British TV and late start times:why?

I was reading up a little on British TV lately, and one thing that struck me was how late TV channels in Britain started airing until the 80s. Apparently outside of educational programs, stations didn’t start airing before the late afternoon well into the 70s. And morning TV (which in the US dates back to the “Today Show” in 1952) didn’t start in Britain until the 80s. Why?

People had better things to do with their time?

I think our TV was much slower to embed in our daily culture than in the US. Up til the 80s, we only had three TV channels, and only one of those had advertising. So there was less incentive to transmit more (you’re not going to make any more money from doing so if you’re the BBC, operating 2 channels), and consequently less choice = less interest.

We just didn’t watch TV during the day, TV was something we did after school and in the evenings. Seems incredible now, but it was just normal then. Bit like shops closing on Sundays, you don’t have to adapt to a situation you’ve always had. I wonder if it has some cultural origin - watching TV is something you do in your leisure time, not during the working day. Pubs, for example, operated restrictive hours at this time as well, as you weren’t supposed to spend all day down the pub.

Then in the early 80s, our second commercial channel was given a licence. Suddenly ITV had competition, and so things hotted up, hours got extended to attract more advertising, the BBC realised it had to keep up and hey presto, before you know it, 24 hr TV.

Missed the edit to say that we did still have daytime TV on the weekends, which perhaps reinforces the thought that TV is for leisure time, not the working day.

I also remember that TV ‘closed down’ every night, with the national anthem. Presumably that was our call to ‘go to bed’.

When TV was not being aired, the BBC would put up a 'test card’ still picture which looked like this. People who grew up with the 60s-90s will look fondly upon this picture.

I don’t think it was Britain, wasn’t it pretty much the whole world excluding the USA?

I wonder f the TV execs just didn’t think there was a big enough audience for daytime TV to warrant the commissioning of new programmes? Day time viewing figures are still pretty low. But of course, now they’ve latched onto the cheap and endless format of property viewing programmes to fill the schedules.

It was more tightly regulated until the early 80s.

If you’re not going to be on 24/7, I can’t imagine there being a better time to leave out than weekday mornings, once you’ve already left out late nights.

I’d always assumed it was just a cost cutting measure–the same reason series are so much shorter.

Unless they’ve watched Life on Mars.


I STILL can’t switch the telly on during a weekday, it just doesn’t feel right, feels like I’m skiving. I can spend all day in the pub though, he he.

I remember there were some really interesting Open University programmes on early in the mornizzzzzzzzzzz

At least in Germany it was the same (only three channels, restricted times of broadcasting, end of broadcast some time at night, after that only a test screen or static). Shortly after the first commercial channels started to air around 1984, everything changed.

Considering how long it took the UK to finally abandon meat rationing, it’s a wonder they have TV at all.

If there wasn’t any TV during the day, this kind of naturally follows. :wink:


South Africa didn’t even have television until the mid-70s.

I’ve heard that before. Why was that? General authoritarian paranoia about “new” media, or something more specific (restrictions on technology transfer, etc.)?

Useless fact: the little girl was left handed and the picture flipped.

Authoritarian/puritan paranoia, basically.

There was the slight benefit that we went directly to colour TV with no transition from black-and-white.

Of course, now we have 100 satellite channels and there’s still nothing worth watching.

Most U.S. TV stations signed off during the late night / early morning hours, at least through the 1970s (and, many did sign off with the national anthem).

As a kid in suburban Chicago in the early 1970s, I watched “Top o’ the Morning” on WGN every morning from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. – it was a farm news show. Why did I watch it? Well, I was awake, and waiting for the cartoon show (“Ray Rayner and Friends”) to start at 7 a.m.; before 7 a.m., the only station that was on the air was WGN, with that farm show.

Decades later, I had the chance to meet Orion Samuelson, who was the host of that show. I mentioned that I’d been a “loyal viewer” as a kid – he told me that he’d heard similar stories, many times, as his show was the only thing on the air at that time! :smiley:

Up til the 80’s, America only had three TV channels, well 4 if you count PBS (I don’t).