I don’t have a television set, haven’t had one for well over a decade – but I retain a fascination for the television programmes of my childhood. I recently found some 1970s editions of the Radio Times and TV Times on the Genome digital archive. Besides the programmes themselves, I was reminded how broadcasting would begin usually no earlier than 9am, and finish a little before after midnight. Then there’d be nothing.
Even during the day, it was quite common to have what they called a ‘Closedown’, e.g. after the 1pm news on BBC1, broadcasting would stop for 3 to 4 hours, and there’d be just the test card. This was true to a lesser extent of ITV also. Apparently, up until the 1960s the BBC used to close down between 7 and 8pm so that parents could put their children to bed! It’s only really when you get to the 80s that you find daytime television being brought in, with shows brought in for breakfast, mid-morning and mid-afternoon.
If you were an adolescent or teen in the 70s, you’re seen now as the ‘television generation’. Yet in truth, for vast swathes of time, nothing was actually on the box. Did that help a young mind to begin to develop a more creative imagination? I think it did. For one thing, it meant you had no choice but to create your own entertainment during the times when there was just the test card for three hours. This isn’t to knock today’s young creatives but this is just how it was. Whilst that era wasn’t as innocent and danger-free as some of us might reminisce, it also wasn’t as hazardous as it is at times depicted. For one thing, we had far more freedom to roam beyond our homes. So we had not only the time to explore our imagination but also the space.
Imagine if the internet ‘closed down’ every night, and at different times of the day. Maybe I should be careful what I wish for, in case the server crashes.