53. The TV Age

Technological Advances

In the 1950s, there were many technological advances. Many electrical items began to be more accessible.

Washing Machines

In April 1950, mum, grandma and grandad went to Nottingham to see washing machines. Their friends, the Coupes, had a Thor washing machine (see box), so the Parkins decided to get one too. In January 1954, they had a reconditioned starter fitted to it. They also bought various other household items particularly after they moved to Welbeck Street in 1951 (see Chapter 51).

Although they bought a Thor washer, mum noted that grandad would have actually preferred to have bought a Versco which does not appear as well-known as Thor but it appears it was a brand offered by Universal Boilers and Engineering. Nevertheless, the Parkins ordered the Thor. Grandad noted that it cost £78 4s 4d from Hannam’s but he received a discount for paying £75 cash.
1950 Christmas advert for Thor washing machines. The main thrust of the advert is that men should buy their wives a Thor washing machine to save them washday drudgery! It also claims to be able to wash dishes although the fact that this needs a special dish washing attachment is relegated to the small print.


In March 1953, the Parkins had a telephone installed.


In July 1953, mum bought a new camera from Davison the chemist for £7 19 0.

Tape Recorder

In April 1953, mum noted that, at anniversary practice, Bernard Lilley recorded some of the hymns. It was only later that grandad got a tape recorder (see Chapter 64).

Televisions (and Vacuum Cleaners)

Although grandad first noted watching television at Eva’s in 1949 (see Chapter 42), he only got his first television in April 1951. Mum noted that grandad got a new television and grandma got a new Hoover junior (see box)!

[1] They initially tried to get the hoover in Nottingham but without success so they went to the Electric Board in Mansfield and got their last one. The price was 17 guineas. In October 1952, they also bought in Nottingham something which initially I thought said “dushette”. I think this in fact says “dustette” and this was form of handheld vacuum cleaner made by Hoover from the 1930s. It was certainly made into the mid-50s and probably beyond.  
Cutting showing 1938 Hoover advert. I am not sure attitudes and cultural norms had changed much by the 1950s.
Image of Hoover Dustette from an instructions booklet

A Ferranti Television

The television was made by Ferranti and grandad bought it from Meggitt (see box) in Mansfield. Grandad noted that the TV was like the one his nephew Len had. It seems that the Parkins kept the television in the kitchen as, in May 1951, grandad made a blind for darkening the kitchen. In May 1952, the TV went wrong but Meggitt’s fixed it the next day.

I don’t know much about Meggitt’s, which grandad used a lot, except that it was in Mansfield on the corner of Albert Street and Station Street . The address was 12 Albert Street and it is now an estate agent, Burchell Edwards. Grandad paid an initial amount of £20 and went back a few days later to pay for the TV but as the manager was not there he did not pay. He went back two days after that and paid. The total cost was £101 5 3d but he received a discount of £1 5 3d and paid a round sum of £100 which included an aerial.

Watching Television at Others

During 1950, mum and grandad did sometimes watch television elsewhere, that is before they had a set of their own. However, initially, both mum and grandad referred to seeing, rather than watching, television. Mum first used the term “watching television” in September 1950. People who had televisions in 1950 included Eva, Olive (see box note 1), Uncle Frank (see box note 2), Barbara Coupe, and grandad’s nephews, Len Smith and Roy Evans.

[1] This Olive was grandad’s other sister. Mum noted seeing television there in April 1950 when she went there with the Lofthouses who were visiting.

[2] This reference to Uncle Frank is to Frank Cirket, grandma’s first cousin, who lived in Bedford.

Mum and grandad did not always note what they saw but, in April 1950, mum noted seeing “The First Mrs Fraser” at Olive’s. This play by St John Ervine was made into a television film in 1950. Other films were made in 1932 and 1957. A radio version of it is available on YouTube. On Boxing Day 1950, mum noted watching “Cinderella” on Len’s television.

Description of the play “The First Mrs Fraser”. This is a stage version not the TV version

The Parkins Have Their Own Television

The Parkins got their television on 13 April 1951 and Len came to see it the same day. The first play mum watched on their television was “Shout Aloud Salvation” (see box note 1), an adaptation of Charles Terrot’s historical novel about the early days of the Salvation Army. Mum rated it very good. Mum also noted it being performed on television in 1956 (see Chapter 64).

[1] “Shout Aloud Salvation” was in two parts, broadcast on Sunday 15th and Thursday 19th April . While it does not seem that there were TV mini-series at that time, some plays were in more than one part, e.g. “Mourning becomes Electra” in March/April 1952 and “The Gamblers” in May 1952.

[2] Mum used the same rating system that she used for films although with some variation, for example, she rated one play “FG” which I have assumed is fairly good.

Mum Noted the TV Plays She Saw in 1951 and 1952

In both 1951 and 1952, mum recorded all the TV plays she saw, more than 30 each year. Sometimes, mum noted plays that had been on even if she had not watched them. These included “The Way of the World” in June 1951, “The Final Test” in July 1951, “Barrets of Wimpole Street” in October 1951, “The Unknown Warrior” in November 1951 and “The Taming of the Shrew” in April 1952. In September and November 1951, and in February 1952, she noted that there was an opera on TV but that she did not watch it. These operas were “La Boheme”, “La Belle Hélène” and “Rigoletto”. In January 1952, she noted that the “Life & Death of King John” had been on TV. However, she “did not look” at it.

