One giant leap for home entertainment 

12 July 2021


It’s just one of those memories that’s stayed with me.

Fifty-four years ago and it was a Saturday. I was on our weekly shopping trip with my parents and siblings in Crawley town centre and we noticed a small crowd gathered round the window of our local branch of Radio Rentals. This was not unusual on a Saturday afternoon – many would pause outside a TV shop to catch a glimpse of whatever sporting event was being shown on BBC’s Grandstand or ITV’s World Of Sport. This particular afternoon was the opening day at Wimbledon so it was bound to grab some attention.

Passing Radio Rentals and looking in stopped us in our tracks too.


Radio Times for 1-7 July 1967


As it turned out the crowd were watching the Wimbledon coverage but it wasn’t the game that had caught their/our attention. It was the picture. We were all witnessing the first UK (and as it turned out, European) public broadcast of colour television on BBC-2. No one outside the TV industry had seen British television in colour before.

Among the banks of black and white sets (many showing the same picture on 405-line BBC-1), this set with its 25-inch screen in a huge wooden cabinet was nothing short of stunning. To this day, even in the digital age having encountered VCRs, DVD, Widescreen and HD I can think of no technology that universally wowed everyone in a way that first glimpse of Wimbledon in colour did that day. Everybody wanted one.

Take up of the new technology was slow, mainly due to the sheer cost. The monthly rental for the set we saw came in at around £2 [about £38 today, allowing for inflation – Ed], roughly a third of the average weekly wage and nearly ten times that of a black and white set. The service launched that day was a very limited one: BBC-2 was a minority channel with a schedule akin to today’s BBC Four, and, like BBC Four, regular broadcasts would start at 7pm and finish around midnight. In between there was maybe one colour programme each day if you were lucky, mainly because at the time the BBC had a total of four colour cameras, so production was very limited.



Throughout the daytime though there were demonstration films being shown hourly, mainly for the benefit of the showrooms eager to show off their new products and in the gaps you could catch your first sighting of nine-year-old Carole Hersee playing noughts and crosses with her scary clown doll.

Over the coming months the BBC was able to kit itself with enough hardware to launch a full colour service in December, but still only on BBC-2, making the outlay for a new set unattractive given they’d be mainly used for watching black and white BBC-1 and ITV (both still on 405-line technology; early colour sets had to be built to a dual standard and they were not very good at downgrading). A new word entered our TV language at the same time; this being BBC-2 a non-colour programme was never simply in black-and-white, oh no, the announcer would tell us that “…the following programme is in monochrome”.

Colour did come to the main channels from November 1969, but it was not until a couple of years later that the whole of the UK could receive it and even then the take-up was slow, again restricted by cost. It was not until the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 that the floodgates opened and sales and rentals of colour sets finally overtook those of black and white (…er, sorry, monochrome) sets, a move reminiscent of the 1953 Coronation selling TV to the masses in the first place.


Test card F

Radio Times editorial page

from page 3 of the Radio Times for 1-7 July 1967

COLOUR comes to BBC-2

Your questions answered

When will colour TV start?

The BBC’s Colour Television Service on BBC-2 will start on December 2. A colour launching period, during which BBC-2 will transmit regularly about five hours of colour programmes each week until the start of the start of the full service, will open on July 1.

Will I be able to receive the colour programmes?

Yes, if you live in an area served by BBC-2. But at the start of the launching period on July 1 colour will be available only from the BBC-2 transmitters at Crystal Palace (serving London and the South East), Sutton Coldfield (the Midlands), Winter Hill (Lancashire), Emley Moor (Yorkshire), Belmont (Lincolnshire), and Rowridge (Southampton area). Colour will become available from other BBC-2 transmitters over the next few months.

Will I need a special set?

Yes. Black-and-white sets sets cannot be converted to receive colour.

Will I need another aerial?

Yes, unless you already have a BBC-2 aerial installed giving you good reception on this channel.

Can I see black-and-white programmes as well as colour on a colour set?

Yes, colour receivers will be dual standard and will provide BBC-1, ITV and BBC-2 in black-and-white as well as the colour programmes.

Will I be able to see the colour programmes in black-and-white on my present set?

Yes. The transmission system employed is what is known as compatible and, providing you have a modern black-and-white set capable of receiving BBC-2, then you will be able to see the colour programme in black-and-white.

Will colour sets be reliable?

Yes. They must, however, be installed and maintained by a fully qualified colour service engineer.

What will my set cost?

