The puzzle about Pilkington is not so much that it has been violently criticised, as that it has been so crudely misunderstood.
The wild denunciations of the national press, particularly those papers with a stake in commercial television, should have surprised no-one. (Even so, it was dismaying to see the Herald’s handling of the Lords’ debate. Whilst almost every other newspaper, including the tory Telegraph headlined Hailsham’s “stern warning” to television programme companies that their profits were too high, the Herald’s headline merely said “Hailsham says Pilkington went too far”, and this “Labour” paper played down the profits warning).
The virulence of national press comment has been so widely noticed that it may be worth emphasising that many of the provincial papers took a much more favourable line on the Report. “The great commercial lobby will go into action”, wrote the Glasgow Evening Citizen, and added: “You can be sure that this time it will fail. The electors have the last word, and after reading the Pilkington Report their demand will be for. . .ACTION!”
The electors will have their work cut out. The Conservative Government which introduced commercial television will hesitate to act on the Report’s most radical proposal, and the Labour party, once pledged to dismantle commercial television, now fears it would lose the Coronation Street vote. Its official spokesman on broadcasting, Christopher Mayhew, has had to withdraw to the back benches to support Pilkington’s proposal, not to abolish ITV, but to reform it. Woodrow Wyatt voiced the party’s plausible (but I believe, mistaken, fears) when he wrote in the Sunday Pictorial that the British people like ITV, and “woe betide the political party which goes into battle against their recreations.”
However deplorable, the opposition of vested interests, financial or electoral, presents no puzzle. It is, however, mixed up with, and reinforced by, a line of criticism which is really puzzling. This is the accusation, which recurs again and again at all levels, that the Report represents a threat of cultural dictatorship by superior persons.
Starting at the bottom, the Mirror in unmistakable Cudlipp prose, presented the Report as “telling the public to go to hell” and said its
Wyatt in the Pictorial struck precisely the same note: “Pilkington is out to stop all this rot about you being allowed to enjoy yourselves . . . You trivial people will have to brush up your culture.” The Daily Telegraph also found in the Report “a haughty conviction that whatever is popular must be bad”, while the Sketch thought the Report “smells of puritan hypocrisy”. Maurice Wiggin in the Sunday Times presumably meant the same when he wrote “The Report reeks of Richard Hoggart”. For good measure he added: “This report could only have happened in an England deeply, if unconsciously, in thrall to the life-hating puritanical tradition, coupled with a strong dash of hypocrisy, which has bedevilled its past and caused untold misery and frustration”.