/ Technology

Do you own a black and white TV?

black and white tv

Around 8,000 people in the UK have a licence for a black and white TV. Are you one of them?

We were really surprised to discover that out of the 25.8 million TV licences that were in force in the UK in the 2016-17 financial year, 8,242 of those were for black and white TVs.

And it threw up a big question: how can you only watch TV in black and white?

Analogue TVs

It turns out that you can still use an analogue TV set, despite the fact that the switchover from analogue to digital was completed in October 2012 – although, you need a digital television converter box and a Scart cable.

The box connects to your aerial (which will have to have been upgraded to digital) and your old telly via a Scart lead, and gives you free-to-air digital channels on the Freeview platform.

It makes sense that you’d want to make the most of a perfectly good older analogue TV set. However, any black and white sets still in use must be pretty ancient.

We couldn’t find out exactly when manufacturers stopped making black and white tellies, but our (imperfect) collective memory reckoned the last ones must have been made in the 1980s or possibly the 1990s – if you know more precisely, please tell us!

Black and white TV

I shared this information on Twitter and got some interesting replies. One of my Twitter followers, who served as a Trustee of the BBC until April 2015, said:

If you are really keen to switch to black and white, you can still pick up TV sets on sites such as eBay. We had a look and found several, ranging from a 5.5-inch portable (accepting bids from a tenner) to a rather fabulous orange space-age number for £220.

So we’re intrigued. Are you one of the 8,000 who only has a black and white TV licence? As it costs only £49.50 a year compared to the annual fee of £147 for a colour set, we can see why it would be attractive. Do let us know if you’re one of the last hold-outs – and why.


Amazing! Especially as a HDTV can cost you less than £100 nowadays.

Either achromatopsia is a rather more common condition than I believed or it seems likely that some viewers are not being very honest with the TV licensing people.

Paul says:
8 December 2019

I don’t understand how silly people can be.Any tv can be made B&W and use a B&W licence,”Any TV” you just put into Black & White mode by removing the Color in the settings and then its a digital B&W tv, “its that easy” you can set up another Tv for watching dvd, playing games on like the old play station. if you have a pc old or new you could watch catch up tv like itv hub in color if you really miss color but you will find you don’t iplayer or any bbc programs are a no no unless your using a B&W licence on a black & white tv or monitor .there would not be a b&w licence still if this was braking the law see they cannot include digital 101000 type of coding as a color only broadcast as its up to the viewer how they chose to decode it and its that simple your been ripped off

To qualify for a Black-&-White TV licence, a television set must be incapable of showing a colour picture, so tuning a colour set down to B-&-W only does not count.

Money is not the issue: people will gladly pay £1000 or more for a new TV yet balk at the licence fee. Some people find it a struggle, mainly those without relatives who could help with certain costs of living, but they hardly seem to complain.

You can pay the licence fee in monthly instalments nowadays – that doesn’t make it less but it does make it easier.

Paul says:
8 December 2019

Sorry your wrong, you can you do on need a color licence if your not watching in color, and that’s fact, “they would like you to think that you need one” but cover there back by still having a B&W read carefully you will see that. No one expects someone to use a TV that bombards you with radiation thru your eye’s that have been not for sale for 30 odd years for that very reason. And my tv is 15 years old and came from a charity shop everything does in my flat , and sadly for 1000’s of people it is about the money the licence fe monthly is £6.30p per week for a color so that is a whooping £25.20 now times that by 12 then you till me thats a cheaper way no its wrong and people just all need to go B&W AND SHOW THE QUEENS MONEY GRABBING DAYS ARE OVER… its that simple

John is right, and the TV Licensing website is always a good place to find surprising terms & conditions. Here is one:

“Even if you have a black and white TV, you need a colour licence to record any live TV or download BBC programmes on iPlayer.”

Apparently 7000 people still have a licence to receive B&W TV.

If you can find a working B&W TV, a licence costs £52, but you cannot apply online.

Edit: Paul – I was responding to John and had not seen your post. Can you post an official link that indicates that you don’t need a colour licence to watch TV on a colour set with the colour turned off? A B&W picture on a colour TV consists of colour pixels that in combination produce an image that appears to lack colour.

Paul says:
8 December 2019

Wave I don’t have to its common sense, and that is why the B&W licence still lives. not just for dangerous old tv. this is what I also said “Even if you have a black and white TV, you need a colour licence to record any live TV or download BBC programmes on iPlayer.” < only because your viewing it from a PC THAT'S COLOR lol you can just watch it on time on your tv but you can watch ITV HUB YOUTUBE etc without any licence (smiles) your confusing a simple solution a pc does not need a licence. your talking to a city& guilds part four in electronics person that know how a digital tv works. lol I also used to mend them old B&W ones am not far of 60 I just hate to see folks been ripped off

Paul says:
8 December 2019

p.s remember your not paying for the digital from analog your paying for watching it in color as for using a digital recorder it would be recorded in color but in court as your not selling it or broadcasting it for your own personal use on your B&W TV your still only watch it blac & white are you not?

