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Network On Air: Tempo - Gallery One

  Tempo was a British arts series from ABC Television, the northern English and Midlands ITV region from 1956-68, upon which it was broken up and merged. It had a remit that included entertainment as well as factual programming, and in this item they sought to make the arts entertaining, focusing on a different topic every week. On the Network On Air streaming service, you can watch some of these episodes and judge for yourself if they succeeded.

Certainly, the opening effort in the first gallery is among the most eccentric, appearing on 11th November 1962 just as President John F. Kennedy had announced the plans to send people to the Moon. The sixties, among other things, was obsessed with our largest satellite because of this, and this Tempo entry The Man with the Moon in Him was one of the first to try to tackle the general mood of excitement with, surprisingly, an obituary for the Moon, the producers apparently believing its inherent mysticism would be lost once we started traipsing around its surface. To that end, they presented Pierrot (Barry Foster) to contemplate its place in art and myth, with poetry extracts read in plummy voices throughout, and a scientist on hand to, well, demystify it. You can just imagine the letters of red-faced outrage in TV Times the following week.

Henri Cartier-Bresson is second in an episode from 2nd June 1963, where the famed French photographer was given a chance to visit Northern England and snap a few pictures, which were then arranged in this twenty-minute, literal snapshot of life at work and at play there. The commentary included a number of wry observations on the English from the Frenchman's perspective, many of them amusing, though the photos themselves did not always convey any great humour. Stark, black and white images of coal miners and cotton mill employees were later contrasted with a day out at Blackpool, and the participants went about their holiday with the same grim sense of purpose they did as when they were at work. Although this depicts times past, it is revealing in its way.

Third is a profile of Charles Eames from 24th October 1965, where the renowned designer was offered twenty minutes to expound on his history and philosophy in his work. Eames these days is probably best known for his furniture, which marked great advancement in the field, though he dabbled elsewhere as well, including filmmaking. Curiously, his wife Ray Eames remains unmentioned here, despite often working with him in close partnership, but at least we get to hear Charles speak about his father, who was sixty when his son was born and had fought for the Union in the American Civil War, his memories of architectural college where his idol was Frank Lloyd Wright, outraging his tutors in the establishment, and his later ideas about design that made the narrator wonder whether he was a man of the 19th century or one of the first of the twenty-first (he passed away in 1978).

Another remarkable person is interviewed next, Nancy Mitford of the Mitford Sisters who had recently penned another book, this one of her most successful, called The Sun King and about the reign of King Louis XIV of France. This episode, dating from 16th October 1966, does not delve into Miss Mitford's life, however interesting that would have been, but instead has her hold forth on her current pet subject of Louis's court at Versailles where he would entertain himself and all others in his orbit (the soldiers would be away fighting in the Summer, but return for gambling and wild parties in the Winter). She is an expert on this and can answer any question the interviewer puts to her, obviously an extremely intelligent woman as perhaps the best-behaved of her siblings, at least she had a respectable career, so simply hearing her chat away in her cut glass accent from her home in Paris is surprisingly diverting since she was an engaging character.

Lastly in this batch, there was an essay documentary from photographer George Knott, who had something on his mind: Waste (Expendability). A waste is a terrible thing to mind, but he was not complaining there was far too much, quite the opposite, he was complaining there was simply not enough, and we should be trashing more things around us in favour of making way for new stuff. This was from 5 February 1967, when the recycling boom had not yet taken hold and environmentalism was in its infancy, therefore while you took his point that building things with obsolescence built in was useful for progress, you could just as easily argue that manufacturing them to last was no bad thing, even if purchasing was essential to the economy. His thoughts were played out over a succession of imagery, mostly rubbish being disposed of, though also bits and pieces of advertising and DJ Dave Lee Travis - was he supposed to be an example of the garbage?!

These five complete episodes of Tempo are a curious and informative contribution to the cultural landscape, now rescued from oblivion for viewers of the Network On Air site. They tell you so much more than a simple clip show. Click here to join the Network website.
Author: Graeme Clark.


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