People Make Television, Joe Lloyd, Studio International [8/2/2023]
The offbeat East London gallery Raven Row returns with a treasure trove of 1970s participatory TV, providing a panoramic social history of a tumultuous time
Raven Row, London
28 January – 26 March 2023
It is general election day in 1974, and Knowle West Television is broadcasting a political special like no other. Two women sit close together in an almost featureless room, with only striped wallpaper for decoration. The lead presenter makes a startling announcement: this show will not consider policy. Instead, it will focus on the “sex appeal” of the three main party leaders. The duo cast their eyes over the candidates with a forensic glare and an earthy wit.
Labour’s Harold Wilson is “Our Father on Earth”, “a cuddler”, “a homely type”. His kindness to dogs is deemed to reflect his kindness to people. The Conservative Edward Heath is saluted for “his nice bronze tan”; he is “a rock that this country is built around”. And one of the presenters has “always had a secret passion for [Liberal party leader] Jeremy [Thorpe]”. There is a lively discussion over whether Thorpe looks like a country squire caught mowing the lawn. Preliminary assessment down, the women move out on to the street, vox popping various game passersby.
This is a programme from the Bristol TV channel, a cable network that ran between May 1973 and March 1975. It aimed to allow local people to participate in making television: Knowle West Television was a network of volunteers from a low-income estate who were trained to use Sony Portapak video cameras to make their own shows. More than 700 hours of programming were produced by the network, reaching 23,000 subscribers. About 100 hours of programming have survived in videotape form and been digitised. Much of this is now viewable at People Make Television, the first exhibition at the Raven Row gallery in east London since 2017.
The not-for-profit Raven Row, which inhabits a Huguenot townhouse in the Dickensian alleyways off Spitalfields, is one of London’s most intriguing offbeat exhibition spaces. Established by Alex Sainsbury in 2009, it has made a habit of programming the unexpected. Many of them have been solo surveys of contemporary greats under-appreciated in the UK. There have also been many group shows from oblique angles: one 2015 exhibition looked at how five issues of Studio International shaped debates about the role of sculpture in the 1960s and 70s. The gallery’s temporary closure left a gaping hole in London’s art environment. Now, after several years of delay due to the pandemic, Raven Row has finally returned to public-facing mode.
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