Friday, 26 June 2009

The Old Grey Whistle Test

For those of you that remember the 1970s, even if it was through a haze of chemical substances, The 'Old Grey Whistle Test' was the must-watch TV music programme of the day. During a period when rock ruled the album chart and pop ruled the singles chart and never the twain met, it featured all those 'album' bands that never got airtime on daytime radio. I remember rushing home from the pub on a Thursday night to watch it every week without fail. It had a dead-pan serious, almost dour, presentation that was widely parodied in later years, but hey, at least someone was taking pop music seriously!

I watched a repeated episode recently because it featured US girl-rockers, Fanny and was surprised how downbeat the presentation was compared to today’s TV-on-speed manic-ness. The episode hailed from the very first series in 1971 when the presenter was journalist Richard Williams. If you thought that subsequent presenter, ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris was laid back, this guy was almost horizontal. The programme featured three ‘live’ spots, a couple of extracts from publicly available films and two or three album tracks fronted by clips from ancient silent or ‘art’ films, plus a rather feeble interview with Elton John and Bernie Taupin at the very beginning of their career. Each segment was introduced simply by Mr Williams who then presumably had a snooze before the next link.

But you know what? I actually found it quite relaxing to watch. There were no extended links to continually tell you what you had just seen, thus wasting prime music minutes and there were no constant stay-tuned-because-we-have-coming-up tirades. Why is TV is obsessed with telling you things over and over again as if to someone with an IQ of 10 or impaired hearing. In this programme, if you missed it the first time – tough! Even better, no one shouted at you and all the information you needed about the song, artist and a bit of background was forthcoming. It’s so simple really, why can’t TV presenters do that now?

By the end of the programme I was yearning for more relaxed TV. No shouting, no constant repetition, no ego-centric hosts. If TV reflects society then it just goes to show what an overloaded, rushed and breathless society we have become. And technology was supposed to improve our lives and give us more leisure to enjoy the good things. Huh!

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