Australian view: Pioneer ITV stops the traffic 

26 April 2018

From the TVTimes Midlands edition for 14-20 October 1956

HOOTERS honked at the swarm of people blocking the road… those hooters which still had car-drivers to press them. Other vehicles were parked in the middle of the road, their owners having swelled the swarm round the radio shop.

It was 7 o’clock in Sydney, on September 16. Television was on the air for the first time in the continent. Independent Television.

The scene was repeated all over the city. Hundreds packed round radio shop windows to watch station TCN making Australian history.

In showrooms they were jammed to near suffocation. They gathered in the homes of those who had bought sets. Many firms threw TV parties… and at one there were at least 500 people. Streets normally deserted on a Sunday were alive with watching thousands. Reception over a large area was “perfect.”

In some places police were called to control the crowds; to prevent them “marching” through store windows or stifling the traffic flow.

For four hours that Sunday evening ITV ushered in a new era in Australia — the Television Age.

Station “TCN” on Channel 9 — like London and Northern ITV — is the pioneer. It has gone on the air at least two months ahead of any rival.

Though only Melbourne is geared for a quick go-ahead, every capital city will have three TV stations. Two will be ITV; one state-controlled.

A percentage of programmes will be Australian. Others will be old favourites in Britain.

Many such were included in those historic first four hours… The Patti Page Show… Douglas Fairbanks Presents… I Love Lucy… Father Knows Best… Robin Hood.

In time others will become as familiar to this new public as they are in Britain… Gun Law… Hopalong Cassidy… London Playhouse… International Theatre… The Count of Monte Cristo… Scarlet Pimpernel adventures… Theatre Royal… Superman… Little Margie… Cross Current… Sir Lancelot… The Buccaneers.

Even before the big night, while test programmes were still being put out, messages of congratulation were pouring in from all over the world.

From Australians in England; Ron Randell, Joy Nicholls, John McCallum.

No wonder 19-year-old model Bernadette Bussell is on the phone. Her news for the person at the other end is that she has been chosen as Australia’s first “Miss Television.” She was picked from more than 2,000 girls, and received £500 as well as her TV engagement.

Actors and actresses in England; Sir Laurence and Lady Olivier, Cicely Courtneidge, Dame Sybil Thorndike, Tyrone Power, Sir Ralph Richardson. Showmen in England, Emile Littler, Sydney Bernstein (head of Granada Network), Paul Adorian (managing director of Associated-Rediffusion). All joined in the Australians’ rejoicing.

Midweek programmes, following the opening, were fixed at two hours’ transmission a day — to he stepped up later. Programmes that were to be, for the first month or so, largely a question of tapping public taste while giving Australian TV talent the chance to come into the picture.

Sales of sets stepped up daily. The first night programmes were received, it is estimated, in about 3,000 homes. But the actual audience could not be even guessed at. Certainly a great proportion of the 3,000,000 people in the Sydney service area must have seen them.

Sets cost much more than in England. Examples: 21-inch table model — 219 guineas [£229 19s or £229.95 in decimal; £5,740 in 2018, allowing for inflation]; 21-inch console — 239 guineas [£250 19s/£250.95/£6,270]; 24-inch table — 249 guineas [£261 9s/£261.45/£6,530].

This month a 17-inch model comes on the market at 197 guineas [£206 17s/£206.85/£5,165].

By our standards, televiewing in Australia is not cheap. All the more reason for ITV and State TV (when it comes) aiming at a high standard.

Hours of transmission will increase soon. By November, when Melbourne’s ITV station HSV is operating, there should be a minimum of four hours a day.

Perhaps that still does not sound a great deal of air time. But remember, in Australia they are starting their TV service from scratch… with ITV pioneering the way.

The first night is over. Others will follow until the majority of Australia’s millions are in view. With Melbourne’s opening, ITV will be within reach of half the population of the continent in the first few months.

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