Looking and Seeing

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started13th May 1957
ended8th Jul 1957
1 school year
duration30 mins
subject 🎨ArtDesign
age rangeAge 13-16
languageenIn English
ITV's First TermNext day: The Ballad StoryHierarchyNext.gif

Looking and Seeing is an ITV schools TV series from the 1950s, covering Design for secondary school pupils.

"Looking and seeing! What a very apt title for the first television lesson ever!"[1]

Looking and Seeing was the very first schools television programme to be broadcast in Britain. It was a hastily conceived, experimental series on the borders of the subjects of art and science. It aimed to point out the "visual blindness" of children going about their normal lives, and encourage them to look more attentively at the art, architecture and natural beauty around them.

This first schools television programme was broadcast not on the BBC but on ITV, by the London-based company Associated-Rediffusion, which had been on air for a little over a year by the end of 1956, when it unceremoniously announced plans to make programmes for schools. The controversy which followed, surrounding this commercial company's uninvited entry to the educational world and treading on the toes of the BBC, who were planning to begin their own schools television service later in 1957, attracted considerable attention to the series, and especially the first broadcast.


By all accounts Associated-Rediffusion launched into its schools television project with high ideals but little idea what the programmes would actually be like. Boris Ford, appointed Head of School Broadcasting, and his colleagues gradually developed programme ideas throughout the early months of 1957 - bringing them round "from a simple photographed lesson or reading to something which consisted, as successful television must, of people."[2]

Boris Ford made himself widely available for interviews in those months leading up to the first transmission. In an exchange of views with prominent educationalists published in The Journal of Education (of which Ford himself was editor) he asked what material television could deliver to schools that they would otherwise miss. Deryck Mumford of Cambridgeshire School of Art suggested that television could help to combat "visual illiteracy" and "educate people to see their surroundings in a new light, to become aware of them." The discussion continued:

At the moment, I think television can't do very much for paintings because it lacks colour. But perhaps you were not thinking of pictures?

No, I was thinking of general visual awareness of our environment.
Consider a very simple concrete example of visual education at a very elementary level. If you sent television units round the lanes of Devon and Cornwall in the summer, couldn't it have a powerful effect in making young people conscious of the damage done by litter louts?

Can we pursue this point? What attitudes do you wish to encourage in the child towards his environment? Is it simply to deplore litter, deplore subtopia, or is it to send children out exploring the visual world around them, in a way that they wouldn't otherwise have done?[3]

The discussion then digressed but in those words the essence of Looking and Seeing had been set - although whether the inspiration for the series came from this exchange, or whether Boris Ford simply used it to promote an idea he was already developing, is not clear.

Associated-Rediffusion announced plans for their summer term programmes in late March 1957[4], and by this time Looking and Seeing had taken shape. It was announced as:

A series of programmes designed to encourage children to realise how little and how sketchily they look at the world about them, going round with blind eyes. To enquire and show why this is the case, and to suggest how to look at things with the appropriate kind of attention and discrimination.[5]

As well as Associated-Rediffusion in London the series was shown across the Midlands by the local ITV company, ATV. The only other ITV company at the time, Granada Television in the North of England, did not take any schools programmes. In fact it would be over two years until Granada entered the schools television world, and they did so with their own series entitled Discovery. Further details of Granada's situation can be found on the page about Discovery.

The First Schools TV Broadcast

TV Times listing for the first episode

As the very first entry in "the first regular schools television service to be seen in the British Commonwealth"[6] there was considerable interest in the first broadcast of Looking and Seeing, and it was widely described and reviewed in both the educational and mainstream press of the day.

The programme was preceded by a short speech from Sir Kenneth Clark, chairman of the Independent Television Authority and Sir John Wolfenden, chairman of Associated-Rediffusion's Educational Advisory Council. John Wolfenden commended "a sincere and genuine attempt to use television wisely... a new and important adventure," and introduced his colleague. Kenneth Clark then said that he thought that television had "boundless possibilities" to aid education, but admitted that he did not know much about the subject of education, supposing that it involved in equal parts experience and discipline. He spoke about the company's desire to use television to encourage the vital importance of using one's eyes, "making the world more vivid and comprehensible" - words which would be used in subsequent advertising by Associated-Rediffusion. He finished "I am very proud to launch this experimental series."