I was simply quoting from the TV Licensing website, Paul, not trying to justify their terms & conditions.

In my younger days I used to repair TVs (as a hobby) and still have a box full of line output pentodes and efficiency diodes from scrapped valve sets. I would not mind if the licence fee was replaced by a tax on new TVs to encourage people to keep equipment longer and help those who are short of money.

Paul says:
8 December 2019

nice, or just put adds on bbc. the licence is outdated, I mean how the Queen thinks is right to charge a blind person for hearing the Tv is rather sad when bbc radio is licence free or people that find like myself b&w easier and sharper to see now am ill .anyway look after yourself and keep warm and safe

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From the TV Licensing website –

The law says you need to be covered by a TV Licence to:
:: watch or record programmes as they’re being shown on TV, on any channel;
:: watch or stream programmes live on an online TV service (such as ITV Hub, All 4, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Now TV, Sky Go, etc.);
:: download or watch any BBC programmes on iPlayer.

This applies to any device you use, including a TV, desktop computer, laptop, mobile phone, tablet, games console, digital box or DVD/VHS recorder.

The Colour TV licence costs £154.50 a year – or just under £3 a week. A B-&-W licence costs £52 a year. A blind person is entitled to a discount of 50% so for them a B-&-W licence would be only £26 a year. If they lived with others in the same household and elected to use a colour set the entire household could enjoy television for £77.25 a year.

No ads on the beeb, please. Lets keep some channels where we can watch programmes without continual interruptions – unlike the behaviour of some of their political interviewers

Paul says:
8 December 2019

OK let’s now put the TV van to bed as a con did you ever seen in the back of a van? nope not many of us did if life was so simple many a clansman operator would have been taken out on ops. a simple radio could find a signal tuned rite a method you can still use to thius day to detect bugging. back to the tv. the old way was to find a way in by using the decoy van and feeling the set for heat then having you turn it on if it was hot still. these days we should be charging the company’s for bombarding us with there radiation from there transmitters 5 G is a real worry and will also affect our climate mark my words but back to tv we are now digital and there is no way of detecting what your watching friend but you can turn off color on a digital tv as for tv licencing have had a tv licence all my life until sept this year since then i tryed there payment plan , first i was sent a 40 year tv licence then i told them then they wanted to charge me from july last year so again i set up a color licence only to get a letter on Saturday saying on the 15 there coming to my home to to fine me and for what the fact there simple or am simple for been conned into a color licence I do not need

Paul says:
8 December 2019

it still dose not say you need a color one cos you dont and you dont need a licence for a pc trust me i know

I stopped watching commercial TV in the mid-80s because of the adverts, though nowadays BBC programmes are embedded in trailers and other self-promotion. I watch little TV and like to think that my licence fee is being used to support BBC radio.

Thanks for the information, John. I’m amazed that a TV licence is needed to watch YouTube videos, presumably because YT is now a popular TV app. Maybe it won’t be long before we need a TV licence to write an email or word process a document because the computer screen can be mirrored on the TV. 🙁 Those with 4K TVs had better be quiet or they might face a higher licence fee. Can I have a discount because my TV dates from 2008 and is secondhand?

A horizontal line or squashed picture usually required replacement of the PCL85/805. If Which? Convo had been around in these days there would be complaints about poor durability because these valves did not last longer than a smart TV app does in 2019.

Perhaps it’s time to review TV licensing. £154.50 a year might not be much to most people but there might be a reason why 7000 people have B&W licences.

Paul says:
8 December 2019

that is not said at all read again itv hub youtube amazon prime can all be watched without any licence i player can not be watch without a licence there is a million places on the web that tells you what legal to watch you just dont set up any that are not its a choice to watch the bbc and I choose not to

Thanks Paul. The small word LIVE has registered: 🙂

:: watch or stream programmes live on an online TV service (such as ITV Hub, All 4, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Now TV, Sky Go, etc.);

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Paul says:
8 December 2019

i know what a clansman was And you know what I mean. So do you , and don’t dare mock me we got one of them vans once in a sale trust me its bull, it always was! your on about 40 years ago man get real. and what as this got to do with what is needed licence wise? do you in fact work for the BBC? I rather think you do … — … there is some real idiots in life that always mock folks without causation in live still dose not alter the facts on licencing dose it!

