Black and white
Osama Kamal turns on the telly and goes on a trip down memory lane
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Clockwise from top left: Habib with late actor Hassan Abdeen; Hegazi in Birds of Paradise; actor Nour El-Sherif in the famous soap opera Al-Qahira wal Nas; Nelly's puzzles; Nashed with famous author Tawfik El-Hakim
Just like the mediaeval Arab poets who began their odes with forlorn lines about lost homes and forgotten times, Egyptian television is launching its own piece of nostalgia. Last night at 7pm, on the same day, 21 July, and at the exact time when Egyptian television launched its first black and white broadcast 5o years ago, a saga of remembrance began.
Egyptian TV is planning selective broadcast of old programmes for 21 days running, eight hours per day. Viewers will be treated to rare footage shown during the 15 years of broadcasting (1960 -- 1975). And this is just the beginning. The three-week-long festivities are only the opening shot in a year-long broadside of reminiscences.
The Television Building is on the Nile Corniche in an area often referred to as Maspero, the name of the French Egyptologist whose name was given to a nearby street. Just as Gaston Maspero is credited with protecting Egyptian heritage, Egyptian television is attempting to preserve its own past. Most of the footage that many viewers will have a chance to relive will be new to the current generation, the under-50s who were not around when service was launched in 1960. The memory lane is all in black and white, since colour TV did not arrive in Egypt until the late 1970s. This relegates monochromatic programming to nostalgic memory and special effects.
Viewers over 60 will remember the familiar faces of early television. They will recall Layla Rostom, the witty interviewer who worked for Egyptian TV from 1960 to 1967 and produced the hugely popular Nagmak al-Mofadda (Your Favourite Star), a show that ran every week for three years. It was through this programme that Rostom brought icons of culture to the small screen: singer Mohamed Abdel-Wahhab, actress Faten Hamama, writer and educationalist Taha Hussein, novelists Youssef El-Sebaei and Ehsan Abdel-Qodduus and of course actor Omar Sharif.
Those who were children in the 1960s will recall the soft features of Salwa Hegazi, presenter of the show Asafir al-Ganna (Birds of Paradise). Hegazi was the first TV "auntie" of children's programming. A natural star, she died tragically in 1973 when the plane in which she was flying back from a television mission in Libya strayed out of its path into Sinai and was shot down by Israelis strikers. The nation mourned her death with the lyrics of Fouad Haddad:
To hear her talk
The heart softened
No longer hard
Children we were
Equal and clueless
Orphans we've become
Her weekly show
Brought the spring along
Shining like a smile
Amani Nashed was another towering figure, with some critics dubbing her "queen of programmes" after the success of her shows. Her programme Kamera Tesaah (Camera Nine) was followed by the equally popular show Azizi al-Moshahed (Dear Viewer), which catapulted Nashed into enduring fame.
Nashed created the first instance of the genre we now call the talk show. She put together the seeds for Al-Nadi al-Dawli (The International Club), with entertainment and live coverage that proved hugely successful. Actor Samir Sabri later took over the show, followed by Farida El-Zomor and Salma El-Shamma. The programme was discontinued by a political decision in the late 1970s.
Another popular TV personality was Tareq Habib, invented a new formula with his first programme Etnein Ala al-Hawa (Two on Air). Habib invited two competitive figures in one field, asked them the same questions separately, and then edited the whole thing to look like a debate. The formula was light-hearted and the audience loved it. Habib presented this programme solo at first before bringing in actress Mona Gabr as a co-presenter.
In Autograph, his next programme, Habib interviewed celebrities including Egypt's first lady Jihan El-Sadat. He went on to produce more sophisticated programmes, including a memorable feature about the Malaf-at Sirriya (Secret Files) of the 1952 Revolution.
Shafie Shalabi was a breath of fresh air. Dispensing with the obligatory jacket and tie, Shalabi gave a new look to the job of a TV broadcaster. He went into the streets, talking to ordinary people and offering live reportage in programmes such as Fi Koll Makan (Everywhere), Al-Sharaa al-Masri (The Egyptian Street), and Al-Nas wal Telefizion (People and Television). He worked in television until the late 1970s, when he went freelance.
Soap operas were big from day one. At first they were filmed in the same way as theatre, in one shot from beginning to end. No editing was allowed, and the acting might now look monotonous. The soaps were no more than seven to nine episodes long, but some at least were memorable: Hareb Min al-Ayyam (The Fugitive), Al-Asal al-Morr (Bitter Honey) and Al-Saqiyah (The Waterwheel) were among the greats.
The shift in soaps came in the 1980s when a new generation of television dramatists came on the scene. Osama Anwar Okasha, Mohsen Zayed, Mahfouz Abdel-Rahman, Mohamed Galal Abdel-Qawi and Mohamed Safaa Amer changed our perception of soaps and created the daily, month- long, 30-episode formula.
