Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Vision On logo by Tony Hart
Vision On logo by Tony Hart
One of my favourite TV shows as a kid was Vision On. The only problem with liking Vision On so much was that I just wasn’t its target audience.

Its target audience was children who were deaf.

Relying principally on its pictures then, much of this weekly half-hour featured increasingly surreal things happening, often with little or no soundtrack. As this was in the days before video, I used to audio-tape the programme off our black-and-white 405-line TV, and then listen to the cassette back, trying to re-imagine what the pictures had been.

To anyone who’s never seen the show, it’s very hard to convey what it was like. However thanks to the miracle of YouTube, now I can just show you:

Looking back, in some ways it was the anti-Sesame Street.

In a typical show, Tony Hart would spend several minutes painting a life-size dinosaur on the ground, only for it to then roar and walk off.

A girl would chat to her tortoise whilst taking it walkies in a series of still photographs.

Mr Sylveste would wait for a train, with a crowded platform of people all played by him.

And then… there was… The Prof.

David Cleveland as The Prof on Vision On
Every week the Prof, in his lab coat, would get persecuted by inanimate objects on a farm. Or be run over by himself pretending to be a train. Or go swimming in a grassy field, only to get sucked down a gigantic plughole.

(I have to wonder if deaf kids had nightmares afterwards)

He was brilliant, even if the laws of physics did hate him.

When I was four, we lived above a shop. One day I looked through the window down onto the main road below, saw a delivery-van pull-up, and was elated to see a man in a long white coat get out.

The Prof!

I watched that guy, fascinated, for his entire delivery. I was a little disappointed that his clipboard and boxes didn’t growl at him and chase him off down the street, but at the same time I was able to make the distinction between the real world, and that jerky sinister place where he lived on television. When he eventually drove off – at normal speed - I didn’t quite know why things were different in his world, but I knew that they were, and that those things just didn’t happen here.

Fast-forward 20 years and I was working at the BBC programme library, marvelling once again at his old exploits on the show. I learnt this visionary genius’ real name – David Cleveland – and that his masterpieces had not in fact been made by the BBC, but simply by him and his friends in their spare time. They’d given-up God knows how much of their lives to film much of this stuff one frame at a time, just to make him get chased across a field by a wardrobe or something. One time, Cleveland had sat, freezing cold, in a deckchair for a whole four hours, while his mates filmed the tide suddenly coming-in around him at super-speed.

They say that you should never meet your heroes, because they will disappoint you. The irony is that, while I indeed have never met him, in my twenties I rediscovered David Cleveland, because he was now a leading expert on film preservation – in particular with the ever scarcer film-gauge that I was shooting on. Now I found myself pouring over terribly serious articles by him on how to store archive film for the future.

And, in a circular sort of way, I was reading these articles because I wanted to preserve the movies that I had now made, that had doubtless in some way been inspired by his ones.

David Cleveland retired a couple of years ago, and around the same time I actually did write to him. Not a fan letter, or a scientific one – but to order a home-made DVD of some of his films from 30 years ago. I’d seen them advertised on When it arrived, there was a little standard letter with it, simply signed “The Prof.”

Tonight I sat down and once again enjoyed his barmy sense of reality, taking in his specially-filmed sequences from other programmes, many of which I had no recollection of.

And, at age 35, I felt thoroughly, thoroughly inspired by him once more.

He's doing ballet
Clips here.

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2 comment(s):

At 5:43 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David is a lovely man (met him a few times now) and he and his friends pioneered many ideas with film that were later used by Jim Franklin on The Goodies. Glad you enjoyed his DVD. The 'egg' sequence has me in fits!

It was after much encouraging that I persuaded David to release the new DVD and help contribute to his web site along with so many photographs. He may be a quiet modest man, but his work is still enjoyed today - rightly so.

Best wishes - Ralph -

At 6:01 pm, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Thanks Ralph!

My favourite remains 'Cossack Prof'.



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