Coverage of Coronation was the spark which brought television to masses
» TV arrived in Gloucestershire 81 years ago this week.
The first television pictures with sound were broadcast from the BBC’S Alexander Palace studios in August 1936.
On October 1 that year a regular service came into operation, but it wasn’t until August 1938 that TV came to this county.
Its arrival followed tests conducted by the West Gloucestershire Power Company in conjunction with Marconi.
The first programme seen locally was a variety show broadcast from Alexandra Palace starring George Robey, inset.
Only a handful of viewers watched, however, as the price of a set, around 100 guineas, put TV out of reach for all but the most wealthy.
Most families were satisfied with a wireless, which could be had for a tenth of the price and offered a choice of stations to listen to, unlike TV which had but one channel – the BBC.
Not until the 1950s did television make much of an impact.
At the start of the decade there were a mere 350,000 receivers in Britain.
Besides the fact that sets were expensive, TV was more of a curiosity than an entertainment.
For a start, there wasn’t much to see. Monday to Saturday the BBC, which was then the only provider, began broadcasting at 3pm and on Sundays there were no programmes until 5pm.
The service shut down each day from 6pm until 7pm, then at 10.30pm the National Anthem played and that was your lot for the day.
Even during the short stretches of broadcasting time there were long gaps between programmes filled by interludes. Images of a windmill, horses ploughing, waves breaking on a rocky shore and the potter’s wheel, took up a great deal of the available viewing time.
Mass TV ownership began to take off when news broke that the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was to be screened live from Westminster Abbey.
At first the palace said no to requests by the BBC to cover the event, but the decision was reversed and by the big day, June 2, 1953, there were two million sets tuned in.
The total audience was estimated to be 20 million, because anyone who owned a TV found their home packed with friends and others, peering at the wobbly images and listening to the sonorous tones of Richard Dimbleby describing the pomp and pageantry.
Even though the Coronation helped to popularise the box, the programme content remained educational, rather than entertaining.
In fact most of the programmes were like evening classes, with the goatee bearded Philip Harben telling viewers how to cook, Fred Streeter telling them how to garden and Eric Robinson telling them how to enjoy music.
All of which sounds tame now, but at the time its newness made it exciting.
My parents bought a TV in about 1960, the programmes received by which entered our home from the ether via two aerials.
An H shaped one strapped to the chimney plucked BBC programmes from the air, while another shaped like a fish skeleton enticed the signal from ITV.
Our “set”, as my parents tended to call the television, was a substantial piece of furniture, standing some four feet tall in its polished veneered case with a screen not much bigger than a postcard and Bakelite knobs dotted here and there.
The atmosphere in our front room was electric as we tuned in to one side and saw Liberace with a smile as big as the keyboard of his glitzy grand piano, then turned to the other side to see Winifred Atwell bashing out a tune on her upright.
For a time the young me thought that television was purely and only for watching people play the piano.
Later came the delights of Children’s Hour with programmes such as Muffin the Mule, Andy Pandy, Bill and Ben, Rag, Tag and Bobtail and Tales of the River Bank.
ITV, by the way, came along in 1955 and the first commercial screened was for Gibb’s SR toothpaste.
The potter’s wheel interlude was a regular sight for viewers in the early days of television
Bill and Ben, left, and Muffin the Mule, right, with Annette Mills
A 1938-style TV