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EVERYTHING WAS GOING brilliantly for viewers of BBC’s fledgling television service, at least for those in London who possessed early TV sets in the late 1930s.
Tall TV Sets. Cathode-ray tubes have extended necks, and the earliest receivers employed a vertical tube with the picture reflected onto a mirror in the lid.
Not An Everyman’s Device. Observed BBC Television: 50 Years, “The audience was small. The price of sets put them out of reach for most people. Some, giving a 10 ins. by 8 ins. picture, cost up to £100, about the price of a small car. It is estimated that the opening ceremony was seen on no more than about 400 receivers.” London was its sole reception area; Birmingham came in 1949, the rest of the country by the mid-1950s.
At the beginning, though, BBC Television: 50 Years reported, “There were programmes, mostly live, for two hours a day, from three to four in the afternoon and between nine and ten in the evening daily except Sunday.”
“In 1938,” BBC Television 50 Years continued, “programme hours were extended during the week and in April Sunday television started. The price of sets fell and some models with a 7 ins. by 5 1/2 ins. screen were now available at under £40 [$240 U.S. at the time, around $4350 in today’s dollar].”
“Between the end of 1937 and 1939,” BBC Television: 50 Years noted, “sales rose from 2000 to 20,000, with forecasts of rapid acceleration. Plans were also being considered to extend broadcasting hours further and to take the service beyond London.”
An Abrupt Signoff. But, as cited in Wikipedia, “On 1 September 1939, two days before Britain declared war on Germany, the station was taken off the air with little warning; the government was concerned that the VHF transmissions would act as a beacon to enemy aircraft homing in on London. Also, many of the television service’s technical staff and engineers would be needed for the war effort, in particular on the radar programme.”
“The last programme transmitted,” Wikipedia writes, “was a Mickey Mouse cartoon, Mickey’s Gala Premier, 1933, which was followed by test transmissions; this account refuted the popular memory according to which broadcasting was suspended before the end of the cartoon.”
It was seven years before broadcasting resumed, at 3:00 p.m. on June 7, 1946. Wikipedia reports, “ Jasmine Bligh, one of the original announcers, made the first announcement, saying ‘Good afternoon, everyone. How are you? Do you remember me, Jasmine Bligh?’ The Mickey Mouse cartoon of 1939 was repeated twenty minutes later.”
I’m sure viewers were delighted to see Jasmine and Mickey again. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020