Do you remember when colour TV arrived?
PUBLISHED: 14:10 07 January 2018 | UPDATED: 16:52 07 January 2018
East Anglia went crazy for colour 50 years ago, though manufacturers couldn’t keep pace with demand
They’ve grown up a bit now, but my children used to become hysterical as I regaled them with anecdotes of olde worlde TV. They couldn’t believe that up until I was nearly six we had only two channels – and those stations went for an afternoon nap, I think, before perking up again at about 4pm. And the kids couldn’t get their heads round black and white TV. It’s funny, but even while watching b&w (well into the 1970s, this was) I never saw it in monochrome. The imagination did a brilliant job, getting the paintbox out in your head.
My next-door neighbour did have a colour set, though. Which is how I came to realise the imagination isn’t infallible.
American sci-fi series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was a favourite and I was convinced the uniforms the men wore in their submarine were a vibrant red or blue. One day, I left my friend’s house disappointed: their garb was in reality hospital-corridor beige.
The best colour TV story, though, belongs to snooker commentator Ted Lowe, who once said “and for those of you who are watching in black and white, the pink is next to the green”.
Out in the big wide world of East Anglia, everyone seemed very excited. On January 8, 1968, our newpapers reported on the successful introduction of colour TV in north Suffolk and Norfolk. Would-be buyers of sets were virtually queuing up for them at the shops, even though the cost was about £250 to £350 (or from £5 and 10 shillings to £8 a month to rent).
Peter Hughes, head of Lowestoft’s biggest radio and TV retailer, told the EADT: “The first few sets we sold have so impressed the purchasers and friends they have had in to see the colour programmes that it has set up a chain reaction. One set is selling another and, at present delivery rates, it will take several months to satisfy the demand.
“As soon as we can lay our hands on a set it is snapped up. There is no doubt that the programmes now being put out by the BBC are such that once people have seen them, the only improvement that could be made is in the lowering of the cost of a set – and that will take years to come about. I have been told by one of the leading manufacturers that until a million sets per annum are being sold, no substantial decrease in the price is possible. Anyway, the cost does not seem to affect inquiries at present and I’m afraid that deliveries during the summer will not catch up with the demand.”
The Eastern Evening News’s headline summed it up perfectly: “Rush for colour TV clears city shops”. Mr S Grimwood, manager of Telefusion, said: “Colour television is absolutely marvellous. It leaves black and white in the cold.” A 19-inch black and white set cost about £70, with a similar colour model £261. An outdoor aerial was a must, too. Here’s something to make us envious: a colour TV licence cost £10 (£5 for monochrome).
The first colour TV pictures had been seen on BBC Two, with Wimbledon tennis coverage in 1967 the first colour broadcast in Europe. A spokesman for TV Manufacturing Ltd, the Lowestoft member of the Pye Group, said: “Manufacturers have been playing with colour since just after the end of the war but it was not until the Government made up its mind which system the country was to adopt – and it was the right one – that we could go into the production problems.
“The BBC announced that they would start colour transmissions a year after the Government decision but, in the event, they started six months early, and while no-one complains about this, it did mean that the manufacturers were caught on the hop.” The EADT said public reaction was more favourable than the most optimistic forecasts of manufacturers, due “to the high quality of the British receivers and to the excellence of the home-produced colour programmes in comparison with the poor reception in America and the low quality of some of the old colour films the USA turned out”.
That said, there didn’t seem much available! The schedules had only a few colour programmes, denoted with a C, on January 10. BBC Two offered Thirty-Minute Theatre: The Mind-benders; The Hollywood Musical: The Desert Song; and Late Night Line-up.
Remember what was on, on New Year’s Day, 1968? BBC One had Andy Pandy, Blue Peter and The Magic Roundabout for children. Police series Z-Cars was on in the evening, and at 9.05pm there was ballet from The Royal Opera House. Anglia TV offered The Romper Room for youngsters. Adults could enjoy detective Sexton Blake, game show Double Your Money and Coronation Street. On the big screen, Ipswich Odeon cinema was showing Phil Silvers and Kenneth Williams in Follow That Camel. Ipswich Museum’s ‘holiday attractions for children’ included a slide-show on old Ipswich and Suffolk (which I suspect wouldn’t cut the mustard now). It wasn’t just colour TV that was in the news. On January 16, we reported that full transmissions of BBC Two colour and black and white TV to a large part of Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire would start soon from a new 500ft transmitter near Sudbury.
Pictures from London would be sent via a relay station at Tacolneston, between Long Stratton and Attleborough.
What do you remember of the early days of colour TV? I’d love to read your memories. Do write to firstname.lastname@example.org or Steven Russell, Archant features, Portman House, 150 Princes Street, Ipswich, IP1 1RS.