Television was a peculiar place back in the day

OUT ON A LIMB. Campbell River Mirror

I was reading an article in the Guardian marking the anniversary of British television dropping the toddler’s truce, an hour break in television programming (the BBC in this case) at 6 p.m. that allowed parents to get their kids ready for bed.

The toddlers’ truce was abolished on Feb. 16, 1957 after lobbying by the emerging private broadcasting industry who saw the prime dinner time period as a source of revenue ripe for the picking. The Guardian raised the point of how quaint the toddlers truce seems these days with a myriad screens and platforms in the hands of our kids (and adults) churning out non-stop programming and social interaction.

I don’t know if the toddlers truce was a thing in Canadian television at the time but it does raise memories of television and cultural idiosyncrasies from my younger days. I, for the record, was born two years after the toddlers truce was “abolished” and had it not been, I would have had my rights infringed upon by it. That’s because I was living in Britain from the age of four years old to eight years old – prime toddler TV consumption years.

Who knows what would have happened if my viewing of Dr. Who, Captain Scarlett and Lost in Space was interrupted by a blank TV screen? You better believe it would have been war. Peace talks would have been fruitless. Tantrums would definitely have required truce talks. I and my fellow British toddlers might even have blockaded the capital with our Tonka trucks!

Actually, the truth be told, I would have glumly marched off to my room not daring to raise a word of protest.

But television in those days was a different beast (some might argue parenting was too). Multiple channels were just becoming a thing. Because I lived in remote mining towns during my pre-teen and teenage years in Canada, I never had cable television until highschool and even then it was just a collection of satellite channels that could be picked up in Canada’s far north. We had an odd mix of CBC, week-old CTV, Ted Turner’s WTBS broadcasting out of Atlanta – the first satellite “superstation” – and a smidgeon of other crap.

Prior to that, living on Haida Gwaii, it was just the CBC, which was fine because it had Hockey Night in Canada and that was all I watched up to Grade 10.

Remember when TV used to shut off at midnight? Many a father would wake up to the TV showing those kaleidoscopic test patterns accompanied by a loud, long “Beeeeeeeep!” You’d turn it off and he’d wake up, “Hey! I was watching that.” Right? We all went through that.

Having kind of a literal mind, I spent many a moment trying to decipher what the heck that all-night test pattern was saying? I still have no idea. I just felt it was some kind of code transmitting a message and if I pondered it long enough, I’d be able to decode it. And why did they have to have that annoying sine tone piercing your ears forcing you to run to the TV to shut it off? Maybe they should have used that during the toddlers’ truce, kids would have fallen all over themselves scrambling to get to their bedrooms.

Oh, just remembered, the national anthem would play at the “conclusion of regularly-scheduled programming.” Rather than instilling national pride, it prompted thoughts of “Oh well, guess I gotta go to bed now.” Now television, like shopping, runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Because we’ve evolved as a society. No wonder people think they’re entitled to whatever they want whenever they want it. Waiting is a thing of the past.

Remember when banks closed at 5 p.m. and if you didn’t make it there in time, you just had no money until Monday? That dilemma was lessened by the fact that stores used to close on Sunday.

But I digress, let’s get back to TV.

What else did we have? Oh, yes, Saturday morning cartoons. Oh, that was like mana from heaven. Except, you guessed it, because I lived in remote places, we never had channels that showed Spiderman and all those cool cartoons. The only time I got to experience it was when our family was on vacation – which usually meant a trip to Vancouver to coincide with the Pacific National Exhibition – and we stayed in a hotel. Man, Saturday morning in front of the TV was a vacation in itself for us.

And the content, well, I’m running out of space but content has changed without a doubt. It’s now more violent, sexual and profane but it’s also better produced, acted and written. Quality programming was a rarity back in the day which is why shows like Barney Miller and MASH stood out from the muck. Now some actual effort is put into a lot of television content, although some “reality TV” would beg to differ.

Anyway, toddlers truces and test patterns are a thing of the past. I don’t miss them, they’re just quirky.


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