Perhaps the novelty faded after that as, from 1953, she no longer listed the plays she saw although she did sometimes note specific TV programmes she had seen. Over time, she focused more on who she had watched TV with.

Grandad Noted the Play “1984

Grandad did not often comment on the TV but he did note in December 1954 that the TV play “Nineteen Eighty Four” had caused a lot of comments in the paper. The novel by George Orwell had first been published in 1949. Apparently, questions were asked in parliament and there were many complaints because of its “subversive nature and horrific content”. However, in 2000, a poll of industry experts for the British Film Institute ranked it in the top 100 Greatest British TV Programmes of the 20th century (see box). Apparently, the queen and Prince Philip enjoyed the play!

1984 ranked 73rd in a poll of the top 100 Greatest British TV Programmes of the 20th century. The top 10 were Brideshead Revisited (10), Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister (9), Parkinson (8), Boys from the Black Stuff (7), Blue Peter (6), Monty Python’s Flying Circus (5), The Naked Civil Servant (4), Doctor Who (3), Cathy Come Home (2) and Fawlty Towers (1).
George Orwell’s 1984

Mum did Watch some Sporting Events on Television

Mum did watch things on television other than plays. This included major sporting events, for example the 1951 FA  Cup Final between Newcastle and Blackpool (see Chapter 59). However, only the second half was shown and apparently the TV footage has been lost. Mum also watched test cricket in the summer of 1951 (see Chapter 59). In February 1952, mum noted that swimming had been shown on TV. This consisted of an inter-regional swimming match and water polo

Major Events on TV

Major events were also shown on TV, such as the King’s Funeral in 1952. In June 1952, mum watched Trooping of the Colour and the Royal Tournament. In June 1953, the TV showed the queen’s coronation (see Chapter 59) and the Parkins watched all day. Indeed, grandad noted that there were 19 of them round the television set, something which was repeated by families across the country.

Details of King George VI’s funeral in the Radio Times

Variety Shows and Pantomimes

There were sometimes variety shows on TV. In October 1951, Blackpool circus was featured. In December 1951, mum noted that “Aladdin” was on television. That same month, she noted that “Puss in Boots on Ice” was on and, in January 1952, “Robinson Crusoe on Ice” was shown. That same month, the TV showed “Cinderella”. In January 1954, she watched “Humpty Dumpty on Ice” at Ken Roome’s. In January 1952, she watched the ballet “Sleeping Beauty” on TV.


Mum also started watching some regular shows, such as “Kaleidoscope” and “What’s my Line?” She seemed to particularly enjoy “What’s my Line?” However, this view was not universal. Jonathan Evans, in his book “The Mystery of Ernie Taylor’s Abdomen” (p40), gives it as an example of a boring show on in the early evening on the BBC.

News cutting featuring an episode of “What’s My Line” featuring a panel of David Nixon, Lady Isabel Barnett, Barbara Kelly and Gilbert Harding.

Religious Services on TV

There were also religious services on TV. For example, in September 1951, mum noted watching Harvest Festival on TV and that Joan, Mrs Hill, Mrs Vaughan and Renie all came for the service. Grandad noted on New Year’s Eve that he and grandma saw the Watchnight Service from Wesley’s Chapel[1] while mum stayed at Bourne. The Watchnight Service was led by Rev R V Spivey. In her book(let) “I Remember” (p65), Edith Searson noted that she became a life friend of Wesley’s Chapel in 1975.

In January 1952, mum noted having seen a tour of Westminster Abbey with Richard Dimbleby. Also, in December 1952, grandad watched a Watchnight Service from Scotland while both mum and grandma went to chapel (see box). In April 1953, grandma and grandad watched a Roman Catholic service from Bristol Cathedral. This was in fact an Easter vigil.

The Watchnight Service in 1952 was from Wellington Church in Glasgow. Grandad also saw in the New Year from 1953 to 1954 watching television but, from what I can see, they showed a Hogmanay Party and not a watchnight service.  

TV Shows of Local Interest

There were also TV shows of local or specific interest to mum. For example, in May 1952, she noted that May Day in Elstow had been featured on children’s TV.

In addition, in February 1952, mum noted that “Yeoman’s Hospital came from Driffield”. I am not entirely sure what she was referring to. Yeoman’s Hospital was a book written by Helen Ashton in 1944 but it was set in the fictional town of Wilchester, It was turned into a film, White Corridors, in 1951 and this may be what mum is referring to but this was filmed in Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. It appears to have been read on Woman’s Hour in 1953 – but this is much later than mum’s note. So, I can’t really explain it!

Watching Television was a Social Event

The Parkins often had friends and family round to watch television including Phyllis Attwood, Barbara Coupe, dad, Mr & Mrs Hill, David Hill, Pearl & Ken Hodges, Betty Longden, John Overfield, Ken Roome, Joan Storer and Margaret Varnam. Mum and her friends also sometimes watched TV at other people’s houses, e.g. at Ken Roome’s in November 1953 and on a number of occasions subsequently.

The Radio was Still Used Frequently

Mum did sometimes still listen to the radio. For example, in January 1952, she listened to “It Won’t be a Stylish Marriage. In May 1954, she noted hearing Billy Graham on the “wireless”. This was the end of his Greater London Crusade at the Empire Stadium, Wembley.