The boys whom I teach at school are devoted to the world of electronic devices. Virtual reality, computer generated images, instant access to pictures from around the world, never before has the world of the imagination been presented with so much material; and yet, even with the infinite possibilities that are available, something is being lost.
What is being lost is the capacity for the human imagination to create its own world of pictures. Perhaps only in our dreams do we now encounter images that have not been created by someone else.
There is an apocryphal story from the 1960s of a series that transferred from radio to television, perhaps it was Dr Finlay’s Casebook. A lady who had watched the first television programme was asked how well she had liked it and expressed her preference for the radio serialisation on the ground that “the pictures were much better.”
Clearly, the actors who appeared on the screen of the lady’s black and white television screen did not correspond with the images she had constructed in her mind of Dr Finlay, Dr Cameron, and Janet and the rest of the cast. For her, the pictures the lady had created in her mind were much better than those that were being televised.
The lady’s experience is one with which many people would identify, television or film adaptations of novels often depict characters in ways very different from those imagined. It is hard to imagine what a lady who preferred the radio persona of Dr Finlay would have made of Twenty-First Century technology.
Impressive as the technology may be, though, it is restrictive, it depicts characters as they are imagined by the producers of the film or programme, it reduces them to a single identity when, on the pages of a book or in the dialogue of a radio broadcast, they take as many forms as there are readers or listeners.
Growing up in times when there were only three television channels and when not much of an evening’s viewing would have appealed to a boy, small for his age, who went to the two-teacher village primary school, I would have been untroubled at the lack of electronic diversion.
There were library books to read, Arthur Ransome and Captain W.E Johns and Willard Price, especially the Adventure series of Willard Price.
Price was born on this day in 1887, seventy-three years before I was born, yet his books seemed contemporary, and were compulsive reading.
Shortly before he died, at the age of 96, he wrote:
My aim in writing the Adventure series for young people was to lead them to read by making reading exciting and full of adventure. At the same time I want to inspire an interest in wild animals and their behaviour. Judging from the letters I have received from boys and girls around the world, I believe I have helped open to them the worlds of books and natural history
Nothing on television could have competed with the worlds woven by Willard Price, the written pictures were definitely much better.