OK, so this is how old I am… I remember the days before television. That’s right. When I was born, there was no TV. But I’m not yet 40 (almost, but not yet, dammit) so how is this possible? Well, it’s all because I was lucky enough to be born a South African.
You see, under the benighted apartheid regime, those lovable Nationalists believed that television was the ‘devil’s own box’; a means for ‘disseminating communism and immorality’ – like so many baked beans spewing out over Ann-Margaret in ‘Tommy’. Thus, they banned the medium entirely; refusing this filthy tool of dissolution access to our nice, clean, white homes. Bless ’em.
We even missed the moon landing (which was probably seen as a blasphemy anyway). But despite being dismissed as a backward pariah nation by the rest of the world – for a whole bunch of reasons – the government held fast. According to Wikipedia, Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd compared television with atom bombs and poison gas, claiming that ‘they are modern things, but that does not mean they are desirable. The government has to watch for any dangers to the people, both spiritual and physical.’ What a mensch!
Even worse, Dr Albert Hertzog, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, said that TV would come to South Africa ‘over [his] dead body,’ denouncing it as ‘a miniature bioscope over which parents would have no control.’ But his biggest fear was that, with the advent of television, ‘South Africa would have to import films showing race mixing; and advertising would make [non-white] Africans dissatisfied with their lot.’ Ah, the good old days!
But for all the King Canutes trying to order back the tide, the power of television cannot be stopped and finally, in 1976, the verkramptes relented. The first television station was duly launched by the government-run South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and we have been playing catch up ever since.
So, what did we do for fun before the Devil’s Box came to town? Well, we just sat down in the lounge, put up a screen and consumed our media from the teat of a large, noisy 16mm projector. It was a fantastic ritual: first, we’d rent movies and episodes of dated American TV shows from the local film exchange. Then, we’d thread the supple celluloid through the projector’s marvelous concantenation of cogs and wheels. Finally, we’d flip the switch and feel the heat of the lamp as the header counted us down.
I can still remember watching, enthralled, as the reel spooled out at 24 frames per second – struggling to hear the dialogue over the sprokety rat-a-tat of the projector. Then, the screen would go white and you heard the slap-slap-slap of the film strip hitting the back of the projector. That was your cue to jump up and change the reel. It was an exhilaratingly mechanical process. And it’s the way I fell in love with movies.
To honour those long lost days of my youth, I have put together another Theme Song Quiz featuring TV shows that I first watched on 16mm. Some of them are pretty old, so you’ll have to put on your granny pants – but see how many you can get. And if you have no idea what 16mm is, forget about it!
For the answers, click here…