Occasionally inconsequential things offer a window into another world and another time. Last year I mentioned how a Sunday morning closedown from 1974 “filled” by black screen was a reminder of how Sundays were not working days.
Another video from around the same time has now emerged, only it is a more melancholy reminder of different times which were not so long ago.
BBC Two is closing down after an adult education programme. Peter Bolgar gives a time check and points ahead to the OU. Then comes the test card…and tone.
So why was there no music? Was the tone broadcast for engineering reasons? Or was someone trying to save money on PRS payments to avert another BBC cash crisis? No. The reason is much bleaker.
This video was recorded at the height of the Three Day Week. Extreme economic measures and desperate moves to save electricity were announced in late-1973 following on from a spike in the price of oil and industrial action by miners.
Non-essential industries and shops could only open for 3 days a week. Some non-essential use of electricity was prohibited. Television closed down 10.30pm to try to save power and send the nation to bed early.
To save power, trade test transmissions on BBC Two were virtually abandoned. Indeed Play School even moved over to BBC One until schools programmes resumed for the term, so BBC Two transmitters could stay closed all through the daytime.
On this particular occasion, BBC Two had come back on the air for a particular programme. With only an hour long break afterwards, a complete transmitter shutdown was impractical so a limited trade test transmission took place.
Just why there was no music is unclear. Was it symbolic? Or was it to ensure no viewers at home left the test card on in the background? At this time the government was urging people to switch off electrical equipment they weren’t using and conserve power to reduce the chances of power cuts.
It’s all very bleak and a reminder of a horrible time in modern history. It’s quite different from the BBC cash crisis a year later which left BBC Two off air for much of the daytime.
The familiar voice of Peter Bolgar naturally provokes nostalgia amongst those of us who enjoyed BBC Presentation as youngsters but nostalgia can risk a rose-tinted view of the past. Yet you can also imagine that warm, reassuring voice having been something of a comfort or sign of normality in a difficult time.
Perhaps in 50 years time, someone will look at a recording of Breakfast or The One Show and be bemused when they see the presenters sitting so far apart?
Bleak as it all was, Peter and his colleagues could still pop up to the BBC canteen for a coffee together, have a drink at the BBC Club at the end of their shift and go home to mix normally with their friends and loved ones.
PICTURED: BBC Two test card. COPYRIGHT: BBC.