Television mesmerised us from the moment it arrived and in less than a decade, it became a staple of the western way of life.
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 of Queen Elizabeth II, 526,000 sets were sold as coronation fever swept the nation.
The first commercial British channel, ITV, was launched on 22 September 1955 and the impact was immediate. The British public was fascinated by its newscasters, cash quiz shows and American -style shows – and commercials.
In the USA until 1965 – and in England until 1967 – television was in black and white (if you wanted colour you went to the cinema and watched a movie) and everyone was learning on the job. Viewing hours were also limited.
TV did not broadcast 24 hours a day. It did not even broadcast continuously. There were scheduled breaks throughout the day and there were many unscheduled breaks during which a piece of cardboard would be slung in front of the camera urging “Please do not adjust your set.”.
In the 1970s, TV producers turned from the excess of violence seen in drama series’ of the 60s, to seek other ways of stimulating the audience.
First off the mark was ABC’s The Six Million Dollar Man, about the cyborg, Colonel Steve Austin, who could perform incredible feats of strength and speed.
Realism gave way to fantasy and its success spawned imitators like The Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, and The Incredible Hulk, all of which downplayed violence for displays of muscles and gimmicks.
If the TV show you are watching features a swag of characters in unfeasibly large shoulder pads and an excess of hair gel, do not adjust your set – you are watching television as seen in the 1980s.
The 80s was the decade in which American soaps such as Dallas and Dynasty dominated the ratings, media coverage and popular debate.
Fox scored big with The Simpsons, the animated brainchild of comic artist Matt Groening. Bart Simpson, the show’s young troublemaking fourth-grader, immediately became an icon for underachievers of all ages, leading to a rapid proliferation of T-shirts bearing Bart’s mantra: “Don’t have a cow, Man”.
Twin Peaks also touched a nerve with viewers but was more of an acquired taste. Directed by David Lynch, the unsettling, dreamlike series revolved around the question of “Who killed Laura Palmer?”.