The fifth in our occasional series marking the 50th anniversary of events leading to the creation of a true TV legend.
The story so far. In the summer of 1962, the BBC commissioned a report into identifying specific science-fiction stories suitable for adapting for television.
The report started events that would lead to the transmission of the first episode of Doctor Who on Saturday 23rd November 1963, exactly 49 years ago today. Today we examine the TV schedule of 50 years ago.
Exactly one year before Doctor Who started, the BBC was showing Captain Pugwash, the John Ryan cartoon series following the adventures of Captain Horatio Pugwash as he sailed the high seas in The Black Pig, assisted by trusty cabin boy Tom, and pirates Willy, Barnabas and Master Mate. The character had first been seen in the comic The Eagle in 1950, before appearing as a strip in Radio Times. He came to television in 1957, with the voices provided by Peter Hawkins.
Other highlights of the day included a Sid James comedy, the latest in the American series Dr Kildare, starring Richard Chamberlain, and a look at the work of the French actress, singer, screenwriter and director Jeanne Moreau, who had recently been seen in the film Jules and Jim.
Saturday evening saw The Lone Ranger being transmitted in what would become the Doctor Who slot. The episode shown was the final one in the fourth series of the American show. Starring Clayton Moore, it first aired in the States in 1957.
Home-grown entertainment came in the form of Mr Pastry's Pet Shop. Mr Pastry was a bumbling old man with a walrus moustache, who had adventures, partly slapstick, partly comic-dance, with two young friends. He was played by Richard Hearne, who would later be considered for the role of the Fourth Doctor.
Later in the evening, viewers could see the police drama Dixon of Dock Green and highlights from Bertram Mills Circus. Another American series, the Western Laramie, provided the main drama of the evening, with the 1946 psychological thriller The Spiral Staircase taking viewers up to the late news.
The late evening saw the debut of a new satirical series, That Was The Week That Was. Devised, produced and directed by Ned Sherrin and presented by David Frost, the programme - whose theme music was composed by Ron Grainer - would go on to be one of the most influential BBC series of the early Sixties, redefining the relationship between television and the political world. It was also a show that had a particular date with television history ahead of it a year later, when possibly its most famous edition - a shortened, non-satirical tribute to the assassinated US President John F Kennedy - was broadcast on the night of Saturday 23rd November 1963.
On consecutive Thursdays between 8th November and 29th November 1962, the sci-fi serial The Monsters was broadcast by the BBC. Based on a Panorama documentary concerning the Loch Ness Monster, the drama - written by Evelyn Frazer and Vincent Tilsley - centred on a zoologist on honeymoon searching for a similar creature and stumbling upon a bigger mystery to do with humanity's survival. The four 45-to-50-minute episodes were directed by Mervyn Pinfield and the cast included Philip Madoc, Clifford Cox, George Pravda, Clive Morton, Clifford Earl, and Norman Mitchell. The music was by Humphrey Searle, and Bernard Wilkie was one half of the team behind the special effects.
BBC TV's schedule for 23rd and 24th November 1962:
BBC: FRIDAY 23rd November 1962
BBC: SATURDAY 24th November 1962
The BBC faced competition for viewers from its commercial rival, ITV, which had been launched under the auspices of the now-defunct Independent Television Authority (created by The Television Act of 1954) to break the corporation's TV monopoly.
The first ITV station to launch was Associated-Rediffusion on 22nd September 1955, serving the London area. By 14th September 1962, with the start of WWN (the transmission name of Teledu Cymru for Wales West and North), the UK and Channel Islands were covered by the regional ITV network, with separate franchises for weekdays and weekends.
Each service sought to reflect its regional identity by having its own programmes in opt-out slots, as well as what it thought viewers would like to see from programmes made outside the region (eg, on Friday 23rd November between 5.25pm and 5.55pm, viewers in the Southern and Associated-Rediffusion areas were watching the antics of Yogi Bear while their counterparts in the Midlands were enjoying the exploits of Supercar on ATV, those in south Wales and the west of England were being entertained on TWW by The Adventures of Robin Hood (co-starring John Arnatt), people in the Anglia region had Mr Ed, Granada was showing The Terrific Adventures of the Terrible Ten, while Westward was airing National Velvet, etc), so to give a full picture of what was being aired when on ITV across the network on each day would result in a list far too long and - at times - irrelevant for the purposes of this feature.
Instead, here, as far as research allows, is what would have been seen by viewers tuning into their ITV channel on both days:
ITV: FRIDAY 23rd November 1962
Some stations had closed before midnight after the weather forecast or the epilogue, but shortly after midnight, following the weather forecast on Southern, the ITV network had closed down for the day.
ITV: SATURDAY 24th November 1962
On Saturday 24th November 1962, The Times ran a feature in its Notes On Broadcasting section, headlined Viewers Begin To Make Themselves Felt, in which its "Special Correspondent" said that "by general consent" the current season's television had "been one of the most disastrous in terms of quality since the Independent Television Authority came into operation."
Reference was made to The Pilkington Committee report on broadcasting, published in June 1962 at a cost of £45,450. Among a number of things, the inquiry had criticised ITV's "triviality" and backed T S Eliot's evidence statement to the committee that "Those who aim to give the public what the public wants begin by underestimating the public taste; they end by debauching it".
The author of the feature bemoaned the fact that "after the summer doldrums, the unveiling of the autumn schedule with a blare of publicity trumpets brought only weaker and worse." They noted that the best of the American shows had been replaced by "feeble American derivatives or even feebler British substitutes", citing 87th Precinct, which took over from Naked City on ITV, as an example. Withering criticism was also levelled at The Saint and Ghost Squad, both of which were labelled "ineffectual".
On the positive side, it was noted that viewers' response had been so bad that the ITV companies were being forced to rethink things, an example being Associated-Rediffusion's sitcom It's A Living, starring Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warriss, being deemed so bad it was unceremoniously dumped after four episodes when it should have enjoyed a 13-week run. There was also reportedly such a negative reaction to ATV's Ghost Squad "that it suddenly disappeared for a week or two and re-emerged with some bland recasting . . . and a much livelier approach to scripting and direction."
Similarly, the Granada sitcom Bulldog Breed (starring Peter Butterworth and Geoffrey Palmer) disappeared from the schedules after six weeks, one week before it was supposed to end, while another Granada series, The Verdict Is Yours, which dramatised real trials, had started with a Monday evening peak-time slot but got ignominiously bumped by Rawhide to post-10pm on Fridays.
However, the BBC wasn't "in any position to congratulate itself", said the writer, noting that the corporation was relying on "tried and true favourites" for major audience pulling power but that these were starting to become "increasingly faded and routine", with Z-Cars and Maigret both being singled out as guilty parties.
What this all meant, believed the writer, was not necessarily that bad TV was driving out good but that TV companies were beginning to adopt "a far less cavalier attitude to viewers' wishes" than had previously been the case, since in the past unpopular programmes had been allowed to "limp along" and stay the course but now "programmes which have gone are precisely those which the higher-browed critics would agree were not worth preserving."
SOURCES: The Times; Evening News (Portsmouth)