It was the humanities teachers’ Christmas dinner and the conversation turned to television. “I remember Channel 5 starting,” said one of the younger members of the department.
“I remember Channel 4 starting,” commented a teacher who was a smidgen older than the first.
I lent back in my chair and admitted that I remembered BBC 2 going on air.
“You are an historical artefact, sir,” said one of the history teachers.
To be honest, there was a terminological inexactitude in the statement. I think I remember people talking about BBC 2 being launched. I would have been between three and four years old at the time, but a new television station would have been the cause of much excitement in an age when television possessed compelling powers.
Our television was a 405 line VHF set, so even if I had been older, we could not have watched BBC 2, which was only broadcast on UHF with a 625 line picture. Consciously highbrow, the programme schedule would not have had much to excite children of any age. I do, however, remember BBC 2 becoming the first station in Europe to begin broadcasting regularly in colour.
We still had a VHF set in July 1967, but if we went to Langport it was possible to stand outside Mounter’s electrical shop and watch BBC 2 through the shop window. There was no sound, but the novelty of colour pictures was enough to prompt a boy to stand on the narrow pavement and stare in through the plate glass window. The colour television sets were huge and heavy and cost £400, which might be as much as a working man would have earned in five or six months. There must have been people with money in our community, for the electrical shop would hardly have stocked the colour sets for the amusement of children who pressed their noses against the glass.
The thought of having become an historical artefact, even if it is an inaccurate description of a person, had a faintly reassuring feeling about it. When I watched BBC 2 in Langport as a boy, someone recalling memories from fifty years previously would have been recounting tales of Edwardian England. Tales from before the First World War would definitely have been regarded as historical, though the word “artefact” would not have been part of schoolboy vocabulary. Yet someone who had inhabited a world the other side of two world wars would have seemed far more genuinely historical than someone who has simply lived through the history of BBC 2. Historical artefacts are not as plentiful as they once were.