Light entertainment

Light entertainment is a term used to describe a broad range of, usually televisual, performances.

Light entertainment in Britain

In the early days of the BBC virtually all broadcast entertainment would be considered light by today's standards, as great pains were taken not to offend audiences—which is not to say that they always succeeded in this.

Singers, magicians and comedians were drafted from the music hall circuit to fill the schedules. Stage acts were transferred directly to screen and in the case of productions such as Sunday Night at the London Palladium the broadcasts actually came from large theatres. Many future household names, including The Beatles, were given their first public airings during these programmes which attempted to cater for varying tastes through staging variety acts. Bruce Forsyth was one of several hosts for the show and went on himself to present the studio-based Generation Game which remains a landmark in the light entertainment genre. The Generation Game revolved around the now-common television standby of getting members of the public to provide the entertainment themselves by doing silly things for prizes. As with many popular light entertainment shows, the rather tiresome premise was elevated to greatness through the skill and wit of the presenters and contestants. The show's format was somewhere between the old variety programmes and the increasingly ubiquitous quiz shows and it and its descendants still appear in the television schedules.

The 1970s continued the move away from the music hall format to studio based shows with the greater technical freedom that they afforded. Staged concert acts lived on through television magicians such as Paul Daniels and Royal Variety Shows. The Comedians was another programme which at the same time looked back at the live entertainment of the music halls and was also a prototype of many later stand-up comedy series. It employed a number of comics from the working men's club circuit to do their routines to camera. Although their choice of material would get them ostracised from today's television, many of The Comedians themselves went on to have lucrative careers hosting game shows or appearing in soap operas.

In the 1980s the budgets available for light entertainment increased and shows became much brighter, with dazzling sets and expensive prizes.

However, with the simultaneous ascendancy of alternative comedy—anarchic, disrespectful, brash—many of the younger generation grew up to be disdainful of these bloated, uninspiring formats. They were critical of the complete lack of intellectual stimuli offered by light entertainment shows which seemed to have a vice like grip on peak time schedules, particularly on Saturday and Sunday evenings. There can be no more powerful illustration of this than the name of a lesser-known panel show: Bring Me the Head of Light Entertainment (which is also a pun on a broadcasting job description).

Part of the complaint was that light entertainment sought to amuse, yet those raised on stronger stuff found the attempts at humour weak and watery. For critics of the genre, Noel's House Party was often cited as the nadir. It was necessarily broad humour, frequently involving pranks like covering people in brightly coloured gunge (a lumpy, special effects liquid), or successions of people in silly costumes falling over.

In spite of this, light entertainment continues to be hugely popular with audiences - perhaps because it provokes no awkward questions when the viewing is shared by different generations of the same family. Some of the irony from the alternative set has crept into the programmes as have, indeed, some of the personnel. Success in the field reaps rich rewards, light entertainers become huge, genuine "household names". Current light entertainment icons are Ant and Dec but have included Bruce Forsyth and Cilla Black.


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