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The spread of TV - what will be the benefits of TV?


1949. At the opening of the Sutton Coldfield relay station speakers consider the benefits of TV.

The Sutton Coldfield transmitter near Birmingham was opened on 17 December 1949.

It was the first transmitter outside London and brought television pictures to an entirely new audience of several millions in the Midlands.

Those who spoke at the opening emphasised the need for television to become cheaper and more widely available – it's easy to forget that a little over 50 years ago television was the preserve of a privileged few. So Sutton Coldfield was followed by a number of other transmitters – serving large, urban communities to begin with – and television rapidly became a national service. Between 1951 and 1952 transmitters opened at Holme Moss in the Pennines, Kirk O'Shotts between Glasgow and Edinburgh and Wenvoe in south Wales.

The single event that can be said to have transformed the success of television was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. An estimated 22 million people watched the event and many cited the coronation as their reason for buying a television. It was the first time that the television audience outnumbered that for radio.

ITV became the first commercial broadcaster in 1955 and its lively programmes quickly exposed the BBC as rather dull and unadventurous and the BBC had to react swiftly to catch up. Many new programme formats were developed during this period and many long-running series established – e.g. ‘Grandstand', ‘This is your life' and ‘Dixon of Dock Green'. New electronic recording techniques allowed programmes to be pre-recorded, which further enhanced the quality of programmes and allowed television dramas to be made of a kind that had been impossible in the era of exclusively live broadcasting.

The speaker in the clip is the Mayor of Sutton Coldfield. Images include the opening of the transmitter in 1949, early studio scenes from BBC Lime Grove and a family gathered to watch television pictured in 1958.


The success of television in the long run will be measured of course by the number of people who look at its programmes in their homes and in other places. We do not want it to become an expensive luxury for the few, but a source of information and entertainment to the many. We aim at a widespread service, and those who have done so much so far are not going to sit back and rest on their oars. Their task will be to further, as quickly as possible, the plan which has already been announced for making the television service available to an even wider public than that which can be served by the BBC's two stations at Alexandra Palace and Sutton Coldfield.

I am sure that the successful bringing of television to the Midlands and the enthusiasm, with which this achievement has been received, will encourage them in their task.

It therefore gives me the greatest pleasure to declare the BBC's Sutton Coldfield television station open, and I wish success to the efforts of all those concerned in its operation and the greatest enjoyment to all those who receive its programmes.

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