Television is among the very greatest inventions in history. There has been nothing remotely like it before. For the first time ever, people can see the world in ways denied to them for centuries.
They can see the floors of oceans, the tops of mountains, the walk from prison by Nelson Mandela, the walk on the Moon by Neil Armstrong, famine in Africa, joy at the Olympics, bombing in Iraq, heroism in the amazing feats of people with disabilities.
We have the greatest playwrights and actors served up in our sitting rooms. Some of the finest comedians and the most powerful politicians and thinkers speak to us directly. We take it for granted now, but we should not.
The first great phase of television is coming to an end – the TV screen is no longer a monopoly, we can watch television on our phones, we can watch it anywhere. But we have seen something happen that would have been thought of as magic not so long ago, and here it is before our very eyes.
As part of his documentary Melvyn Bragg on TV: the Box That Changed the World, Bragg speaks to John Lloyd, Martha Kearney and Ed Balls
Believing is seeing and now the world is in our eye-line. I think the full impact of television hasn’t yet been felt. It changes our views – in every way, but most of all it gives us powers beyond those belonging to any emperor or king or mystic of the past.
We command territories they could only dream of. TV is far more influential than the Italian Renaissance. It is a close-run thing with the Industrial Revolution – which began in Britain, as did television – and is now regarded as far and away the greatest revolution there’s ever been.
What the Industrial Revolution did for our work, television has done for our minds. Each one of us is global. How strange and magnificent is that! We can flick the world in and out of our lives, which only three generations ago were limited, for most people, to small villages, cramped streets, cripplingly limited education and oceans of boredom.
Of course, this being the UK, there have been from the start those who have sneered at television. These are, generally speaking, the most stupid and bigoted people I ever meet. Somehow they think it is a mark of cleverness not to be part of this astounding democracy of the mind.
Of course some of it is bad. But some of everything is bad – books, music, family… What we have here is a miracle. A real miracle, made by men and women. And available to seven or eight billion people. What a time to be alive! And look at what it has spawned.
The internet, smartphones, more and more ways of looking at the world and letting the world look at us. It can be hairy, it can be fearful, but one thing is certain. It can’t be stopped. We now wear it like a second skin, it’s our passport to the universe. Up to Jupiter, into the bat’s cave, on to the stage with amazing singers and performers, as we scan across a planet now united in pictures, waiting for the rest to catch up.
Melvyn Bragg on TV: the Box That Changed the World is on Saturday at 9pm on BBC2