Holiday afternoons were a bit of a wasteland in the late 1960s. There were three TV channels in the UK and no video recorders. Nothing interesting came on until round about 5pm when children’s TV began so we had to do things like go outside and play Japs and Commandos in the woods and other such dangerously radical activities. For the terminally bored, however, there were the Trade Test Transmissions on BBC2. These were short films run every half hour or forty minutes, of varying degrees of strangeness. A lot of them were made by companies like Shell, and tended to have titles like ‘How We Make Industrial Paint’ or consist of ten minutes of the multi-coloured blobs of oil in water that symbolised acid trips in all the 1960s head films. Furthermore a lot of the broadcasts seemed dangerously foreign, showing that bizarre parallel universe on the other side of the channel which seemed filled with people a bit like us, but altogether more hip, sexy and with it. Many were tedious, but some, like Kermesse Fantastique, gave me nightmares for years.
One program that bugged me as a child was Evoluon, available here in Part 1 and Part 2 on YouTube. It’s a wordless documentary about the Philips Science museum in Eindhoven in the Netherlands and it preyed on my mind big time for the following reasons:
1. This was not the UK, this was a strange foreign country where something that looked like a giant lemon squeezer/UFO was an acceptable part of the urban landscape. I hadn’t a clue where the Netherlands was but it was obviously way ahead of us in the space age. It was the kind of place that Truffaut could use to film Fahrenheit 451 without having to build any sets.
2. It was full of Beatniks. Well not quite, there’s a healthy dose of portly European business men and Dame Edna Everage clones. Nevertheless there were far more groovy women in mini skirts and men in Michael Caine glasses and black turtle necks than where I lived (the middle of the Yorkshire Dales). Check out the guy at 00:20 for example. They all looked like they’d just stepped away from French Jazz bars where they’d been sipping absinthe and listening to Juliet Greco.
3. The music. Apparently that kind of music is called ‘Airport Lounge’ and was used in the 60s to represent the unattainable world of the jet setter who sped around the world on the Pan Am Clipper from 2001 to the sound of bearded men and flower-haired women going ‘Ooooh oooh oooh dooo dooo oooh aaaah Evoluon’ before going and posing for Chris Foss’s illustrations to The Joy of Sex.
4. It was so futuristic. Check out the digital ticket counter, the transparent lift and the guy in a cardigan and pipe dropping a rubber ball in liquid helium so that it shatters. This was one year after 2001 A Space Odyssey and Evoluon was a mere stepping stone to that time when we’d be sitting on Barcelona chairs in orbit and chatting with Leonard Rossiter.
Evoluon is still there, it still looks like a 1960s UFO and it’s available for conferences. It’s a shame because it would be nice to think it’s still a world where desperately po-faced men in NHS spectacles can take a few moments away from Rimbaud and Sartre to blow into a rubber tube and watch the green line on an oscillator wobble.