Paul says:
8 December 2019

Duncan , AS i said a simple radio can pick up a single man i could make you a amp that can tell you what was been said 5 miles away from the oscillation of the room light on the window glass, I could build you a light any spectrum amp injector to TX RX owning radios is nothing can you make one ;-), I can… but we are talking tv licencing not trading insults are we not my friend

Paul says:
8 December 2019

and on that note am going to bed over and out 73’s

Paul – I hope you are not suggesting that people should break the law.

You do need a colour TV licence if you use a colour TV to watch television or record or download TV programmes. The TV LIcensing website makes it clear that you must have a licence if you use a computer [or other device] to watch, record or stream programmes live as they are being shown and if you use one to watch BBC iPlayer.

Luckily you will soon be able to discuss your requirements with a TV Licensing representative face-to-face and get the right licence for your circumstances.

Given that almost every residential property now requires a TV licence, and that local rating authorities know which ones are occupied and chargeable for Council Tax, I don’t see why the TV licence fee cannot be automatically included in the Council Tax bill and remitted by the local authorities direct to the BBC. This would eliminate a massive administrative bureaucracy and release more funds for broadcasting. Relevant exemptions and discounts could be applied as with other elements of the Council Tax.

I presume there is a hard core of people still wedded to watching TV in black-&-white on an ancient set as well as a number of blind people living on their own for whom the limited service is adequate and satisfactory. They all must know that they would be taking a risk if they falsely declared their eligibility for a B-&-W licence. The biggest problem for the licensing authority is those viewers who do not have a licence at all rather than those with the wrong one.

“Does anybody here realise that that involves removing “dual purpose ” valves etc in a dual conversion TV ?”
Oh yes! But dual standard TVs were not all colour – some were just to accommodate the 625 line BBC2 – but in black and white.

The enormously long multi-way change over switch was an amazing arrangement, necessary to accommodate the quite dramatically different line rates and attendant changes to give you similar energy density on the CRT. I marveled at the design of the scanning yoke – the horizontal coils must’ve been an enormous challenge to produce a reasonably linear dI/dt for 15.6kHz and 10kHz.

You say the PCL85 was your failure? I’m surprised – that was used in the vertical scan I think – which was the same give or take for either line standard (I say give or take – with the HT changes amplitude would have altered a little). The more likely I’d have though would have been the line output valve. Was it a PL509? You’re stretching my grey matter now!

There seem to be two unrelated discussions taking place within the same thread here. It would have been polite if the digression on valves etc had been opened in a new section of the Conversation and not as a reply to an ongoing discussion about licence fees.

As can be seen, it has irritated Paul who clearly feels his intelligence has been insulted.

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If you say so, Duncan. If that’s how you feel, it’s a pity.

Something I cannot get my head round is how you and certain others think it is helpful to our readers to have these extremely detailed discussions on technical minutiae in a general interest Conversation. I thought there were specialist publications and websites for niche enthusiasts. Perhaps it is me who is out of touch.

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Apologies, John I did not mean to irritate you or Paul (though Paul is clearly polarised in his thoughts here, and the only one in step…

Id suggest that this argument on detector vans is not appropriate to continue.

I do feel a degree of technical discussion is often useful to properly lay a topic bare but I also agree with John that they can become far to specialist to contribute usefully.

Perhaps if enthusiasts do want to continue exchanging such information and experience they could be put in direct contact.

I own one – a portable Hitachi with a rotary tuning dial – fully analogue (Wave – the dial is linked to a vane vc – predates the varactor diode!). It actually looks similar in many ways to the one pictured at the head of this page. I shoved it in the loft about ten years ago. There was plenty of life left in it when I last checked but we are lacking any broadcast stations so I’d need to hook up a modulator – though I guess to prove it’s still ok I could rejuvenate the electrolytics and power it up.with a VCR.

Not sure why I kept it really – sentiment perhaps. I doubt it holds any scarcity value.

Ah happy days when I used to follow the latest technical advances in TV design, Roger.

Here is the TV in the introduction in colour – which is not bad for a VHF model. It’s amazing what you can find on the web.


I think someone has been playing with Photoshop, Kate. We never had any VHF colour TVs in the UK. Colour TV was introduced after UHF broadcasting was introduced. To start with we had ‘dual standard’ UHF/VHF sets followed by UHF-only models.

Many a time I was called in to repair these dual standard sets as a youngster.

For the uninitiated, there was a very long multipole two-way slider switch operated by a cam arrangement. A few carried high current, many held off high voltage. In all cases, there was an instruction to shut the set off before flipping from one to another. But people didn’t!

Fortunately by the time I got called in to fix these, they were happy for me to fix it at 625 only (and I did!).

B&W TVs were my introduction to taking broken things apart.

