TV or not TV

When I have mentioned or reviewed television programmes on my blog at least two bloggers have commented that they never watch television. I’m sure they are not alone, but probably in the minority. If you are reading this you obviously don’t spend your life glued to the TV screen; you would not have time for blogging and life on line. But most people watch regularly or occasionally. Is television a terrible time waster or a valid part of our culture and family memories?

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Radio Times was first issued on 28 September 1923 for the price of 2d, carrying details of BBC wireless programmes. I have not been reading it for that long, but I do buy it every week so I can read proper listings and details of radio and television programmes for  my discerning selection!

Those of us in other countries may think the USA was first with television, but the BBC is the world’s oldest and largest broadcaster, its first analogue terrestrial channel, the BBC Television Service, launched in 1936. Not many people had a set or were actually watching it then and World War Two put a damper on things, with wireless being far more important for hearing news, momentous speeches and morale boosting music. The coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second in 1953 is credited with being the spur for people to rent or buy a television set. In our family a telly did not arrive until I was four, when Mum was expecting my brother and had to rest because of pre-eclampsia; she would have had to wait till 1.45pm to turn it on for Watch With Mother.

Here is a great time waster; you can look at any past copies of Radio Times and even click to see programme details. See what my parents were watching not long before my brother was born. I am glad to say I have not misremembered Saturday evenings in our Twickenham flat.

https://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/39a23af27ebf412690375fe97134556e

So Bill and Ben, Rin Tin Tin , The Lone Ranger and Billy Bunter came into our lives. I thought the people on screen lived in the cabinet underneath the television and was terrified of opening the doors. There were plenty of cowboys, but good English programmes as well, from Emergency Ward Ten, an early hospital drama to Panorama…

With the first episode being broadcast on November 11, 1953, Panorama is the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme and the longest-running public affairs TV programme in the world. 

Cosy evenings in with the telly, but up until the early 1980s all good things had to come to an end; after the last programme had finished a BBC announcer would wish us all a very good night, remind us to turn our television sets off and then leave the national anthem playing. The live screen was sucked into a tiny white dot which itself disappeared.
Now that you can watch any programme anytime on anything we can look back with nostalgia on the snug days of families gathered in their living rooms to watch the one television set. And it was a shared experience in the moment, that you couldn’t experience with books, apart from the golden days of father reading the latest instalment of Charles Dickens. Before the advent of video recorders everyone at school or work had probably seen the same programme the night before and be eager to discuss it. The Forsyte Saga’s 26 episodes were broadcast on Sunday evenings in1967/68 and churches had to hold evening service earlier to keep their congregation. Eighteen million people watched the final episode, a truly shared experience.
That shared experience does still exist. Plenty of households watch the latest drama serial in real time, or at least catch up in the same week before the next episode. I don’t follow dancing or cooking programmes and certainly not celebrities in jungles, but if we have visitors staying or we are at someone else’s place it is good fun to all watch together; I can annoy everyone by interrupting with ‘Who on earth is that?’ or ‘What IS she wearing’.
But even in the good old days there was a downside to television. In one of my many previous incarnations I did silver service waitressing for the money, but an older lady did it to get out of the house and away from the television her husband was glued to. While wives complained about husbands watching sport there would be husbands complaining about wives viewing endless soaps.

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Then homes began to get more than one television set, TVs appeared in young children’s bedrooms, satellite dishes and cables appeared. Theoretically you could watch rubbish on television 24 hours a day, civilisation was under threat…


The advent of home computers brought more change. Husbands retreated to other corners of the house to play with the new toy, leaving their wives in peace to choose what to watch. Later on, wives discovered the internet, social media and blogging and did not even notice if their husbands were glued to the telly. The previous two sentences are of course sweeping generalisations – feel free to correct them…

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Tune in to some more of my thoughts on TV…

https://tidalscribe.wordpress.com/2020/01/18/silly-saturday-slowly/
Do you watch television?
What are your earliest memories of TV?
When did your family first get a TV set?

32 thoughts on “TV or not TV

  1. Loved thinking back how times have changed as has my relationship with tv. I used to know everything that was on back in the late 70s early 80s when I was little. Television was always on. Then I had kids and we got rid of our televisions. My kids grew up without television but a video once in a while on tape (not even DVDs – they will tell you how deprived they were they are 16 and 19). Now we have a television in our room that we use for special events or to watch videos. So very different.

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  2. I’m not a big TV watcher, Janet. In my 20s when I was in Hong Kong, I watched TV every now and then. I always asked if the show was a series or not, because I didn’t want to get hooked on it. Even now in my retirement, I spend very little time on TV.

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  3. I cut my TV off back December 2014 after I cancelled cable. They kept raising the rates every 1 – 2 years and I kept reducing services. I not only cut cable, I unplugged my TV and haven’t turned it on since then.

    It’s only gotten worse. For example, this year CBS will be having 4 Star Trek series, 3 behind their paywall and the 4th where you will need cable or a paid subscription to see it.