Then first episode of Looking and Seeing, subtitled To See or Not To See, begins with a young boy called David getting up and having breakfast then rushing through Covent Garden on his way to school, noticing nothing of the "exotic life" in the shops around him except for bunches of bananas which make him think of bananas and cream. A young Indian girl called Rhana then follows the same route and notices much more about the area, which she has never seen before and is in an unfamiliar country. The bananas make her think of bananas in India.
There was a memory and observation test in which viewers were asked how much they had noticed and could remember of what was seen in Covent Garden - did Rhana have her sari over her right or left shoulder, was David bare-headed and did he carry a satchel? The memory tests were pursued as numbers were shown on screen to see whether children could remember a sequence of three.

Pupils watching the first episode

There was footage of Geoffrey Salter, a "lightning artist" at work drawing what he noticed about the scene in Covent Garden and advising children "to look above the rooftops." The Times remarked that "he failed to see the bananas."
The programme looked in detail at the fruits and flowers, moving from those in the streets of London and where they came from to details from paintings, an old master by de Hooch and a modern still life by Duncan Grant showing a dish of apples and other household objects, all emphasising "the wealth of association that invested every commonplace object."
Finally viewers were given some homework - they were asked to "choose a square yard of ground and see what they could find in it."

The principle criticism of this first broadcast was that there was simply too much in it, and transitions between the different items were too rushed, viewers failed to grasp the links between one point and the next. So while the first half of the programme, concentrating on Covent Garden, was appreciated, interest waned as the programme moved on. "To drive a point home three times is, surely, to drive the average child's attention elsewhere," said the Guardian's critic. But the amount of content may not have been so off-putting to the intended audience: a 16-year-old pupil at an Acton school which viewed the programme described it as "jolly good" and a "time-saver" as "there was much more packed into it than the usual lesson".

The presenter Redvers Kyle was both an experienced broadcaster and teacher - apparently he had taught in a tough district of South London[7] - but he was still criticised for talking too much and trying "to cover too much ground in too short a time" - a consequence perhaps of the programme structure rather than the presenter himself. Referring to his presentational style there was praise for a manner which was "friendly and informal but does not cloy."

The Times lamented that "in a programme designed to make children look about them it was a pity that the cameras showed them so little." There was general puzzlement about "bad photography shown on a tiny screen" during a programme with such a visual emphasis. Education complained that the girl Rhana stopped to observe "what one guessed to be a statue but might as easily have been an abstract painting of light and shade." "The only criticism I have is that I would have liked clearer pictures," reported the headmistress of Priory County School in Acton. It is possible of course that poor tuning conditions on the television sets used to view the programme were responsible for some of these problems.

A final occasional criticism was that the programme was so desperate to prove the worth of television in contributing to education that it remained "very laboured" and dull. In fact the Daily Telegraph reported that the script for the first episode included "a rock 'n roll signing off joke: 'Oh, before we part, do you know what the young schoolboy said when he found his father reading his end of term report? -See you later, angry pater.'" But that "on second thoughts this was not broadcast."[8][9]


I.T.V. Goes To School, pamphlet on the first term broadcasts

There were 8 episodes, and they were only shown once, on Monday afternoons in the summer term of 1957, on Associated-Rediffusion and ATV.

The first five episodes were transmitted at 2:45pm[10], although from episode 3 onwards they were billed in the TV Times with a start time of 2:43pm, perhaps to encourage teachers to arrive at the television in enough time to set it up and adjust the receiver adequately.

There were no transmissions in the week of 10 June 1957 because of the Whitsun holidays. This practice of skipping a week in the summer term was unheard of in BBC schools radio but would become common practice in schools television for both ITV and the BBC. It caused problems when Scottish Television began relaying the schools programmes, as the holiday week was not observed in Scotland.

Episodes 6 and 7 were transmitted at 2pm, between coverage of the Wimbledon tennis tournaments. With Wimbledon concluded, the final episode of Looking and Seeing returned to its usual time of 2:45pm.

These scheduling arrangements were identical in London and the Midlands[11].

# Title Broadcast
1. To See or Not to See 13 May 1957
2. The Growing Eye of Science 20 May 1957
3. Can the Camera Lie? 27 May 1957
4. Nature Looks at Us 3 Jun 1957
5. The Eye of History 17 Jun 1957
6. Looking at Pictures 24 Jun 1957
7. A Close Look 1 Jul 1957
8. Summing Up 8 Jul 1957

Original notes on Looking and Seeing broadcasts in the I.T.V. Goes To School pamphlet.

The following episode descriptions are exactly as printed in the TV Times listings magazine. Differences between this billed content and the original notes to teachers in the ITV Goes To School pamphlet, released earlier in 1957, are highlighted. The extra material might have been shown in the programmes and just not mentioned in the TV Times, or it might have been dropped after the pamphlet was published.

