Thursday, June 25, 2020

'Our World": The First Global TV Broadcast Was a Big Deal in 1967

"Multinational and democratic, Our World represented the birth of what media maven Marshall McLuhan dubbed in its Canadian introduction, "the gobal village."  He believed that simultaneity enabled by this technology would create empathy and mutual responsibility between people and cultures."

- Judy Wittes Schlack
From 50 Years On, Remembering The "Our World" Broadcast And What it Means Today
WBUR Cognoscenti, June 26, 2017

Before Live Aid, there was Our World.  Unlike the 1985 televised concert in support of Ethiopian famine victims, Our World was not a humanitarian fundraising venture.  It was a cultural phenomenon, not just a musical event.  No segment of Our World was broadcast from a large stadium filled with thousands of people.

From our vantage point in the 21st century, a live, worldwide satellite program does not seem very awe-inspiring, but it was a very big deal back in 1967. Our World was the first live global broadcast and it was quite an event when it happened 53 years ago today, on June 25, 1967.  The show was  considered a technical marvel and it was broadcast to an audience of more than 350 million people across five continents. As Ringo Starr of the Beatles said years later, "It's a standard thing that people do now, but then, when we did it, it was a first.  That was exciting - we were doing a lot of firsts."

Our World was the brainchild of BBC producer Aubrey Singer and it took ten months to organize the entire project.  The BBC promoted Our World with these words: "For the first time ever, linking five continents and bringing man face to face with mankind.  In places as far apart as Canberra and Cape Kennedy, Moscow and Montreal, Samarkand and Söderfors, Takamatsu and Tunis."

Our World was a two-and-a half hour TV extravaganza in black and white.  It featured creative artists from 19 nations.  They appeared in separate segments representing their native countries.  Renowned Spanish painter Pablo Picasso appeared on the broadcast, as did American born Greek opera singer Maria Callas.  Canada's contribution featured a CBC TV interview with Marshall McLuhan in a control room in Toronto.  Later segments were broadcast from a ranch in Ghost Lake, Alberta and a beach in Vancouver's Point Grey district.

 Each country used its own announcers, and interpreters offered voice over a translations when the original sound differed from that country's native language.  Fourteen countries took part in the production of the show.  All segments of Our World were required to be live, and use of videotape or film was prohibited.  The opening credits were complemented by an Our World theme song, performed by the Vienna Boys Choir in 22 different languages.

To understand the motivation behind Our World, it's important to understand the tenor of the times.  Although Our World was broadcast during the height of the Vietnam War, it was intended to be an apolitical event.  No politician or head of state was allowed to participate.  Unfortunately, just four days before the broadcast, the Eastern bloc countries, following the lead of the Soviet Union, pulled out of the broadcast.  This was to protest the Western response to the recent Six-Day Arab-Israeli War (June 5-10, 1967).

The U.S. contribution to Our World included a segment about a New Jersey conference between American president Lyndon Johnson and Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin, but the two politicians were not shown to viewers.  The house where the conference took place was televised instead.

In an effort to send out a positive message, the Beatles performed  a new song called "All  You Need is Love" from a crowded Studio Two at the Abbey Road Studios in London.  John Lennon had written the song especially for the occasion and the Beatles agreed to perform it as representatives of the United Kingdom.  The Fab Four invited other British singers and musicians to the event, including Eric Clapton, members of the Rolling Stones and Marianne Faithful.

The Beatles at a press conference for Our World

The Beatles performing "All You Need is Love" on Our World

SOURCES: WBUR Cognoscenti, "50 Years On, Remembering The 'Our World' Broadcast  And What it Means Today,"by Judy Wittes SchlackJune 26, 2017; The Beatles Bible website (www.beatles; Wikipedia

- Joanne

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