When I’m Sixty-four…commercial TV, that is.

Television is almost as old as radio, experiments beginning in the early 1900s. From September 1929, the BBC issued test transmissions “by the Baird process” daily at 11am and on 14 July 1930 sent out the first trial of a scripted play.Regular TV broadcasts in the London area began in 1936, only ceasing when war broke out, as it was feared the signal might act as a beacon for enemy aircraft. Normal service, to quote a common phrase, was resumed in 1946 with broadcasts now relayed across the nation. Of course, news and entertainment could always be had from the well-established wireless (radio) programmes.Before telly – Dad tunes in the trusty wireless in December 1939, wondering if the war will be over soon

The real boost to domestic TV came in 1953 when the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II became the first such occasion to be televised live. My parents were among those who rented a 12-inch set, mounted in a nice walnut-veneer cabinet. This would typically cost around 13s (65p) a week to rent, or about £65 to buy (over 2 months pay for many people). Most chose to rent, being cautious about the reliability of these early sets, not to mention their relatively high cost. By 1960, the same £65 would buy you a 21-inch set, complete with a set of legs.

Independent Television (ITV) made its debut in November 1955 in London and the Midlands, giving viewers two novel experiences – a choice of channels (wow) and TV advertising. The existing BBC programmes used a pair of frequencies, one for the video signal and one for audio, together known as Channel 2. Now, with a new set or by plugging in a ‘channel adaptor’, we had Channel 9 as well.

The new network consisted of four regional franchises, co-ordinated by Associated Rediffusion, who oversaw the relaying of programmes from one area to another. All the broadcasts, of either channel, were in monochrome only, using a 405-line screen scanning resolution (low definition by modern standards but actually quite good quality).

Manchester had to wait until Thursday, 3 May 1956 when Granada TV put out its first broadcast from the brand-new studios on Quay Street, via a regional transmitter at Winter Hill. This prompted another rush to acquire TV sets. My family had recently moved to New Moston from Salford so it gave them the excuse to upgrade to a 17-inch set, with a channel knob!Lying face down in front of the fire, chin on hands, I goggled up at the new set. To be honest, I can’t personally remember what was on, but newspaper reports said it was an introductory live show hosted by American presenter, Quentin Reynolds, who (it turned out) was blind drunk; only some timely ad-libbing by guest Arthur Askey saved the show. Fifteen minutes in brought the first advert (for chocolate) and a quip from Arthur, “don’t worry – it’s not all as bad as this!”

The new channel soon settled into a routine and, as well as a crop of H-shaped VHF aerials, spawned another magazine, the TV Times, launched in 1956 and quite separate from the Radio Times (founded in 1923). They cost 4d and 3d respectively.Covers of Radio Times and TV Times, both from 1956

Programmes on either channel were still very sparse, as a typical listing for Monday, 6 May 1956, shows:-

BBC

3:00pm Countrywise; 3:45pm Watch With Mother; 4:00pm Close Down; 5:00pm Childrens Programmes; 7:00pm News & Weather, with Newsreel and Highlight; 7:30pm Adventures of the Big Man; 8:00pm What’s My Line?; 8:30pm Panorama; 9:15pm Festival of British Popular Songs; 10:00pm News & Weather; 10:15pm Soviet Visit; 10:30pm Close Down

Granada

4:00pm Travelling Eye; 5:00pm Monday Club (Roy Rogers, Space Club and Sportspot); 5:55pm News; 6:00pm Close Down; 7:00pm News, then Count of Monte Cristo; 7:30pm I’ve Got a Secret; 8:00pm Seagulls Over Sorrento (play); 9:30pm Cross Current; 10:00pm Weather, then Liberace; 10:30pm Pub Corner; 10:45pm News; 11:00pm Close Down

“Watch With Mother” was my personal pre-school favourite. This 15-minute afternoon slot had a different theme each weekday. Monday was Picture Book, Tuesday Andy Pandy, Wednesday Bill and Ben, Thursday Rag, Tag and Bobtail, with The Woodentops on Friday. Who remembers Looby Loo, Little Weed and Spotty Dog? Ah, such innocence…Living room TV, 1960s style (photo by Steve Wilson)

In the mornings just a test card would be shown. After the last evening programme, the screen would gradually shrink to a small white dot, followed by blackness and an irritating whine, to remind viewers who may have nodded off to turn off their sets!

