Monday, 10 May 2010

I Just Won't Have It!

The switchover from analogue to digital television takes place on Wednesday 12th of May. To celebrate the momentous day, let's look back at Orkney's first experiences of television and the varied reactions that it elicited.

Orkney was relatively late to get television, with the first pictures being transmitted in October 1955 when the new transmitter at Meldrum, Aberdeenshire was opened. It was not actually intended that these transmissions should reach Orkney but a few adventurous Orcadians bought television sets anyway and tried them out with varying success.

In December 1959, the Netherbutton transmitter station opened in Holm and Orkney were officially television-watchers. An Orkney Herald article from February 1959 pointed out that this service was being heavily subsidised as it was costing 6 times the amount of Licence Revenue collected in Orkney to provide it.

(above) Televisions being unloaded for sale in Orkney

Orcadians were, for the most part, delighted with this new entertainment with one farmer quoted in The Orkney Herald as saying " They wireless... I niver liked jist the voice only... Bit this! You hiv the folk there on the screen an' you can see every blooman thing they deu." The farmer then tells a charming tale about how, before television, the cold nights used to keep visitors away and his wife used to end up talking so much he was forced to feign slumber "tae get some peace."

He then goes on to deny that it stops you from working and that he and his wife have brought pails and a grinding stone into the living room so that they can prepare food for the hens and calves and wash eggs whilst watching the box. "They hiv a kind of geudly bit on some nights, bit wae milk the kye while hid's on, so that wae don't miss the Toppers."

To translate for non-Orcadians: "I say old chaps, they have a terribly religious program on some evenings, but we milk the cows while that's on, so that we don't miss the Toppers."

These Television Toppers, a dance troupe, enraged a local Orkney business man who, when asked his opinion of television, said "I just won't have it!... It is for the most part 14 to 17 inches... of flickering imbecility. The world crammed into a chocolate box."

"To watch it makes me feel cramped. The announcer, confined to his desk, trying to see how many words he can say without looking at his paper fills me with frustration.. So with the actors in the plays... like tadpoles in the jam jar... So, too, with the Toppers, kicking up little four inch legs to show their pants." The rest of the article descends into even more ranting punctuated with lots of capitalised words like SENSE! UNFUNNINESS! OLD, OLD,OLD!

Above, you can see members of staff from the Orkney Library and Archive taking part in the 'Helping Hands' pledge, wherein we promised to help any old people we knew to ready their televisions for the digital switchover.

The sad truth, is that if you asked most of the people in this picture for such advice, it would probably just end with the two of us standing beside your telly and looking confused. We really had no business taking such a pledge, but we wanted to put our hands in the paint. Sorry Grans, better get out the knitting.

Information taken from issues of the Orkney Herald and Howard Hazell's Orcadian Book of the 20th Century.


  1. I'm on deadline at work and have just spent an unfeasible amount of time giggling at your site, Orkney Archive - desist from being compulsively funny if you please. Thank you.

  2. Apologies anonymous,(if that is in fact your real name), but writing nonsense about old stuff is OUR way of avoiding work and therefore must continue...

    And if your job is something important, like brain surgery or bun-making, then shame on you!

    Thank you for reading!

  3. First of all thank you for becoming a follower on my own site!

    How many chocolate boxes do we own now??! It is staggering plus I have to agree that lots of the imbecility is still on t.v and on digital you get pixellation! Enjoy :)


  4. Hi Archivegirl,

    It is nice to find an archive blog that isn't full of dry, academic terms and tells it how it really is! I was particularly pleased by your post on hand cream.


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