BBC ‘Colourful One’ 

15 November 2019


Paul Fox, Controller BBC1, introduces a new television season with a vivid difference

From the Radio Times Midlands and E. Anglia Edition for 15-21 November 1969

It’s a great occasion to welcome a new audience to the wonders of Colour Television. On BBCtv, of course, we’ve been privileged to watch colour for nearly two years thanks to BBC2. And all those who’ve seen our colour programmes will know that colour television is natural television. The experience we’ve gained on BBC2 over the last two years is of enormous value now that we have ‘Colourful One.’

But this week sees more than our programmes in colour. It is, in fact, the start of a new season with a considerable number of new programmes starting this week and next. There is the new Paul Temple series, created by Francis Durbridge; there is a new play series Take Three Girls; there is a new comedy series with Harry Worth and a new variety series with Cilla Black. All of them in colour. And, of course, there is the new twice-weekly serial The Doctors. Plus new shows with Harry Secombe and soon a film series for Sunday: The Sunday Musical.

Two other major events happen in this first week of ‘Colourful One’: a new Julie Andrews ‘Special’ – her first big television show for five years for transmission on Sunday, 16 November, and, throughout the week, the Wembley Tennis Championships, featuring the world’s top players, led by the grand-slam winner, Rod Laver.

Seven TV critics say which programmes they are looking forward to seeing on BBC1 when it goes into colour

In their view

Daily MailPeter Black
(Daily Mail) The programmes I most enjoy in colour are outdoor, natural history and sporting events, particularly golf. Colour brings most to actualities – events – and discussions; less to plays; quite a lot to light entertainment.

Philip Purser
(Sunday Telegraph) I am intrigued to see what will happen to the Wednesday Plays – they should be much influenced by colour as it is bound to affect the way they are written and produced, though I hope we won’t get a too indulgent use of colour. Studio and location scenes will have to be better matched.

Nancy Banks-Smilth
(Sun) I am looking forward to Top of the Pops in colour, and children’s stuff such as The Magic Roundabout. And it may be old age overtaking me, but I find it difficult to watch and listen to programmes with too much intellectual content. But colour is fine in truly terrible old films – a storm-tossed ship and red-headed heroine in tempestuous petticoats.

George Melly
(Observer) Comedy shows gain enormously from colour – especially the more fantastic ones such as Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Beachcomber. Pop shows too. Colour is splendid for a costume play, but modern plays are somehow more realistic in black and white – in colour there is a drop in the suspension of disbelief.

Milton Shulman
(Evening Standard) I have had colour TV for a year-and-a-half and hardly notice it any more. In sport you can more easily identify the teams and players, you are brought more closely to reality. All outdoor programmes are improved. Westerns are better. Historical plays – you can use colour to recreate details and increase the period flavour. But it can be distracting and we might get an element of vulgarity in light entertainment – like a woman with bad taste buying gauche, loud dresses because she thinks it is going to make an impression.

L. Marsland Gander
(Daily Telegraph) I agree with David Attenborough that everything is better in colour. It is just that we got used to those shadowgraphs. The next step will be stereoscope colour – even closer to the real world. Historical dramas, such as The First Churchills provide a superb opportunity. Studio productions, such as The Black and White Minstrels and Music, Music, Music are exceptionally good, but I have seen news programmes with atrocious colour. With special events there is still considerable variation in the quality of transmission and I am looking forward to improvement in that area.

Stanley Reynolds
(Guardian) I have seen excerpts from some of the BBC1 shows in colour and Line Up‘s review of the week programme and I was struck by how much The Andy Williams Show gained from colour. Very pretty. All light entertainment is much better in colour; I am curious to see what Dad’s Army will look like, though I don’t suppose it will make it look more like the war because the war was black and white! Tomorrow’s World will certainly benefit from colour.

Russ J Graham writes: Got to give the Radio Times its due for being willing to print the very mixed reviews of BBC-2’s colour output and the plans for BBC-1 joining them. I find myself agreeing most with George Melly of The Observer: plays in black and white seem quite special, whereas colour is better suited to spectacle.

Colour programmes on BBC-1 in the week before C-Day

Philip Purser in the Sunday Telegraph sadly got what he most feared, as directors went mad with the possibilities of colour in the immediate aftermath of C-Day, leaving much of the early 1970s videotape output of both the BBC and the ITV companies being garish and bright, to the point of some shows being, as Milton Shuman says, bad taste and gauche.

Missing from this article is any technical look at the new UHF PAL system. Whilst a healthy minority of people had invested in dual-standard (and even colour) sets to watch BBC-2, the technical results had been poor. The UHF transmitters were underpowered compared to their VHF predecessors. The 625 picture was more detailed, yes, but it lacked contrast compared to 405-lines. And if you did get a good picture, 625-lines and colour showed up the flaws in set design, which had to get much more detailed but struggled to keep up: think of the more recent change to 1080-line HD and how the makers of soap operas had to engineer various disasters – a fire at the EastEnders Queen Vic, for instance – as an excuse for demolishing an old set in order to build a more detailed and realistic new one.

And Stanley Reynolds of The Guardian has a good psychological point: our collective memory of events until the 1960s is largely in black and white, because the films and TV shows were largely in black and white. Seeing these events again in colour is quite startling – colour pictures of 1930s London or on-set colour photographs of 1960s Doctor Who recordings really do bring you up short, as they’re just not how we remember them.

