Older people will know that in years gone by there was a golden age of television. In the 1950s there were only 2 channels (BBC & ITV), rising to 4 in 1982, all analogue of course, but every programme was magic. There was no such thing though as Breakfast Television or All Day & Night television. It wasn’t possible to fill every hour of the day with programmes because the talent required in creating good programmes was limited. Because of that, when the transmitters were on but there wasn’t a programme to broadcast, the operators still sent out a test signal picture so that the members of the public who had a television set in their home (because not everyone did) could be reassured that their precious set was working. This was done mostly before or after programmes and sometimes between programmes (a gap called the Interlude).
The picture they broadcast was a static one and was designed so that the television set could be adjusted to get the best definition, and this was dependent on the strength of the signal (which in many areas wasn’t that good). This test transmission was most of all important for the installers of televisions who had to be television engineers – no plug and play in those days. The picture was called the ‘Test Card’ and it was actually a physical card in front of a television camera [music was sometimes played]. Black & White Test Cards obviously became coloured in the 1960s, with the introduction of colour television.
Since those hallowed days, there has been an explosive development of the television industry. The end we have reached in 2013 is one where there are some many hundreds of channels, numerous running 24 hours a day 7 days a week. So that is a result then?
Afraid not. Now instead of a few hundred hours of television, there are many many thousands of air hours to fill. In the beginning of television it was a difficult decision to choose which channel to watch – now there is no need for a decision, there is NOTHING worth watching on any channel at any time of day. It is logical when you think about it; if you have a limited number of people who can deliver good television and then you spread them over a massively increased area then they are too diluted to have any effect – any talent is totally submerged by mediocrity. The programme output is rubbish, and is supplemented with mostly second rate films that failed at the Box Office.
Is there any hope. Any answer? YES! Bring back the Test Card!
In conjunction, limit the number of television programmes or television hours that can be transmitted on a channel. The commercial channels could still air their commercials of course between the Test Card, which will be their ‘prime’ programme (most of their viewers won’t notice the difference). This will allow a coagulation of programme making talent and the modern discerning viewing public will at long last have a few decent programmes to watch. The test card can be modernised and with classical music it itself will be a relaxing interlude and welcome relief from the mind numbing stuff we get now.