Masks through the Ages (lost early BBC history talk show; 1937)

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Masksthroughtheages2.jpg

Issue 706 of Radio Times summarising episode 2.

Status: Lost

Masks through the Ages is an early BBC history program broadcast in April and May 1937. Hosted by Duncan Melvin, the four-part series provided an education on the history of masks, from Ancient Egypt, to the then-modern times.

Background[edit | edit source]

Little detail surrounding Masks through the Ages remains. According to issues 706 and 710 of Radio Times, the program was a four-part series documenting the history, processes and application of various masks made across the world.[1][2][3][4] The problem is that no Radio Times issue documented episodes 1 and 3 of the show. Like many shows of its era, for example The Orchestra and its Instruments, episodes were typically broadcast on a fortnightly basis. Based on the fact episodes 2 and 4 were broadcast on 15th April and 13th May 1937 respectively,[1][2][3][4] it can be assumed therefore that the first episode was broadcast on 1st April, with the second on 29th April. Their airings and descriptions should have been in issues 704 and 708 of Radio Times respectively, but ultimately, neither issue contains any television listings.[5][6]

The Episodes[edit | edit source]

Nevertheless, a summary of the show can be established from the synopsises of issues 706 and 710 of Radio Times. Episode 2 showcased Melvin explaining the evolution of masks, ranging from their usage in Ancient Egypt and Rome, to areas in Asia. To illustrate this, Melvin presents some actual Egyptian and Roman masks, while also showcasing film extracts which show indigenous people wearing the No masks in Japan.[1][2] According to 706's synopsis, the first talk also utilised film extracts to illustrate mask history and culture. It is also known that Mary Adams helped with presentation in this episode.[1][2]

As for episode 4, Melvin detailed the processes involved in the production of masks.[3][4] Among mask producers highlighted include Oliver Messel, Angus MacBean, Henri Gaudier-Breszka, and Henry Moore. Some of their work was showcased; according to Tate, this included one of Moore's stone abstract faces.[7] Melvin also illustrated the production of a clay mask, by having him take a cast of a face, and then establishing its contours in clay. The show concluded with the showcasing of Austrian and Italian terra-cotta masks used for wall decoration.[3][4] All episodes of the show lasted 15 minutes, and were repeated later in the day.[1][2][3][4]

Availability[edit | edit source]

Like all early television transmissions, all episodes of Masks through the Ages were televised live and there were limited viable means of recording television prior to the Second World War, with recording seldom having occurred until video tape was perfected in the late-1950s.[8] Thus, all footage of the show is likely permanently missing. The Radio Times issues helped to document half of the episodes that aired.[2][4]

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Images[edit | edit source]

See Also[edit | edit source]

Early BBC Television[edit | edit source]

Early BBC Sports Television[edit | edit source]

External Link[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]