Cov­er­age of Coro­na­tion was the spark which brought tele­vi­sion to masses

Gloucestershire Echo - - NOSTALGIA -

» 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

Winifred Atwell

Lib­er­ace

A 1938-style TV

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