Yes, commercial T.V. is here 

22 September 2020

But dealers warn – go slow until Midland station opens



Disagree about reception



Banbury Guardian masthead

From the Banbury Guardian for 22 September 1955

To View or not To View? With the opening today (Thursday) of the T.V. ‘war’ between the B.B.C. and the Independent Television Authority, thousands of set owners in the Banbury district want to know “Can we get both programmes?”

And this question also has local T.V. dealers at loggerheads.

“Yes, you can… No, you can’t… Perhaps… Ridiculous…” are a few of the confusing answers they give.

The only thing they agree on – and all are unanimous on this – is that they are not encouraging potential customers until the Midlands I.T.A. station is ready, probably in January.

But what if you feel you just can’t wait and want I.T.A. programmes from the London transmitter immediately? That’s what all the argument is about.

Clipping from the previous week's Banbury Guardian

Short news item in the Banbury Guardian for 15 September 1955

The “proof”

It all started with a short news item in last week’s “Guardian” saying that considerable excitement had been aroused by reception of I.T.A. test signals in Banbury.

This rather unexpected news – Banbury is well outside the fringe area of the London I.T.A. station opening today – caused a rush of enquiries at local dealers’ shops.

So much so that one well known Banbury firm arranged a special test demonstration at a house in Prospect Road, Banbury on Monday, to show just what the position was.

Two sets were rigged up side by side, one with a B.B.C. type aerial and the other with the Commercial type.

Both stations were transmitting test signals. The B.B.C. reception was excellent and the Commercial was hopeless. It was barely distinguishable for most of the time, wobbled madly all over the screen, and was only identifiable for a few seconds in each minute.

A “Guardian” reporter was quite convinced by this demonstration that Commercial T.V. was out of the question for Banbury viewers for the present.

… disproved

Back to John Buzzard Ltd., who originated the story that I.T.A. signals were being picked up in Banbury.

Told of this convincing demonstration before a dozen people, tending to prove that it was impractical Mr Buzzard was quite unrepentant.

Without further ado he promptly organized a demonstration himself at a house in Warwick Road which was at roughly the same height as the negative demonstration in Prospect Road.

Result? A high quality picture of the I.T.A. test card without wobble or fading.

It was compared with the B.B.C. test card on the same set by a simple process of switching from one band to the other. The result is seen in the pictures below.


BBC and ITA versions of test card C

These were the two pictures received on Tuesday of the B.B.C. and Commercial test card signals by Mr. J. Buzzard. They were received in the same multi-channel set. From these it can be seen that the reception of the London commercial signal, though not quite up to the standard of the B.B.C., (top) is quite adequate in this case. [Pictures: P. Buckland]


Suffered from “grain.”

Not, it is emphasised, as good a signal as the B.B.C. one. But quite viewable and probably as good as that which hundreds of people with old sets receive in poor reception areas for the B.B.C. programmes in the Banbury area.

Mr. Buzzard himself was most anxious to emphasise that he considered the I.T.A. signal received was only about 60& as good as a perfect B.B.C. picture. If suffered from ‘grain.’

Furthermore, he too is discouraging people from converting their sets purely to receive London.

But he did say “If you must have it right away, then you can probably get it.”


Transmission map of the Croydon station

Coverage of the Croydon ITA station, from the Commercial Television Year Book 1956. The dotted line is peak reception, the black line is the limit of the fringe reception. Banbury is in the top left corner.


Aerial £8 15s. 0d

The aerial he was using costs £8 15s. [£8.75 in decimal, £240 in 2020, allowing for inflation] and, when the Midlands transmitter opens in January it can be re-directed to take this signal.

With the score even between the “Yes, you can’s” and the “No, you cant’s,” [sic throughout] the “Guardian” consulted Trinders Radio. Mr. Trinder was definitely “agin’ it” and said “I am strongly pressing people to leave it alone until the Midland station comes in. Otherwise some people are going to get run in for a lot of expense and trouble.”



Next, the Midlands Electricity Board T.V. Department was consulted.

A spokesman said they had not tried Commercial T.V. with a suitable aerial yet but “It may be possible on higher ground” he added, and warned “We do not want people to go to the expense of converting sets and then come along complaining they cannot get it.”



A dozen already

So there you have it. Or have you? To summarise: dealers are not encouraging people to jump the gun, just for the sake of getting London I.T.A. “Better wait a few more months and get the Midlands station” they say.

Nevertheless, well over a dozen people have already converted in the Banbury district, and with Commerical T.V. parties in their houses tonight, hope to boast to their friends to-morrow “We got it O.K.”



She gets a third ‘programme’


Aerials on a chimney

THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME – Before long this “three aerials to a house” array is likely to become commonplace. This one in Warwich Road consists of (left) aerial for frequency modulated radio; (centre) commercial T.V.; (right) B.B.C. T.V.

IF Mrs. F. Risk, of 12 Ferndale Road, Banbury, goes for commercial T.V. it will make the THIRD programme her set provides.

For at present her receiver not only gives her the B.B.C. programme, but also picks up short-wave messages from passing police cards, fire engines and aeroplanes, both American and British.

It is almost a regular occurance for her normal reception to fade suddenly, and be replaced by R.A.F. or American pilots, police or Fire Service personnel sending messages.

