Have faith in colour 

5 July 2018 tbs.pm/65605

From the Daily Telegraph for 17 November 1969

ON the eve of the great BBC-1 and ITV switch to colour Lord Bernstein, of Granada, denounced it as a premature waste of £600 million which the country cannot afford. The development, he argues, ought to have been postponed till we are in a healthier economic position.

This sort of argument could apply to any technological innovation. The opposite contention, which I support, is — to adapt a Powellism used in another connotation of colour: “Can we afford not go ahead with it?” We cannot if we are to keep abreast of America, West Germany and other countries; certainly not if we want to lead.

It happens that the great colour change comes almost on the 47th anniversary of the opening of 2 L O, the first London station of the old British Broadcasting Company, and there are some parallels in the situations.

In the early days of the BBC there was wholesale evasion of the modest 10s [50p in decimal, £27 in 2018 allowing for inflation] licence fee. There were complications over experimental licences and (here the analogy fails) the fact that many people made their own cheap and simple crystal sets. But when all was sorted out about a year later there were still only 400,000 licences.

Lord Thorneycroft, president if the British Radio Equipment Manufacturers’ Association, has estimated that by the end of this year there will be 235,000 colour sets in British homes. A small proportion of the 18 million licences for television and radio and a figure that seems to suggest that Lord Bernstein might have a point.

But the overriding consideration is that colour TV does not mean merely that a few hundred thousand people will sit in their homes fuming over the rottenness of the tinted programmes even more volubly than they have over those in black and white. It is the start of a mighty industry. Programme and equipment sales to the world are already a factor in our economic reckoning. In 10 or 20 years they could become of paramount importance.

Lord Bernstein, I feel, is being misled by the idea that basically the promotion of fantasy is a waste of time and money. I hope it is not unkind to suggest that anybody who has watched his “Dustbinmen” and “Coronation Street” can understand his concern.

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