It turned out they were easy to repair…. locate the blackened valve, take it to a local spares shop for a replacement, fit and hey presto it worked again all for about 10p.

Brand new valves are ‘blackened’ too. This is the ‘getter’ used to mop up oxygen released during manufacture and use of valves and the appearance did not change significantly with use. If the black getter turned white, that indicated air leakage and loss of vacuum.

My father knew nothing about TVs but his educated guesses about which valve to replace were often right. We had a TV repair shop that sold them to the public. The city library had a series of books with circuit diagrams and details of components in TVs and radios, plus a list of common faults with the different models. This was my introduction to the same ‘chassis’ (and later circuit boards) being used in different brands and models of TVs.

I inherited a black and white TV from my great aunt when I was about five years old. I’m not really sure why I was given the TV as I was a bit young to have it and it made children’s TV far less interesting as it lacked any colour – Art Attack, in particular, was a bit disappointing. Needless to say, I barely watched it as I preferred the colour TV in the living room. I think my parents might still have it in the loft…

I also inherited a B&W TV from an elderly relative/neighbour when I was in my early teens. Despite it being B&W and having a knob that you had to twist to get to the then four channels, I was quite proud of it, as, at the time, very few of my friends had TVs in their bedrooms!

We watch “Talking Pictures” from time to time (channel 81) partly because quite a lot of decent films were made in the olden days, and partly because they show scenes of life as it once was. Nostalgia. Many are in B&W and a reminder that while colour undoubtedly adds a great deal, monochrome is surprisingly good as a medium.

I must make a point to watch them, Malcolm. Can anyone else remember Laurel & Hardy, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin films being shown on BBC2 (I think) just before dinner/teatime during the week? It didn’t matter that I had a B&W TV when I was watching them!


You’ve missed out Keaton 🙂

“Glimpses” between programmes shows short features from the past – recently, Rome in 1947, the Travelling Post Office, a family holiday at the seaside in the ’50s.

Our family first had a TV in 1957, when the TV licence seems to have been £4. The viewing area of the screen of the TV was about the same as the laptop I’m typing this comment on, and in our small village we had one programme – BBC. ITV came later. My father paid extra for an Ekco TV that received VHF radio, so that added the Home Service and the Light Programme.

Our first was a Murphy in the early 60s – quite a big one I think, might have been a 21″. A flap on the top acting as a dust cover for the controls doubled as an on-off switch actuator – a curved rod operated a disconnect switch plunger when it was closed.

Controls…. a large volume control knob in the left recess under the flap with the brightness control deeper down), and in the right-hand recess, a multi-way switch which would have allowed tuning of, I think, eight channels. We had ITV and BBC. The contrast control was deeper in that recess.

Every so often it would detune. To retune, there were separate little variable capacitors per channel accessible from the underside. I knew nothing about them as a youngster, fortunately!

And horizontal and vertical hold knobs to twiddle.

These early black & white sets used ‘turret tuners’ which made a very satisfying clunk with each change of the channel. When the tuner was set up correctly there was no need to fiddle with the fine tuning control when changing channel. I found the workings of the TV more interesting than the programmes.

They were round the back on skeleton pots!

Yes this was a turret tuner – loads of wipers for the two separate daughter boards to edge-connect to. And space for a few more daughter boards.

Much later on I had a radio – from Russia of all places – with a similar arrangement – for the various shortwave bands. HM was on the mother board though – that position had a 405/625-esq slide switch to disengage it in favour of the turret. Happy days!

I don’t know what normal people will think about people mentioning turret tuners, varicap diodes and skeleton pots, but Duncan will understand.

After the tube of my parents’ 1957 TV became low emission, I decided to cut down the walnut-veneered cabinet to make a more compact VHF radio for my bedroom. The sound quality from the speaker was better than modern ultra-slim smart TVs produce. I was still a schoolboy at the time.

… and my father made a wonderful Radiogram. The base radio was a Fen Man 2 (push pull EL84 output stage, EABC80-based FM tuner) with a 3-band (LW/MW/VHF) plus “gram” setting on the rotary switch (phono sockets); the record deck was an auto-changer – BSR Monarch with a 9TAH flipover-for-78 cartridge, and the cabinet was the shell after discarding the innards from a full height TV cabinet (Rediffusion I think). The 10″ (or might have been 8″) bass speaker needed a tweeter alongside it – pity he never thought of that, but he loved his bass!

