Television Tales: 1950s
Today I am starting another of my series of meanders down memory lane, examining some of the cultural references that resonate with me, and hopefully with you too. So far I’ve looked at books; at rock and pop songs; and at the movies. This time around, I’m going to talk about television.
Television, that cultural icon sitting in the corner of most people’s lounges, which has been blamed for all sorts of degeneracy over the years – until the internet came along and pinched that mantle.
Although today’s piece is supposed to be about the 1950s, I’m going to start a little before that. Television first appeared in the UK as a public service broadcast in 1936, courtesy of the British Broadcasting Corporation. And apart from closure of the service for the duration of WWII, very little changed for nearly 20 years, until in 1955, independent television was born, with the establishment of the Independent Television Authority.
TVs were a luxury in those days. We certainly didn’t have one in our house, and in fact, it would be another decade before my father headed to Rediffusion to rent our first set. In 1952, only 14% of households had one. This rose to 21% in 1953 and 30% in 1954. And there was a single broadcast back then which was almost single-handedly responsible for this growth. In 1953, Richard Dimbleby commentated as a shy young woman became a focal point for much of the world when she was crowned Queen of England, heralding the start of the second Elizabethan Age.
I only watched TV when I went to stay with my grandmother during the holidays. And I mainly remember the children’s programmes in the daily Watch with Mother slot: Picture Book on Mondays, Andy Pandy on Tuesdays, Bill and Ben on Wednesdays, Rag, Tag and Bobtail on Thursdays and The Woodentops on Fridays. Even now, more than sixty years later, the act of throwing my arms and legs about with abandon in the gym always makes me think of “the biggest spotty dog you ever did see!”.