Televisual errata and nostalgia

Following my post including reminiscences about my early TV memories yesterday, a couple of readers pointed out that I must have been mistaken about TVs with two buttons, one for BBC1 and one for BBC2, which were unable to display ITV.  They point out that ITV actually started well before BBC2 (though it was London-based initially and I don’t think it got to us for a while), whereas BBC2, which didn’t start until 1964, was much more widely distributed.

They may be right, though I wasn’t born until 1967 and lived in Africa for the first three years of my life, so didn’t see a television until a few years into the 70s anyway.  My memories of what they could do was based more, probably, around the capabilities of the second-hand ones that we and our neighbours could afford, rather than what was the norm for the technology at the time.

But the real reason I think I’m mistaken is that it was actually BBC2 that was difficult to receive on early sets, because it was broadcast using the new, higher-resolution 625-line standard, and TVs that were designed for the older 405-line system often weren’t compatible.


Another thing I do clearly remember, though, many years later, is seeing my first TV remote control, which belonged to my uncle, who worked in television.  The device had just one button, which would change channels.  By clicking it, you could cycle through all three of them.  The great thing, though, was how crude the remote was: it was basically a big piezo-electric spark generator.  One you pressed it hard enough to make an almighty click, it would generate enough of an EMP pulse for the TV to pick up the instruction and change channel.  I never saw another of these; I guess the system must have been quite rare, which was probably good, because otherwise one click would probably have changed the channels of all your neighbours’ TVs as well!

We were clearly well behind the times, though, if remotes like this one were really available in the States in 1961.

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1 Comment

Heath (where my dad was an engineer, in the US) had a TV with an ultrasonic remote around the mid 70’s. If you jingled keys in front of it, it’d often change channels or the volume. We also had a wired remote before that, if I’m recalling correctly–I think it mechanically changed the channels, with a thunking noise as I remember. On the plus side, it was hard to lose a remote with a 6 or 8 conductor flat cable running to it…

Next time I visit the guy who does my FCC compliance testing, I’ll have to share your description of the piezo spark remote.

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