1950s Television – Introduction

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Television mesmerised us from the moment it entered our households, and - in less than a decade - became a staple of our way of life. The rapid growth of the popularity of television surpassed even that of radio broadcasting in the 1920s.

In 1949 there were one million television receivers in the United States. In a five-year span, the number rose to thirty-two million. By the end of the Fifties, 90 percent of American households owned at least one television set and 5,000 cinemas had closed.

Television's immediate success was not a fad. It stuck because a generation of talented and popular radio personalities joined the new and uncertain medium and created memorable characters, shows and programmes.

The British nation came to a standstill on 2 June 1953 as 20 million people across the country huddled in corners peering avidly at a small piece of furniture with a grey screen.

They were watching magic pictures of the coronation of Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey. For many it was their first glimpse of an invention that has gone on to change the face and behaviour of the world.

Fewer than two million British homes owned a TV set at the beginning of 1953, and these were mainly in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow. But in the build-up to the coronation, 526,000 sets were sold as coronation fever swept the nation.

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The first commercial British channel, ITV, was launched on 22 September 1955, and the impact was immediate. Brash, confident, and entertaining, the new channel fascinated viewers right from the start with its newscasters, cash quiz shows, variety shows and American programmes - and commercials.

Daring and innovative programming converted millions to the small screen, and to this day our expectations of television have their roots in those halcyon and golden years of television.

MOST WATCHED TELEVISION IN BRITAIN IN THE 1950S

Title Channel Date Audience (Millions)
1 Wagon Train ITV 30/11/1959 13.63
2 Take Your Pick ITV 11/12/1959 13.16
3 Sunday Palladium ITV 06/12/1959 13.08
4 Armchair Theatre: Suspicious Mind ITV 22/11/1959 12.74
5 The Army Game ITV 11/12/1959 12.60
6 Double Your Money ITV 05/10/1959 12.34
7 Concentration ITV 29/12/1959 12.31
8 Dotto ITV 01/10/1959 12.13
9 Emergency Ward 10 ITV 29/12/1959 12.12
10 The Arthur Haynes Show ITV 12/10/1959 11.87
11 Armchair Theatre: Shilling for the Evil Day ITV 01/11/1959 11.84
12 No Hiding Place ITV 07/10/1959 11.82
13 Armchair Theatre: Doctor Kabil ITV 06/12/1959 11.78
14 Play of the Week: The Last Hours ITV 22/09/1959 11.75
15 Armchair Theatre: The Rebel and the Soldier ITV 29/11/1959 11.72
16 Armchair Theatre: Last of the Brave ITV ITV 15/11/1959 11.58
17 Knight Errant '59 ITV 15/12/1959 11.57
18 Play of the Week: Sweet Poison ITV 15/12/1959 11.57
19 Armchair Theatre: Small Fish are Sweet ITV 08/11/1959 11.53
20 Armchair Theatre: Thought of Tomorrow ITV 11/10/1959 11.48