Although there had been some test transmissions beforehand, it was on 1 July 1967 that BBC Two officially became the first channel in Europe to transmit its television pictures in colour. Colour! Their debut programme of choice? An outside broadcast of the Wimbledon tennis championships, featuring a men’s singles match between Cliff Drysdale and Roger Taylor.
Not that many people would have seen it. The British broadcasters had been broadcasting in black and white for decades, so hardly anyone (fewer than 500 families) had a television set capable of showing them pictures in colour. (Some still don’t. In 2017, 8,000 homes in the UK still preferred to watch their programmes in black and white.)
(That’s £315. Worth about £5,000 in 2018.)
As colour programming became more frequent, more and more families converted to the white heat of the new technology.
What makes me smile, though, is the fact that Television itself is so excited about being in colour. The Radio Times used to highlight which programmes were in colour, the BBC announcers would intone, “The next programme is in colour,” and those programmes that were in colour shouted about it with special logos and everything. To our accustomed eyes, this is like Radio announcing it has Sound, or Film suddenly declaring it has Pictures.
We can now be taken by surprise when an old TV programme is broadcast that was made in black and white. We take colour for granted; it’s odder that it isn’t there than it is. Once upon a time, colour was something to get excited about… while you waited for the television to warm up and actually show you something. How different the world would have been if we had stayed in that black-and-white universe. No Blue Planet, for a start. And Gardeners’ World would be a tad disappointing with monochrome flowers.
We miss them still.