Bringing Spectatorship Home: The Spectacle of Television Viewing in Postwar Britain
20 Nov 2017, 17:15 to 20 Nov 2017, 19:15
Sport and Leisure History
IHR Past and Present Room, N202, Second Floor, IHR, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU
Emily Rees , University of Nottingham
Television has become, for the most part, an everyday leisure activity; an integral, yet taken for granted, part of domestic life. However, in the early decades of its development, as Helen Wheatley has previously argued, the exhibition of television was a spectacular event and its audience were more akin to spectators than what we now term ‘viewers’. This paper will demonstrate that, while television ultimately became a private form of leisure, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, television was frequently viewed in group settings, at demonstrations, exhibitions, and departments stores, but also in the homes of friends, family and neighbours.
This paper will focus on group viewing within the domestic setting, examining how, for these early viewers of television, the experience of “looking-in” at television was a novel, spectacular experience, which was framed through the physical object of the television receiver. Indeed, one of the defining early television “events” – Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953 – was an example of mediated spectacle, whereby the television set was a central component to the experience of viewing a defining event of the postwar era.
This paper aims to recover early television viewing experiences using a Mass Observation directive from 2003, which asked for memories of television in the 1950s and 60s, and includes several accounts of viewing television for the first time, including the Coronation. The memories reveal that the spectacle was not necessarily only what was shown on screen, but the domestic social gathering around the screen with the object of the television receiver at its centre.
Emily Rees is undertaking an AHRC-funded PhD on the domestication and commodification of television between 1936 and 1976 in the Department of Culture, Film and Media at the University of Nottingham, and the author of a forthcoming article in the Journal of Popular Television.
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