This week’s BBCtv… in 1950 

12 March 2016 tbs.pm/8388

The Radio Times gives us a run down of BBC Television Service programmes for the week of Sunday 12 March 1950. Things worth noting include:

  • The BBC is still only providing television on Sundays reluctantly. Before the war, there was no Sunday service at all. Post-war, what is provided is worthy and brief – a heavy hour and a half for children at 5pm, a break to give you time to pop to church and then put the kids to bed, and a 1948 lightly comedic play at 8.30pm
  • The news at 10pm comes courtesy of the Home Service and is read over a black screen at first, later a static caption and later still a (working) model of the Palace of Westminster clock tower (“Big Ben”, colloquially)
  • The weekday pattern of television is fascinating for how very targeted it is on the upper middle classes
  • The demonstration film between 11am and noon is specifically placed not to distract workers from staying away from their factories, warehouses and yards, while catching upper middle class women shopping in their local town and upper middle class men before they begin their journeys to their London club from the home counties
  • The 3pm to 4pm programme is aimed at women without children – upper middle class women – and men in their clubs or on their third day off of the week – upper middle class men
  • Tuesday at 3.40pm has something designed for upper middle class people to nod along with favourably: co-operative research in British industry is just the stout, proper thing we expect from our workers and like to read about in the Telegraph and the FT
  • The evening programmes – and if you’ve spotted the link between the West End with a matinee and a main performance, well done you – push the boundaries a bit, aiming to surprise but not shock our upper middle class male viewer and maybe even attract his busy upper middle class wife. Indeed, in places there are programmes that might appeal to their maid or housekeeper, should she be invited to look-in. Aren’t we progressive, hey?
  • Monday’s ice hockey is interesting for being unusual, and for failing to catch on in the UK even to this day compared to North America

  • The pre-war Picture Page is still running, albeit not twice a day as it was before that awkward business with Herr Hitler. Even for slow-moving 1950s television, once a week during the Wednesday lull was enough for such a stilted “and do you have anything else you’d like to say to our viewers?” style of interviewing
  • Thursday’s The Lady’s Not for Burning is correctly described as a “second performance” – it’s not a repeat from Sunday, it’s a complete remounting of the programme. There was no videotape in 1950, and no budget for making an expensive film recording of the first performance – and anyway, BBC engineers felt that such a telerecording was of noticeably poorer quality compared to remounting the production. So it was cheaper, more convenient and higher definition to just do it again. Who needs any more arguments?
  • Friday at 9.05pm: Fashions from Cotton. Can I play my “This Is Why ITV Happened” card now?
  • Saturday is the first and only day this week that looks like what television would become into the late 1950s: a picture news roundup, live football if technology permits, Julie Andrews with her mother and stepfather doing variety, a sports programme, recent news on film and the latest headlines. For all that television in 1950 looks nothing like television as we know it, the seeds are there

You Say

6 responses to this article

Ray Oliver 12 March 2016 at 3:08 pm

Hate to sound mean, but have you got the pages about the radio frequency changes as they look more interesting than the TV pages!

Russ J Graham 12 March 2016 at 3:57 pm

Yes – we put them up a couple of years ago: https://www.transdiffusion.org/2014/08/04/the-copenhagen-plan

Pete Singleton 12 March 2016 at 6:14 pm

It’s Martin Clunes’ dad starring in ‘ The Lady’s Not For Burning’.

Re the ‘second performance’… one wonders too, whether the second televising gave the director the chance to improve on the first showing and perhaps to vary the camerawork (or at the very least, not repeat the errors).

Paul Mason 13 March 2016 at 8:31 am

In those days only the London area had TV and one needed deep pockets to get one. This was still before the medium took off nationally. Come Dancing started that year.

Arthur Nibble 14 March 2016 at 12:30 pm

Interesting to see the ‘coming next week’ teaser section under Saturday’s listing. Sure makes the mouth water with anticipation.

Alan Keeling 4 April 2016 at 10:47 am

Regarding the demonstration film shown in the mornings, this was dropped in 1956, to be replaced by picture slides bearing the caption, BBC TEST TRANSMISSION. There were some lovely scenes from all over Britain.

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