GRANDMA; CONSTANCE RIVETT (née RUTTER)
You would expect that as a youngster I would have regarded my Grandmother as incredibly ancient; she had been born as long ago as 1876 and was already a grown-up when Queen Victoria died. In many ways this is true, but in one crucial respect Grandma was much more up-to-date than I was; she had a television set. At home we didn’t even have a radio; or to be strictly accurate, we had a valve wireless which we never used. It needed an accumulator or a very large and expensive dry cell battery to heat the valves, and this battery didn’t last long and couldn’t be recharged. Otherwise the set had to be to be plugged into the mains. Since there was only one socket in the house, in the living room, and since my mother had religious objections to the wireless we could not plug it in there. It would have worked on an accumulator but as well as being huge in size one of these needed to be charged by a specialist. Consequently we did not listen to the radio. My only knowledge of radio programmes was Mrs Dale’s Diary, which our neighbour Mrs Chaplin used to have on every morning and I was often round at her’s at the time it came on; I was not yet school age. When I was a little older I got to know Workers’ Playtime, which they used to have on at the barber’s while I was having my hair cut.
For many people in England it was to see the Queen’s Coronation that they acquired their first television set. In Norfolk however there was no television service until the mast was built at Tacolneston (south Norfolk) in 1955. When Grandma first had a television there was only one channel, the BBC , but in that year the BBC had been joined by ITV. Once again though our area was behind the rest of the country, and the East of England’s commercial service Anglia TV was not broadcast until late in 1959. Even with two channels to watch there was not that much television to see. It did not begin broadcasting until the evening, and by eleven o’clock it was over. The last programme on the BBC was the Epilogue, a short religious programme. Five minutes after close down there was a loud tone that would ensure you would wake up if you had dozed off. Then when you turned off the power a white light diminished down to the centre of the screen before it was finally extinguished. The television had a magical source of light, a cathode ray tube. You must not sit too close to the screen, we were told, because the rays could do terrible things to your eyes or even to your brain. Also you could not watch television for too long, even at a reasonable distance, for the same reason.
Grandma’s set was in a wooden cupboard about 36 inches high, and with two doors which were closed when the television was turned off. This was in her house at Gaywood Road in Kings Lynn, and since we did not visit very often (about twice a year) I did not see much telly. We normally left soon after TV broadcasting began in the evening, but in 1963 we (me, my sister Tiggy and my mother) stayed with Grandma over Easter while the Sansom family went to Belgium on holiday. I should explain that the Sansoms were Grandma’s daughter Peggy and her son-in-law Arthur, and two children Tony and Jill. They lived at Gaywood Road with Grandma and it was Aunt Peggy who cared for her as a rule; that Easter it was my mother. My father would have come over from Norwich for Good Friday to Easter Monday for the Bank Holidays, and then gone back to work. As I was staying at Gaywood Road on this occasion I go to see quite a lot of telly. I cannot now remember anything I saw on the television in those early days. The one programme that I do remember was one that I was not allowed to watch – That Was The Week That Was (first broadcast in November 1962). I was really looking forward to seeing what all the fuss was about, but as the opening credits began to roll it was promptly turned off; “You don’t want to see that rubbish” I was told. How wrong they were; it was exactly that “rubbish” that I wanted above all to see.
The sitting room at Gaywood Road was very long. At the far end opposite the window was the fireplace. Grandma’s place was at the end of the sofa which stood at one side of the fire and the television stood on the other. This fire was the only source of heat in the house; other rooms had fireplaces but they were never lit. The dining room had no fireplace at all and on Boxing Day when we all drove over from Poringland every year to have a second Christmas dinner it was freezing cold. Only plentiful turkey and plum pudding warmed us up.
At the end of the sitting room nearer the window stood the Kings Lynn family’ wireless set, a large box on a table, veneered in bird’s eye maple and with an illuminated dial. We were visiting at the time that Radio One was first broadcast in 1967. By then Grandma was no longer with us and the Sansom family would soon move out of the house in Gaywood Road. I remember my father inviting me over to the wireless to listen to the new station. Things were changing; our house in Poringland had been rewired with an electricity socket in each room, but we no longer needed the mains to listen to the radio. I had been bought an Ever Ready Sky Leader transistor radio that worked off a tiny 9 volt battery (you would not regard it as tiny today). This was in about 1961 when transistor radios were still quite a novelty, and by 1975 we bought our first (black and white) television set! Colour televisions were available by then – even in East Anglia- but they were large and cost a fortune and the colour picture wasn’t very good; nor were all programmes available in colour.