Peter Black : OBITUARIES

In his 21 years as television critic of the Daily Mail, from 1952 to 1973, Peter Black transformed the once mundane business of television reviewing into a finely wrought and searching critical form. Until his time it had been the relaxed fiefdom of sharp young reporters who, after a minimum of viewing, mostly used the evening's programmes as the loosest of pegs on which to hang a string of jokes and cheerfully aimed brickbats. This was in the expectation that they were delivering the entertainin g columns which their editors required.

Black challenged those careless attitudes by doing television the signal honour of taking it seriously. He recognised the potential of the medium as a huge and fast-growing part of people's lives, its effectiveness as a means of mass entertainment, its latent ability to educate and inform and its still unfathomed influence for good or evil. But while Black accepted the creation of television's global village he took a detached and sceptical view of television's power to change things and came gradually to perceive that it was less a window on the world than simply a reflection of it.

"Belief in television's influence," he wrote, "is rather like the belief in life after death. Most of us would like to be able to prove it, but the evidence is inconclusive."

In turn it could be said that Black influenced not only the course of television commentary but of the medium itself. His approach was informed, civilised and deeply knowledgeable. He recognised the dedication of many broadcasters and he took care to learn the techniques of the trade he wrote about. His style was beautifully lucid and fluent, never lost its popular touch and was lit throughout with that essential ingredient of his own character - an unfailing and delightful sense of irony.

The timing of his appointment as the Mail's television critic could not have been more propitious. He arrived when television was still transmitted live, a single-channel black-and-white flickering image in the corner and he chronicled not only its leaping technical advances but also the arrival of ITV, the coming of colour and television's great golden age when the BBC became an extraordinary fountainhead of innovation, excellence and daring and the everyday fare of ITV included Maupassant, Saki, D.H. Lawrence, Harold Pinter, Joe Orton and Disraeli. It was not inappropriate that Black's farewell dinner party at the BBC should have included Sir Hugh Greene, Sir Huw Weldon, Sir David Attenborough and Paul Fox and that Lord Bernstein and Sir Denis Formanshould have hosted an equally nostalgic farewell luncheon at the Ritz.

Peter Black was born in Thames Ditton and began his career in journalism on the Letchworth Citizen. After serving in the Observer Corps during the war because of a disability (he had only one arm) he joined the Brighton Evening Argus in 1946. There he became that paper's chief feature writer and quickly made a mark as a perceptive and incisive critic of films and theatre.

After a brief period working for the Evening Standard as a special Brighton correspondent he joined the Mail as a diarist in 1950 and two years later took on his pioneering role writing about television.

Black always wrote with absolute integrity and he had the great critic's gift of writing deeply from within himself. The fact that television presented him with a range of subject matter from pop to high culture, from journalism to drama, enabled him to reflect in his own lively and idiosyncratic way as much on life itself as on the medium. Besides his daily television criticism and latterly travel articles for the Daily Telegraph and occasional pieces for the Oldie he wrote three books - The Biggest Aspidistra in the World: a personal history of the BBC; The Mirror in the Corner, a thoughtful analysis of television's growth in Britain and its likely effects; and Poms in the Sun, an endearing study of Australian urban popular culture, which both enthralled and appalled him and which, in terms of the big cities, he likened to being in Wolverhampton on the equator.

With the bucolic appearance of a kindly and rueful Provencal farmer, he was always a hugely entertaining companion and while his manner was deliberately low-key he had a splendid deep-throated chuckle which perfectly expressed his wry displeasure for allpeople and objects which he found ugly, boorish or vulgar. Though one- armed, he was unusually dextrous. He played a keen game of golf, learnt to drive a car in late middle age, and would carefully prepare and cook elaborate meals with the same deft andnimble skill.

Over a masterly Caesar salad in his flat in Henfield, West Sussex, only a few months ago, we talked about the many things he had relished in his life - the Mediterranean, his successive and beloved families of cats, his love of good food and wine and thefavourite books which he constantly re-read; the last was Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. But he reserved his deepest, most sardonic chortles to regale me with the life in store - the totally surprising and unwelcome hazards of age which, typically, he made hilarious.

n Peter Black, journalist, television critic, writer: born Long Ditton, Surrey 11 November 1913; married 1946 Joan Charlton (died 1992); died Brighton 26 January 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn