Saturday, 6 December 2008


Four months after our wedding I celebrated my twentieth birthday. I was no longer a teenager and, to mark this great event, Arthur bought me a television set. Not many people owned television sets in the very early fifties, and certainly no one in our entire family had one. It cost us fifty-four pounds and we were so proud of it. It stood like a sentry in the corner of the room. The cabinet was walnut and went solidly right down to the floor, and the screen was the largest that could be bought. Until 1951, televisions had nine-inch screens, but our new Pye model had a tremendous twelve-inch screen! The indoor aerial had to be placed wherever you could get the best picture.
Each evening, we would hurry home from work, have our meal, and settle down excitedly waiting for the transmission signal, to start. Up would come the Oranges and Lemons theme music, heralding about three hours of ‘scintillating’ entertainment.

The first programme we ever saw was a game of table tennis played with a commentary by Wilfred Pickles. We sat with our eyes glued to the miniscule ping-pong ball bouncing back and forth on the blue tinged, twelve-inch screen. After that came the news, which was repeated two days running. On Sundays there was no fresh news at all, only a repeat of the entire previous week’s newsreels. Considering that programmes were limited to about three hours a night, we didn’t appreciate having to sit through a whole hour of stale news that we had already seen twice. All drama was repeated twice each week, so that, if you saw George Orwell’s 1984 on a Tuesday, it would be transmitted again on Thursday. Television programmes were transmitted ‘live’, that meant if the transmission staff weren’t ready or if a camera broke down (which they did quite often), one was forced to sit and watch, yet again, the calming (and utterly boring) potter’s wheel turning or the sun moving slowly and relentlessly across fields of corn. There was also an intemission film of a combined harvester at work. In all my years of viewing, I never found out what the potter was making, or saw the field completely harvested. Sometimes these intermission films would go on for ten minutes or more, while frantic television technicians tried to put things to rights.
Often it was quite funny to see things that we weren’t supposed to see. Microphones and booms suddenly appearing in front of a scene or an actor’s face, were not at all an uncommon sight. I’ve seen people crawling about on hands and knees under tables, scenery collapsing, and ‘brick walls’ shaking when touched; all part of the fun of early television. Once, during a quiz game, we heard an off camera voice say in a loud stage whisper: ‘Not so easy with the marks!’


During the fifties there were two major television cooks who regularly appeared on TV. One was Fanny Craddock and the other, Philip Harben. Philip Harben was the cookery equivalent of David Bellamy, so full of enthusiasm and fervour that, to see him fry a sausage was like watching the launch of a space shuttle!
He did, however, meet his match on one occasion. For some reason, there were technicians crawling about on their hands and knees beneath the table that was being used for his cookery demonstration. The table rose up and heaved about on the travelling backs of the technicians. Philip Harben leaned heavily on the worktop with both forearms, trying to hold it down, and continued his recipes through clenched teeth, as if nothing was amiss! I think the most spectacular faux pas that I witnessed in those early television days was during a Peter Cushing play about the Abominable Snowman. The scene was set on the cold, blizzard swept Himalayan mountainside, outside the cavernous entrance to the Yetti’s lair. As we sat with baited breath, awaiting our first sighting of the Abominable Snowman, from the depths of the dark cave trundled a television camera on a dolly, being pushed by a cameraman resplendent in earphones! Woudn't have missed it for worlds!


Babs (Beetle) said...

Ha ha! I remember some of those programmes too! It had a charm though. I love things when they are in the early stages :O)

Croom said...

Was we ever aloud to come to watch your TV? I remember those tiny screened TV. All black and white (or sort of blue) Do you remember after the ‘God save the Queen’ the load buzz that woke you if you should doze. Oh what memories. I loved the TV adds that came later. Do you remember the Pepsident song

You wonder where the yellow went,
when you clean your teeth with Pepsident,
Pepsident cleans film away,
its tasty too get some today :O)

Oooh what memories,.

Anne said...

What wonderfully graphic descriptions - I am sure everyone who reads this blog will be transported back to memories of their favourite television programmes. How wonderful of Arthur to buy such a special present for such a special birthday.

granny grimble said...

You wouldn't remember those particular ones and you were only a toddler at the time, and you didn't have a television set. Mum and Dad bought their first television when commecials came out I think, and that wasn't till 1955. I was so envious as you could all watch the ads which were better than the programmes some times!

You never visited us at our first flat. We were all scared the baby eater upstairs would get you! You all stayed with us in St Paul's Rd though, but I don't remember the TV there, although it was, so you must hve watched it! I loved all those ads, so hammy.


Yes, he was so romantic then,nowadays I tell him what I want and then I buy it!

weechuff said...

I can well remember the days of the microphone suddenly swooping down in front of the presenters, or edging it's way into the picture sideways! And the high whistle that followed after the test card had finished being displayed, together with the little white dot that appeared in the centre of the screen when you switched the set off.

GoldAnne said...


Jay said...

Hahaha! Gosh, yes ... I remember those 9" black and white sets! And there was always much scrabbling about down the back when the picture went funny - we were never quite sure if it was them, or us!

My very first cookery book was Philip Harben, "The Grammar of Cookery". I still have it!

Sandi McBride said...

What a wonderful post! It's amazing what we watch just because it's on isnt' it? Mac is in there watching NEWS...sorry, but I am heartily sick of news...none of it is good, quite a bit of it is lies and why watch drivel when you can blog?

Swubird said...


This article brought back some great memories of my childhood. We were also the first family in our neighborhood to buy a television set. I think it was 1949 or 1950. Anyway, all the neighbors would come over to our house to watch it. They liked wrestling and roller derby, and I liked Time for Beanie! Those were the days. A short while after that we started watching I love Lucy. Little did we know that generations of kids all over the world would fall in love with Lucy. My grandkids watch it!

One of my all time favorite television comedians was Benny Hill. I was so sad when he passed.

Great post.

Happy trails.

granny grimble said...

Ah yes! That loud whitle that woke you upwith a start if uou dozed off at the end of transmission.

Good to see you back Ann I missed you

How lovely to have one of Philip Harben's cook books. I usd to have a Fanny Craddock book that showed you how to make chocolate leaves out of real leaves! Do you remember how he TV picture used to go wild if a neighbour used an hair dryer or food mixer?

Yes, we watched anything that moved on the TV screen (and a lot that didn't!)

I loved Lucy too, and I also loved 'I married Joan'
and 'Amos and Andy' Do you remember them too? Oh happy days!

Kate said...

How lovely - I remember the potter's wheel too but mostly the childrens programmes when they started! The were only on for about 10 minutes but we waited all day for them.
I have Philip Harburn's Christmas Recipe Book and still use it year after year- its only a pamphlet and you can imagine the state it is in - but still very useful!!!