    To me, the biggest problem is too many channels duplicating the same types of shows. Same goes for too many movie studios that are demanding a larger share of ticket sales. Both groups are pricing themselves out of the market. A smart cable/satellite company would offer you get X number of channels for $Y. You get to choose from different channels based on pricing. I see ESPN and other channels pricing themselves out of the market. When I cancelled cable, over half my bill was from the ESPN network as part of a basic subscription. I don’t watch ESPN and have no plans to.

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  4. Interesting post. I was seven when we got television and still remember all the children’s programmes like Bill and Ben, Andy Pandy, The Woodentops, etc. If anyone came to visit, though, the television was switched off, regardless of who was watching what, because my mum considered it extremely bad manners to put tv before conversation with a guest. I still feel the same and hate being a house where the television has been turned down but the picture left on. I enjoy documentaries and dramas (just about to go and watch the last episode of White House Farm – in real time). Despite the plethora of channels now available I still check the listings for the main terrestrial channels first – if there’s nothing that appeals then I can go and write a blog post 🙂

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  5. Yes Mary exactly what I do and we never have the TV on with visitors – unless they’re family staying overnight and have to catch up on Strictly! When the children were young our friends a few doors away used to fix televisions and they always had sets on in the living room – our children used to sneak round there when our set was off!

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  6. I was about 7 when we had our first television…Bill and Ben and little weed is a memory of mine and Andy Pandy…Like Mary TV was never allowed on when we had visitors…
    The TV has never featured greatly in my life I never have or allowed TVs in bedrooms. The TV here is not great lots of ads and silly soaps or cable which is mostly American channels which hubby watches and then complains…lol…We also download cowboy films for him…I download programmes like Mastercherchef and BBC programmes like Question Time and they do have some good dramas…No real-time watching for me unless I watch Parliament LIVE…

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  7. I don’t watch much television these days, but I like to have the option. It is crazy to think about how much TV has changed over the years. I remember the days of only getting two fuzzy channels. We tried rabbit ears and other sorts of antennas to improve the reception, but I also have a memory of holding my hand over the television to see the picture.

    I also have a memory of the time when television first came out in color. One of the families in our neighborhood picked up a color set, and all the kids wanted to go over and watch.

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    1. Yes Pete it would be a shame not to be able to watch at all when there is something good on. When I was a child our television only worked for the one BBC channel ,( or so my parents said! ) I used to go round my friends’ house to see the commercial ITV channel and watch things like 77 Sunset Strip. My first view of colour TV was in a department store – small fuzzy picture, not impressed at all. When I came back from Australia, which was still black and white, England was in colour and I was very impressed with my aunt and uncle’s set.

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  8. Hello Jim, yes I was amazed when I looked up and discovered that site – who spent all that time putting them on line, who saved all the copies in the first place. Hmm, never throw out that old pile of magazines, someone might want to put it on line. I hate sport, but like to catch up with the news But too much is not good.

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  9. Janet, an interesting article about TV in our lives! It is staggering to think of 18 million tuning into one programme at the same time! I remember being in awe of English TV when we moved to Yorkshire from Sweden when I was six. I was SO frustrated at not understanding the language at first as the shows were brilliant! Play School, Blue Peter, The Magic Roundabout and Rainbow! Later I was hooked on the police shows from America … fond TV viewing from young. At home as a child and in my home the TV is only on when someone is watching something, it never fails to surprise me how many have it on all the time!

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    1. It must have been a surreal experience watching programmes like Rainbow without knowing what they were saying. My children loved Rainbow and so did I – Zippy was my favourite. Cyberspouse said his mother automatically put the television on when she got up – I said that won’t be happening in our house!

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  10. Fun post! We had TV from the mid 1950s on. I mainly remember that we got only one channel so there often wasn’t anything very good showing. As a child, my favorite show was Ding Dong School in the morning on weekdays. I still watch about one show a day on TV but have a Roku instead of cable. I watch mainly Acorn and PBS, with just a few network shows that are available on Hulu or Netflix.

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  11. I am in the U.S. and I remember when TV first came to our area. We did not have but black and white then, and I remember some of the funny things they came out with to help you believe you had a color TV, like a screen we put over our screen. It was plastic, blue on top, red in the middle (flesh?) and I think green on the bottom. It didn’t last long, and boy, were we children ever glad. We had some interesting programs like Omnibus, and 64 thousand dollar question (which was later plagued by scandal over people winning suspiciously). And so many children’s shows and cowboy shows with the cowboys with really tall hats – Gene Autry and Dale Evans, and Roy Rodgers, Midnight the Cat on some Saturday morning children’s shows, and so many others. Oh yes, Howdy Doody. Great days!

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    1. Yes happy memories Anne. We were happy with black and white TV as we didn’t know anything else and it made going to the cinema seeing colour on the big screen all the more exciting.

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