Recently it kept her up-to-date with happenings in her own street.

As her picture and sound faded, through came a message from a fire engine asking for an extra appliance to be sent to chimney fires at 5 and 7 Ferndale Road – just across the street!

She said: “Although it is very interesting listening to the conversations picked up by the set, it can be very annoying if a good programme is being shown.”

A local T.V. engineer said the interference was caused by a tuning fault which permitted the set to drift off frequency.

“It is not uncommon to receive short-wave messages in such cases,” he said.



❛❛Russ J Graham writes: Two charming stories from the day ITV launched in 1955.

The picture created by the Banbury Guardian of the local television dealers bickering between themselves is lovely, especially as both the naysayers and the enthusiasts are both right and both wrong at the same time.

With VHF television, even in Band III, the potential for reception of “outside area” television was always very high. Transdiffusion, based in the Wirral in the 1960s, has audiotapes of television reception from the Lichfield, Caldbeck, Emley Moor and Black Mountain transmitters. Sure, that was regular only in high summer and nothing like as watchable as the two “inside area” masts at Winter Hill and Moel-y-Parc, but it does show the potential – especially as the rooftop aerials in use were not pointed at the outside transmitters and weren’t boosted.

With a very good aerial with both pre-boosting and careful screening, it’s likely that by the 1960s a good 75% of people could have received two or more ITV stations. But the expense was dreadful and the picture quality always very variable, which is why most people didn’t bother. That and the fact that most dealers would scoff at the idea of someone on the Wirral watching ATV or Border.



A colourful map of the UK showing the 5 Band-I channels the BBC used

I wonder if Mrs Risk is most likely watching Holme Moss on channel 2 of VHF Band I, rather than Sutton Coldfield? There was a quirk in the Band I allocations because of prior usage of the frequencies before Holme Moss opened in 1951. Whilst channel 1 is 41.25-46.25 MHz, there’a a gap before channel 2 on 48-53 MHz. The rest of the 5 VHF channels are then contiguous up to 68 MHz.

That gap between 46.26 and 47.99 MHz was reserved space for short-range “walkie talkie” and other similar services – including emergency services radio communications. Some part of her television set was drifting – not unusual in those days – and locking on to the more powerful local transmission, very probably destroying the picture as well as the sound.

You Say

10 responses to this article

Ben Grabham 22 September 2020 at 1:11 pm

A really fascinating article, and one can imagine the discussions people had. I’ve always been rather suspicious of that ‘bump’ in the fringe reception line to cover Maidstone – evidence in my street in the presence of Rediffusion boxes still in the street would indicate that reception was still pretty poor up to the time that the Bluebell Hill transmitter was built…

Geoff Gilham 22 September 2020 at 3:39 pm

I noticed that the off air photos of the BBC and ITA testcards,the ITA card had no identification on it. Was this the case in the very early days? I was led to believe that the AR-TV test card was used, or was that used for part of the signing on start up?

Geoff Gilham 22 September 2020 at 3:43 pm

Following on from my earlier comment, was this photo one the earliest off air photos taken of the very earliest days of ITV?

Alan Keeling 22 September 2020 at 4:20 pm

Whilst studying both off screen pictures, BBC’s version of Test Card C has an enlarged contrast wedge and I was surprised that ITA used Test Card C in 1955, I always thought the two Marconi designed cards were used from the outset.

Mr Hoover 22 September 2020 at 6:09 pm

The “gap” between channel 1 and channel 2 was caused by the Alexandra Palace channel 1 transmitter using those frequencies. When it switched over to Crystal Palace in 1956 the gap was created.
AP used double sideband and CP the newer vestigial sideband.

Myles Sullivan 22 September 2020 at 6:15 pm

I teach in Banbury and some of the surnames are familiar. I wonder if they are the grandchildren or even great grandchildren of these people. Buzzard is a rare name. A Mr Buzzard has just shut the local sweet shop near the school At the age of 79!

Joanne 23 September 2020 at 3:57 pm

The ITV signal was “only idnetifiable for a few seconds in each minute”? Compared to the abysmal almost nom-existant Freeview signal one gets nowadays, that almost sounds like luxury.

Zaph Camden 27 September 2020 at 7:02 pm

I reckon Mrs. Risk, if she’s not watching Sutton Coldfield, might be more likely to be tuned to Alexandra Palace than Holme Moss, given Banbury’s geographical position. So channel 1 rather than channel 2. However, your theory would still work, it’s just the TV would be drifting from the other side of the “gap”

Edmund Chinnery 9 October 2020 at 9:51 pm

In my home town of Colchester, the inverse of the reception issues seems to have occurred. I’ve heard it said, reception of Croydon was better than that of ‘ally-rally’. The former being on higher ground, and taller tower.

Richard Jones -Dici Bach 21 October 2020 at 4:54 pm

Fascinating article. A lot of people in South Wales watched Westward on Rediffusion piped tv And it was a regular occurrence during times of high pressure weather, to receive Westward via an aerial. I remember that very occasionally we could receive Southern and RTÉ. The latter was freely available in north Pembrokeshire. I often bought ‘Television ‘ magazine specifically to read up on reception of distant channels. I was fascinated by terms like ‘sporadic E’. Happy days!

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