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Fun look at television in its early days in Britain
When I read the description of "Meet Mr. Lucifer" on our onscreen TV listings guide I knew I wanted to watch it. I saw it on the Talking Pictures Channel, which was appropriate as the channel features British films and documentaries about life in Britain in the past decades. "Meet Mr. Lucifer" is a delightful satire on television in the days when the new medium was beginning to make an impact and helping to dwindle audiences for cinemas and variety theaters. I imagine the screenwriter and the producers enjoyed making barbs at their new rival including showing television as the actual work of the Devil, Lucifer's latest device to make people miserable. The film also explores how people are affected by new technology. One major character, Mr Pedelty, doesn't even own a radio. A spellbound drinker at the pub marvels that the miracle of television makes it possible for him to see a famous person live while his sister in Eastbourne can also see the famous person live at the same time, so surely he can see the spirits of his late father and other relatives, as they are also apparitions. American viewers may wonder why the satire doesn't include spoofs of the constant TV commercials that are sent up in movies of the 1950s such as The Seven Year Itch and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter. "Meet Mr Lucifer" was made before the advent of commercial television in the UK; ITV, the country's first commercial television provider, began in 1955. The film captures a period when the BBC had no rival stations and literally was the only show in town. The Lonely Hearts singer can only hint at a product that is paying her for her endorsement elsewhere, as the BBC prohibits advertising. The reactions of the characters to Mr Pedelty's set show how novel the programmes must have appeared, even genres that were long established on radio, such as horse racing, panel games, and variety musical programmes. Mr Pedelty replies "good night" to the news announcer as he bids the viewers good night, the young married woman from upstairs and her friends sit spellbound through a lecture about physics and gasp in wonder at the shots of hand drawn graphics, when a square dancing programme starts they stand up and begin to dance along, accompanied by children on the street who watch the screen through a window. One of the film's funniest and most touching sequences show a bachelor becoming so infatuated with the "lonely hearts" singer he hangs her portrait on his bedroom wall and at work, then when his enjoyment of the programme is interrupted by noises outside his room, seizes his landlady's offending vacuum cleaner, his neighbour's hammer, and part of the motor of a motorcycle revving in the street outside. The shots of the huge offices full of clerks typing and sending seemingly personal responses from the singer to fans of the show are a nice look at how TV was already hatching schemes to increase ratings. I also smiled when the young husband objected at the idea of having the TV in the bedroom- there were already quips back then that having a set in the bedroom wasn't good for a marriage. I agree with the reviewer who said the film needed to have more scenes with Stanley Holloway. It would have benefited from showing a larger range of characters than the residents of a single London house, and would have been much sharper if its satire was more stinging. The man running the show was Lucifer, after all. Overall it's a gentle satire of the days when people were amazed at pictures in their living room and the new medium was beginning to take form.
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