Cartoons came to life on cable

CRYSTAL clear high definition television now reaches our homes by several different means, terrestrial or satellite transmissions or by fibre optic cable.

David Kindred

CRYSTAL clear high definition television now reaches our homes by several different means, terrestrial or satellite transmissions or by fibre optic cable. Dozens of channels now reach us 24 hours a day.

There was a time in the 1950s when we were in a very poor reception area and fuzzy black and white images were all most of us could expect.

A company, in some ways in advance of their time, set up nationally in the 1950s to connect homes by cable giving homes a good image and also a choice of radio stations.

John Alborough, who grew up in Ipswich, now of Syleham, near Eye, recalls how envious he was that his friend in the same street could watch cartoons from Independent Television in London.

John said: “Long before the advent of today's world of modern fibre glass cables, that now thread their way under the pavements of Ipswich, there was another cable system that served the town. 'British Relay Wireless' or 'BRW' was distributed via a cable strung from house to house in Ipswich.

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“Most of the council estates in Ipswich had the BRW service as the company only had to deal with one property owner, in this case the council, in order to obtain permission to run the cables from house to house.

“Problems arose with private residences if a householder refused to let the cable past their house. Sadly, as a child living in All Saints Road, I was one of those poor deprived individuals!

“My best friend, Gary Weston, lived the west side of All Saints Road. While I had to put up with very poor quality crackly and pretty unwatchable pictures from the BBC, coming from the Tacolneston transmitter in the middle of Norfolk or the BBC London transmitters, lucky Gary was able to watch crystal clear Popeye cartoons from ITV London.

“How I envied him that! Of course TV was only in black and white in those days.”

“Why was it that my parents were unable to receive BRW? Well, we lived three quarters of the way up All Saints Road, on the east side and the cable was laid 'up' the road from Bramford Lane. The elderly lady next door refused to let the cable pass her house. “That meant the remaining 25 per cent of the houses in that side of the road including my parents' had to do without! Strangely, although we never had BRW my father still received the same rental for the cable passing our house which was an annual postal-order for one shilling per year.

“The same as those who did permit it past their house!

“BRW brought London BBC and London ITV as well as BBC Radio to the people of Ipswich with then unimaginable clarity. The signals were transmitted through the cable system from a receiver point on Henley Road, Ipswich.

“There are still large numbers of the black, square, BRW junction boxes under the eaves of Ipswich houses and many miles of cable still running along properties.

“When ITV built the Mendlesham transmitter and launched Anglia TV in 1959 and then BBC built the Manningtree transmitter soon afterwards, this filled in the broadcasting gap that existed around the area between Norwich and London.”

- What memories do you have of British Relay Wireless? A company which seemed to be strangely named as the whole system relied on miles of wire! Write with your memories to Kindred Spirits at the Evening Star or e-mail