Television comes to the Midlands 

10 December 2014 tbs.pm/5445

This is a strange magazine, about which I know little. It managed to get to (at least) 43 issues, but seems to have made little dent on the archives.

That, perhaps, is no surprise. Magazines about television have always been popular, but in 1949, nobody of note had a television. It was only available in London, only on for a limited amount each day, and only had one channel – the BBC Television Service. And in the days of there being just one channel, that channel often announced itself as simply “Television” (“Later tonight on television you will be seeing…”).

Of course, the BBC had a monopoly on advance listings, both for television and for its three radio networks and declined to allow them to be published anywhere except in the Radio Times, owned by the BBC. This meant that an upstart publication like this one couldn’t offer the main thing viewers wanted from a magazine about television – details of what was on. Without those, getting to 43 issues seems a miracle.

Things were looking up for the little magazine that could, though. In 1949, the BBC and the GPO finally managed to get a transmitter operating in the Midlands. Television could now increase its audience by a half again – and Television Weekly could increase its sales by a half again too, possibly.

The gentle amazement may sound patronising today, but many – if not most – of the new audience will not have experienced television at all

This edition of the magazine celebrates the arrive of the BBC Television Service in the Midlands with some interesting features. On p3, they invite the mayors of the major towns covered by the new transmitter to say a few words about what television will mean to them. Coventry, Birmingham, and Wolverhampton mayors profess themselves cautiously delighted. The managing director of the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton thinks television and theatre will sit well alongside each other (the Grand closed in 1980 due to dwindling audiences, although it has since reopened). The Hon Sec of the Midlands branch of the Television Society is, of course, delighted, but hides it well in a dry account of the history of television itself. Like his counterpart at the Grand, the managing director of Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre is also confident that the two can co-exist (he was more right than Mr Thomas was, and the Alex has remained in use as a theatre to this day).

Over on p4, the magazine helpfully explains just what television is and what it means to you at home. The tone of gentle amazement may sound patronising today, but many – if not most – of the new audience will not have experienced television at all, and those that have are likely to have seen just small slices of it – it would be another few years before television caught on and everybody had seen it.

On p5, Norman Collins, Controller of Television, welcomes his new audience. He would leave the BBC a few years later to pursue the dream of running his own station without interference from BBC management. Instead he had to try to run ATV with Lew’s constant interference. He failed.

The introduction of Sylvia Peters makes her sound like a prized racehorse being paraded to the crowd at Aintree

On p9, we’re introduced to the BBC’s roster of announcers. All announcers in the days of in-vision, slower-paced television soon became household names and were flooded with post, requests for interviews and to open fêtes, and what we would now call stalkers but then just called madmen. And, yes, the tone of the introduction of Sylvia Peters does indeed make her sound like a prized racehorse being paraded to the crowd at Aintree.

Pages 10 and 11 see more patronising of the new, inexperienced viewer, this time on the technical side rather than about the programming. We also get a “woman’s view” on the matter, deftly mixing a recipe for mincemeat, present suggestions for middle class friends you don’t like and advice on what a well-rounded woman should be watching on television next week.

The magazine ends after a mere 12 pages (for 4d – that’s 55p in today’s money) with the only advertisements Precinct Publications has managed to sell – kid shoes, heavy satin dresses for the larger woman, an electric doorbell and government surplus aerials (who knew there was such a thing?), the Walsh television turntable and finally last year’s Film Monthly Review Annual. These are backed with a very technical and dry 5th part of an article about tuning your television coils, which manages to undo all the earlier work the magazine put in to making television sound easy.

You Say

1 response to this article

Alan Keeling 17 June 2016 at 11:23 pm

In the article entitled, “Fine Tuning” near the back of the magazine, a test card frequency wedge is mentioned, possibly Test Card A or Test Card C?

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