Come on Down? Popular Media Culture in Post-War Britain

By Dominic Strinati; Stephen Wagg | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

The price is right but the moments are sticky

Television, quiz and game shows, and popular culture

Garry Whannel

Competition, in various forms, has always been part of the popular repertoire of British television. Game shows, quiz games, panel games and sport itself have been prominent in the schedules since the 1940s. Before this, of course, they were also a significant part of radio programming.

The appeal of quiz and game shows is rooted in a range of pleasures—the narrative structure of competition, the process of identification with competitors, surrogate sharing in the joy of winning, spectacle, excitement and humour, and the opportunity to play along by attempting to get answers before the contestants (Fiske and Hartley 1978: chap. 10).

But such shows have always had a very low cultural status. The IBA have periodically intervened to restrict the number of game shows and the amount of prizes. The Pilkington Report was disdainful about the quality of many quiz shows, singling them out as an instance of triviality, and arguing that they involved the exploitation of artificial situations and personalities, while having no real subject matter. The issue would appear to hinge partly on one’s attitude to triviality. A great deal of popular entertainment could fairly be called trivial, and indeed makes no claims to be anything else. There seems no necessary reason to insist that all cultural production be serious, worthy or weighty, and Pilkington’s notion that triviality is a natural vice of television, more dangerous to the soul than wickedness, has more than an echo of senior common room pomposity (Pilkington 1962).

However, these criticisms clearly also had some resonance in the corridors of power. When the highly successful company Associated Rediffusion lost their ITV franchise in 1967, it is

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