Report by Sandra Millsopp
On 13 February the audience enjoyed a night of nostalgia at Bangor Historical Society when Ivor Edgar spoke about the early days of television. It has been 84 years since regular broadcasting started in Britain. Now, instead of one channel we have hundreds, together with catch up TV. The days of a family always watching TV together have gone. Mr Edgar proposed to take his illustrated survey up to 1970.
In the early days of television there was only a small television set in a large cabinet. Various programmes brought people together such as the Coronation broadcast, Churchill's funeral and the Morecombe and Wise Christmas shows.
The first televisions were invented in Britain by John Logie Baird in the early 1920s. Selfridges opened a large television department in 1928, but sales were sluggish as there were no regular programmes. Baird's TV system was mechanical and it was later abandoned for a new and much better 405-line electronic system. The BBC broadcast from Alexandra Palace, but could only reach a limited number of homes and sales were poor. The broadcasting hours were limited. Then on 2 November 1936 regular broadcasting began with Adele Dixon singing a special song.
Early sets had to be watched through a mirror due to the size of the cabinets and the risk of explosions from the early cathode ray tubes. Then outside broadcasts began: the 1937 Coronation and the 1937 Wimbledon, although apparently it was very difficult to see the ball at the latter. A notable live broadcast was Neville Chamberlain's speech on "peace in our time" when he returned from Munich. Television sets were still very expensive and most viewers were from the middle class. Labourers would have had to save up to afford a possible cost of 60 guineas.
When the Second World War started, broadcasting ended. Legend has it that a Mickey Mouse cartoon was cut off, but it was probably allowed to run to the end. The War Office felt that the high mast at Alexandra Palace might attract enemy bombers.
When the war ended broadcasting resumed with the Victory Parade. There were still only about 15,000 sets in the country and news broadcasts were made only twice a week. By 1954 these were being made daily. In 1948 the London Olympics were broadcast, but it was the 1953 Coronation which was considered to be the catalyst for the spread of TV. For the first time the actual service was viewed live by large numbers of people. Another factor was the 1953 cup final with Stanley Matthews as people wrongly believed it was his last match. As time passed more areas of the country were able to view the programmes and soon Northern Ireland got its own transmitter.
Mr Edgar now reminded us of the programmes we once watched and he illustrated these with contemporary photographs. Many British artistes were reluctant to go on television as it meant their acts would be seen by a large number of people and it could reduce the audiences at live performances in theatres. Benny Hill was one of the first to realise the advantages of television. We were shown pictures of popular programmes and Mr Edgar asked us to identify them. What's My Line was a popular programme. For many years Eamonn Andrews presented This is Your Life. Possibly the earliest "soap" was The Grove Family. Charlie Chester and Wilfred Pickles presented popular entertainment programmes. Animal, Vegetable and Mineral and David Attenborough's Zoo Quest educated audiences. Other notable programmes included the Quatermass series. The youth audience's taste in popular music was catered for in programmes such as Juke Box Jury with David Jacobs.
In 1955 ITV began broadcasting in London as Associated Rediffusion. It was soon joined by other companies broadcasting in other UK regions such as Anglia, Border and Granada. The first advert broadcast was for Gibbs SR toothpaste. ITV was seen as more brash. It had quiz programmes such as Take You Pick and Hughie Green's Double Your Money. In 1959 UTV began in Northern Ireland. The opening broadcast was at Hallowe'en and the opening ceremony was performed by Sir Laurence Olivier.
The BBC was thought to be better at producing children's programmes. These included Sooty, Muffin the Mule, The Flower Pot Men and Andy Pandy. It also produced excellent sports programmes and showed Roger Bannister breaking the 4 minute barrier for the mile.
In 1964 BBC2 arrived. Soon programmes were being broadcast in colour and on 625 lines. The first colour sets were expensive and initially only available in England until 1969. In 1972 the 10-hour limit on daily broadcasting was lifted.