Armchair Nation: An Intimate History of Britain in Front of the TV by Joe Moran - review by Simon Hoggart

Simon Hoggart

Box of Delights

Armchair Nation: An Intimate History of Britain in Front of the TV


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We didn’t have a TV in the early 1950s, not even for the coronation. To the middle middle classes, television was a bit naff, like lava lamps later, or giant screens today. But in 1956 we went to live in America for a year and everybody had a television, just as everyone had a car. My parents had their favourites: Sid Caesar in Your Show of Shows had us creased up every Saturday night. They also loved Person to Person with Ed Murrow, in which the famous war reporter interviewed a celebrity, the twist being that the celebrity was in his or her own home, and Murrow himself was in the studio smoking a cigarette, the length of which remained mysteriously the same for thirty minutes. This was an early example of what is pretentiously called ‘the grammar of television’; Murrow, like us, was watching on a screen, while we watched him watching.

Back home, my parents finally acquired a TV (rented, which seems as bizarre today as hiring a toaster). But lots of the neighbours didn’t, so when my father actually appeared on television, many of them crowded into our living room to watch. These days almost nobody is excused being on

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