In those days the tube had a further toughened glass front panel – which remained. A piano hinge was inserted at the top about 4 inches back from the (curved) front edge,allowing the front (complete with the toughened glass) to lift from above the speaker grilleby something just in excess of 180° to prop on the top (making the open unit about 6′ tall). This gave access to the BSR record deck on a new ply sub-floor above the speaker on its AV springs. He had carved a rectangular hole at the top and drilled four holes fore from it in the 1/4″ walnut veneered otherwise polished top surface, fitting the previously upright radio/string-wired tuner dial facing front, with the dial facing the ceiling instead, with the four control pots/switches through the holes – with just enough on the flatted 1`/4″ shafts to take the original knobs.

The icing on this small cake was a further oval hole to allow the EM80 magic eye to be seen from above – using the original escutcheon from the case off the Fen man!

If he had bothered to put a few Pea bulbs around the glass to light up the record deck this would have been the most wonderful piece of furniture ever. As it is, it used to rock ornaments off the mantel piece such was the bass amplification and resonance!

What a memory this has returned. In terms of electrical repairs, I think over the next 10 or so years I had to replace the capacitor across the mains which went short circuit, one of the coupling capacitors which went leaky and one of the solid carbon dropper resistors (I cheated on that and put a string of 1/2W film resistros in there instead)! I’m glad when I was old enough to do this I’d changed my mind and gone into engineering instead of repair work!

I hope your father lived in a detached house because a pair of EL84s will deliver a fair volume. 🙂 Here is the Fenman 2 radio that inspired the project: https://www.radiomuseum.org/r/pye_fenman_2.html

As a young man, my father made a valve radio and had to take the accumulator to be charged at the weekend, but it was gone before I was born.

Your mention of a magic eye reminds me that I have an old Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder that needs new capacitors and a new magic eye. I can’t remember when we stopped calling them condensers. The retailer was less than helpful when it started crackling soon after purchase, and that was what began my interest in consumer affairs.

It was the arrival of the integrated circuit and the increasing difficulty in diagnosing faults that were responsible for me losing interest in playing with electronics.

I used to repair TVs because it was a challenge. I sometimes switched the connections to the scan coils to demonstrate to the owner that their set was now working but there was still a slight problem – the picture was upside-down.

Apologies to Kate for taking her Convo well off-topic. 🙂

That was it. What a find, thank you. 🙂 I remember now that combination assembly on the left (of four) knobs. The rotary control was a on/off treble cut control – and I never got around to cutting the track at the end of its travel to stop any intended attenuation), and the clear plastic thingy you can just see on the outside operated a concentric a four position rotary switch which added stages of bass boost.

Edited to add – that I’ve now skim-read some of the comments in there about problems – and yes the capacitor that went leaky was a Hunts – blue and white job (my father had a different name for it after I’d identified the fault, which was actually quite easy (pulled the valve out before it and the noise continued, unsoldered one end of it and it went beautifully quiet). I’d not get away with using an unearthed soldering iron these days – not so much safety but ESD damage!

And my apologies too for taking it off topic. I accept full blame. As indeed I used to in Dillo days (but only on those few days that ended with the letter Y)…

There are various other photos of the Pye Fen Man II on websites. Within the last month I have thrown out a box of dead components that I collected for no particularly good reason, mainly during the 1970s, many from b/w TVs. There were a few Hunts capacitors but none of the light blue/white variety, though I remember them well.

I must look through my late mother’s box of photos – there may be a small number of that radiogram. I wish I still had it, but it was cannibalised to relocate the Fen Man innards once again – into a huge baffle board above a downstairs cupboard, complete with its 10″ speaker – but no record deck, and no magic eye this time. The valve had failed and somehow we just went by ear!

Roger, as not many have contributed directly on B&W tvs I think, as with other Convos, you can be excused for what is only a slight deviation from the core topic. A question still remains in my mind – are there really 8242 people who only own and watch a monochrome tv? Why? Is it pursuing a hobby and they have no colour version? And they don’t watch any tv on a phone or computer (can you get monochrome versions of those?).

I don’t suppose it qualifies if you turn the colour off on your normal tv.

At least on the early TVs it was easy to turn off the colour, but since the TV is still capable of receiving a colour signal a colour licence is needed. It’s the same with DVD recorders and the older video recorders.

When I were a lad a few of my friends knew I liked taking TVs apart, collecting valves and fixing TVs by swapping valves. I acquired a few TVs simply because they wanted me to take the focusing ring-magnets out for them to play with. they were usually a pair and quite strong magnets – but tended to chip easily.
As for tuners – and those biscuit wafers and CLUNK CLUNK changing channels – happy daze 🙂

I’ve still got a few of the ferrite ring magnets, Neil. You can still find them in magnetrons used in microwave ovens, but it’s important to discharge the large capacitor before delving into the works. When moving home I found an old box full of valves rescued from old TVs and radios.

