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David Hall
Which is what in some sense I take to be the burden of Hall's 1990 commission for Channel 4, Stooky Bill TV, that wry dialogue between John Logie Baird and his dummy ('Stooky', by the way, comes from corn stooks, and refers to the way Bill's hair stood up on end).

As Stooky Bill gradually opens up the vista of a television entirely devoted to himself, the doubling commences. Maybe we already have a TV run by and containing only dummies? Or maybe we have let the dour Scotsman's technical rationality rule the roost too long, and should devote ourselves to a fantastical television? But the doubling also runs between the video tape on which it plays and the mechanical Baird televisor reconstruction on which it was made, with its characteristic vertical scanlines intersecting with the horizontal scans of electronic TV.

Was Stooky Bill, the phantom presence of the lost mechanical television principle, driven out as surely as Baird was by EMI in the competition to establish a national standard for broadcasting? Were both Baird's utopian communitarianism and Bill's poetry of the imagination binned in favour of the instrument of persuasion that TV was to become for governments at first, and then for corporations? And what of the ventriloquising of Stooky Bill, who is never referred to as speaking in the standard histories of television? What of the actor playing the unseen Baird? How does this 1990 performance exist in relation to the meticulous reconstruction of the old technology? Unlike the image it is clearly recorded on modern equipment, a disjuncture as radical as any of the more clearly stated ones in the Television Interruptions. The lip-synching of Bill, dependent on an extra generosity on the part of the audience for whom Bill is already only visible by an act of kindness, is one of the illusions which Richard Baker has already denounced for us in his script for This is a Television Receiver (1976). Like the monochrome tape which it replaced, and the monochrome broadcast whose end it celebrates in suitably ironic notes, the vertical 30-line scan of the televisor is a technology already gone under earth's lid.

And yet even this hyper-illuminated dummy, flattened by the brilliance of the lights even before being smeared across the screen, attains a kind of depth when broadcast by Channel 4 in the UK.

The heavy glass of the old screen under the lighter perspex of the new one is disseminated across a million receivers. This depth is only apparently spatial, however, because what in fact creates the gap is the time between Baird's Soho experiment of 1925 and the banality of late night TV in the UK in 1990. The possibility of another television, a road not taken, a parallel world in which Baird won the BBC contract and Stooky Bill was as famous as Mickey Mouse? The sheer clarity of the actors' voices builds a bridge between the two times, a flavour of historical reconstruction. Ears are far less forgiving than eyes when it comes to illusion. But then again, Stooky Bill's point is that illusion is in any case the condition of television: the only real illusion is to believe that it is anything else.

Still from Stooky Bill TV by David Hall, 1990
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