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Postby Tony James » 26 Feb 2009, 16:22

Nothing funny other than I quoted from memory a piece that I thought explained itself for its inaccuracy. I fondly imagined that broadly speaking Jan Bussell's name was known to many in this business. I sometimes forget how terribly old we are Chris!

I'm sure you're understanding of the Muffin background is correct. However, once you had decided what you would like to do, what was possible and within budget, you had to go through a lengthy approval process for even a two minute piece. TV was very nervy.

For years afterwards the BBC approval meeting of Muffin was a minor BBC legend. Legends become forgotten and superseded of course.

Everything but everything went round the table at the BBC in those days for inspection, consideration from every viewpoint, discussed and finally approved. They were very sensitive. Terrified of anyone ad-libbing. Every mortal thing had to be scripted, approved, stamped approved and then delivered, word for word. You would be called to explain why you had deviated and said 'but' instead of 'and'.

Think about it. One letter difference - an 'o' instead of a 'u' - and bullocks becomes bollocks and then where were you? All the Bishops and Archbishops would have been having fits. Mind you, the word bullocks was banned except in the early morning farming reports.

A lot was live of course. Radio had the advantage of being able to record and edit which was the preferred method of using Joe Public for comment or on say public involvement shows like Wilfred Pickles's Have A Go quiz. You couldn't rely on Mrs Bloggs to say the agreed words so they recorded and edited.

TV was different. Almost everything was live. Anything not live was filmed which was expensive and the quality different and obvious. OK for news but not in the studio. So they were hypersensitive about control.

It's a pity of late that the BBC doesn't again apply its Green Book rules and sensitivities to some of the untrustworthy and insensitive idiots it allows loose on the airwaves nowadays.
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Postby Chris » 26 Feb 2009, 17:24

Did you work on Television in those days Tony? Eric's memories were very different to yours. He worked with Jan Bussell on early puppet programmes - with none of the palaver you describe.

Sally said that after Annette christened Muffin she went off and wrote some songs including the title song, while Anne wrote a 12 minute script and they went out live the following Sunday. S'funny she missed out all your bits.
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Postby Tony James » 26 Feb 2009, 18:51

Chris - anything new either in radio or TV was subject to close scrutiny and approval before it ever got off the ground. In many cases the presenters/acts were not present. It's a mark of her close involvement that Annette was present at the initial meeting.

Subsequent, on-going meetings were usually between the executive and heads of departments and and possibly the director of the show and not those who either appeared on the show nor the writers. Try people like Eric Sykes for creative and Charles Chilton on direction and any other of the old hands.

One of the great frustrations in those days were the closed meetings excluding those actually making the shows, followed by a refusal/change/editing out imposed from above, often with no right of reply.

Much time was taken avoiding those situations in the first place and rearguard action later. And it could be uneven too resulting in things not allowed in one show but something similar sailing through unscathed in someone else's show.

This isn't inside information Chris. This was common knowledge and a shared frustration. It was a contributory factor in so many creative people changing sides when ITV was born. They expressed a relief that they were much freer creatively to go forward without the same feeling that their work would be censored, rules invoked to suit the preferences or prejudices of a controller.

I'm not suggesting that every short piece - and there were plenty of short programmes in those days, more common than today - was subject to hours of high level scrutiny.

And what you reflect Chris was quite true. The creative work was written quickly and with only days to spare. But before the Sunday transmission or broadcast, that scripting would have been submitted, considered and approved.

A show like Muffin or Sooty or similar would expect to go through on the nod once the format was established and anyway, there was an expectation that a short children's show would be acceptable. But it was still checked. Everything was.

Cutting edge humour shows were something else. The creative people kept churning out the material whilst the producers struggled with the controllers and executives about the acceptability of that material. And sometimes over very piffling matters.

By the time Frankie Howard - who was big in the forties and early fifties - stood at the mike with script in hand, every Oooooh and Arrrrr and all his other vocal noises carefully scripted, the production team had often been wrung out from meetings clearing misunderstandings with the executives over whether a particular vocal inflection had a rude ulterior motive.

That's just an example we can all understand but that applied across the board. Plays were subject to exactly the same scrutiny.

Looking for trouble was how it was seen. Nothing better to do was another.

Listen to recent archive material by Bill Cotton reflecting on his time in TV - a hugely creative period when Bill and his colleagues had battles royal with the powers that be over the use of grammar, let alone language. It took up a great deal of time.
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