You are not alone 

1 July 2001

Ever since I was about 4 years old, Television has always held a fascination for me – not just the programmes of course, but also the less obvious aspects described on this website: two of the earliest images which stuck in my mind were the BBC Schools Pie Chart (and the one-handed clock which immediately followed it) and the ITA tuning signal now known as the ‘Picasso’ – both based around large circles. I wonder if a psychologist would make anything of this?

Anyway, from then on, I made every effort not just to watch interesting-seeming programmes, but also to watch (and listen to – the music often had an impact too) those fascinating bits before and after. I would soon be mentally noting the differences in style not only between the BBC and Independent Television, but also between the two Independent stations receivable in my location, Yorkshire and ATV.

Schools programmes were a particular area of fascination (my mother tells me that I learned a lot from these, including how to read) – and the ‘closedown’ times were also an area of intrigue. The testcards were often accompanied by music which, while neither recognisably classical or pop, was always entertaining, possibly more so because of its mystery – not to mention that there may be an undiscovered, unlisted gem just around the corner, such as Transmitter Service Information or a Colour Test Film. Of course, the period of about five minutes before the first programme on Yorkshire or ATV were also essential, but a wealth of material has already been written (not least on this site) about this particular subject, so I’ll say no more there.

This fascination was to remain with me over many years – even though no one else in the world seemed to share it: my peers’ interest in television didn’t seem to extend beyond the programmes, and there seemed to be very little if any information available about the subject. Rather than diminishing my interest, this just seemed to fuel it – an unnatural amount of my time during school holidays was spent in front of the box – especially during half terms when schools programmes carried on!

Holidays to faraway places also held out the promise of new delights from alternative regions – in between breakfast and about 9.30am, I could often be found in the hotel TV room checking out the local ITV start-up. Lasting favourites include Thames, which could be seen during weekdays in North Kent – although for a very long time I was puzzled that a London station would start the day with a tune which to me invoked images of rolling countryside – at the time, of course, I wasn’t aware of the history.

Predictably, as the years went on, my interest in this sort of thing waned – although even at 16 years old, I could still be emotionally impacted by a newsflash at around 6.00pm one Sunday evening, 28th December 1980, announcing that the days of ATV were numbered, and even as the years went on I found myself seeking out pre-1969 programmes in the hope of, just maybe, catching an old ident. However, I still believed that I was probably the only person around interested in that sort of thing.

Until one night late in 1998, when I happened to pick up a magazine which mentioned a website with lots of bits about old TV. A website called The Meldrum Home Page. Intrigued, I typed in the address, and was amazed to find that right there in front of me – on this site, and many others like it, linked therefrom – were many of the images which had so fascinated me all those years ago, vast amounts of audio and video files of material I thought I’d never see again, and to top it all, an amazing amount of historical information behind them (even down to the names of those long-unidentified but still instantly familiar tunes).

Obviously, others had not only shared my fascination but had made the effort to preserve all of this material so that future generations could appreciate it – something soon confirmed when I read Kif’s Story and realised that not only was I not alone, but that there was a whole organisation out there dedicated to the study and preservation of what so many didn’t even seem to notice, or want to know about. Soon after, I discovered the MHPchat mailing list and was able not only to learn more, but to share my own knowledge and experience with others too.

So thanks to all at MHP, Transdiffusion and the rest of the on-line TV Presentation Community – and to anyone reading this now, isn’t it good to know you’re not alone?

You Say

3 responses to this article

Pete Singleton BEM 25 October 2013 at 12:40 am

Definitely not alone NP!

These are just a few of my memories on the same subject:

My particular fascination too was for the start up and closedown sequences and I remember well in the black and white 60s, the test card would disappear and then the announcement “This is Granada TV from the Winter Hill transmitter of the Independent Television Authority on Channel 9” with of course the “circle and oblongs” caption similar to the one above in Neil’s article.

This would appear on the screen around 4.50 pm each evening prior to children’s programmes starting up. I can still remember the music! We used to sit there with great anticipation waiting for the programmes to commence – often Popeye or The Lone Ranger!

Closedowns also became almost an obsession! ABC Weekend TV in the early 60s used to close down with “Diddy” David Hamilton’s voice emanating from the blank screen, reminding us that “if we were still there, don’t forget to switch off the set and pull out the plug from the wall!” A few seconds after that, the transmitter would go off the air and the screen would go to “snow and hiss” or sometime the high-pitched whistle. That was the signal to go to bed!

For a time (I cannot remember the years – I guess the early 70s?) Granada would close down with a piece of gentle piano music and VT of all the lights in the Granada Studios in Quay Street, Manchester, gradually being switched off until the building was in complete darkness. How I would love to see that again!

It seemed almost risqué when BBC2 began its “Midnight Movie” around midnight – the only station at that time to broadcast well into the early hours, closing down around 1.30 am when BBC1 and the ITV contractor was well tucked up in bed!

I sort of miss all that…

Alan Keeling 2 December 2013 at 8:28 pm

Whether on holiday as a child in Scotland or the South of England, I would often try to see the ITA regional start-ups featuring the “Picasso” tuning signal. I was fascinated by the fact that each region had its particular piece of music & differing start-up style compared to my home in the Midlands. I would also glance in the local shop windows to get a glimpse of the local transmitters Test Card C or D, to find out the transmitters location.

Joanne Gray 19 October 2015 at 10:43 am

I was born in 1971, sadly after ITV’s 60s golden age, but I too grew up fascinated by more than just the programmes. One of my earliest tv memories was being creeped out by the girl on Testcard F on my grandparents’ coin operated black and white set after nursery school as they waited for the afternoon’s horse racing to start. Or holidays in Kent at my other grandparents’ home (I lived in the Tyne Tees region but my father came from Kent) and being amazed that they took their ITV from Thames and not Southern (I was told the Thames signal was stronger on the Isle of Sheppey, where they lived).

I also remember one very hot summer in the early ’90s when while everyone else was outside enjoying the weather, I was excitedly crouched over the portable tv in my room, fiddling with the fine tuning knobs to get rid of some annoying ghosting on my picture and discovering that because of the blazing hot weather causing some kind of atmospheric phenomenon, I could pick up clear full colour pictures (but, sadly, no sound) from TV2 in Denmark and also stations in Sweden, The Netherlands and Germany. I only wish I’d thought to tune in my video recorder at the time, but I wrongly assumed that my obsession and excitement at discovering what I called at the time “rogue tv signals” from across the North Sea was a solo pursuit that nobody else would understand or appreciate.

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