Television and how my father coped with the enormous pressure on his wallet

My father never bought a new television set in his whole life.

The earliest TV set that I can recall in our house was in the house in Beechwood Crescent, before we moved to the posh suburb, so this will have been pre-1964 then. It was a huge contraption, a huge wooden box of dark wood with a very small screen right in the middle showing black and white pictures, so old it was that the pictures were almost still pictures.

As a young child I had learned pretty quickly that to change the channel you had to reach down the side of the set and turn a huge dial at the side that had two settings, one for each channel…

Yes kids, just the two channels…

…but the dial was incredibly difficult and stiff for a young child to turn ans so I’d have to call for our mother to come in and turn it for us and that was a task that she was very reluctant to do, it being a task for men to do, “Why do you want to turn the telly over ?” she’d ask of the five year old me, “Because I want to watch Whirlybirds and its on the other side” I’d explain with a great deal of patience for a five year old, even then I had sussed pretty quickly that our mother wasn’t the sharpest knife in the box, and she’d make an excuse not to touch the TV set and I’d miss Whirlybirds again and sulk for the rest of the night.

And when we moved to the posh new suburb our dad came in from work one day with a new TV set, a plastic TV set in cream thats wasn’t quite new because it was a bit grubby and had scratches on the dials and one of the knobs missing, in fact it looked exactly like he’d found it in a second hand shop, which strangely enough is exactly where he’d found it.

Still just the two black and white channels then but this telly had a feature that was the marvel of the age, wait for it, auto-tune.

Your severely underwhelmed I can tell, but wait, for I haven’t yet explained what auto-tune did.

You see on a normal telly you had to get up, walk across the room and fiddle with a knob or a dial in order to tune in the TV set to one of the two channels on offer, sounds horrendous doesn’t it, having to tune your TV set in like that, how tiresome.

Our new TV set had a bar on the front and when you pushed the bar it made a whirring sound like an old fashioned fruit machine in its machinations, and hey presto within minutes the other channel would appear on screen – how much easier was that then, auto tune, you didn’t have to fiddle with it at all, you could get up out of your seat, walk across the room, press the bar, turn around and be back in your seat just as the other channel appeared on the screen, bloody marvellous, in other news the Americans were landing a man on the moon, and we had auto tune on our TV set.

By this time of course everyone had the third channel, BBC2, but in our house we didn’t for two reasons, one was because you needed a bigger aerial and our dad wouldn’t buy one, but the main reason was that our auto tune TV set only auto-tuned itself to two channels, anyway our dad said there was nothing worth watching on BBC2 anyway.

And then following quickly on the heels of BBC2 came colour TV and again our dad didn’t see the point in investing in a new TV set just because we’d get BBC2 and colour tv, mainly because the licence fee for a colour tv was three times as much as for a black and white one, the fact that he didn’t bother buying a tv licence and not buying a black and white licence would cost the same as not buying a colour tv licence seemed to pass him by., “I’m not paying for a bloody colour licence” he’d say in mitigation for not keeping up with technology, “No we know, you’re not buying a black and white one either” we’d respond and get a clip round the head for our troubles.

You can only imagine the shock when one day he walked in the house and declared that he’d invested some of his English Pounds on a colour TV set, with BBC2, adding for the benefit of our mother who had almost fainted at the thought of spending the equivalent today of thousands of pounds,that he hadn’t bought one, he’d rented one from DER.

You see in the late 1960s, when men were walking on the moon (remember that bit?), the colour TV sets that we were watching men walk on the moon on were so unreliable that no-one trusted them, and so it became commonplace to rent your colour TV set for when renting a colour TV set the rental company had to repair it when it went wrong, “Do you know how much a new tube costs ?” you’d hear people say and other people would shake their heads because they didn’t even know what a tube was let alone how much they’d cost to replace when they went wrong, “Oooooh hundreds of pounds” the first person would say and the other person would say “Oooooooh” and go rent one instead.

