Postscript to Empire: press comment


The New York Herald, The New York Times, the Daily News and Variety report on “Postscript to Empire”

November 1961

New York Herald Tribune


A project designed specifically “to promote international understanding through television” ably illustrated its purpose last night in a first-class documentary shown on WABC-TV.

The station is to be commended for scheduling the hour-long report in prime Sunday evening time.

Titled, “Postscript to Empire: Great Britain in Transition”, the report was produced as a U.S. contribution to a so-called “Intertel” series in which broadcasters of the U.S., Canada, Britain, France and Australia are participating. Wisely, executive producer Michael Sklar chose not to attempt an all-encompassing survey of the fading British Empire, but rather to tell of England’s struggle to emerge from old traditions into new ways in terms of two communities: the Thames waterfront-deadend area called “the Isle of Dogs” and the modern London post-war, “satellite” town named Stevenage.

Joseph Julian narrated a script at once dispassionate, understanding and articulate. The program was introduced by Rodney McLeish. Production of the report was particularly outstanding for its deft transition from narrative to questioning.

A perceptive, provocative documentary on Great Britain’s “second industrial revolution” was provided in this “Postscript to Empire”, a beautifully photographed and often moving study in contrasts between the old and the new in today’s England. Show, [sic] the third in the series sponsored by the International Television Federation, is the first to be made by Intertel’s U.S. members, the Westinghouse Broadcasting Co. and the National Educational Television and Radio Center.

By focusing on the life in two contrasting communities, the centuries old Isle of Dogs in London’s dockyards, and the brand new “satellite” town of Stevenage, the program managed to say a lot about the “upheaval in attitude” which has taken place in Britain since World War II—an upheaval which has pertinence to all civilized communities during a time of change. While presenting a grimly convincing picture of life in the Isle of Dogs, where restrictive traditions limit life to ancient class patterns, the show avoided over-simplifications in presenting the benefits to be had in the ultra modern, two-year-old town of Stevenage.

Without the present goals of life in the old town, where for generations the men have made their living on the docks, the citizens of Stevenage can hope for a freer “classless” existence. But their spic-and-span community also must wrestle with a new problem, juvenile delinquency growing out of new ease, boredom and, as one 17-year-old housewife suggested, a simple feeling of “live for today”.

Producer-writer Michael Sklar and director Michael Alexander wisely let the people themselves do most of the talking in short, colorful interviews, edited and crosscut for emphasis. Narration by Joseph Julian, with brief intro and epilog by Rod MacLeish, was concise, informative and never pretentious despite the size of the theme.

If the other Intertel shows live up to this one, the series will be an important contribution to international understanding.

New York Daily News
New York Times

Britain has lost its empire. It is also in danger of losing its world trade. So that great nation must adapt itself to changing circumstances. It is, in fact, in the midst of a social revolution which conflicts sharply with its old traditions. How Great Britain is adapting itself to this vast change was shown in an illuminating documentary, “Postscript to Empire”, on ABC-TV’s “Intertel” presentation (6.30 p.m.). This interesting study focused on two communities — The Isle of Dogs, a Thames River peninsula settlement of dock workers in the heart of London, and nearby Stevenage New Town, a prefabricated modern industrial city. Through the words of officials and average inhabitants of both places one gained an insight into the educational system with its cruel “11-plus” examinations, its effects on teen-agers and many other social and economic problems facing the country today. No, Britain is not all pomp and pageantry. It has its headaches, too.

‘Intertel’ Program Shows Clash Between the Old and the New in England

The Isle of Dogs, that niche of London where everyone lives much as his grandparents did, and the new town of Stevenage, where the American influence asserts itself in many ways, were the central items in last night’s first-class study of Great Britain in transition.

The program, which was shown over Channel 7, was prepared by two American influences in television, National Educational Television and the Westinghouse Broadcasting Corporation, as part of the rewarding “Intertel” project. “Intertel” is the pioneering venture in which TV broadcasters of several countries, including Britain, Canada and Australia, pool their resources on documentaries, which are then shown to their respective audiences.

The study of Britain, which was written by Michael Sklar and produced by Michael Alexander, was an hour of contrast. The first half, concerned with the Isle of Dogs, illustrated the way of life of the London dock workers who still hand down jobs from father to son. It was a grim picture of inefficient port facilities, dwindling employment opportunity and a dead end for an individual of initiative. The residents were prisoners of tradition.

Stevenage, thirty miles away, was the ultra-modern, an entirely new community with new jobs, stores, homes, schools and habits. For many life has acquired an invigorating purposefulness and many comforts. But there were also the problems, among them juvenile delinquency, which in part at least were attributed to something that could not be prefabricated, tradition.

The camera work in the documentary was singularly good and the narrative, spoken by Joseph Julian, had the virtue of being calm and unhurried. By showing the everyday lives of the working people in two such dissimilar communities the program conveyed the human meaning of Britain’s transition in a way that could not be expected of a politician or economist.


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