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1960s Television – Introduction

If the Fifties were the innocent childhood of television, the Sixties were definitely the period of rebellious adolescence. Just as the world underwent dramatic social and cultural change, so television led the way in reflecting the Swinging Sixties.

Television in the 1960s was very different from now. Today the TV set is part of our daily life. It’s often switched on continuously even if nobody is actually watching it. We’ll walk through the living room and glance at it while doing something else.

But in the sixties, watching television was a separate activity. You scheduled time for it, and it was likely you just turned it on for specific shows – in the same way, people used to treat radio before TV came along.

Television in Britain was in black and white until 1967 – 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 during the sixties there were many unscheduled breaks as well during which a piece of cardboard would be slung in front of the camera urging “Please do not adjust your set”


Colour TV was introduced to England on 1 July 1967 – The first transmission in colour was the Wimbledon Women’s Singles final. Only a few shows a week (five hours worth) were broadcast in colour at the time, with a full colour service commencing on BBC2 in December, and BBC1 and ITV switching to colour in November 1969

In 1968, changes at ITV saw the birth of London Weekend Television, Yorkshire Television, Thames TV and Harlech TV. Out went Rediffusion, who, as Associated-Rediffusion, were the first ITV company to go on air in 1955.

The changes didn’t affect viewers too much, though there were howls of protest as the loss of Take Your Pick and Double Your Money, ITV’s first and most successful games shows – victims of broadcasting politics.

The 60s was also the decade in which some major soap operas were created. In Britain in 1960, Granada TV launched Coronation Street, a representation of daily life in a Northern working-class community. The series originally screened only in the north-west but was soon to be networked across the country. It remains at the top of the audience ratings to this day.

News coverage came of age in the Sixties. On 14 April 1961, viewers saw the welcome of Soviet cosmonaut, Major Yuri Gagarin, in Moscow – broadcast from Tallinn, Estonia, picked up at Helsinki and fed into the Eurovision network in cooperation with Russian and Finnish authorities.


Title Channel Date Audience (Millions)
1 The World Cup Final 1966 (England vs. Germany) BBC1 30/07/1966 32.30
2 The Royal Family BBC1/ITV 21/06/1969 30.69
3 Royal Variety Performance 1965 ITV 14/11/1965 24.20
4 News (John F. Kennedy assassination) BBC/ITV 22/11/1963 24.15
5 Miss World BBC1 19/11/1967 23.76
6 Apollo 8 Splashdown BBC1/ITV 27/12/1968 22.55
7 The London Palladium Show ITV 03/12/1967 21.89
8 Steptoe and Son BBC 18/02/1964 21.54
9 Coronation Street ITV 02/12/1964 21.36
10 Mrs Thursday ITV 22/03/1966 21.01
11 Secombe and Friends ITV 13/11/1966 20.79
12 Churchill’s Funeral Procession BBC1/ITV 30/01/1965 20.06
13 Howerd’s Hour ITV 12/05/1968 20.02
14 The Grand National BBC1 30/03/1968 19.86
15 Market in Honey Lane ITV 03/04/1967 19.47
16 Double Your Money ITV 08/11/1966 19.47
17 Take Your Pick ITV 02/12/1966 19.36
18 The Boat Race BBC1 30/03/1968 19.36
19 Life With Cooper ITV 16/03/1968 19.25
20 The Morecambe and Wise Show ITV 12/11/1967 19.14