Thursday, December 23, 2010

Anne Paton and TV Etiquette in the Early Days

It's Anne Paton's birthday.  She is 61 today.  When we were six-ish, that six months younger she was than I was a huge deal.  To me, anyway.  Paton is her maiden name, and I have totally forgotten her married name and hence have had no luck finding her on the Interwebs.  I met her at The Weird School...the one I really can't remember all that well...except that it was held in an old church or theater building, with different classes in different corners.  There were outhouses, and a lot of mud, and there was no uniform, except for berets with badges in green and gold.  And there was Anne.

My parents had just moved to the little town called Balsall Common, and Anne lived right down the street.  We both transferred to The Abbotsford School for Girls, and I highly recommend taking a friend with you when you change schools.  It helped a lot.

Another reason I remember Anne so well...her family had a television.  In mid-1950s England, hers was the only family I knew who had one.

In those days, TVs came with doors on them, as it had already become obvious that the blank screen drew focus whether it was turned on or not.  Of course, it was the BBC, so there was, like, one channel, and it was only on for a few hours each day.  If there was a program one wanted to watch, one opened the doors and turned it on about five minutes before the program was to start.  It took a while for the box to warm up, you see.

And that's how I became familiar with Howdy Doody.  Howdy Doody was a huge hit in England.  It was probably my first exposure to an American accent, too, though I had spent several months in Canada the year before.  Anne's mom would open the doors and turn on the set, and we would sit on the floor, enthralled, while the programme (yes, that is how we spelled it) was on.  At the end, Mrs Paton would turn it off and close the doors.

Because TV was not ubiquitous in those bygone days, there were rules.  If you wanted to watch something, you turned it on where it sat in the living room, and you sat with it and watched.  There was no conversation.  If somebody were to drop in during a program, you immediately turned the set off...even if it was a program you especially wanted to watch.  People got huffy if they thought you would rather watch the idiot box than visit with them.

Nowadays, with TVs in almost every room, we often turn it on in the morning and leave it on until we leave the house.  It's background noise, and almost a roommate for those who live alone.  Back then, each individual program was a visitor.  It was easy to keep track of what was England, way back then, BBC had only one channel.  In Canada, there were maybe three...and one of them would be American.  In British Columbia, that American channel broadcast out of Seattle.  Late at night, we could get one out of San Francisco, and it ran old horror movies on Fridays.  Always fun.

All TV went off the air at midnight.  There would be snow and white noise to wake up to, should you happen to fall asleep on the couch while it was still on.

If Anne were to walk through my door right now, I would turn off the TV.


  1. We only got TV in 1976 in South Africa. Gasp!

    Have a wonderful Christmas, Ronni. (So sorry to hear about V's woes, hope she is managing)


  2. So good to hear from you Mgt...I was thinking of you only yesterday! Wow! Shoot me an email and we can catch up! Happy Christmas to you and yours!