“The emergence of television as a mass medium of communication was the key turning point in improving leisure opportunities for the ordinary people of Britain. ” How far do you agree with this statement? At the beginning of the 20th century, the lives of ‘ordinary people’ were not ideally suited to the world of leisure. An urbanised workforce and an economy geared toward industry saw lower-class people working long hours at a low pay rate. This style of living left hardly any free time and disposable income, both key requirements for leisure opportunities.
The aristocracy had always revelled in the world of leisure; their high incomes and low maintenance professions gave them a perfect framework for pursuits such as dancing, theatre going, hunting, socialising and horse riding. Although there were popular activities of the working classes – family games within the home for example, or more commonly, an evening spent in the local pub – leisure was limited. I believe that television was the key form of mass communication to improve the leisure opportunities of the working classes as it was accessible, cheap, and knew how to cater for changing styles and tastes.
When television was first introduced on a wide scale in 1936 only a small percentage of the British public owned a television license. It’s initial emergence as a mass medium was therefore not a turning point, as the ‘ordinary people’ simply did not have access to it. It was difficult for television to flourish before the fifties anyway, due to the condition of Britain prior to world war two. The earliest form of television had actually been introduced in the late twenties for a trial run, but the economic slump of the decade guaranteed an impossible environment in which to launch it.
The British workers were in a poor situation, and leisure opportunities would have been at the bottom of their priorities list. Shortly afterward, the country was gearing up for war and with the emphasis on this preparation the BBC was forced by the government to shut down television broadcasting until 1945. As a result of the impracticalities of earlier decades, television was not a widespread phenomenon until the 1950s, when in 1952 the first televised coronation of Elizabeth II took place, with the BBC dedicating a whole day to the coverage.
50% of the population watched the ceremony (a figure of around 25 million people) and sales of television sets rocketed prior to the event. I would argue that it was the 1950s and onwards, in which television became a crucial part of ‘ordinary’ people’s leisure time. As part of the consumer culture of the fifties, the sale of television sets increased massively – more than 42,000 sets were sold every month in 1950 and this figure had more than tripled by the mid 1950s when 140,500 sets were sold per month in Britain.
Television seemed to be ideally suited to the working classes; it was cheap (after the initial purchase of the set and a television license, no extra fees were needed), based in the home (travelling would have cost extra money), family orientated (working class families were usually larger than those of other classes) and a relaxing leisure pursuit after a long day at work. The environment of the 1950s was significantly different from those of the 20s, 30s and 40s.
Britain was considerably wealthier due to the post-war boom shared by other countries such as America, there was full employment and the importance of leisure seemed to grow – especially with the influence of 1950s American youth culture. Television’s ability to change and adapt to the interests of the ‘ordinary’ classes and the youth of the decade was also something that set it aside from other forms of mass communication. Whilst BBC radio had come under criticism for being too elitist, television (especially during the 1960s) made a real effort to represent the working classes.
By the late 50s ITV was producing very popular ‘variety shows’- a mix of comedy, music and other light entertainment wrapped in a family package – which appealed to a mass audience. Television’s interest in the needs and wants of the majority continued into the sixties. The 1960s has been described as the decade of ‘television revolution’, with the introduction of many new programmes designed for the working classes. The new ITV channel had been very successful since it’s launch in 195_ and the BBC split into BBC1 and BBC2 in the early sixties, with colour being introduced in 1968.