Continuing our series (see episode one and two) of dips into past commentaries on the state of Scottish broadcasting we time travel back to 1978, close to the eve of the devolution referendum, and this excerpt from ‘Headlines: The Media in Scotland‘ :
“If anyone claims, as the more complacent time-servers in the media have a habit of doing, that ‘there just isn’t the talent in Scotland’ they should be confronted with the success of Scotland’s independent publishers. Ten years ago there was a handful of stalwarts in the field; today there are a score of firms, some doing quite sizeable business throughout the world. It is totally reasonable to assume that these (sic) sorts of initiative and skill could equally bring new life into the broadcast media.”
Continuing our short mini-series (See episode 1) on how Scotland’s television has been viewed in the past here’s Stuart Hood on “The Backwardness of Scottish Television”, an essay in a 1970 collection on the state of the nation called ‘Memoirs of a Modern Scotland’:
“By what criteria can we judge the quality of a country’s television? One is the range and variety of the programmes offered to the viewer. Another is the degree of freedom it enjoys to show and speak the truth. A third is its success in revealing a society to itself: on a primitive level by showng its citizens how they speak, behave, live, and on another higher level by revealing to them the mechanics of their society, how it functions politically, economically and culturally. All three criteria are linked. For it is not possible to to deal in truth unless there is a sufficently wide spectrum of programmes to include those which honestly explore the nature of society.”
Have we got there yet?
Much has been made of the prospect of Scotland ‘losing out’ were we to substitute a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation for the BBC, here are some wise words on why it might be a good idea:
“It was not necessarily the case that Taggart was any more regressive than Eastenders in its representations of national character, or that Burnistoun is any worse than Citizen Khan. It is not even that any of these programmes are particularly dreadful in themselves. The questions returns to institutions. It is simply that there is a limited amount of space within the schedules and a limited amount of institutional and financial support for the production of Scottish discourses, with the result that there is a highly restricted range of images available for the representation of Scottishness. Whereas the representations of English country life in Downtown Abbey take their place within a range of other images from situation comedies, police series, single plays, classic serials, drama documentaries and soap operas, the representations of River City or Waterloo Road become the only consistent and recurrent images of Scottishness available at the time.“
These words were actually written over 30 years ago (with the exception of the programme titles which I’ve updated from Dr Finlay’s Casebook/All Creatures Great and Small/Take the High Road/Emmerdale Farm) by John Caughie in an essay titled ‘Scottish Television: what would it look like?‘ in that pivotal text on representations of Scottishness in film and TV: Scotch Reels. Published as part of a concerted intervention in the Scottish media landscape, it prefaced a lively debate at the 1982 Edinburgh International Film Festival ( a great deal livelier than its equivalent session at this year’s TV Festival) they remain as relevant today.