Whilst this is the Radio Times edition for 15 November onwards, it’s worth noting that C-Day happened on the stroke of midnight between Friday 14 and Saturday 15. The first official colour programme is in last week’s edition of the magazine, with Saturday’s listings being for the first full day in colour. Not that everything on BBC-1 is in colour. Obviously, repeats of adult education programmes in the morning are still monochrome – and would remain so through the 1970s. Grandstand unselfconsciously switched between colour and black and white throughout the programme, as there simply weren’t enough colour outside broadcast cameras in operation yet.

Viewers got to see Star Trek in colour for the first time, although one can only wonder if the Gorn, a green alligator-like humanoid, would’ve looked better in black and white. In colour, it looks much more like a man in a suit, a problem that would plague the next few years of the BBC’s own sci-fi show Doctor Who. Still, all of prime time is in colour, dropping back into monochrome only for Braden’s Week at 11.05pm. At a guess it was recorded at Lime Grove, which, I believe, wasn’t yet equipped for colour (prove me wrong in the comments, please).

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You Say

12 responses to this article

Geoff Nash 15 November 2019 at 5:35 pm

I love the way -and I can remember this at the time- how on such a significant day of broadcasting for BBC1 aside of the weather forecast there is NOTHING in colour until that afternoon’s ‘Grandstand’. ITV (well certainly LWT where I was watching) virtually re-invented their Saturday morning schedule for the occasion,loading it with several children’s shows to pump up the excitement for the new service, even for those of us watching in black and white.

Rodney Spafford-Crisps 16 November 2019 at 4:28 am

“I find it difficult to watch and listen to programmes with too much intellectual content.”

What else would one expect or be more appropriate for a journalist at the Sun to write?

Undoubtedly most people who purchase the Sun, famed for its lack of intellectual content, would concur with this sentiment.

Neil Crosswaite 19 November 2019 at 3:27 pm

Looking back its hard to believe how big this was. Nowadays the likes of HD, pausing live tv etc is de rigueur. But the excitement around the introduction of colour seemed incredible.

Westy 29 December 2019 at 9:44 pm

Is the equivalent TV Times available to look at?
(Prefably the ATV region please.)

Robert A Levin 7 January 2020 at 6:08 am

The observation that colour was marvellous for sport and nature programmes but less so for plays, conjures up
strange uncles who always smelled like Cavendish and Brandy, when they weren’t writing very long sentences like the one you just read.

Tina King 31 January 2020 at 3:16 pm

Colour television was very slow to get going in Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland.

1967 colour television arrived at the Divis transmitter on BBC 2, followed by BBC 1 and Ulster Television by the autumn of 1970, however viewers in the west and north west were forgotten, with Londonderry, the province’s second largest city not receiving colour television and indeed BBC 2 until December 1975.

Even worse off were people living in County Tyrone and Fermanagh, who had to wait until 1977/1978 before BBC 2 and colour arrived there.

Republic of Ireland was slow to, with RTE’s first colour transmissions of home produced programming in 1971.

Amazingly RTE’s largest studio at the time, Studio 1 at their Donnybrook television centre would not be brought into colour until 1976 – meaning their flagship Late Late Show only went colour in the autumn of 1976.

Edmund Chinnery 28 February 2020 at 4:22 pm

Strangely, that time East Anglia didn’t have to wait all that long for colour. The local transmitter, here for Colchester, near Sudbury. Getting BBC1 and ITV in 1970. We’ve had to wait years for Radio 1, Nicam and DAB. We were, also, the last region to go completely digital

Andy Roberts 31 May 2020 at 5:11 pm

Can it be true that the Guardian’s sainted radio reviewer Nancy Banks-Smith was previously with the Sun (albeit pre-Murdoch?) and not one for too much intellectual content?

And famously, contributions to Nationwide from some regions were still monochrome while the show was in colour. Viewers outside Wales are recommended to Google the John Sparks comedy character Huw Pugh, who still broadcasts in black and white from the town of Fishguard, typically in re-edits of archive TWW news reports from the 1960s.

Graham Pearson 27 July 2020 at 5:13 pm

Although BBC1 and ITV commenced colour transmissions on Saturday 15th November 1969, a fair amount of their output was still being recorded in black and white. Most people still had monochrome sets (my grandmother and grandfather who were my mother’s mother and father did not acquire a Hitachi colour television until 1970).

Joseph Gallant 21 October 2023 at 9:09 pm

Wasn’t a live broadcast of the launch of Apollo 12 actually the first colour programme transmitted on BBC-1?

Russ J Graham 22 October 2023 at 10:43 am

Joseph Gallant: No. Although what was first depends on what you define as a colour programme on BBC-1.

Officially, it’s “An Evening with Petula” at midnight on the morning of 15 November 1969 – the government licence for colour broadcasting for BBC-1 and the ITA began at 00:00:01 on 15 Nov 69; everything before that was just test transmissions.

As per the Radio Times, the first programme was “Colourful One” at 23:40 on the night of Saturday 14, although this was designed for monochrome viewers as an introduction to colour broadcasting.

But test transmissions on UHF from Crystal Palace had been going on for quite some time. Much of it was in black and white, but there were some colour programmes and trade test reels mixed in. What was first as part of them, I don’t know. It’s probable even the BBC couldn’t say for certain.

Of course, if we include test transmissions, then the first BBC colour broadcast predates BBC-1, being done after closedown for the evening on the BBC Television Service in 405-line NTSC back in the 1950s.

Jeremy Rogers 9 April 2024 at 5:13 pm

Lime Grove: D & E were converted for colour in 1970. G was never converted. H had been used for colour experiments in the early 60s but had been converted into a sound recording studio before regular colour started.

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