The power of TV 

5 May 2016

Power 19620422-03From the TVTimes for week commencing 22 April 1962.

Flashing indicators, twirling dials, complex computers, electronic charts, automatic push-buttons . . . all these devices for mechanical operation you would expect to find in the new national control room of the Central Electricity Generating Board.

But among them, unexpected, unmechanical, but just as vital for power-production, is the TV Times!

A well-used, well-marked copy. With rings round programmes like Coronation Street, Sunday Night at the London Palladium and Double Your Money.

Not because the engineers in charge of supplying the country’s electricity are taking time off to view.

But because TV Times is one of their best guides to the question they must always be ready to answer: when will people need more power?

For television influences all our public utility supplies – water, gas, electricity. During popular programmes whole households up and down every street in the country are gathered round the television.

No lights are elsewhere in the house. No one is playing the gramophone. Or fiddling with the radio. Or trying out the tape-recorder. No one is running the bath, cooking a meal, boiling kettles. Consumption of gas, water and electricity is at a minimum.

Then, suddenly, at the end of the programmes there is a rush on everything. Lights switch on. Taps run. Meals are prepared on electric cookers, kettles boiled on gas stoves.

At the power centres there is trouble. Gas can be stored. Water can be stored. But electricity cannot be stored.

That is why reading TV Times relieves this headache of National Control Manager Mr. Eric Pulsford, A.M.I.E.E., A.M.Inst.F. Says he:

“We must know exactly how much electricity is needed for a particular time so that the correct amount can be generated. Which is why we keep TV Times in the control room – so the engineers can analyse the programmes to estimate the expected power demands as viewers switch on.

“Since the increase of ITV in the past few years there has been less and less staggering of power consumption. And we find it very difficult to deal with the concerted overwhelming demand after a popular programme.

“The average increased demand at any normal moment is never more than 200 megawatts (in household terms that equals 200,000 one-bar, or 1 kw., electric fires. One megawatt alone is sufficient power for a small factory or medium-sized office block).

Sunday afternoon films and Sunday night variety have great effects on power.

“But at crucial moments this demand is doubled or trebled. With a load that exceeds 300 megawatts we cannot control the frequency. But we have a legal limit of 49.5 cycles a second below which we must not fall. However, we pride ourselves on keeping well up to the 50 mark. And if it weren’t for certain TV programmes we would.”

Which ITV programmes keep people’s attention fixed, allowing them to do nothing else and therefore cause them most worry when they end?

“The heaviest load,” says Mr. Pulsford, “falls at the weekend. Sunday afternoon films and Sunday night variety have great effects on power.”

To help them gauge potential electricity, the power boys have worked out a Top-Six list of programmes that give the control room the biggest headache.

They are:

  • Coronation Street, which demands a pick-up load of 600 megawatts.
  • Sunday Night at the London Palladium, around the 500 mark.
  • Cheyenne and Bonanza both touch the 400 mark.
  • Double Your Money and Playdate, which are over 300 megawatts.

But ITV doesn’t take all the blame. Said Mr. Pulsford: “There an other circumstances that influence power demands. Weather has a big pull. So does the time of year. For instance, Coronation Street, plus wet weather gives a bigger response than Coronation Street on a fine day.”

More power at our elbow!

You Say

4 responses to this article

Arthur Nibble 5 May 2016 at 11:51 am

It’s great what you find out from this site. I’d never heard of “Playdate” and discovered it was a Rediffusion presentation of hour-long plays (many of them Canadian) shown on Mondays at 8.00 pm and / or Fridays at 9.35 pm and used as filler during the actors’ strike from December 1961 to May 1962.

From the letters, Miss B. Calladine only had to wait another 27 years for Poirot to appear on ITV.

Paul Mason 6 May 2016 at 12:58 pm

How on earth do they manage these days with multiple channels? The present day Radio/TV Times would be of little help. Even though audiences are smaller, commercial breaks are all over the place and it is during these that the electric kettle goes on.
Sunsets are a guide for lighting to come on.
And the broadcast time have been irrelevant since videotapes, DVD and catch up services have come into existence. No wonder the electricity generation companies worry about power cuts in winter!

Russ J Graham 6 May 2016 at 1:49 pm

It’s because the commercial breaks are all over the place, and now spread across hundreds of channels almost at random, that the peaks have largely been dealt with.

Instead, the main broadcasters now inform National Grid plc of when they expect their peaks via a weekly email, which basically lists the start, commercial break (for ITV) and end times of programmes that regularly make the Top 10 – Coronation Street, EastEnders, Strictly, X-Factor, Doctor Who.

This is more as a redundancy measure than anything else, as we now have Dinorwig Power Station – ‘Electric Mountain’ – and the Anglo-French interconnector available for short-term top-ups if there’s a run on the grid.

Dinorwig generates a huge burst of brief hydroelectric power; if it is unavailable, having been used in the last few days for instance, then the interconnector draws on the surplus generating power of France’s large number of nuclear reactors, most of which can be quickly, if expensively, be switched in and out of circuit as required.

Russ J Graham 6 May 2016 at 1:53 pm

To drift off-topic, the worries of power cuts in winter are very little to do with short term peak demand and much more to do with the fact that our electricity is largely generated from gas.

An increasing portion of that gas is imported, and thus suffers from insane and uninsurable price fluctuations during winter and from political instability in the main source – the countries of the former Soviet Union who do seem to like to go to battle both physically and metaphorically over the supply of Siberian natural gas.

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