. In Charles Warren I have an executive producer whose contribution in this field has been outstanding. And each series has a fully qualified education officer attached to it who works alongside the director, helps prepare the programmes and visits schools to see how they are being received. He spends almost as much time in the classroom or at teachers’ meetings as he does in the studios.
We see ourselves as an important part of the educational effort in this country. We produce more schools series than any other ITV company, and they are seen in 25,000 schools. They range from the regular infant series like seeing and doing and finding out to social studies for teenagers such as evidence and you and the world. We also make a great deal of drama for schools: classical and modem plays, dramatised history, even a thriller in French. And one programme we are particularly proud of is writer’s workshop, which has been highly praised and which has stimulated creative writing in a remarkable way. All these are made to the same standards, and with the same resources, as Thames’ other programmes.
The same applies to adult education, where my executive producer Marjory Ruse and I are trying to give London ITV viewers as wide a variety as possible. In addition to the arts programmes, living writers, the craftsman, ballet for all, treasures of the british museum, there are innumerable popular practical series on domestic subjects like cooking, indoor gardening, inexpensive collecting and interior decoration.
Above all we feel that our series must be regarded in the context of other broadcasting, and must stand up to the same criteria. They must aim to be as interesting and entertaining as other programmes. We don’t want to produce programmes for a tiny in-group minority. We want them to compel the attention of the viewer, at home or at school, and to be informative without being boring. From the welter of ideas that pour into my office daily from my team, from viewers’ letters, from advisers, and from conversations in trains and buses and tubes and lifts, we hope we pick out the ones that will attract and help the broadest cross-section of our fellow citizens from the very young to the very old. Every idea put up to us is carefully considered. But we are always conscious that in these areas of science and educational and religious searching, demand seems perpetually to exceed the possibilities of supply.