Now, we have 24-hour, high-definition colour and over 480 channels. Back on Christmas Day 1953, the first of the Queen’s afternoon speeches went on air. It is perhaps pertinent to reflect on this continued tradition and the huge changes in media technology that have come about during the reign of one monarch.

Street Life: Remember, remember the 5th of November

If the 1605 plotters had made the attempt on the life of James I with a dagger, would it still be commemorated 400 years later?

Round our way, Halloween came a poor second to logging and ‘penny for the guy’. Enterprising lads shone torches into back yards and gardens, looking for discarded furniture and old wood. The occupant of the house would be approached and politely asked if they wanted it removing. Too curt a refusal could result in the ‘liberation’ of said article, along with a section of garden fence.

The brick back yard air-raid shelters had a flat roof that was ideal for keeping wood out of sight of rival loggers. An alarm system consisting of a string of strategically placed tin cans was supposed to alert one of the gang whose bedroom overlooked the back yard – a triumph of hope over experience if ever I heard one.My recall of actual bonfires in Moston is rather sketchy, but fireworks are another matter. Dad chose ours individually and I spent days sorting through the collection stored in the biscuit tin under my bed (what’s Health and Safety?).

Rip-raps were my favourite and, along with Snowstorms, Golden Rain and other tamer fireworks, cost about three halfpence (approximately half a decimal penny). Pin wheels, rockets and sparklers varied in size and were generally more expensive. Roman candles could cost as much as a shilling (5p each).

My specific bonfire memories come after our move to New Moston in 1956. Because of its close proximity to Failsworth and Chadderton, the Manchester ‘penny for the guy’ and Oldham’s ‘cob o’ coaling’ co-existed in New Moston. Collecting with a guy was a static activity while ‘cob ‘o coalers’ went door to door chanting…

“We’ve come a cob ‘o coaling, cob o’ coaling, cob ‘o’ coaling, we’ve come a cob o’ coaling for bonfire night.”

The sleeves and trouser legs of old clothes were tied with string and stuffed with screwed up newspaper. With a mask and hat on a pillow case head, you had your guy. My dad was allocated new uniform trousers once a year, so Guy Fawkes often met his doom wearing a third best pair of GPO issue pants with red piping down the seams.For reasons best known to city planners, our large back garden formed a cul-de-sac completely enclosed by those of all the neighbours. It was so far from the house, mum couldn’t chance hanging out washing if it looked like rain. The only way to reach ‘our back’ was via a long, narrow unmade path, snaking around 5 or 6 other gardens. The result of this anomaly was that from 1957 onwards, we hosted the street’s communal bonfire.

A couple of dads would be deputed to let the pooled fireworks off at a steady rate. Most adults brought themselves a kitchen chair to sit on but one memorable year, someone donated an old leather-cloth three piece suite. We took turns sitting on it until it was the only combustible item left. Then the furniture went onto the fire with Guy Fawkes sitting on top.There was always a plentiful supply of things to eat. If you took your own basin, you could help yourself from the large brown jugs of black peas seasoned with salt and vinegar. And there was no shortage of parkin and treacle toffee, both home-made and shop-bought. The obligatory sooty, half raw potatoes were fished out of the ashes, and an unspoken conspiracy proclaimed them delicious.

Trousers were not our family’s only contribution to the proceedings. Dad brewed ginger beer from one of those strange plants in vogue at the time. The bubbling demi-john had to be racked off regularly, and the larder soon filled up with various vintages that were universally vile. But judging by bonfire consumption rates, less discerning palates than mine appreciated it.

For some inexplicable reason, the sticks from rockets, spent firework cases and sparkler wires held a strange fascination for the kids who dashed out to collect them on November 6th. 

The annual aftermath of bonfire night was a week of damp, evil smelling smog. Naphtha flares that can only have added to the pollution, burned at the junctions of major roads. It was black as night by half past two and children were sent home from school early. Buses crept along at a snail’s pace. And rather than waiting for the designated stop, passengers ‘decked off’ the open, rear platform at the nearest point to home.