The new colour TV set held bragging rights for ages at school, “I’m just going home now to watch BBC2 in colour” we’d say, “you know, on our NEW TV SET, IN COLOUR, oh haven’t you got colour ?” especially when a new program called Monty Pythons Flying Circus was screened on BBC2, that channel that until just very recently we hadn’t been able to get on our old auto-tune TV, bragging rights at school suddenly multiplied three fold, “Oh last night I watched Monty Pythons Flying Circus, IN COLOUR, on our COLOUR TV, on BBC2, oh yes, haven’t you got BBC2 yet ?”

And then as the 1970s drew to a close our dad went mad and surpassed his own wildest expectations by coming home one day and announcing that he’d signed up to rent a new machine that plugged into your TV set and would record any program you liked, even if you weren’t watching the program that you liked at the time.

We thought he’d gone mad but a few days later the DER man turned up with a box that he placed underneath the TV set, fiddled around with some wires for what seemed like the rest of the day and then finally declared, “There you are sir, the new Ferguson Videostar video recorder, its the wonder of the age”, and so it was, if only you could ever get over the stress fractures to your fingers when trying to press the front levers to start the bloody thing up.

We were the first people I knew to ever own one, friends would stare at me in complete bafflement when I explained that we had a box underneath our TV set that could record the programs that you wanted to watch when you weren’t watching them and then replay them time and again at a time of your choice, “But why don’t you watch the program that you want to watch, when its shown on TV” they’d ask, “Well” we’d patiently explain, “You’ll be watching a different program you see, a program you don’t want to watch and on the other side will be the program you do want to watch but you’ll miss it because you’ll be watching the other program, the one that you don’t really want to watch, anyway, this video recorder will record the one you do want to watch for you and you can watch it after the one you didn’t want to watch in the first place, has finished” it all seemed perfectly reasonable and they’d all come around to our house for a demonstration.

Trouble was that DER only gave you one video tape “to start you off” and it was only thirty minutes long, so because it was close to christmas our dad said that me and Ned could have a blank three hour video tape each for our main christmas presents and we all went to Comet in Horsforth one Saturday afternoon to buy them.

“We’ll take two three hour video tapes please” our father proudly announced in his loudest voice so that everyone could hear that we’d got a video recorder and then wonder what one of those was.

“We don’t sell video tapes, whatever they are” said the pimply youth behind the counter.

“Yes you do” insisted my father, “the man at DER said you did, in fact you’re the only bloody shop that does sell them”

“No” replied the youth, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about”

“Well go get the bloody manager then” my father insisted, “We can’t buy the bloody things anywhere else”

And so he did and the manager admitted that yes, he had heard of the Ferguson Videostar in a trade magazine that very month and that whilst Comet didn’t yet sell them because they cost as much as a semi-detached house to buy, they did sell the three hour Sharp video tapes that my father so desired, in fact the manager had one of the tapes on his desk int he office right now because he’d been marvelling at it all morning even though he had nothing to play it on.

He brought it out to show us, “I only have the one” he said, “they are £18”.

After we’d picked my father up off the floor he agreed to buy the one video tape for Ned and I to share as our main christmas present that year even though it was far more than he had intended to spend, to put it in context and although they are now obsolete, if a shop asked you to pay £18 for a video tape these days you’d just say “LOL” or similar wouldn’t you, but in 1977 you could almost buy a new car for £18 and we were learning very quickly that trendsetters in the age of technology had to pay a heavy price for their bragging rights.

He continued renting from DER right up until the day they went bust still convinced that renting was cheaper than buying and having to pay for a “New tube, oooh expensive they are” despite the fact that actually he never met anyone who’d had to buy a new tube for a television set, and on the day that DER went bust he rang his old mate Tommy Rogers who ran an electrical shop who then put him in touch with a bloke who ran a little second hand television shop in Ossett – then he got me to drive all the way there and pick it up for him, I need to remind you here that this was the father of mine to whom I was paying the handsome stipend of £1000 a month so that he wouldn’t come back into the business and interfere, the same father who had enough money to run two homes during his retirement years, one here and one in Spain.

Meanwhile I bought everything new, never bartered for anything and, well, I’m sure dear reader that you know the rest…

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2 thoughts on “Television and how my father coped with the enormous pressure on his wallet

  1. Excellent post – brought back lots of memories – I recall our first colour TV (rented) housed in a big wooden cabinet with sliding doors – and the day we got TWO teles – positively decadent!!!!!

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