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Jillian Morris says:
7 April 2018

You don’t have to buy a b+with set, you can turn down the colour on your TV and watch in b+w 👍

Sorry, but that won’t do: https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/461749/Man-asks-for-black-and-white-licence-for-his-colour-TV-claiming-he-keeps-the-colour-off

This was a popular suggestion when colour TV was introduced.

Phil says:
7 April 2018

” The box connects to your aerial (which will have to have been upgraded to digital) and your old telly via a Scart lead, and gives you free-to-air digital channels on the Freeview platform. ”

What on earth? Did you get paid for writing that?

To start with there was no need to upgrade TV aerials for digital. It was a popular scam at the time that Which? warned about. Secondly any TV old enough to be monochrome only will have been made before SCART. I have a colour set made in the 1980s which has no SCART socket but I connect the set top box to the SCART socket on a VCR and connect that to the TV’s aerial socket. The SCART output is analogue and the VCR converts it into an RF signal the TV can process. I believe you can still buy dedicated boxes that will do this and a DVD recorder or PVR with an RF output may well do the same job.

Ian says:
9 April 2018

“The box connects to your aerial (which will have to have been upgraded to digital)”

“To start with there was no {widespread} need to upgrade TV aerials for digital.”

Indeed, there is no such thing as a “digital TV aerial”. It’s just a TV aerial – and it is utterly irrelevant whether the signal it picks up is analogue or digital.

In some areas, viewers did have to flip the polarisation from horizontal to vertical or vice-versa. No doubt aerial sales people would have used this as an opportunity to sell a new aerial.

In a very small number of areas, some people may have needed a new aerial because some of their TV services had moved to completely new frequencies quite far removed from the original frequencies. Those who had an aerial covering a limited group of frequencies may have needed to change their aerial for one covering a wider group of frequencies. This was not a common occurrence.

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If you didn’t have money, the cheapest option was a wire coat hanger, a real sod if it got moved.

People complain about the number of mobile phone shops on the high street but there was a time from the late 1950’s through to the early 1990’s when nearly all towns had a selection of TV rental shops and many electrical shops, co-ops, and department stores also rented out TV’s for weekly payments. Names like Radio Rentals, DER, Robinson Rentals, and Granada were found on every high street and many independents were located in smaller parades, and popular electrical retailers like Currys, Howards, and Stone Radio also hired out TV’s [often end-of-line models or hire purchase returns which were cheap to rent].

With rental, you never owned the set but could buy it out of rental after a year or two or you could easily upgrade to a superior model or the latest technology for a small increase in the weekly payment. This was the popular way of having television in the home because it provided a rapid repair service [and prototype colour sets were prone to failure or picture and channel selection problems] as well as enabling an affordable means of payment because the initial outlay for a good colour set was several hundred pounds when weekly wages were barely into double figures.

The TV rental shops offered a range of models from basic table-top sets [that would sit on the sideboard or tea trolley] to full-scale free standing cabinets with tambour doors and a “remote” controller on a long lead for changing the channels from the comfort of your armchair. Watching the picture dissolve into a pin-point of light and closing the doors was the accepted way of ending an evening’s viewing.

When video recording came in, the TV rental shops had a new lease of life as customers added a VCR to their weekly rental and protected themselves against the vagaries of the emerging technology, especially the clash between VHS and Betamax. The shops also started selling and hiring out videos to provide an additional revenue stream but eventually their days were numbered and they gradually faded away with the Flatter Squarer Tube being the last good technology change they brought to the market. They subsequently lost money on the huge and ungainly grey CRT’s that stood in the corner of the lounge like an elephant [there’s a well-known phrase or saying lurking behind that comment but I can’t quite put my finger on it], had an uncomfortable picture ratio, and whose only virtue was that they were practically burglar-proof.

A number of medium-sized electrical retail chains like Hughes and some small independents still do TV rentals alongside washing machines, dishwashers and other appliances, but the desire to have large flat-screen TV’s fitted to the wall and the demand for Smart TV’s has made the home TV market difficult to satisfy on low volumes. With such a wide choice now available on the internet, purchasing on a credit card can equate to a monthly rental and you own the product from the outset.

How times have changed……..

Radio Rentals supplied my first colour TV 📺 as I couldn’t afford to buy one. My newly found status in the TV world was probably the equivalent to getting today’s latest iphone !!!

I shared a house when colour tv first appeared with a chap who worked for the BBC, and was able to get his hands on one. I regret to say he removed it after a few weeks because we all spent too much time watching it! What a novelty it was. Times haven’t changed, except we can watch a colour picture wherever we like on our phones. I wonder how long before we spend more time in virtual reality than we do on the real world doing real things?

Just taken a break from cutting my hedges – must go.

