Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Why the TV is just like another member of our happy family

Frances Burscough

All this talk of the nationwide digital changeover has led to a few moments of nostalgia for the tellies of yesteryear. Not just the programmes, but the actual sets themselves.

Who remembers when TV sets were so cumbersome and bulky they had to be carried into the house by removal men and contained within a big sturdy cabinet? When there were just two or three channels and presenters always, without exception, spoke in cut-glass upper-class Queen’s English?

If you switched on the telly before programmes started you were greeted by a ‘test card’ picture of a little girl with blonde hair playing noughts and crosses with a rather disturbing toy clown?

When all programmes stopped at a sensible bedtime — before midnight and after the National Anthem — then when you switched off the telly the image shrunk before your eyes into a tiny white dot that hovered in space before eventually dissolving into static oblivion?

When I tell my kids that I grew up watching a black-and-white TV, they think I'm exaggerating, as though I'm recalling a Victorian childhood through imaginary sepia-tinted spectacles. But, of course, colour wasn't the norm until the ‘70s.

I recall when we got our first colour television boasting about it so much that my school friends all wanted to come and see what John Noakes on Blue Peter looked like in full technicolour glory.

Ours was rented from a supplier rather than bought from a shop because they were too costly to own outright, but even so it would break down on a regular basis for no apparent reason. If dad couldn't fix it by twiddling and tweaking the protruding aerials, he would resort to plan B which involved hitting it eratically with a pair of slippers with increasing frustration and anger.

If that failed too the engineer would be called out and he would arrive at the house dressed in protective gloves and mask like a bomb disposal expert, for the dangerous and hazardous task of removing the back off the telly and exposing the complex network of wires.

During weekdays in term times, our evenings back then revolved around the telly. We relied on it to keep us entertained and our parents depended on it to keep us all out of the way, self-contained and quiet for that precious hour of solace after tea and homework, prior to cocoa and bed ... until they took over with their grown-up programmes like Horizon and The World At War.

Nowadays, the telly plays a different role in our small family altogether. It brings us together instead of keeping us apart. For that reason alone I'm so glad I resisited the temptation to install separate TV sets in our bedrooms, like a lot of families do automatically nowadays.

If I had done that, I'm sure I would rarely see the boys or their friends from one day to the next. But in this digital age and with such a vast array and variety of programmes on offer, there's always something that will have enough pulling-power to bring us all together for an hour at least every evening.

Despite the fact that modern television is often blamed for the breakdown of the family, I'm still very thankful for it.

Ok, our generic viewing now revolves around extreme sports, wilderness survival, dysfunctional family sit-coms and zombie apocalypses, but the costume dramas and romantic mini-series are always waiting for me on Sky Plus ... after the boys have gone to bed.

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