Num Title Broadcast
1. To See or Not to See 13 May 1957
  ... introduces the question why, although we all have eyes, we often do not use them to their fullest extent. The programme will show, by film excerpts and demonstrations in the studio, how this relates in particular to a boy or girl at school, and suggests ways in which children can look at the world around them with greater understanding and excitement.
2. The Growing Eye of Science 20 May 1957
  Starts by showing how the human eye differs from the eye of a camera, and shows how vision has been extended by the use of scientific instruments like microscopes and telescopes. We then see how the film, through the use of slow and quick motion, can reveal aspects of life around us in a fresh way.
  • Original notes suggested a different conclusion would be reached - rather than film revealing aspects of life in a fresh way, it would be shown to have led to a "lack or perception and laziness in looking at things."
3. Can the Camera Lie? 27 May 1957
  The human eye and the eye of the camera work differently. This programme shows how cameras can be used to record what we see around us truthfully, and then how they can be used in an untruthful way - in fact, how easily the camera can lie.
4. Nature Looks at Us 3 Jun 1957
  What is the main difference between the way we see and the way animals see? When we use our eyes, it leads us to think and analyse and enjoy, so that for us looking can lead to complicated results. The programme illustrates this, and then goes on to consider how we look at nature itself, now that most of us no longer live in the countryside.
5. The Eye of History 17 Jun 1957
  What is the meaning of the third eye of Buddha? When did our ancestors, with their own two eyes, realise that a tree was green? This programme shows how our visual experience is influenced by the way artists and thinkers have themselves seen the world and attempted to explain what they have found. It is for this reason that our vision and view of the world has changed from one age to the next.
6. Looking at Pictures 24 Jun 1957
  Is it "natural" to enjoy pictures? Do we have to learn how to look at them? How does an expert or enthusiast, an ordinary man in the street, a child, look at pictures? This programme will discuss various ways of looking at painting and sculpture, and ways of training people in the enjoyment of the arts.
  • Original notes said that as well as "seeing art and 'understanding' it", this programme would consider whether expression has 'progressed'.
7. A Close Look 1 Jul 1957
  Richard Jobson tells the story of how he came to paint a picture and make a film about it. The programme will be illustrated by extracts from his award-winning film Driftwood and a Seashell.
  • Original notes stated that "two great painters" would be covered.
8. Summing Up 8 Jul 1957
  How much is what we see affected by our memory, our interest and our training? Can we learn to use our eyes more skilfully and with more enjoyment? Some suggestions made earlier in the series will be looked at from a new angle in this final programme.

Using Our Eyes

The first Looking at Things pupil's pamphlet from Autumn 1949

Looking and Seeing was by no means the only schools programme to try to build children's interest in the art, beauty and environment around them.

The BBC schools radio programme Looking at Things, which began in Autumn 1949, aimed "to awaken the child's interest in the shape and colour of things around him," and "to look at the things around you with a 'seeing' eye."[12]

And just a year after the single series of Looking and Seeing came to an end, never to be mentioned again by ITV, the BBC launched into their own schools television series called Using Our Eyes. This was billed as a series "about the difference between looking and seeing, and the ways in which artists express what they see and imagine."[13] The first episode was titled Have You a Seeing Eye? and started with a study of familiar things around us - all very recognisable concepts from Looking and Seeing. Using Our Eyes ran for 19 episodes in 1958-59 and then, just like its ITV predecessor, it was never heard from again!


Each of Associated-Rediffusion's original schools series were assigned a team of two staff - a producer who was more centered in the world of teaching than television, and a director who was more centered in television than teaching[14]. Sydney King was announced as producer of Looking and Seeing[15] but he was only credited in the TV Times for the first two episodes. In the third week no producer was stated in the publication, and in the fourth week (and also the last week) the series' director William Freshman was credited in the producer role as well. Presumably Syndey King took leave of the series fairly quickly.

