1 9 5 5 – 1 9 5 7 (UK)
30 minute episodes
An early precursor of “reality TV”, this BBC programme debuted on 15 September 1955 and was broadcast live to air and dealt – very publicly – with viewers’ real-life difficulties.
Members of the public appeared on the show to present a problem to an expert panel consisting of a doctor (specifically a “consultant physician who specialises in psychological medicine in one of our national hospitals”), a University Vice-Chancellor and a representative of the clergy.
The first panel comprised JF Wolfenden (Vice-Chancellor of Reading University), the Rev. Leslie Weatherhead (President of the Methodist Conference) and Dr Stafford Clark (a leading psychiatrist who, in accordance with the medical convention of the time, was not named).
The problems varied considerably, although the biggest batch of letters reportedly “dealt with housing difficulties, matrimonial conflicts, as well as erring husbands, delinquent children, adoption . . . emigration and people made unhappy by physical disability”.
A programme where a panel discusses people’s most personal problems – with the person concerned on the screen – seemed designed to appeal to morbid curiosity and exploit worry and suffering to gain sentimental and emotional results in the viewing audience, but the BBC insisted the programme was designed to instruct and spread knowledge among the viewers.
Edgar Lustgarten and Edana Romney (pictured) – who devised the series and appeared in it – were respectively a journalist and crime specialist trained in law and a well-known South African actress.
Romney’s role was to explain the problem. She would then hand over to Lustgarten whose role was to clarify the problem and to ask the person questions, bringing out the facts and positioning the situation in an almost clinical light.
Once he had finished procuring the facts, the panel would then take turns to give their view on the problem. Those with perplexities of a very personal nature who wished to remain anonymous were seated in a high-backed chair, turned away from the camera and seen only obliquely or in silhouette.
The BBC claimed that about half of the cases dealt with on the show were fully and happily resolved due to the panel’s advice, coupled with private talks they always had with the people afterwards.
Many were put in touch with the right people to help them in their own regions.
Undoubtedly there were many in the millions who viewed Is This Your Problem? who sought guidance for themselves in the anonymity of their own homes.
Is This Your Problem? aired fortnightly on Wednesdays at 9:15 pm initially and was later moved to 10:15 pm. The final edition was broadcast on 28 March 1957.