At 10.15pm on Wednesday 10 September 1952, just after an edition of the fortnightly film review show Current Release, BBC Television broadcast a 15-minute programme titled Shapes and Sounds. In its listing pages Radio Times described the transmission as ‘an experiment in light and music’, while the ‘Talk of the Week’ column explained that it was ‘designed to explore the possibilities of light patterns on the television screen’. Shapes and Sounds was produced by Christian Simpson, a fascinating figure from the early days of television, and he worked on the show with a group of artists including Rocky Stone, John Keen, Bruce Lacey, Alexis Key and Ivor Broughton.
Media studies records artists beginning to work with television in the 1960s (in the United States) and ’70s (over here). So this little discovery, which I believe is all-but-unknown to scholars (and of course no recording exists), will help re-write the history books. But perhaps it has another lesson for us as well, as the Sunday Times critic Maurice Wiggin suggested: ’The fact that (in my opinion) the experiment [of Shapes and Sounds] did not succeed is not important. What matters is that the television authorities had the nerve to let Mr Simpson “have a go”.’
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