‘Flutter Colour’ TV in Birmingham 

20 July 2020 tbs.pm/70434

Reactions Vary – Some See Black and White


From the Birmingham Post for Friday 14 September 1956

Twenty reporters watched a demonstration of “flutter colour” TV on a closed circuit in Birmingham yesterday afternoon, and few of them saw exactly the same colours. Also watching were several women members of the Associated Television staff in Aston, two of whom stated that they say no colours except black and white.

This came as a surprise to Mr. Philip Dorté. A.T.V.’s Midland Region controller, who announced a week ago that women ought to see colours better than men.

He explained yesterday that his earlier statement was based on the reactions of three or four people, including women, who had seen closed circuit experiments in the London studios. He could not explain why it was that women members of the Birmingham staff had failed to identify colour.

Two Screens

Philip Dorté

The reporters attended a joint Press conference and rehearsal of the three films which Midland viewers saw last night. Facing them in a small studio were two monitor receivers, tipped slightly upwards with one screen brighter than the other. The lighting, though subdued, seemed brighter than one would expect to find in an ordinary home.

When the three films were screened — they were transmitted in London and “piped” to Aston — those reporters who saw colours found that they appeared more sharply defined on the brighter screen. Reaction varied: purple, mauve, red, brown, blue, dark green and light green were identified by different men and women. Those who saw mauve did not see red, and the reverse applied.

To some the colours appeared in pastel shades to others as dirty tones. One or two saw only various shades of grey and two saw just plain black and white.

Optical Illusion

This “flutter colour” — also known as “subjective colour” — is not real colour. It is an optical illusion and can only be transmitted on special film. “There is no future in it for live action pictures,” Mr. Dorté said.

This means that it can be used only for commercial films and cartoons. Mr. Dorté hopes that its use will be rationed among advertisers to get the best effect. He was unable to say how the cost of making the special film compared with that of an ordinary black and white commercial film.

Mr. Dorté disclosed that reaction among viewers in London had varied greatly. By Wednesday morning 3,000 replies had been received and a preliminary sample seemed to indicate that only one per cent of viewers saw no colour at all. When the replies from London and the Midlands have been analysed A.T.V. hopes to know the colours which the “average viewer” sees, and it will then proceed to have films made incorporating these colours.

Colour Blindness

A Birmingham ophthalmologist told The Birmingham Post last night that individual reaction was bound to vary because people’s sensations to colours differed. It might be that women could see “flutter colour” better than men because colour blindness was practically unknown in women, whereas five to ten per cent of the male population suffered from the defect.



Russ J Graham writes: Well, here’s an example of dead-end technology. I’ve tried to see how it was done – there’s a US patent for the method – but despite looking at the diagrams quite intently, my brain is not wired to understand the technology.


Why did it not catch on? Well, Philip Dorté gives a clue: the process isn’t suitable for most uses, since it requires an extra film step before transmission (where have we heard that before?) and that implies an extra cost. Business Publishing’s Commercial Television Yearbook for 1956 gives a clue as to those costs: an uplift of 10% on Saturdays and 33⅓% on Sundays in London and the Midlands during the week. A thirty-second advertisement on ATV London on Saturday and the Midlands all week during peak hours was £350 and £770 on Sundays. Those prices rise to £385 for subjective colour on ATV London on Saturdays, £465 for ATV Midlands and a whopping £887 for Sundays in London.



£385, allowing for inflation, is now just over £10,000. £465 is £12,500. And £887 is just shy of £25,000. One can safely assume that advertisers, already paying a high amount due to ATV’s temporal monopoly, were likely to decline adding a further third on to the existing price. Especially when, as it seems, you can’t predict the colour the viewer will see, if at all, and for some the picture becomes an unwatchable black-and-white-only high-contrast nightmare. It’s also not colour-colour as we know it: it’s a wash of one colour over the frame.



This is also a time when people treated television like they had treated the cinema, and drew the curtains and switched off the main lights when watching. Subjective colour would seem to require bright lighting in the room with the TV in it – another reason for advertisers not to bother.

You Say

1 response to this article

David Vaughan 25 September 2023 at 1:57 pm

I am surprised the ITA allowed it.

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