The story of television – Chapter one
For some inexplicable reason, television seems to have figured large in my life.
I have vague memories of my first glimpse of a television set. I must have been staying with relations in England [I had a lot of English relatives] when we visited a house that had a set. All I really remember about that encounter was that the set was small, monochrome and showing advertisements. That would have been around the mid to late fifties.
Most of my television encounters after were in England. I used to stay with and uncle and aunt in Cambridge. They were ardent tennis fans so the afternoons were spent watching Wimbledon. For some reason the names Rod Laver and Billie Jean king come to mind.
Back home in Ireland, television was somewhat problematic. If you stuck an enormous aerial on the roof you might be lucky and receive a patchy signal from the BBC or ITV. Those aerials sprung up everywhere, varying from twenty to nearly a hundred feet high. I could see literally hundreds of them from my bedroom window. Needless to say we didn’t have one.
I used to watch television in friends’ houses. They were the old black and white sets receiving a very snowy signal in 405 lines. Every time a car or motorbike passed by the signal would disappear in a blast of interference. My parents still steadfastly refused to buy a set. My mother actually won one once to my utter delight. She turned down the prize and got a washing machine instead.
After I left school I went up to Third Level to study Electronics. I don’t know why as I had no particular interest in the subject. I was more into Geography and in particular, Cartography but Fate seemed to have other ideas.
During my College Years we moved to Wicklow. In an attempt to bed me down into country life and a futile effort to stop me staying up in Dublin in the evenings, the parents got a television. Wow! With all my expertise in electronics [i.e. guesswork] I stuck an aerial on the roof. The result was excellent reception of HTV and fuck all else. BBC was crap reception and RTE [which had opened in the meantime] ghosted all over the place as the signals bounced off the mountains. To make matters worse there were high voltage overhead wires at the bottom of our land and there as a dud insulator on the pole. As a result, if there was any kind of moisture in the air, this insulator would fizz and crackle in a pale blue light and our television signal would be wiped completely.
As an attraction to keep me home, the television failed abysmally. I was too interested in drinking with my mates in Dublin, generally messing around and chasing females. The only regular programme that I watched was the wrestling at four on Saturday afternoons [anyone remember Kent Walton?] . My Dad and I used to watch it together and have a great laugh. I do remember watching the moon landing as it happened though.
I discovered in College that the Holy Grail of employment was RTE. Get in there and you’re made. They were Premier League though and very difficult to get into. Having finished with Third Level I sent off a slew of letters to various companies looking for employment. I know one was to RTE [I got a polite Dear John] and others went to diverse places such as Solas [making light bulbs], Pye [manufacturing televisions] and Eamonn Andrews Studios [sound recording studios]. I got an immediate reply from Eamonn Andrews, an interview and started work there the following Monday.
I seemed to be destined to become a sound engineer.
We got our first TV in (or about) 1957ish. I was elected to be what later was known as the remote control.
You were also in charge of the horizontal and vertical hold buttons? Very important in those days.
Did you get Harlech or TWW?
The old VHF signal was much more flexible than the UHF 625 line signal. Manipulation of a coat hanger would allow us to get HTV West (Channel 10) and HTV Wales (Channel 7), Westward (Channel 9) and, occasionally, Southern (Channel 11)
Harlech. The signal was so strong it could be picked up on a screwdriver poked into the aerial socket. BBC was iffy at best and RTE was too strong and we just picked up multiple reflections off the local mountains.
In my young youth the only thing I wanted to watch was Popeye on an aunt and uncle's 9 inch (diagonal) screen.
Later it was Top of The Pops with the floor crawling camera man and Pans People.
Other than that some radio and books. Oh, and beer and girls, in any order, simultaneously when possible.
Now in my dotage it is radio and books again. And whisky.
Who can forget Pan's People?! I used to dream of Babs. I never forgave Robert Powell for marrying her.
When I was just a nipper we would always watch the wrestling on a Saturday. It was always rather theatrical, with a regular villain (eg Mick McManus) for the audience to boo at noisily, The venue would be packed with enthusiastic fans eager to see the "villain" vanquished, and a triumphant victory for their hero. It was like the panto, and the best part of the whole performance would be when some avenging angel of an old biddy in the audience would climb into the ring with a rolled up brolly, and proceed to knock nine bells of hell out of McManus, to the delight of the crowd. And that was the very tableau millions of us tuned in to see….
Ah the memories! Mick McManus, Giant Haystacks, Big Daddy? It was pure showmanship and always worth a laugh. It's the only sport my Dad and I used to watch. Neither of us had any interest in any other sport, but four o'clock of a Saturday was cast in stone.