A newcomer in the family

From the 1920s onwards the wireless set provided an increasing number of families with an opportunity to listen to music, drama and news broadcasts. Around half of the British population were able to settle down in the evening and enjoy a musical variety show, a comedy, or a play, while reading the paper, or doing the mending. It had become a way of life.

Then, during 1926/27 John Logie Baird showed it was possible to transmit pictures over telephone lines, first from London to Glasgow, then in 1928 across the Atlantic to America. As a result of further experiments it was in 1930 that the first British television broadcast was shown – Pirandello’s The Man with a Flower in his Mouth. It was some six years later that the BBC began showing regular broadcasts.

Cover of The Radio Times Magazine; the first issue with television listings.

When news spread that the coronation of King George VI was to be televised, TV sets became much sought after – with some 9,000 sets sold in the London area alone. By the beginning of the Second World War in September 1939 it was estimated that 20,000 families owned a TV. Still a tiny percentage of the population when compared to TV ownership today.

During the war people returned to reliance on the wireless as all television broadcasting ceased until June 1946. And from that point onwards the BBC were the only broadcaster up until 1955, when ITV joined as the first commercial station. But black and white television was still the order of the day. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that colour TV was available – provided you were lucky enough to have a colour television!

But take up was slow – many would only ever rent a set, with the cost of ownership being prohibitive. By 1948 only about four per cent of the population owned a TV and although the purchase of such a ‘new-fangled gadget’ led to great excitement for many, it also posed a dilemma. Where to put it?!

Even RJE Silver (in charge of audience research at the BBC) declared that he would not buy a set for his home:

‘…the sheer palaver involved in having to watch it. It means putting the light out, moving the furniture around and settling down to give the programme undivided attention.’

‘Austerity Britain’ by David Kynaston

But television would be here to stay. Indeed by 1971 the situation had seen a complete turnabout with ten per cent of homes without an indoor lavatory or bath, 31% without a fridge and yet only nine per cent without a television.

Fast forward until today and the majority of homes don’t have just one television – many have two or more, notwithstanding all the other devices that people can now use to watch programmes.

It seems that the 1930s newcomer in the family has become a definite fixture.

Published by Isabella Muir

Isabella is passionate about exploring family life from the 1930s through to the 1960s and beyond. She has published six Sussex Crime mystery novels set during the 1960s and 1970s, a standalone novel dealing with the child migrant policy of the 1950s and 60s, several novellas set during the Second World War, and two short story collections. All available in paperback from your local bookshops, or online as ebooks. Her novels are also available as audiobooks, and have been translated into Italian.

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