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No Duncan – Those ugly TV sets that stood on big fat legs were always grey so they looked like elephants. They weren’t ‘white elephants’ in the sense of being useless articles as they became very popular until the flat-screen plasma and LED TV’s came along and resolved the picture ratio problem. The wide CRT TV’s couldn’t produce a proper circle [which screwed up BBC-tv’s globe logo] and gave everybody 12″-wide shoulders.

Like Alfa, my first colour TV came from Radio Rentals and it certainly was a bit of a status symbol. I remember having to see the other 27 residents in the apartment building to get their approval to having the communal aerial system adapted and uprated to carry the 625-line signal to each flat – many thought I was just showing off. As if!

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Thanks Duncan. I have no technical knowledge or aptitude in respect of televisions but I remember being persuaded to give up an FST [flatter squarer tube] set in favour of a new wide-screen CRT set and being appalled at the poor aspect of the picture. There was virtually no additional content in the image, it was just spread out across the extra width without a proportionate increase in height. This was towards the end of the 1990’s. Luckily good quality and better value sets became available once the tube was eliminated and the early resolution and definition problems of the plasma and LED models were overcome. It is hard to see what more uplifts in TV performance can now be achieved other than incremental advances on definition and fidelity that are barely perceptible to the human eye [and perhaps that’s why it’s hard to see them!].

I don’t remember TVs with slot meters Duncan. I paid RR monthly.

The first wide-screen TVs were awful. We needed a new TV when they first came out, didn’t like the squashed people, so went for the old CRT.
Wide screen has improved immensely since then.

I have long suspected every new tech that comes out gets gradually downgraded so we fall into the trap of needing the latest tech. The more canny of us will wait until we need it rather than want it.

I remember seeing a Finlandia TV probably around 1980, that had an amazing picture and would probably still be so, even by today’s standards.

I remember the remarkable circuit board on the previously simple base plug. Six pots – grid bias and gain (or, if preferred brightness and contrast) for each of the three primary guns.

A lot of sets had a service switch which effectively collapsed the firld scan to next to nothing to allow easy setting of the grid biases.

As for deflection fidelity, there were so many frigs that were deployed to overcome the fact that the tube angle had increased to keep set depth down it’s almost laughable. One very good aspect of digital is perfect geometrical rendition.

As Duncan has said, the early TVs had to be properly set up to produce a decent picture. Even then, the internal controls needed to be adjusted periodically to correct convergence errors and the balance in output between the red, blue and green electron guns or black & white films would show colour fringing and have a colour hue.

The later TVs used had the three electron guns inline rather than in a triangle and that made setting and maintaining convergence much easier.

Regarding Finlandia TVs, I found this on another forum: “In the UK, Finlandia was the brand name of Granada and these were usually rental sets. Finlandia’s were usually Salora, Nokia, Finlux or Sanyo based sets.”

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You are bringing back memories again, Roger. After moving home I disposed of photocopies of TV circuit diagrams and various redundant kit including a home-made crosshatch generator.

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I remember our earlier discussions, Duncan. I have spent hours browsing through the americanradiohistory.com site in the last couple of years. I cannot remember if you told me about it or I found it by chance. I agree that it’s a truly wonderful archive. I was tempted to get rid of my collection of Practical Electronics and Practical Wireless magazines after seeing this site, but I’m hoping to find a younger enthusiast who could use them.

Thank you very much, Roger, for putting in the correct technical terminology what I was struggling to describe. As you say, “one very good aspect of digital is perfect geometrical rendition”. I could see at a glance what was wrong with the early widescreen CRT television pictures but the trade and customers loved them. It really was a case of “never mind the quality, feel the width”.

My word! I remember designing and knocking up a crosshatch generator to help with convergence – used a small handful of TTL chips – 7490s to count lines down and “pixels” across – and a 74121 to generate the narrow verticals! The heart of it was a crystal-driven Ferranti ZNA134J – one of the early LSI chips (add a single xrystal and you have all the pulses you need, line sync, line blanking, field sync, mixed blanking – including the interlace. Talk about memories… That beast was pricey – about £25 – and ran very hot!

You might see a couple of my circuits in PW and PE – they used to send me £5 postal orders if I sent a good one in!

I found a few good ones in there too – including a car burglar alarm using relay logic. Loved relay logic.

It’s possible I might have constructed one of your circuits then. My main interest was in faultfinding – I relished the challenge of diagnosing and fixing faulty electronics. Many of the faults in TVs etc were the result of dry joints in hand-soldered connections.

