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Television History- Post-War

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The BBC television service re-opened in 1946, from Alexandra Palace. There can not have been many viewers of the early transmissions, as the number of working TV sets within range would have been less than in 1939. Many pre-war sets would have been faulty after several years of disuse, and indeed there is evidence to show that some were returned to the factory to be overhauled, or in some cases completely rebuilt. A television customer was a valued one, and the scale of production was low enough that companies such as EMI or RGD were willing to bend over backwards to keep their loyalty. A 1939 TV/Radio set of the higher price range would have cost about the same as a terraced house in many towns, and the buyers had actually had a raw deal- a few weeks or even hours of viewing, then six years of a useless great cabinet in the room, then probably a blown fuse and a blank screen when transmissions resumed.

The climate in manufacturing was not conducive to the rebirth of the service. Materials were in short supply, even wood for cabinets was scarce. Some pre-war designs were put back into production, notably the Cossor 900 and Marconi VT50A, but these were badly outdated thanks to the development of new valves and techniques during the war. The Government wanted British industry to concentrate on export markets, and there was no export market for TV sets, and there was barely enough resources to make radios which could be exported.

There was also some indecision about the future of television, which made the manufacturers reluctant to invent too much in new set design. A Government committee looked into the future of television and the possibility of increasing the line standard form 405 to 1000, which was now technically possible and would have given a standard which would have still been in use today, and given better quality than anywhere else in the world. However, it was decided that the existing standard was adequate for home use, which was thought to be limited to a screen size of about 15". A higher line standard might be employed, it was suggested, for use in cinemas, where it was thought that programmes might be shown, as it was thought that television sets would remain out of the reach of most households.

The predictions of this report proved in a very short time to have totally missed the mark, as within a few years television had penetrated far deeper into the market than was expected, and cinema television never got off the ground. However, manufacturers had the green light to go ahead with making new, cheaper 405 line TV sets to appeal to the mass market, aided by the promise that regional transmitters were already on their way, starting with Sutton Coldfield covering the Midlands which opened later in 1946.

Until this time, TV sets were only made tuned to the Alexanda Palace frequency. With the extension of coverage to the Midlands, some manufacturers (notably Pye) made special Midlands only models. Later, as it appeared that other frequencies would be used for more transmitters, sets were made to cover the five channels allocated to the BBC. The Bush TV22 and 24 were typical five channel sets. (There was still no channel control needed- the tuning was pre-set by a control at the back, by the dealer.)

The BBC meanwhile was devoting more resources to television, which had been something of a poor relation in the 30s. By 1951 most of the main cities of England were able to receive a TV signal and the number of receivers in use was around half a million, still a small percentage of the population, but by the end of 1952 83.1% were within the coverage of a transmitter. By the end of the 1950s, over 93% coverage was attained.

The event that made the single biggest impact was the televising of the Coronation in 1953. There was a big push of publicity, which was coupled with marketing campaigns by all the major set manufacturers. By the time of the event, dealers were struggling to supply enough sets and production lines were being switched to television set production as the nation started to become viewers as well as listeners. By the end of 1953, the number of TV licences was approaching two million.

There was talk of a commercial network from the early 50s, which would raise money from advertising, like the networks in the USA. This was anathema to the BBC and to many who considered this would cause a decline in the quality of programmes. Others, such as C. O. Stanley of Pye, thought it was the way forward.

Stanley were convinced that an Independent Television service was coming, and as soon as details were agreed by the Government, Pye brought out sets that were ready to receive the channels in Band lll that had been agreed for the new service.

Television was no longer the province of a few enthusiasts within the BBC, and an expensive gimmick for the privileged few- it was for everyone.




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