The anniversary of colour

It was on 3rd March 1967 that David Attenborough, the controller of BBC 2 television, announced that the station that summer would commence broadcasting some programmes in colour. The colour broadcasts would begin with the coverage of the All England Tennis Championships from Wimbledon.

I remember that summer of 1967 when the first colour televisions appeared. The only place where most of us could have watched them was through the window of Mounter’s television shop in Langport.

The colour television sets were huge and the cost of put them far beyond the reach of most ordinary people. However, if colour television sets were visible through the windows of the local electrical shop, then some local people must have been buying them.

To have had a colour television set must have been a source of constant fascination, to see things in a way you had never seen them before. Even to stand in the street and look through the plate glass shop window, watching the images cross the screen, was fascinating for a boy. No sound was necessary, the pictures were entirely novel.

Black and white television images may have begun their gradual disappearance, but elsewhere monochrome pictures endured. In the 1970s, with the advent of the automatic photo booths, black and white photographs were the stuff of romance. Thirty or forty pence would buy you a strip of four pictures that might be shared with favoured friends. The shadowy innocent photos of one’s amour were a far remove from the digital images that are now instantly shared.

Perhaps the advent of colour television and cheap colour pictures was the loss of an age of innocence. Black and white still seems the preferred medium of many photographers; it has qualities, a capturing of nuances that polychrome pictures somehow miss. Yet it also seems that monochrome pictures are useful for their capacity to transform scenes from being mundane to being artistic; there is not the starkness, not the cold reality conveyed by full colour.

Perhaps, politically, a monochrome world was easier. Black and white pictures were more effective in concealing the worst of unpleasantness, rendering harshness in shades that could conceal the full ugliness of a sometimes violent reality. Perhaps, if colour pictures had been earlier available, history might have been changed by a full realisation of the horror. Images of violence and death seem more manageable when conveyed in black and white.

Had colour television arrived thirty years previously, the pictures seen through the windows of television shops might have brought the news from Germany into a much sharper focus, they might have provoked a world determined on indifference.

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