The price will vary according to size and model. Costs will also depend on whether you buy or rent your set. It is advisable to consult your TV supplier about the type of receiver which will best suit your requirements.

Will they be difficult to use?

Most colour receivers to be used in this country will have only one extra control. This control decides the amount of colour in the picture and you will be able to adjust it to suit the lighting conditions in your room and your individual taste.

Will there be many programmes in colour?

Yes. The majority of BBC-2 programmes will be in colour, amounting to between 15 and 25 hours a week.

When will colour be available on BBC-1 and ITV?

It is expected that BBC-1 and ITV colour services will be in operation in London, the Midlands, and the North by the end of 1969.

Will my receiver cover any future transmissions on other channels?

Yes. As future programmes are transmitted the receiver will be capable of receiving them.

Do I need an additional licence for colour?

The Government has announced an additional fee for colour receivers of £5 [about £95 in today’s money – Ed] but it will not be payable until the Postmaster General makes a further announcement.

The answers to these questions have been prepared by the BBC in co-operation with the British Radio Equipment Manufacturers’ Association.


By David Attenborough, Controller of BBC-2

This week we launch colour. All BBC-2’s coverage of the Centre Court at Wimbledon, both live in the afternoon and recording in the evenings, will be transmitted in colour. So will One Pair of Eyes on Saturday, Impact on Thursday, and The Virginian on Monday. And so will Late Night Line-Up every night.

We are showing these launching programmes for three main reasons. First to let viewers see for themselves just. how exciting and how technically excellent colour television can be. Second to help television dealers to check on the orientation of aerials and to get experience of handling sets in regular operation. And, third, to enable us to put to its proper use the colour equipment that we now have installed and ready for public transmissions both within our studios and in Outside Broadcasts.

To begin with these programmes can be seen in colour in London, the Midlands, the South, and the North – those areas that receive BBC-2 from the transmitters at Crystal Palace (with four relays), Sutton Coldfield (with three relays), Rowridge, Winter Hill, Emley Moor, and Belmont. In a few months the special circuits linking other BBC-2 transmitters will be completed to bring the colour picture to the whole of the network.



But the launching programmes are only samples. The full service begins on December 2. Then, approximately eighty per cent of BBC-2 will go out in colour, and that will include all types of programmes from light entertainment shows, like International Cabaret and The Black and White Minstrels, to Theatre 625 and drama serials, film documentaries and quiz shows, spot, operas and feature films.

Between then and now, the launching programmes will continue every week. Wimbledon will have come to an end, but we have other outside broadcasts in store and other documentary and light entertainment series too. Together these programmes will provide about five hours of colour a week. Many viewers are no doubt waiting to make up their minds about colour until they see it with their own eyes. We offer the launching programmes, with confidence and excitement, as evidence.


You Say

6 responses to this article

Simon Wise 12 July 2021 at 3:06 pm

The first rugby international match on colour BBC Two was England v New Zealand. A team in white kit playing the All Blacks with a brown ball on an autumn afternoon at a pre-floodlit Twickenham…

Alan Keeling 12 July 2021 at 4:08 pm

My first glimpse of Test Card F was when I broke up for the school summer holidays during July 1967, I got off the bus and walked past a local TV showroom. I studied the test card for 30 seconds and was somewhat amazed that a picture was inside the centre circle.

Eddie Hutchinson 13 July 2021 at 4:18 pm

It tickled me that one of the first colour programmes announced was “The Black and White Minstrels”!

Robert Law 14 July 2021 at 12:05 am

The first colour picture I saw was in the window of a TV shop in Johnston ,Renfrewshire in 1970

David Heathcote 15 July 2021 at 10:13 am

Wonderfully evocative of the time! If you can remember it, you were definitely there!

I wonder what events today, in 2021, will herald a new era in quite the same way? Even Richard Branson’s recent trip into (almost) space doesn’t seem quite such a seminal moment. (Though I hope to live long enough to be proved wrong!)

Andy Roberts 22 July 2021 at 11:52 pm

I was just a toddler at the time, but music clips from the 1960s seem to show the launch of colour coinciding with a shift from the exuberant but still mod-ish monochrome of Merseybeat to the psychedelic stylings of the Small Faces, the Move and the Moody Blues. Or is it a false memory akin to the degraded videotape of the 1970s making us believe everything was tinged beige and brown? Furthermore, my nine year old daughter takes some convincing when I try to explain that real life itself was not entirely black and white in the ‘olden days’…

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