American television dominated my childhood. It was not hard for it do so, there were only two channels until 1967 (and when BBC 2 arrived it hadn’t much to offer a small boy). Apart from watching television, there were few diversions, particularly in the winter months.
The theme tunes still have the power to immediately recall the programmes. Jerry Scoggins singing The Ballad of Jed Clampett, brings memories of the television series The Beverly Hillbillies. The Ballad of Cat Ballou sung by Nat King Cole, recalls Jane Fonda playing the heroine in the film.
Remember the Alamo sung by Donovan will always provoke thoughts of Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, William B. Travis. John Wayne had directed and produced the film and starred as the Tennessee congressman with his distinctive headwear.
Would it be possible for many people to reel off the names of three men who had died in any other battle? I certainly cannot do so.
The broadcasters bought in American programmes to fill the airtime. It means that places I have never visited and people who were long dead are as familiar as those among which I grew up.
Our culture was monolithic, every boy in the class would have known the shape of a Bowie knife and a Crockett hat It wasn’t just the Alamo that would have been familiar. Through the Sixties and the Seventies the streets of the United States from Kojak’s Manhattan to Danno’s Honolulu seemed better known than the streets of the cities of our own country.
Looking back, it is hard to imagine the power of television, how each evening we would have sat and watched even those programmes that would now be flicked past without a moment’s thought. The culture may have been monolithic, but there was a community created by everyone watching the same programmes, in schools and workplaces people would have conversed about the previous evening’s viewing.
Choice is limitless with digital television and its hundreds of channels, but that sense of community created by the likes of Jed Clampett and Cat Ballou and the heroes of the Alamo is lost.
In the wealthier times in which we live, children are now far more likely than we ever were to visit the cities featured in the television programmes. However, in a fragmented culture, it seems unlikely that the places we knew from the programmes might never again possess the mythical power they had on a black and white television.