Early days of the small screen

A SNOWY black and white picture, a blanket over the window to darken the room, huge aerial contraptions on the roof or in the garden are all memories of early television in our homes.

A SNOWY black and white picture, a blanket over the window to darken the room, huge aerial contraptions on the roof or in the garden are all memories of early television in our homes.

I recently featured the memories of Tony Adams who ran a television and audio shop in Spring Road, Ipswich.

Tony recalled the days when he fitted massive aerials of local homes in an attempt to receive weak signals from the London transmitters. More amusing memories have come from readers of television in the 1950s and '60s.

Brian Quinton of Benacre Road, Ipswich, said: “I lived with mum, dad, my brother Roy and two sisters, Jill and Susan, in our Rosebery Road terraced house through the 40s and 50s. In 1954 our dad won over £120 with Littlewoods pools and he decided to treat us all to a TV making us the second home in the road to own a set.

“The set was supplied by Matthews on Foxhall Road, which also involved a huge aerial on the chimney. The set was a 17 inch Ferguson with “halo light” surround and on the big day the set was delivered by Mr Cowling and Mr Follett who spent over two hours putting in the valves and tuning the set in until we had a picture, which was nothing special, but we were enthralled.

“In those days getting a picture didn't rest there because if reception was poor you had to battle with the horizontal and vertical holds. If the horizontal hold went the picture would roll from the top to bottom continuously. Once that was ok you were often faced with the vertical hold going when the picture would slope over at 45 degrees and compress to one inch bands.

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“The transmission was limited to BBC, and only a few hours a day, but we were in seventh heaven, and I can remember once the set was switched on it took several minutes to “warm up” and during this process my sister Jill used to hide behind the chair until the picture appeared.

“There were few pre recorded programmes then and nearly everything was transmitted live. The service was bedeviled by breakdowns and sometimes we would sit for up to two hours before normal service was restored. The signal from Alexander Palace, London, wasn't very good and when we heard that the new high powered transmitter at Crystal Palace was going to send out a test signal at midnight on a Saturday night we all sat with our uncles and aunties staring at a blank screen, from 10 o'clock, the normal shut down, until midnight when all of a sudden this super signal snapped into view, we were ecstatic.

“We always had a house full of “guests” who came to share our TV. I had an uncle who lived on the Maidenhall estate. His flat backed onto Bourne Park, which affected his signal badly. One weekend we spent all day assembling a 60ft aerial laid out in the garden. We attempted using a ladder as a lever to pull the aerial upright, but failed. We conceded defeat and settled for only a 40 footer!”

Gary Welham of Pinecroft Road, Ipswich, said: “I started my apprentice as a radio and TV engineer at Murdock's in the Buttermarket, the service manager was Jim Garrod. Part of my apprenticeship was to spend time with Brightwell Brothers putting up huge masts and aerials in gardens.

“Once I was sent out on a trade bicycle with an aerial, hammer and stables, to fit on a bungalow at Claydon. Murdock's was a very up market music shop and Saturdays I had to put my best suit on and spend time on the shop floor assisting in sales of records and musical instruments. I spent 22 years installing TV aerials and sets from the day when ITV started to broadcast from London. My colleagues and I were responsible for several thousand installations in homes working for Avis Cook and Visionhire. It was a demanding job, hard physical labour at times; it kept us very fit, working in ice and snow. Sometimes working with floodlights at night.

“The signal from London was not within range of this area, but we had to put up aerials for it anyway. The general public were “conned” by salesman to have a TV set, knowing very well that the customer would not receive a decent ITV signal.

Heather Quinn sent me her memories by e-mail. Heather said “My parents, Reginald and Averil Dale, lived in Mildmay Road in the early 50's and, apart from one other; we were the only residents with a television. It was many years before we owned a car!

“I have vivid memories of Cup Final days, when countless men folk would walk excitedly down to my parent's house carrying a chair. Everyone would gather in the front room to watch the match on the tiny black and white Pye television set we had. My father would secure a big heavy blanket at the window to stop the light coming in, to try to improve the very weak picture.

“My mother had been beavering away all week, preparing sausage rolls and beautifully made sandwiches with the crusts removed. All the sandwiches displayed little flags, secured with a toothpick, describing what was in each sandwich. She'd serve endless cups of tea and fuss around all the guests like a mother hen!

“As the years went by, more families invested in a television and inevitably, the number of guests dwindled.

“I clearly remember watching the Coronation in June 1953 when I was almost seven years old and being absolutely fascinated by the pageantry and splendor of it all, which seemed quite magical and far removed from my secure little world in Ipswich.

One of my earliest recollections is watching “Muffin the Mule” with Annette Mills, and I also loved Bill & Ben, The Flowerpot Men.

“Programmes were transmitted for only a limited amount of hours during the day and I remember the little girl with the test card and the dot of light that stayed on after the programmes finished. Also a noise that came on if you fell asleep and forgot to switch the TV off!”

“Every Saturday afternoon my father would sit in front of the TV to check his football pool coupons while mother was in the kitchen preparing tea for the three of us. Unlike our modern world, it would have been unheard for us not to eat every meal together and seldom whilst the television was switched on.”

Elizabeth Miller (nee Mallen) e-mailed from her home in Michigan, USA. Elizabeth said: “Your article on television in the early days brought back my first impressions of England, and Ipswich. I was born in France; my dad was born and raised in Ipswich, in the poor areas around the dock. My parents met during World War Two when my father was in the RAF. He had joined the commandos and took part in the invasion of North Africa. He met my mother there, she was French.

“After the war we lived in France until I was ten in 1959. Dad decided to return to England. Dad was bilingual, but Mum, my older sister and I did not speak a word of English. The trip from Metz in France to Ipswich is forever etched in my mind. We took the train to Calais and then the boat to Folkestone. On the train to London then Ipswich I stared out the window the whole way. I would not sleep. As we started to pull into London my sister and I marvelled at the sight of rows after rows of similar brick homes wound like labyrinths and all the rooftops were crowned with imposing television aerials. We were from a poor family and I had only one friend in France whose family owned a set.

“On Thursday evenings my mother would go to watch wrestling, Bert Royal was her hero, so when we saw all the aerials we were in awe.”

“In Ipswich we settled in, registered at St Mary's school on Woodbridge Road. My mum went to work at Cranes and within three months we spoke fluent English, of course with the help of our dear television, which we got, thanks to a lot of whining and begging to our father. I loved all the westerns, of course 'Kookie' on 77 Sunset Strip, and Route 66. I looked forward to a hot cup of tea and my show "Badgers Bend" as I walked all those street blocks from the bus stop in the cold rain after school (kids have it made now). I wouldn't change a thing, we were innocent and it was all so new.”

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