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What were you watching on the box — 45 years ago?

By john workman  |  Posted: January 20, 2011

The face of the Fugitive, Richard Kimble, played by David Janssen.

The face of the Fugitive, Richard Kimble, played by David Janssen.

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EVERYBODY must be able to recall a few of their favourite television programmes from the past, and one iconic series that might spring to mind, that was first broadcast in the sixties, has just been hauled back into the limelight by the release of a new set of Royal Mail stamps featuring the works of the puppet master himself, Gerry Anderson MBE.

It was back in 1965 that he brought Thunderbirds to the small screen for the first time, and on page 13 of this week’s Bugle we feature all six of the Royal Mail stamps celebrating Gerry Anderson’s five decades of innovative puppetry productions, including Thunderbirds, Stingray, Joe 90, Fireball XL5, Supercar and Captain Scarlet.

Thunderbirds features in Alan Keeling’s latest look back at Yesterday’s TV, as he poses the question, ‘What were you watching on the little box in the corner, 45 years ago?’ To answer the question and help jog the memory Alan has supplied us with the ATV programme schedule that was broadcast here in the Black Country on Thursday 20th January, 1966, which includes of course Thunderbirds ...

“The first show after the recommencement of afternoon programmes, which was invariably at 4.45pm, was ‘The Tingha and Tucker Club’ hosted by the one and only Jean Morton. During the show the two cuddly koalas helped her introduce a cartoon starring Atom Ant. But in a blink of an eye the programme had finished and at the top of the hour (5 o’clock) former professional footballer Danny Blanchflower was presenting another round of the popular quiz show, ‘Junior Criss Cross Quiz’, produced at the Granada Studios in Manchester. This was followed twenty-five minutes later by a repeated episode from 1957 of ‘Fury’ called ‘The Fire Watches,’ and then that was it for the younger kids, as the early evening entertainment concluded with ten minutes of ITN News, ten minutes of Midlands News, and twenty minutes of ATV Today.

“These days we are used to the soap operas starting at 7 pm, and on some week nights they seem to go on forever, but in 1966 there were just two, Coronation Street, enjoying its sixth year of success, and on this Thursday night the Midlands’ favourite soap opera, Crossroads. The tea had to be prepared and eaten and the dishes washed before Mom could sit down and enjoy the comings and goings at the Crossroads Motel. And after 7 o’clock there was no let up as the iconic programmes kept coming along thick and fast.

“If the older kids had finished their homework and behaved themselves, the treat in store immediately after Crossroads was Thunderbirds, which ran for a whole hour. On this particular night in January 1966 the episode was entitled ‘The Man from MI5’.

“Thunderbirds wasn’t the last programme before the watershed came into play.

That was reserved for Patrick McGoohan in an episode of ‘Danger Man’ with the very long title of ‘I Can Only Offer You a Sherry!’ The principal guest artist was Wendy Craig.

The watershed was still quite new in 1966, having been introduced two years earlier in 1964 as a result of report published by Professor Hilde Himmelweit of the London School of Economics.

The report looked at the influence of television, particularly the new phenomenon (in the UK) of independent television, on children, and found that few children watched TV programmes after 9 pm, but before 9 pm parents couldn’t be held responsible for what a child might see, and the specific time slot between 6-9 was deemed as family viewing time. It was therefore determined by the TV companies and Parliament that 9pm should become the watershed and it has remained in place ever since.

“Independent Television News had their second bite of the evening cherry at 8.55pm, followed at 9.10 by ‘This Week’ produced by Rediffusion in London which was reporting on “Britain and International Affairs.” For those who had been following the protracted but gripping story of ‘The Fugitive’ starring David Janssen as Doctor Richard Kimble, the 9.40 time slot was not to be missed with another episode unravelling Kimble’s bid to clear his name after the murder of his wife. Guest star for this episode was Celeste Holm, but who could forget Kimble’s nemesis, the copper who could never let the fugitive’s trail go cold, Lt. Philip Gerard, played by Barry Morse.

“On this particular winter’s night in January, 1966, ATV decided to fill the gap between the end of The Fugitive (10.35pm) and the Epilogue and close down which was broadcast at five minutes to midnight, by showing the 1953 Rank film entitled ‘Turn the Key Softly’ starring a very young Joan Collins, with Yvonne Mitchell, Kathleen Harrison and Terence Morgan.

For those who were still awake staring at the white dot in the middle of the TV screen disappearing into oblivion, all the programmes that had been enjoyed during the evening were broadcast in black and white, as the wonderful world of colour was still over three years away from lighting up TV screens in the Black Country.”

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