It’s many years since I was at a communal street bonfire, but as a gesture toward the tradition, I shall be making black peas and parkin, as usual.

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Street Life: Izal and OK sauce

In the 1950s it was a child’s lot to run errands. The early years spent with mum or nan was a sort of apprenticeship for shopping alone. Soon you would be in a position to say what number you wanted the bacon sliced on, or whether custard creams were an acceptable substitute when they were out of gingers.Moston had its specialist shops but almost every street corner had an ‘Open All Hours’ type store, selling everything from Butter Puffs to mothballs and face powder. The one we used had formerly been a terraced house. There was no display window and the door was in the blank gable end wall. On entering, it was bundled firewood stacked under the staircase that first attracted the eye.

The former living room had an L-shaped counter, fronting shelves stacked high with goods. But today’s shopper would be confounded by the lack of choice. Two kinds of bacon were available, middle and rody (streaky) and two kinds of cheese – Cheshire that we bought and Cheddar which we didn’t.

In the queuing area, there was a display unit of deep, glass-topped biscuit tins. These had to be passed across the shoulders of customers for the biscuits to be weighed and bagged up. Roast ham was expertly carved with a long bladed knife, but bacon was sliced to the selected thickness on a hand turned bacon slicer. Because we kept chickens in the back garden, I escaped the potential pitfalls of carrying home a paper bag full of eggs.

It was dinned into the young that even when well wrapped in newspaper, firelighters and soap powder must be kept separate from food stuffs.

If there was no (mechanical) cash register, our purchases were tallied up in pencil on a paper bag, and totalled at lightning speed – no mean achievement in pre-decimal days.On Ashley Lane there was a chemist, baker, newsagent, butcher, and green-grocer who also sold wet fish. Vegetables came loose and unwashed, necessitating a dedicated ‘potato bag’. Ours was made of rexine, an artificial leather-cloth produced by a company in Hyde. As a boy, my father once forgot the all-important bag, and was told to hold out his gansey (sweater). He did so, and 5 lbs of King Edwards were unceremoniously tipped into it.

As the bakers only provided paper bags and tissue paper, it was advisable to take a wicker basket or straw shopping bag for pies, hot bread and iced fancies to stay intact. To get your pies, the ritual was to pay an assistant who would then pencil in a series of mysterious symbols on the ubiquitous paper bag, before placing it at the bottom of the pile. Every eye in the queue was fixed on that stack of bags to make sure they remained in strict order.

The bakehouse was on the opposite side of the road, so pies arrived straight from oven to shop, on the head of a man carrying several wooden trays covered in a cloth. When he was spotted, a ripple ran through the queue and I prayed the current batch wouldn’t run out before the bag with our order came to the top of the stack.

Within easy walking distance, we had a chip shop, ironmongers and Post Office. If Mr Barratt was serving, going to the chippie was definitely my favourite errand. He would always wrap a small piece of white paper around a couple of fat chips to be eaten on the way home.Saturday was the day for ‘the lane’. The shops on Moston Lane were there to supply all our needs from cradle to grave. There was the Maypole grocers, shoe shops, drapers, dry cleaners, and yes, even an undertaker.

In 1956 we moved to New Moston and became enthusiastic members of the FIS Co-op. My sister served her shopping apprenticeship at their Broadway stores. The large grocers had various ‘departments’ with separate counters. As each had its own queue, the trick was to send a child to the longest to keep a place for mum while she got served at a shorter one.

If you went an errand alone, the mantra was ‘don’t forget the divvy (dividend) number’. For each transaction, the amount spent along with your number was written on a perforated paper counterfoil. The shop kept a carbon copy, and after a specified time, the total amount spent was added up and a percentage annual dividend paid out. Divvy money often went toward Christmas luxuries, so that all important number needed to be etched on your brain.To my mind, supermarkets will never replace the convenience of nipping round the corner for a bottle of Camp coffee, OK Sauce or a roll of Izal, which when not performing its primary purpose, made excellent tracing paper or a comb kazoo.

 

 

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