Today, modern slimline sets are useless for putting ornaments on top of, but in the 1950s they were a big piece of wooden furniture just right for picture frames, vases and holiday mementoes so it was always quite accurate to say ‘Isn’t there a lot of rubbish on the TV!’
On 22nd September 1955 ITV was broadcast for the first time and this meant that if you had the right 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) .
The first evening included a variety show, half an hour of drama excerpts starring Sir John Gielgud, Alec Guinness and Kay Hammond, and a boxing match. The first advertisement came a little more than an hour into the schedule, during the variety show when viewers saw a tube of Gibbs SR toothpaste in a block of ice, with a voiceover pronouncing it to be a “tingling fresh toothpaste” for teeth and gums. There were another twenty-three advertisements during the evening, promoting products from Cadbury’s chocolate to Esso petrol. There was a final news bulletin and cabaret before the final five-minute religious programme, Epilogue, which ended the service at eleven o’clock.
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. Sometimes the picture would scroll so someone had to fiddle with the ‘horizontal hold’ button and this could take another few minutes to get right.
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 straight forward 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.