60 years ago this week: Yorkshire first switched channels
IT IS the simplest of actions but one that would spawn a thousand household arguments - and exactly 60 years ago, the arrival of ITV enabled viewers in Yorkshire to do it for the first time.
Switching channels, in the era before remote controls, involved getting off the sofa and walking across the room to turn a mechanical knob on the front of a 19-inch receiver. Once tuned, it often remained so for the rest of the evening.
TV sets had been fitted with knobs since the early Fifties, but until November 1956 they had served no purpose in Yorkshire, where BBC Television, on Channel Two, was, literally, the only show in town.
But with the switch-on of the transmitter at Emley Moor, the coming of ITV to the eastern half of what was then the northern region opened a window to a new world of entertainment from names and faces that soon everyone would know.
The second service, Channel Ten on the knob, premiered in the county 14 months after its debut in London and six months after the northern contractors - Granada on weekdays and ABC Television at weekends - had begun broadcasting from Manchester to the north west.
There had been no television at all in Yorkshire until five years earlier, when the BBC’s transmitter in the Holme Valley, near Huddersfield, began radiating its grainy, 405-line picture.
But the early BBC service lacked the common touch, with light entertainment programmes like Victor Silvester’s Television Dancing Club and Animal, Vegetable, Mineral betraying a distinctly middle England bent.
ITV’s brash, more populist style was an instant hit across the north - so much so that within a few months, not a single BBC programme was to be found in the regular top ten ratings.
ABC’s early programmes from its converted cinema studio included Armchair Theatre and, a few years later, one of the first appearances by the Beatles.
David Hamilton, the disc jockey who was ABC’s station announcer, recalled: “I well remember passing Brian Epstein and the boys on the steps up to my announcers’ booth and hearing Brian getting very angry with one of them because he hadn’t been to the dentist.”
The channel also brought a new art form to the home: the commercial. Adverts had been heard on “foreign” radio stations like Luxembourg, but their explosion into the popular consciousness on ITV, just as the nation emerged from wartime rationing, helped fuel the consumer revolution of the coming decades.
And the ads were not yet confined to the “natural breaks” between the programmes. Early ITV was strewn with 15-minute “ad-mags”, advertising magazines in which personable presenters would extol the virtues of half-a-dozen products whose makers did not wish to pay the going rate for a dedicated 30-second spot.
There is no record of the first TV commercial to be screened in Yorkshire, but early programmes included the variety spectacular Sunday Night At the London Palladium hosted by Tommy Trinder, the soap Emergency Ward 10, and film series like Robin Hood, Dragnet and, perhaps best forgotten, Gay Cavalier.
Coronation Street was still four years away, but the future soap star Noele Gordon could be seen in a daily afternoon variety show called Lunch Box. The producer at ATV was an Australian called Reg Watson, who would, much later, return home to create Neighbours.
Early ITV sitcoms included the cosy Larkins, starring Peggy Mount and David Kossoff, and Granada’s raucous Army Game, set among the national service conscripts of a backwoods barracks.
Meanwhile, BBC Television (it was not renamed BBC1 until 1964) offered a more highbrow selection, including the American Jack Benny Show on Sunday evenings, and, from the north, a music item called Let’s Make A Date, in which Shirley Bassey sang and, reported Radio Times, “a well-known comedian’s wife introduced her husband”. The programme was produced by the Leeds-based director Barney Colehan and the future Morecambe and Wise producer, John Ammonds.
ITV was also capable of going upmarket when it wanted to, with Granada’s stylish midweek cabaret series, Chelsea at Nine, showcasing Billie Holiday and Maria Callas, among others. Despite the title, the series was transmitted at 8.30.
In the Sixties, the BBC would up its game to compete with its new rival, whose launch it had campaigned hard to prevent, and ITV would settle into a pattern of Coronation Street, Danger Man and popular comedians like Arthur Haynes.
It would be another decade before a third channel, BBC2, shook up Yorkshire’s viewing habits once more. But you needed a new set to receive that.