The task was to draw a series of concentric circles: in the middle circle, students were to write those things in their lives that most strongly. In the next circle, the things that were next strongest in their influence, and so on, putting in the outer circle the things that had least influence upon them.
Television was placed in the outer circle, some students watched occasionally, but took little notice of what they watched, others didn’t watch at all. Social media were considered much more important than television, with YouTube thought to be the most influential. Some of the students said they regularly followed particular YouTube channels, especially those with millions of followers.
It is strange to think that traditional television seems to be going the way of printed newspapers. It is suggested that linear television, where programmes are broadcast in a scheduled, published sequence, lacks a long-term future. Programmes will be made available for people to watch them on demand; the concept of everyone watching at the same time will disappear altogether.
There will never be the excitement that watching television brought fifty years ago. Children’s programmes were very limited. There were only three channels, and BBC 2 only showed programming directed at younger viewers on Saturday afternoons.
BBC 1 began with Play School, then there was Jackanory, the storytelling programme. On Mondays and Thursdays, Blue Peter was shown at five minutes to five o’clock; on Fridays, it was Crackerjack. Somewhere in the schedule, there must have been space for other programmes, for the conversation brought memories of Casey Jones, the theme music playing and replaying itself through my mind:
Stop, look, listen ’cos you’re gonna hear
A brand new story ’bout a great engineer,
He’s the greatest of them all we claim
Number one’s his engine, Casey Jones his name.
Casey Jones a steamin’ and a rollin’,
Casey Jones you never have to guess
When you hear the tootin’ of the whistle
It’s Casey at the throttle of the Cannonball Express!
There’ll be Casey Junior and old Redrock too,
Fireman Wally and the rest of the crew.
In a thrilling adventure that’s a lot of fun
When Casey takes the throttle for another run!
Episodes of Casey Jones were watched with enthusiasm, the characters seemed to have as much flesh and blood reality as the people who appeared on the television news. It was a surprise to read that the two series that were made of Casey Jones dated from 1957-1958, they were ten years old before they were broadcast in England between 1967 and 1975.
Watching Casey Jones online, it seems unlikely that the programme would now have the power to grip the imaginations of younger people, but nor do the programmes that are being made now.
The follow up question to the students needs to be whether they discuss what they have seen, whether they remember the stories from YouTube and the like, in the way that Children’s Hour programmes did in the 1960s.