Introduced by Redvers Kyle
Film edited by Mike Dunk
Script by Robert Kellett (episode 1)
Frederick Laws (episodes 2, 4, 6 & 8)
David Kentish (episodes 3 & 5)
Martin Worth (episode 7)
Director William Freshman
Producer Sydney King
William Freshman

Sources & References

  • AR-TV (1957) ITV Goes To School: An Experimental Term, London: TV Times / Associated-Rediffusion
  • Bedford, Tom (1978) 'To school with ITV - still out in front' in TVTimes 13-19 May 1978 p.77
  • Deakin, A. et al (1957) 'To School With Television' in Journal of Education March 1957 pp.88-92
  • Education (1957a) 'Television Topics' in Education 22 March 1957 p.518
  • Education (1957b) 'First Day' in Education 17 May 1957 p.878
  • Ford, Boris (1957) 'TV for Schools Takes The Air' in TV Times 10 May 1957 pp.10-11
  • Guardian (1957) 'Beginning of Term: Schools Television' in Manchester Guardian 14 May 1957 p.5 col.a
  • Horstmann, Rosemary (1957) 'Two worlds link for schools TV' in TV Times (Midlands Edition) 26 April 1957 p.33
  • Telegraph (1957) 'ITV watched by 85 schools' in Daily Telegraph 14 May 1957 p.11 col.c
  • Times (1957) 'I.T.A. Treads Warily to School' in The Times 14 May 1957 p.7 col.a
  • TES (1957a) 'ITV Make a Cautious Bow: Ballads and Baskets of Fruit' in Times Educational Supplement 17 May 1957 p.696
  • TES (1957b) 'One Term of Television: Better Next Year?' in Times Educational Supplement 12 July 1957 p.1002
  • TV Times London Edition, 1957, television listings via TV Times Project database
  • TV Times Midland Edition, 1957 television listings
  • Visual Education (1957a) 'Independent Television for Schools' in Visual Education March 1957 pp.6-7
  • Visual Education (1957b) 'School Television: The First Report' in Visual Education September 1957 p.7
  • Waddilove, A.E. 'The Schools Look In' in Journal of Education June 1957 p.259
  • Watson, John G. (1957) 'To School With Television' in Use of English vol.9 no.1 Autumn 1957 pp.49-50
  • Weltman, Joseph (1978) 21 Years of Independent Television for Schools, 1957 to 1978 as published with Independent Broadcasting no 16, May 1978, London: IBA p.6
  1. "What a very apt title" quote from Waddilove (1957), attributed to "a fourteen-year-old boy".
  2. Description of the development of schools programmes from Watson (1957) p.49, reporting on a talk given by Boris Ford.
  3. Quotes from Boris Ford & Deryck Mumford from Deakin et al (1957) p.89
  4. Announcement of programme plans was reported in Education on 22 March 1957. There had been an earlier preview in The Times on 20 February 1957 but it did not mention Looking and Seeing.
  5. Text of the originally announced programme description from Education (1957a)
  6. "first in the British Commonwealth" quote from Weltman (1978) p.6. I have made my own survey of schools television around the world (currently available on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine (archived 2007)) and found Britain to be the fifth country chronologically to introduce such a service, after the United States, Japan, Canada and France. However the Canadian programmes were experimental and did not become "regular" until 1960, so the original assertion is correct.
  7. Information about redvers Kyle's teaching experience from Guardian (1957)
  8. Information & quote about the angry pater joke from Telegraph (1957), I have never seen this mentioned anywhere else.
  9. Sources on feedback to the first broadcast: "Exotic life" quote from Ford (1957) p.10; "wealth of association" quote from Waddilove (1957); "lightning artist", "bad photography" and "what one guessed to be a statue" quotes from Education (1957b); "choose a square yard of ground", "too much ground", "a pity that the cameras showed them so little" and "boundless possibilities" quotes from Times (1957); "very laboured" quote from TES (1957a); "making the world more vivid and comprehensible" from TES (1957b); "to drive a point home" and "friendly and informal" quotes from Guardian (1957); "to look above the rooftops", "jolly good" etc (attributed to Gillian Tew) and "clearer pictures" (attributed to Marjorie Cooke) quotes from Telegraph (1957) - the Telegraph gave the most detailed description of the programme overall.
  10. 2:45pm timeslot confirmed by AR-TV (1957) p.7, it is my extrapolation from this publicity material that episodes continued to be transmitted at 2:45pm even when the TV Times billings changed to 2:43pm.
  11. Scheduling details based on TV Times listings for Associated-Rediffusion and ATV as described above.
  12. On Looking at Things: "to awaken the child's interest" quote from BBC Broadcasts to Schools Annual Programme 1949-50; "to look... seeing eye" quote from Looking at Things pupil's pamphlet Autumn 1949
  13. On Using Your Eyes: Radio Times TV listings for the series, 1958-59. "about the difference between" quote from Radio Times of 19 September 1958, p.20
  14. "Team of two" producer/director details from Horstmann (1957) - Rosemary Horstmann was the Manager of School Broadcasting for Associated-Rediffusion, working under Boris Ford.
  15. Announcement of Syndey King as Looking and Seeing producer in Visual Education (1957a) p.6


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