Television Sets, TV Channels and Programmes

In Britain, there were just fifteen thousand television households in 1947, this increased to one and a half million by the year I was born in 1954, and over fifteen million by 1968.

As far back as I can recall, which must be about five or six years old now, there was always a television set in our house which sat as a sort of status symbol in the corner of the room for most of the time with a blank screen because there was no such thing as breakfast television or twenty-four hour channels in those days.  When I was a boy in the 1960s television sets were very basic and at first received only a single channel, the BBC and the signal was received via a large ‘H’ shaped metal aerial, usually bolted on to the chimney.  The little girl in the picture at the top of the page is my sister Lindsay in about 1959.

On 22nd September 1955 ITV was broadcast for the first time and this meant that if you had the correct aerial attached to the chimney that suddenly houses could suddenly receive two television channels (I mention this because even as late as 1962 my friend Tony Gibbard had no ITV because his dad was too mean to buy a suitable antenna).

This was all well and good but to watch television at all was not terribly easy.  Just turning a television set on was quite a long process in the 1950s because instead of today’s micro chips, televisions had an antiquated system of valves, wires and resisters and these took some time to ‘warm up’. After a minute or so you would get sound and then after another minute or so (if you were lucky) a grainy black and white picture with flickering horizontal lines would slowly start to appear.  Most television sets needed about fifteen minutes to warm up, I seem to remember.

This was the television listing page from The Daily Herald on 23rd November 1963, the day after President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas Texas. The schedule includes the first ever episode of Dr. Who with William Hartnell as the Doctor.

There was excitement again on 20th April 1964 because on that day BBC2 became the third British television channel but unlike the other channels available at that time was broadcast only on the 625 line Ultra High Frequency system, so was not available to viewers with 405 line Very High Frequency sets. This created a market for dual standard receivers which could switch between the two systems and anyone who wanted to receive the new channel was obliged to go to the expense of upgrading their television sets.

Television sets were always breaking down as well, half way through a programme there would be a ‘PING’ and the picture would disappear into a bright white spot in the middle of the screen like a bright star falling into a black hole and that was it until the television repair man responded to request to come by and fix it by replacing the broken tube in the back, which was a bit like replacing a broken light bulb.  This wasn’t easy either because we didn’t have telephones so someone had to get on their bike and go to the television repair man’s shop to report the fault and make the request to come by as quickly as possible.

Today, modern slim line sets are useless for putting ornaments on top of, but in the 1960s they were a big piece of wooden furniture just right for picture frames, vases and holiday mementoes so it was always completely accurate to say ‘Isn’t there a lot of rubbish on the TV!’

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