Television 1936 – 1969

The Beginnings of TV

The British Broadcasting Company started daily radio transmissions on November 14th 1922, by which time more than one million ten-shilling (50p) licences had been issued.

In 1928 the Scotsman John Logie Baird enlisted the aid of Selfridges in London to put on public demonstrations of his equipment, Baird’s Televisor, with prices ranging from £20 to £150, on the understanding that they would be delivered as and when a service became available. Baird’s company was offered the use of facilities and by 1932 the BBC were sufficiently happy to allow regular experimental broadcasting. Baird continued to experiment, as did Electronic and Music Industries (EMI), who were working with Marconi on developing a high definition system.

On 26th August 1936 Britain’s first high-definition public television broadcast went on air. Leslie Mitchell said “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen it is with great pleasure that I introduce you to the magic of television…”. On November 2, 1936 the BBC began broadcasting a dual-system service, alternating between Marconi – EMI’s 405-line standard and Baird’s improved 240-line standard, from Alexandra Palace in London, making the BBC Television Service (now BBC One) the world’s first regular high-definition television service. The government, on advice from a special advisory committee, decided that Marconi-EMI’s electronic system gave the superior picture, and the Baird system was dropped in February 1937.

An estimated 123,000 visitors got their first glimpse of television in the viewing area at the show, with many more seeing it at Waterloo Station, which had been equipped with sets. Television was broadcast up to the outbreak of World War II in 1939 and was resumed 1946.

At the beginning of the fifties, only 350,000 households had a television set. One of the most watched events in the early 50s was the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, and that really sparked off the interest in television. Following the Coronation, the proportion of households with television sets went up rapidly – from 14% in 1952, to 21% in 1953 and 31% in 1954. By 1960, nearly three quarters of the population had one, and by the end of the sixties, nearly everyone had one. In the space of a few years television had gone from being a rarity to being almost universal and has been taken for granted as part of our lives.

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In 1955 people were watching Panorama, In the News, and a quiz program called Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. There were also plays that had been adapted for television, and others that had been written specifically for it. There was also coverage of major sporting events like, The University Boat Race,The FA Cup Final, Wimbledon Tennis,Test Match Cricket, Motor Racing from Silverstone, The International Horse Show and the Cheltenham Gold Cup racing.

In 1956, television was on weekdays between 9am and 11pm, with not more than 2 hours before 1pm. There was also a period between 6pm and 7pm when no television was broadcast so parents could trick their children into thinking that the evening’s television had finished for the day. That way they would  go to bed early without complaint – it was known as the ‘toddlers’ truce’ but ended in 1957. I don’t know about truce, it would start world war three if they tried it today. A maximum of eight hours broadcasting was allowed on Saturdays and 7 3/4 hours on Sunday.

There was only one station to watch until 1955, when ITV was introduced and older sets had to be converted.

ITV hosted quiz shows like “take your pick”, drama’s like “emergency ward ten” and one of my favourites, “Robin Hood”.


ITV also imported programs from America like “I Love Lucy” and “Laramie”. In the early days of ITV was taking around 70% of viewers from the BBC. The BBC had to change to survive and became more like ITV. The BBC had it’s own “cop show” – “Dixon of Dock Green” which was first broadcast on July 1955 – before ITV began. They also converted “Hancock’s Half Hour” with Tony Hancock and Syd James, to television.

In 1964 BBC2 arrived and was broadcast on 625 lines UHF and again older sets could only receive 405 lines. In the mid sixties sets were sold that could receive both. BBC2. Programmes were more high-brow, so take-up was slower than had been for ITV.

We now got “Top of the Pops”, The Black and White Minstrel Show and Z Cars.


Color television was first broadcast at the end of 1967 but color television sets were very expensive. Originally color was only received on BBC2 with ITV and BBC1 going color in 1969.

In 1969, BBC2 viewers were able to see shots from the Moon in color. The Moon landing itself was broadcast at 3.56am on a program hosted by Cliff Michelmore, James Burke and Patrick Moore.