Baby Boomer’s Revenge 

20 July 2008


With some advice to the schedulers of today, our intrepid fifties and sixties specialist Alan Keeling says: “It’s the programmes, stupid!”

Whether it’s personal memories, general sentimentality or pure nostalgia, now and again or sometimes-always, the baby boomer generation love the chance to see once again selected classic television series from the fifties, sixties and seventies.

These shows have the ability to remind a man of his previous mother in law – her favourite show could well have been The Untouchables.

The roots of this devotion go back to the days when television watching was new to most homes. Children in the fifties and sixties often imitated their television heroes in the playground, re-enacting the latest Roy Rogers or Wild Bill Hickock adventure in the evergreen local fields that years later would become burgeoning new industrial or council estates.

As a young ‘Brummie’ , I would dash home at lunchtime to catch the daily ATV Midlands startup routine before the Lunch Box magazine and music programme, which began with odd timing, at 12:47 each weekday in the fifties and early sixties. I always missed the final ten minutes, as the return to school was beckoning.

This show, aimed at housewives and general workers in their lunch hour, was not fully networked and ran primarily in the Midlands for many years from the mid fifties to the early sixties. Compere was the peerless Noelle Gordon, a Midlands continuity announcer who was later to make her name as Meg Richardson in the equally long running ATV serial Crossroads, about life in a Midlands motel.

When occasionally absent from school, I would switch on our old fourteen inch screen. I would happily monitor the BBC and ITA test card in their daily trade transmissions and watch the inevitable programmes for schools, transmitted mid morning and early afternoon. They were almost the only daytime programmes, in an era when weekday television usually began at teatime, except for the occasional ‘afternoon at the races’. Daytime testcard was a familiar sight to anyone with curiosity about the regular output before the customary evening fare.

Trips to relatives in Glasgow during the sixties meant that I could see The Flintstones on STV. ATV Midlands finally screened the show only in the early seventies. Visiting other ITV regions on holiday afforded unique opportunities to play catch up with serials that had reached different episodes in different areas – or to sneak peek the future of a series yet to start in your home region.

During the late sixties, on both channels, re-runs of fifties shows like Interpol Calling or The Whirlybirds seemed deliciously dated, even then and because the ATV sister company ITC supplied free material to ATV, Midland viewers enjoyed almost endless repeats of their British and U.S. based classics, bearing the famous triple diamond logo. I fondly recall Robin Hood, Ramar of the Jungle, William Tell, The Gale Storm Show, Cannonball, The Four Just Men, Sword of Freedom, The Halls of Ivy, Whiplash, Fury and the inevitable Gerry Anderson ‘supermarionation’ series like Fireball XL5, Stingray and Thunderbirds.

Sir Lew Grade, legendary boss of ATV, was indeed proud of his shows – so much so that Midland viewers missed out on a number of new U.S.imports during that time, as re-runs of older ATV material were regularly re-deployed in their stead. The money he must have saved!

Although the BBC1 and ITV services transmitted only in black and white until the end of the sixties, certain US and British series were filmed in colour (for export purposes or for repeating again years later in the UK) .

In America The Cisco Kid was the first show of its kind in colour, followed quickly by Boston Blackie, I lead Three lives, Gene Autry, Dragnet (season three), Superman, and Judge Roy Bean.

Australian TV followed with Long John Silver and even Britain joined the march to colour filming with The Adventures of Sir Lancelot.

In 1976, The Birmingham Evening Mail newspaper conducted a poll which asked its readers to tell them which classic shows they would like to see repeated again in the Midlands. The editor promised that all requests would be forwarded to ATV after publication. This resulted in pleas for selected repeats from fifties and sixties series like Wagon Train, Maverick, The Lone Ranger, Doctor Kildare, Saber of London, Sailor of Fortune, Rawhide, and Perry Mason. Some of these, like Perry Mason and Doctor Kildare had originally been imported by the BBC but that didn’t seem to matter.

In April of that year on Saturday nights, ATV screened a special series called Play It Again. This was a selection of made for TV by Universal Studios and such programmes as Dragnet 67, It Takes A Thief, Ironside, Night Gallery, Run For Your Life and The Bob Hope Chrysler Theatre each saw some sample repeats. For a show made of local late night re-runs, the audience ratings were unusually high – with many ‘baby boomers’ no doubt reliving their childhood years in late night ecstasy.

Occasional repeats of classic TV shows seem to be welcomed with open arms by viewers over forty. It’s good to know that most of these old shows are now at last available on DVD. Here’s to some great nostalgic viewing! This baby boomer is off to watch Rin Tin Tin!

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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