Television Tales: 1960s
This week we are continuing my meander around television through the decades. 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. Last time, we looked at the very early days, up to the 1950s. This time, we move into what was for many people, the most exciting decade of their lives.
The 1960s was certainly a decade of major changes in the televisual world as well as in other aspects of our lives. In 1962, the first colour transmissions appeared on the BBC, although it was to take five years before a full colour service was available. In 1964, BBC2 was launched. By the time the six year contracts were awarded by the Independent Television Authority in 1968, there were a number of established companies operating on a regional basis.
It was also a decade of increasing freedom of expression and creativity and this was apparent in the type of programmes being broadcast. Popular but controversial dramas included one-off plays such as Cathy Come Home, and Up The Junction; series such as Z Cars and Callan, and what was to become the longest-running soap in television history, Coronation Street. There were sit-coms such as Steptoe and Son or Till Death Us Do Part, with the appalling Alf Garnet. In 1963, a generation of youngsters, me included, dived behind the sofa or peeped through their fingers to watch William Hartnell, as the first Dr Who, battle with daleks and cybermen.
There have been many iconic broadcasts across the years, and everyone will have memories of their own, but for me, the 1960s are characterised by three major events. In 1963, J F Kennedy was assassinated during a visit to Dallas. His funeral was seen on television by millions around the world. We watched it on our neighbour’s set – and it was this that made my father give in and agree to get us a TV of our own. He hated the idea of us having to go to someone else’s house for something we couldn’t get at home.
In 1966, I sat in my grandmother’s house with the rest of the family watching England beat West Germany in the final of the football World Cup. My father wasn’t with us; he managed to get two tickets for the match, and we spent almost as much time trying to spot him in the Wembley crowd as we did watching the footballers on the pitch. And I vividly remember this as the only time I heard my wonderfully placid uncle shout at his mother, when Nan suggested he go out and refill the coal scuttle during the closing minutes of the game!
But the most iconic moment of the decade for me came in 1969. I was in asleep in bed when my parents woke me around 2.30am on 21st July to come and watch an American called Neil Armstrong climb down a ladder and take “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”