85. TV? What’s all the fuss about?

By Peter Fraenkel

It was my earliest disappointment with TV. It must have been around 1937 and my father had taken me to the Jahrhunderthalle (the Centenary Hall) at Breslau – built a century after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. But the show did not take place in the main hall. That hall was, indeed, impressive, the second largest (or perhaps the largest) dome in the world – rivalling St. Peter’s at Rome. We, however, had queued up in front of a much smaller hall.  A crowd waited impatiently.  They had all read about this wonderful new invention that was to be demonstrated. The local newspapers had forewarned us. Eventually the earlier sitting traipsed out and we were let in and were seated in a room like a small cinema. However, instead of sitting facing a large cinema screen we were placed seated in front of what seemed (at least to me) like a large refrigerator, except that the top half looked more like a window. Lights went out. The crowd went silent.

Lights flickered on in that window in the fridge and then we saw a band strike up and play music. It looked to me like a small cinema – in black and white.  [I don’t think colour film had yet been invented.]

Of course – aged 11 – I had only ever seen one single cinema film. Over 80 years later I still remember the title. It was called “Ferien vom Ich” – vacation from self – and I proudly told the story of the plot to all my school friends. They had begged me to tell them. However since I had not properly understood the story, I had to use some imagination and invent. Fortunately, nobody called me a liar since my friends had not seen the film, nor, ever, any other film.

But that first black-and-white TV show? Boring! Bloody boring. In fact, thinking about it all these years later, that demonstration was badly arranged. I thought we were seeing a film. So, I guess, did most of the other children watching.  Only after we came out did my father explain to me that what I had been seeing on that screen was, at that very moment, happening – live – in an adjoining studio.

Badly handled. It was my first disappointment with TV.  But not the last.