This week I expect that many of you have seen the television coverage of the Wimbledon tennis championships. If you’re anything like me, then the action on the glorious green courts of SW19 is a highlight on your summer viewing schedule. I have to confess that it is the only sporting event which I make a point of sitting down to watch. This year’s championships are the 140th and I discovered the other day that their impressive heritage is linked with another more colourful moment in British social history. Any ideas what it is?
Well, if you were watching the coverage of Wimbledon 50 years ago, in 1967, you would have witnessed the first colour broadcast on British television. Do any of you remember it? In fact, it wasn’t just a first in this country, it was a first in Europe. The transmission went out on BBC Two and its controller, David Attenborough, brought viewers out of the black-and-white era as the channel was the first in Europe to screen regular colour programmes. Attenborough had heard that the Germans were embarking on colour broadcasts and he was determined that the BBC should beat them to it, which it did, by three weeks!
Although British programmes had been made in colour these were destined for the American market, while home audiences watched them in black and white. Only 1,500 households had colour sets, costing £300, on the day of the landmark Wimbledon broadcast, compared with the 15 million who had black and white! There was still quite a way to go before everyone was switched on to the colourful age of viewing. But it’s worth remembering that even though this is the 50th birthday of British colour television, the very first colour pictures can be traced back much further. They were demonstrated in 1928 by the inventor of television, John Logie Baird, but sadly the ending of broadcasts in the war prevented him from achieving his plans.
While tuning into this episode of viewing history, it brought to mind images of the television test card with the little girl in a red dress playing noughts and crosses on a blackboard beside a toy clown. The 'Test Card Girl', Carole Hersee, the daughter of a BBC engineer, is now 58 and has certainly secured her place in television history. I was also interested to discover that even in today’s high-tech era of plasma screens and smart televisions, there are still, according to TV Licensing, 8,000 black-and-white sets in use. But whether you like to view in colour or black and white, we can always promise you some gems from the television archives in each edition of Evergreen. In our forthcoming autumn issue (click here to subscribe) “TV Memories” celebrates the exciting 1960s espionage drama “Danger Man”, which starred Patrick McGoohan as the secret agent John Drake. You can also enjoy a reader’s entertaining recollections of when his mother was one of the first contestants to appear on the game show “Take Your Pick” in 1955. Did she take the money, or open the box? You’ll have to read the autumn issue to find out!