Blank Days 

1 September 2001

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is more than 20 years old. The formatting may be strange, links broken and/or images missing. The text may have been superseded by subsequent events or later research.

When I was a very young child, I used to always switch on the television set during daytime hours, in the vague hope that there might just be something to watch. The very novelty of watching something in the mornings appealed to me greatly.

However, I just got the impression, as a child, that the telly people weren’t really interested in us at all, preferring to leave the mornings and afternoons to a series of test cards, tunes and tones, with occasional signs of life being schools, sport and space. Yes, I watched the ITA/IBA Engineering Announcements and Monday’s Newcomers, only so I could have the novelty of watching advertisements that were on at a strange time of day – I mean, adverts for the Prestige Minit-Mop at 9.30 on a Monday. Even during the summer holidays, there was nothing to watch at all, unless it was on a bank holiday, and even then it might be that the schedule began at around 12 noon. If you were lucky.

However, my father worked during the day, and my mother worked part-time, and typically, the time we all watched TV was in the evenings. During most of the year we were all at school, of course. And so it was that we came home, we would switch on the DER VHF set (with bits of cardboard behind the dial to prevent the tuning slipping) and watch the test card until it faded, and then we saw the ITA card – I didn’t know it was nicknamed “Picasso” then. The portentous voice would announce that this was Granada and then, after the clock, we would have the start of the afternoon’s programming. “Popeye”, “Felix The Cat”, “Five o’Clock Club”, “Thunderbirds” and many more would follow, and yet I remember the openings better than the programmes!

The weekends were better, but not much. Yes, there was that same ITA card, but this time introducing us to ABC, but strangely, no children’s shows until later in the day, and yet more schools – well, adult education programmes anyway. There were either lengthy pauses in the schedule or closedowns. I used to wish they’d put a couple of ads on, or maybe a cartoon.

The BBC seemed to be even more sparing in their approach. If there was any daytime TV in the sixties and early seventies, it was more schools, sports and space, with other types of programme slotted in like Welsh and Hindi programmes, and “Watch With Mother”. The evening schedule opened sometimes with a theme tune and clock, but this was not always the case. Yes, the anticipation was there, but it was pale compared to an ITV start-up!

I used to hate Budget Day. ITV and BBC1 would give facts and figures, and Mum and Dad would worry about the price of cigarettes and petrol, while I and other members of my family would worry about whether “Wacky Races”, “Tichpuzzle” or “Tom and Jerry” would be shown. What was even more infuriating was that the BBC1 programmes were all on BBC2, and our set – a DER-badged Bush console set – had a UHF tuner that was deliberately disconnected in some way (I know now that they’d unplugged that part of the circuit), so we couldn’t watch any of our favourite shows. Dad was very concerned about that, until he found that Woodbines were going up a penny on a packet of twenty.

Our family all watched the TV in the evenings, with Mum and Dad having their say – and so most of my favourite memories are around quizzes, adventure programmes, “Coronation Street”, “Z Cars” – what we now call classic television – but at the time it all appeared exciting and new. It’s sad that there is no level of anticipation or excitement now in television viewing, and part of that is down to the ubiquity and corporate image of most TV stations, as well as the demise of the start-up, caused by gradual encroachment of morning, afternoon and overnight programming. The nearest I get these days to the ITV start-up is when I switch on my PC and see the Windows logo and setup screens come up, and that “Windows sound” like an orchestral flourish ushers in the desktop screen. Except I don’t wait patiently and excitedly, I start muttering under my breath and cursing the day Microsoft was born.

In conclusion, let me tell you a little story. My daughter Katie watches digital from the time she gets up in the morning to the time she either goes out or goes to bed, and her only question to me about watching TV as a child was: “What was it like when the world was black and white, Dad?” I told her that it was only the telly that was like that, and it was magical and wonderful and full of intrigue – she replied that TV couldn’t have been any good in black and white. Little does she know.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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5 responses to this article

Alan Keeling 28 August 2014 at 12:13 am

Living in Birmingham, we had ATV, but we could also get Granada. I much preferred Granadas version of Popeye (which was just 4 or 5 cartoons), rather than ATVs version, introduced by actor Gerald Cuff – The Bosun, who introduced just 3 cartoons, announced local kids birthday greeting & demonstrated how to put a ship in a bottle or to tie nautical rope knots. All I could say was ‘ good old Granada’.

Sarah Jayne Williams 22 February 2017 at 9:33 am

My Grandfather was Gerald Cuff who played The Bosun. Has anyone found any video coverage of any of his work on line that they can point out to me please. My Grandparents die when I was very young and I only had enough time with remember. Let me know if anyone has and clips

Steve Merchant 25 June 2017 at 6:01 am

Well there’s nothing on Youtube. I remember my mum took me to see him once in his house next door to the pub he ran in Shrewsbury, The Yorkshire House. Here’s one of the few things I have found on the internet but there must be more…

Eileen Shepherd 30 May 2022 at 10:40 am

Interested to read Sarah Jayne Williams’ comment above. Gerald Cuff was my uncle, only brother of my mother, Dorothy Cuff, who emigrated to South Africa in 1938.

Sarah Jayne Williams 27 December 2022 at 8:41 pm

Hello Eileen, did you remember my grandfather ? My grandmother his wife was Marjorie florence Cuff. She had 5 children known as the Cufflinks by their father. Judith Nicholas,Christopher, Michael and Jennifer my mother. My mother is still alive and Uncle michael. So you and i will be distant cousins and my mother yourcousin!

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