When we dreaded being without TV

FOR anybody who owned a television set during the 1950s and 60s, gloom would set over the house with the words from a TV engineer “Your tube has gone.” Friends and neighbours would console you at the loss of your “friend” the “telly”.

FOR anybody who owned a television set during the 1950s and 60s, gloom would set over the house with the words from a TV engineer “Your tube has gone.”

Friends and neighbours would console you at the loss of your “friend” the “telly”. A new cathode ray tube was a very expensive item.

Children would miss Bill and Ben, Popeye and Tom and Jerry cartoons. Episodes of American programmes such as Bonanza, Seventy-Seven Sun Set Strip, and Rawhide were a must see during that period.

Families would gather round the set on a Sunday evening for the hugely popular variety show, Sunday Night at the London Palladium.


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Without “The box,” life was not the same.

Rather than buy a set, which then cost several months pay and risk a major expense, most families rented.

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At first there was only the BBC transmitting from London and the signal was weak, meaning huge aerial structures, which looked more like they were transmitting than receiving, on roofs and in gardens.

Before Anglia television started broadcasting from the Mendlesham transmitter in October 1959 reception for commercial television from London was also very poor.

Tony Adams who ran a television and audio shop on Spring Road, Ipswich, has amusing memories of the early days of climbing on slippery roofs to fit aerials and visiting homes to repair early sets.

Tony said: “It seems like only yesterday, yet it was half a lifetime ago, when we found ourselves in the midst of the post-war demand for television receivers.

“Up until the 1950s it was radios only for most in Suffolk, because of the poor television signal from Alexandra Palace, London. Ipswich was on the very fringe of the BBC service area.

“A good aerial was needed for keen types determined to receive television. We would erect as much as a 60 foot mast for the aerial. I doubt if this would be permitted today.

“We would assemble the mast on the ground using three 20 foot alloy scaffold poles and sets of guy wires. We would then attach one set of guys to the top rung of a strong extending ladder and pull the whole assembly upright. It was a rather hazardous operation.

“Alternatively, on a suitable chimney using a ten foot aluminium pole, we would fit a vertical “H” aerial aligned on “Ally Pally” for BBC transmissions and later an aerial for Independent Television reception from Croydon.”

“We had a saying in those early days “a set is as good as its aerial” and it still applies today. As engineers on a service call we would automatically look up at the aerial to check direction especially after a windy night. I recall re-aligning a chimney array in Elliot Street, Ipswich, in the dark on a slate roof made slippery with a light drizzle and dangerous even in sock feet - Health and Safety Executive please cringe!

“As the transmitters at Tacolneston in Norfolk, Bradwell in Essex and Mendlesham in Suffolk came on stream, the variety and weight of hardware on chimneys also increased.

“The 1950s saw a rising demand for television receivers and most chose to rent. Most avoided buying their sets. They were expensive and early models were unreliable. There was the possible huge expense of replacing the cathode ray tube and so renting became increasingly popular.

“Subscribers paid an initial deposit of around £5 and thereafter a monthly rental reducing every year, this covered any repairs or even a replacement set. One of the main dealers was Radio Rentals with over 500 branches and 2 million subscribers.

“British Relay Wireless wired up many estates with a cable service. Other companies included Rentaset, Visionhire, D.E.R, and Robinsons Rentals. Local traders included, The Ipswich Wireless Company, Avis Cook and Co., Ipswich Sound and Vision Service, Ronald Page and Tyler's.

“During the height of the demand for television local plumbers Brightwell Brothers became aerial contractors and thankfully relieved us of most of the aerial work.

“On one repair call out a lady was complaining her picture wasn't clear, on examination we found the tube had a thick brown layer of nicotine on the tube face, cleaning half the screen revealed a sparkling clear picture. I left the other half for the pipe smoking man of the house to consider!”

“Now the rental companies have all quietly disappeared almost without trace, even the mighty Radio Rentals have gone. Today's new equipment is so reliable and repair costs have risen with engineers' salaries etc. We now have the throwaway society.

“Little gets mended even if it's only a tired fuse and to me it is a wicked waste. Sadly now when electronic equipment goes wrong the repair cost can be a good amount towards the cost of a new replacement.

“Increasingly people purchase on-line, so dealers who offer a good aftersales service are scarce. Some of the names I recall from the busy rental days are Radio Rentals manager Jim Stocker, receptionists Doris Bumstead and Margaret Chapman, engineers Brian Buckingham, Ronald Ridley, Neil Martin, Richard Steed, Francis Easty, Vernon Wilkes, Peter Coe, Jim Garrod and Anthony Creasey and our cleaner lady Margaret Gardiner.

“Today, as I consider today's affluent but violent society I sometimes find myself looking back with a certain longing to a much happier world and the way we were in those early days of television rental. I am now 85. I still go to the Spring Road shop on Saturday mornings, the shop is closed weekdays.”

What memories of early television do you have? Write to Kindred Spirits, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN.

THERE has been much debate in recent times about hospital cleanliness. All sorts of frightening complications are being tackled by the authorities to rid the system of 'superbugs' like methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Fred Ward of Armstrong House, Chelsworth Avenue, Ipswich, has sent me a photograph from the operating theatre taken in the 1920s. Fred thinks they kept away problems in the past with “good old soap and water”.

He said: “My wife's father Charles Percy Rouse is holding an oxygen cylinder by the side of the anesthetist. Sterility was the important factor in those days. All instruments, lotion bowls, kidney dishes etcetera were all boiled in a steriliser, dressings were packed in circular drums and steam sterilised.

“When I joined the hospital in 1938, I do not remember any diseases such as MRSA because the emphasis was on personal hygiene with the use of good old soap, water and scrub brushes.”

Were hospitals better in the past? Write to me at the address on this page.

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