With graphics still in infancy, director Mohamed Salem was able to dazzle the audience in Fawazir Ramadan (Ramadan Puzzles). Salem used the exceptional abilities of three young comedians known collectively as Tholathi Adwaa al-Masrah (The Theatre Lights Trio). The three, El-Deif Ahmad, Samir Ghanem and George Sidhom, offered humorous performances and a mix of acting and singing that are among the best- loved oldies of the period.
As of the mid-1970s the late Fahmi Abdel-Hamid brought on the full force of creative animation to the Ramadan Puzzles. The lead performers were all actors and singers with immense energy: Nelly at first, Samir Ghanim after that, then Sherihan. As of the mid-1990s, the Puzzles began to slip from the ratings, perhaps because its dazzling methods had already been outstripped by the now too familiar video-clip.
One of the most memorable programmes was the religious show Nur Ala Nur (Light on Light), which started in 1973. This was the programme that catapulted Sheikh Mohamed El-Motawalli El-Shaarawi, Egypt's answer to the televangelists, to fame. El-Shaarawi went on to have his own televised programmes.
Football was popular right from the start. The unforgettable sports announcer Mohamed Latif left his stamp on the vocabulary and method of narrating football matches. Latif, a former footballer who began his announcing career on radio in 1948, was the first ever Arab football announcer for television and his wit and immense enthusiasm are the stuff of legend.
Science programmes also proved popular with early television audiences. Many will still recall the popular Alam al-Behar (Sea World) programme presented by marine scientist Hamed Gohar, dubbed "King of the Red Sea" by friends and admirers. The programme, which ran for 18 years, featured exquisite deep sea scenery and underwater life with informative narration by the knowledgeable Gohar.
It is now a different world indeed. Fifty years ago there was only one channel that you clicked into action by turning a round knob with a choice -- unnecessary at first -- of up to a dozen stations. The rest of the stations remained blank until one day another channel came up. This was the second Egyptian channel, specialising in foreign programming and news. For years, viewers had to live with this choice. Only two channels but now with various specialised and satellite channels, and many who lived through this period will assure you that it was different television from that we have now. Different, yet pleasing, comforting, informative, and often enchanting.
Golden jubilee for television
A MAJOR celebration is to be held at the foot of the Giza Pyramids tonight to mark the passage of 50 years since the launch of Egypt's television service. The information minister Anas El-Fiqi, together with Radio and Television Union director Osama El-Sheikh and other leading media figures, are expected to attend the event. Some of Egypt's icons of television broadcasting will also be there, says Ibrahim al-Aqabawi, director of the recording company Sawt Al-Qahira and one of the organisers.
Since its inauguration on 21 July 1960, Egyptian television has gone through many changes, not only in style but in structure. For one thing, some of the original departments of the television have become sectors or semi-independent operations. One is the news sector, now under Abdel-Latif El-Minawi. Another is the production sector now led by Rawia Bayyad.
The TV sector, comprising Channels 1 and 2, is chaired by Nadia Halim. The specialised channels sector, including Nile Life, Nile Comedy, Nile Cinema, and Nile Sports, is directed by Hala Hashish. The Mahrusa Sector, comprising channels 3 through to 8, is run by Adel Maati.
Several veterans of television will be honoured at today's event, including former ministers Abdel-Qader Hatem and Mohamed Safwat El-Sharif; former Television and Radio Union chiefs such as Fathi El-Bayyumi, Amin Basiouni and Hassan Hamed; and former television chiefs including Samia Sadeq and Soheir El-Atribi.
Tributes are also planned for television personalities Mamduh El-Leithi, Faruq Ibrahim, and Sawsan Moseilhi. Among those to be honoured are well-known broadcast figures including Layla Rostom, Milad Besada, Ali El-Ghazuli, Zeinab El-Hakim, Mahmoud Soltan, Tareq Habib, Mofid Fawzi and Mona Gabr. Also on the tribute list are director Samiha El-Ghoneimi, actor Samir Sabri, and directors Mohamed Fadel, Inaam Mohamed Ali and Ismail Abdel-Hafez. The writers Mahfouz Abdel-Rahman and Wahid Hamded are also to receive special accolades, says RTU chief Osama al-Sheikh.
Nadia Halim, the current television chief, says that several documentaries have been prepared about television icons and will be aired to coincide with the jubilee celebrations.
The television news sector has held two seminars, one on the political role of television, freedom of speech, necessary reforms and objective reporting. The other was on television and its role in the modernisation of society, a topic that led to discussions on the issues of violence, the role of women, and the impact of the news media on the Arab sense of identity. News bulletins, advertising, and private ownership of the media all have a lasting impact on viewers and their precepts, and therefore on the pace of modernisation in society, says news director Abdel Latif El-Menawi.
Reported by Fatma Sharawi