Television: It’s not all Black and White

My Grandmother was 22 when she arrived at Victoria Station in London with her friend. They had traveled from Spain by boat and train. They were greeted by a man who took them to his large country residence in Surrey. There, they were to work alongside the other employees within the household. My grandmother didn’t speak any English and her friend only spoke a little, so to this day she doesn’t know what her duties we supposed to be.

This stay was not a long one, and eventually they were sent away as their performance was not satisfactory. The owner of the house drove them to what she now knows was a work agency in London, and left them. They were put on a train to Devises and when they arrived they were shown to what would be my grandmother’s home of three years: the Roundway Hospital. It was here, in February 1957, that my grandmother had her first experience of television.

Roundway Hospital in 1910, then known as Wilts County Asylum.

In the nurses home there was a large sitting room with a piano and a 15 inch black and white television. It wasn’t exactly up to today’s standards, what with all the 50 inch flat screens with surround sound and 10 billion channels that make up our living rooms today. But for the residents, it was a novelty.

At the time she remembers that the films were mainly Westerns starring actors like John Wayne and Ward Bond. Rock and Roll had started then and she recalls watching Tommy Steel and Elvis Presley.

In the nurses home, everyone watched the same thing. There was no bickering over the remote like now. For the nurses, watching T.V. was a communal activity. Something that seems to be fading as the years pass. Now, more and more people are putting televisions in separate rooms, watching T.V. series in bed on a laptop or even watching shows on their smart phone while on their way to work. Over time, television is becoming a more portable and personal experience. T.V. is no longer a novelty, but an integral part of our lives.

My grandmother told me quite a few stories about her early experiences with television: seeing J. F. Kennedy become president and Princess Margaret’s wedding, having a small black and white T.V. with only one channel and a temperamental aerial, her children hiding behind the sofa during doctor who and their first colour T.V.

My dad and his siblings couldn’t watch Doctor Who without hiding behind the sofa!

I would have loved to share them all, but there’s too much to tell. Although television viewing seems to be becoming a personal activity, the sharing of experiences like this as well as current experiences on social media mean that even today T.V. continues to be a communal activity. We may not all share a living room and one small television, but we’ve created a community around television on social media sites such as Tumblr and Twitter as well as in the real world.


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