Travels with my set 

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 The text may have been superseded by subsequent events or later research.

In the beginning, in Tottenham, some time around 1967 or early 1968 there was BBC-1 and ITV, along with BBC-2 for Play School in the mornings. Putting our KB 17″ telly onto BBC-2 was a big deal, it involved our Mum disconnecting the big telescopic indoor aerial for BBC-1 and ITV from the VHF socket and plugging in the twin round-loop aerial for BBC-2 into the UHF socket, only then changing the line selector switch to ‘625’.

As soon as Play School was over, we’d watch Service Information and the trade test colour films (needless to say we saw them in Black and White), then some of the testcard until we got bored of that and went out playing in the garden.

Later in the afternoon the telly would go back on again and whenever Crossroads was on Mum would watch that, and then turn over to BBC-1 for the Magic Roundabout and the News. We wouldn’t stay up much longer than that, except for Friday nights when we’d stay up for Dad to come in from work, and various quiz shows.

Saturdays were sport and the profoundly scary Doctor Who with Patrick Troughton, all while Dad dozed off in his armchair, and Sundays were University Challenge, after coming back from church but just before dinner and afternoon spins in Dad’s car, and so to bed.

Later, there was no more Rediffusion and ATV, and in their place came Thames and London Weekend. The most obvious change was that instead of quiz shows on Friday nights we got Kenny Everett, something that Mum and Dad were not at all keen on, though I remember finding him funny at the age of three and four!

London Weekend couldn’t seem to settle for one kind of ident and always seemed to me to keep changing it. I never remember BBC-2 being on for other than Play School, except for the memory of coming downstairs late at night to find Mum and Dad them watching it.

Later again, BBC-1 turned into BBC-1 Colour – a dramatic change, not only did the globe change, the testcard did as well! Funny enough, Test Card F had the strap line [B] [B] [C] [1], not BBC-1 Colour. Sometimes the grey strap line was overlaid on the bars as well.

Not very long afterwards, there was a new strange Doctor Who in the shape of Jon Pertwee. Years later, looking at the video of his first story, Spearhead from Space, I recognised the first episode but hadn’t seen the rest of it.

In the summer of 1970, we lost (or thought we’d lost) BBC-2. What I now know to be trophospheric interference made BBC-2 unwatchable: smeary and ghosted.

I don’t remember watching it after that. Around the same time I saw colour television for the first time in (I think) Ward’s Store at Seven Sisters, one of the trade test films was on with a little Gordon Murray-like circus clown.

At the end of 1970 we left London and moved to Ireland. My twin brother Richard and I were used to going to Donegal and Tipperary for holidays and we had been in Dublin as well.

In Tipperary we had seen RTE on our Auntie’s television – the funny thing about Cashel was that everybody had the same television, a cream and gold Pye 18″ “Six-Two-Five” set, with only RTE on it, and with a channel selector marked with the letters A to I. Strange indeed, when we were used to seeing channel selectors with numbers on them, rather than letters!

Moving into our house in Leixlip, a new town built around a small village not far outside Dublin, we fired up the television using the telescopic aerial. We did get RTE on Channel 7 from Kippure, but the picture wasn’t great and something must have been damaged in the journey because we got no sound except for a loud buzz.

Soon, the telly got fixed and we also acquired one of the huge Irish Band I and Band III arrays, so common at one time that Dublin was listed as an airline hazard!

An RTE engineer doing a “nixer” (moonlighting) installed the aerials. Normally the Band III aerial would have been directed to Wales for HTV Cymru/Wales but in our case it pointed to Kippure for RTE.

The result was pin-sharp RTE on Channel 7, but no BBC-1 for some reason. Consternation ensued. It wasn’t until the autumn of 1971, a few months later, that it occurred to Dad to try the other cable socket. Haven’t a clue why it took us so long to figure that one out.

BBC-1 was back, on channel 1 as before, but as BBC-1 Northern Ireland. The same, but different. At this time “the Troubles” were in full swing and there was much, much more on “Scene around Six” about this most violent period than there was on RTE.

More importantly to a six-year-old, the “blocks” testcard ident on BBC-1 was replaced by a cheap looking plain letter ident. Obviously presentation in Belfast had less money than in London to do the job properly!

One memory that stands out was the national day of mourning declared by the Irish Government in the immediate aftermath of Bloody Sunday in 1972.

RTE television was off the air completely during the day – not even a testcard was broadcast – just static. When programmes started at 6.00 the tone was sombre in the extreme.

BBC-1 provided a welcome contrast to RTE. RTE’s day would start at 5.35pm with a single children’s programme and in the summer months there were no children’s programmes at all as RTE would not start until 6pm, unless there was a sports event that merited coverage.

We were chuffed enough to have BBC-1 again, but missed BBC-2 and ITV. Mum and Dad’s evening newspaper carried listings (in order) for BBC-1, BBC-2, HTV, UTV and RTE. How could we get BBC-2? The answer came in early 1973.

A letter came through the door one day, advertising something called a “Communal Aerial”. For a monthly charge, we could get BBC-1, RTE and HTV Wales, without the use of our huge aerial. Dad had the telly looked at and told us that we couldn’t get BBC-2, at least for the moment, as the telly needed “Irish parts” for the 625 to work.

For a year, we got HTV Wales along with BBC-1 and RTE. If BBC-1 was focused on Northern Ireland, HTV was all about Wales and for some of the time was in Welsh. Our teacher had told us that the Welsh language was related to the Irish language that we were being taught in school, but the Welsh we heard sounded very little like Irish.

The quality of the service on the 405 channels wasn’t great, in the summertime we often had to revert to just RTE on our own aerial as BBC-1 and HTV would often disappear under a haze of interference.

Early in 1974, we came down one morning to discover that Ben Redmond, our local and hugely talented television repairman, had re-jigged the television completely.

For the first time in four years the 625 position was selected and what had been the 405 selector now tuned to 625 channels in VHF, as used for distributing 625 channels by the cable company.

HTV was gone and replaced with Ulster Television, familiar to us from visits to Donegal. BBC-1 and RTE had moved, we now had BBC-2 and all were much clearer, more contrasty and with no more intrusive interference. Ben warned us not to switch to 405, as it wouldn’t do the telly any good, so we never did.

At this stage, the 10.30 shutdown, due to the UK power shortage, was in place on BBC and ITV, so our late night on Fridays had us off to bed at 10.30! At this time, much to our Mum’s annoyance we had discovered ‘The Goodies’ and ‘Morecambe and Wise’, Mum only really liked ‘Coronation Street’ and ‘Crossroads’, and we had reconciled ourselves to Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who (even if we skipped the opening sequence). On RTE, ‘Wanderly Wagon’ was the standout children’s programme, which was very funny and very well put together.

Towards the end of 1975 the telly was beginning to fail. The picture would collapse into a horizontal line, which was cured by jumping on the floor of our sitting room, only for it to go funny again a few minutes later.

At Christmas the telly was finally retired after twelve years use, and replaced with the then top of the range Ferguson 26″ Colourstar, with seven preselects! Would the other three ever get used? That’s another story.

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