Beginning of the end for B&W television

Dixon of Dock Green
Dixon of Dock Green
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Will the Christmas TV menus really be stuffed with repeats, as has been reported?

It looks like a fair line-up to this grouchy viewer.

But that’s for the TV scribes to judge.

Here, we’re looking back on the Christmas viewing of 50 years ago.

It was a seismic time in the history of UK television. Colour arrived on BBC2.

How many Fylde viewers actually saw it is debatable because one source says fewer than two per cent of UK homes had a colour TV set.

Nevertheless, Christmas 1967 was a huge dress rehearsal and showcase of the future.

The Gazette’s TV writer, Fred Boothroyd, put it succinctly. It was the beginning of the end of monochrome TV.

In his column on Saturday, December 23, Fred wrote: “Nothing since the first faint flickers on John Logie Baird’s makeshift screen about 35 years ago compares with the official opening of the BBC2 colour service at the beginning of this month.”

Colour had first been tried on the channel with the successful coverage of Wimbledon in July, 1967.

Fred continued: “Colour is here and much improved on the first public display I saw at Olympia, London, four years ago.

“The colours on today’s sets are warm and cosy and infinite in their variety.

The results speak much for the BBC engineering staff who, after working for years on the assumption that Britain would adopt the American system, had 18 months to pick the bones of the German PAL system,” wrote Fred.

He thought the picture clarity justified the aim of David Attenborough, BBC2’s Controller, to go “full steam ahead” to make a complete colour service as soon as possible.

Viewers would need time to catch up with events and the cost of colour TV sets would have to come down considerably.

So what did the four-day Christmas schedules offer the viewers in 1967?

Looking first at BBC2’s line-up, seen in its full colour glory by hardly anyone, there was little evidence that it was Christmas.

On the Saturday, there were five colour shows including Susan Hampshire in episode four of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and the Hollywood movie Can-Can starring Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine and Maurice Chevalier.

The Christmas Eve line-up had colour all the way from 3pm, starting with Bird’s Eye View of Britain, filmed from the air.

There were a couple of cartoon features and a Christmas fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk, featuring Hollywood’s Gene Kelly.

In the evening the movie Mr Topaz starred Peter Sellers and it was followed by the Charlie Drake Show and Call My Bluff.

BBC2’s Christmas Day schedule included, in colour, the Royal Palaces of Britain, the movie Doctor In Love, the Rumanian National Dance Company, a tribal story from India, a Coral Reef documentary and - for the first time in colour – The Black and White Minstrel Show.

The channel’s Boxing Day colour included two American imports, The Andy Williams Ice Show and The Danny Kaye Christmas Show, and a BBC production of The Mikado starring Harry Worth, Hattie Jacques and Richard Wattis. The colour shows could be viewed in monochrome, of course, along with BBC1 and ITV. On Saturday, BBC1 had a new Doctor Who adventure with Patrick Troughton, Dixon of Dock Green with Jack Warner, and the Val Doonican Show, with guests Derek Nimmo and Ray Alan.

The Beeb was still keen on peak-time drama and the Saturday Thriller was a play called Count Five and Die, starring David Kossoff.

And nothing Christmassy!

David Kossoff just happened to be in Blackpool for the festive season, playing Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at the Winter Gardens Pavilion (more about that next week).

ITV’s Saturday evening had Jimmy Clitheroe, Molly Sugden and Danny Ross in Just Jimmy, a Gala Opportunity Knocks, with Les Dawson among the artists, and then Frankie and Bruce’s Christmas Show (that’s Howerd and Forsyth) with guests Tommy Cooper, Anita Harris and Frankie Vaughan. On Christmas Eve, BBC1 showed three movies, three carol concerts and the Sadlers Wells Opera in Hansel and Gretel, while giving the main mid-evening slot to Doctor Finlay’s Casebook, with Andrew Cruickshank and Bill Simpson. ITV had two movies, a circus, Bob Monkhouse’s The Golden Shot, Skippy (the bush kangaroo) and Harry Secombe and Friends.

Both channels had morning and midnight church services.

Christmas Day saw festivities on both main channels. BBC1 had Billy Smart’s Circus, the panto Cinderella with Jimmy Tarbuck, Terry Scott and Hugh Lloyd and a two-hour Christmas Night With the Stars, with Val Doonican, Beryl Reid, Cilla Black, Kenneth Williams and others. The fun continued with The Ken Dodd Christmas Show.

Over at ITV, they started Christmas Day with the movie Scrooge, starring Alastair Sim, and had an afternoon panto, Aladdin, with Cliff Richard and the Shadows and Arthur Askey.

But the only thing Christmassy about the evening was The Sonia Henie Ice Show with contributions by Dora Bryan, Roy Castle and Stanley Holloway.

On Boxing Day, Christmas seemed to be over for telly-viewers. BBC1 and ITV each plugged their schedules with non-festive films and the only show with that word in the title was BBC1’s Frost Over Christmas with David Frost, John Cleese, Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Corbett and Julie Felix.

In retrospect, the TV of Christmas 1967 was under-cooked and not very digestible. Were we that easy to please?