Broadcasting encounters: Experience TV, National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford - Museums Association

Broadcasting encounters: Experience TV, National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford

Caroline Worthington finds the new TV gallery in Bradford is high on production values, but lacking in content and new ideas
Caroline Worthington
Is nothing sacred? Top of the Pops is dead, and the BBC announced in March that Blue Peter badge holders won't be able to get into visitor attractions for free anymore. The black market - £100 each online - had brought the 50-year-old badge of honour into disrepute.

With or without a badge, it has been free to get into the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (NMPFT) for a while now, which has done wonders for the Bradford museum's visitor numbers. The NMPFT hopes to boost its ratings further with Experience TV, a new gallery that opened in July. It is twice the size of the old television gallery and cost £3m to revamp. So I was hoping to find something 'flagship', as they say in media land.

The production values are high. You are surrounded by glossy surfaces and shiny kit, with high-tech interactivity concentrated in the Production Zone. Most visitors seemed to head straight for the gee-whizzy special effect interactive where they can stand in front of a chromakey blue wall and read a weather forecast or pose as a skydiver, depending on the background. They can even appear disembodied, but only if they buy a blue T-shirt.

In a mock up of a television newsroom it is possible to read an autocue delivering a local story once the BBC presenter Huw Edwards has finished his piece to camera. Everyone gets to see your screen test on a large monitor nearby. There is slight air of déjà vu about this. I can remember doing similar things at the old Museum of the Moving Image in London, only there the former BBC film critic Barry Norman did the honours. Perhaps Jonathan Ross, the current presenter of Film 2006, was too expensive.

An open set allows visitors to work the cameras and the lights, but as an experience it is as flat as the backdrop. Techy instructions are recorded on a loop so, unless someone chooses to perform, there is nothing much to film. A Big Brother set with a diary room would have been more fun and topical.

The researchers' office, which is basically a desk and computer with magazines, box files and notice-boards, is also underwhelming. The visitor is warned that a telephone might ring or the fax spit out a message. There is also something rather pedantic about the way the gallery takes you through each stage of programme-making - from research, through marketing to the TV archive. If you are interested in the latter, there is a photograph of a film vault.

The gallery gets into its stride in an object-rich area that asks whether television is the most influential invention of the 20th century. A wall of television sets, ranging from ones disguised as Chippendale cabinets to space-age bubbles, catches the eye.

John Logie Baird's 1926 transmitter looks appropriately Heath Robinsonesque, and the ventriloquist dummy's head he used seems positively leprous. Less fragile technology, such as cameras and recording equipment, are on open display and are interspersed with screens showing key moments in television history. These include the Nasa launch of the Telstar satellite and the arrival of Channel 4 in 1982. Overhead sound shells focus the commentary and music so that bedlam is avoided.

A temporary exhibition space dedicated to new technology should provide a glimpse into the future… What does the plasma crystal ball reveal? A cure for reality TV? Televisions the size of thumbnails? The £1,000 license fee? But instead, Evolve Technology is a shameless plug for high-definition sets, and the display's sponsor, Pace Micro Technology. Tomorrow's World it isn't.

Experience TV continues across the landing. A BBC Leeds radio studio was always part of the old gallery and it is still there. 'You can see journalists gathering news,' claims the signage by the window, but it wasn't possible on this Sunday afternoon. The room was in darkness with not a peep of broadcasting going on. Even the BBC website was frozen. So much for rolling 24-hour news. It is best to ignore the nearby timeline of television history and other wall graphics explaining ratings, regulations and the definition of audiences in deathly prose.

If this was on TV, the ratings would be off the scale. The gallery picks up at the much-loved icons of children's TV section, which includes favourites such as the Wombles, and Zippy from Rainbow.

The furry 1980s star Gordon the Gopher brought back happy memories of wasted Saturday mornings. But the Dalek really needed to be shrieking 'Ex-ter-minate! Ex-ter-minate!' to relay the Saturday evening terrors. Combining sound and vision with the actual puppets and props would really improve the display, which seems all too conventional at this point. And it is a shame that more of the collection - said to be bigger than the Smithsonian's in the US - is not on display.

One of the highlights of the new gallery is the upgraded and expanded TV Heaven. There are now about 1,000 programmes to choose from, spanning 60 years of British television. For anoraks or the merely nostalgic, it is a wonderful resource. You can now sit in a variety of booths, which range from cosy two-seaters up to a mini-cinema, all smartly fitted out. I wonder if the headphones will reappear because the experience is marred by sound spill.

Try watching the 1970s arts documentary Warhol by David Bailey, while another 1970s gem - It's a Knockout - is on next door. Like a lot of things on the box these days, Experience TV relies heavily on repeat ideas but seems short of new ones. It is polished and professional - Blue Peter meets UK Gold - rather than a Bafta contender.

Caroline Worthington is the curator of art at York Museums Trust

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