I detested Veroboard etc. for my own projects and produced my own boards, first using spray-on photoresist and then using pre-prepared boards. I could buy ferric chloride and sodium hydroxide from our lab stores at work and use one of the lab UV lights, which was more predictable than sunlight. Being able to design circuit boards on a computer and print a mask on sheets intended for overhead transparencies made life was a big step from using a permanent marker to draw the circuit tracks. At work I taught a couple of my technicians to produce circuit boards so that we could build our own research equipment at a fraction of the price of the equivalent commercial product.

I have just been looking at one of my burglar alarms that is destined to become electronic waste. It has 12 DIL relays plus a standard one. Happy days.

You might have done Wave – I sent in a few clever relay things their way. The one I was most proud of though used TTL (as well as the ubiquitous relay!) – which I was disappointed never made it into print, it was a wiper intermittent circuit that didn’t need any new holes drilling, reliant instead on the existing control and a rewire under the bonnet. Basically a flick wipe started a timer, and if flickewiped again within ~15 sec would remember the delay – and do the repeat flicking at your timed interval. If you flicked it before the time was up it would reduce the interval to the new time – and if you flicked it while it was doing a sweep, that cancelled it. I thought that was quite clever – still do actually! Oh – and I never actually built it as my father’s car (1961 mini) didn’t have a flick wipe so there was no point! It was probably too complicated – a master oscillator formed from a crude 74123 cross coupling with an output pulse every second or thereabouts, two 4-bit counters (were they 74163?) , the odd flip flop and a quad comparator. I was I think 15 when I penned that. Halfords were selling aftermarkiet kits for a few quid – the cost of this was higher in parts alone – but oh so elegant in operation it would have been!

Once the PCB layout process progressed to software I left it to professionals (who used to report to me by then!). I was a Chartpack man myself! – and our firm (EEV Chelmsford) had a decent photoreducer/dark room to produce photoresist masters, and a huge vat of Ferric Chloride. As you say, happy days!

I only made simple wiper delay units but what you say makes a lot of sense because the system adapts to your needs. Cars provided plenty of opportunity for experimentation. I did not have a car but my father was amenable. I built several designs of electronic ignition systems, the first based on a circuit from the June 1971 PW during the summer vacation when I was a student.

I did not build any sophisticated circuitry but had access to the services of electronics, mechanical and glassblowing workshops that could produce what I and my colleagues wanted for the cost of the parts.

We are hopelessly off-topic but I’d like to thank Kate Bevan for the opportunity to indulge in nostalgia. 🙂

My first car – 17th b’day present – a white mini of dubious history (7 + previous owners, a milometer stuck on something ,999 that clicked… and clicked… Was very useful as a 1 mile audio trigger to enable speed trials with a stop watch in one hand 😉 This had more mods than original wiring, switches and adaptions before meeting its maker finally. BFN 807 B. Wiper delays, warning lights, burglar alarm, Very comfy seats from an 1100 (nobody in the back after their fitting). Having installed switchgear around the column from a later car, the original floor mounted dip switch served as an “all warning” button. I’d removed the latch mechanism but pressing that down gave a full compliment of additional hooters and headlight. Hooters went off when you took your foot off, headlights stayed on f r 5 seconds I think.

This is a tad off-topic 🙂 . Maybe this convo on dream cars would be a good place for this discussion: https://conversation.which.co.uk/motoring/car-christmas-stocking/

Apologies Lauren. Feel free to create a topic entitled, say, “Antique electronics”. I’m sure that most if not all of the above off-topic stuff would fit in there (with authors’ consent of course). Dream cars would be polluted by this.

Lauren – I propose that Roger is invited to write a Convo on antique electronics. 🙂

LOL – I should report that post …

Joking apart it would be my pleasure. But not before 24th May.

Go for it Roger. I’ll look forward to it.

Meanwhile, back on black & white TV, I read that some might be paying for a b/w licence and watching colour TV.

I will have a little more time on my hands in 2020 – so I will likely put together an abstract for this – and I’ll make damned sure to keep it on topic {Not!}

I’m sure we will enjoy wallowing in nostalgia. 🙂

Further up this page, John wrote:
“Given that almost every residential property now requires a TV licence, and that local rating authorities know which ones are occupied and chargeable for Council Tax, I don’t see why the TV licence fee cannot be automatically included in the Council Tax bill and remitted by the local authorities direct to the BBC. This would eliminate a massive administrative bureaucracy and release more funds for broadcasting. Relevant exemptions and discounts could be applied as with other elements of the Council Tax.”

I have argued that the TV licence should be funded from taxation too, though not explored how this would work. I presume that those who declared that they did not have a TV would qualify for a tax reduction.

That would be logical, Wavechange. There are several exempt categories from council tax which residents have to declare if they wish to avail themselves of them, the single person discount being one of the most important ones. It would be up to the local council to ascertain whether such declarations were true but the presumption would be that a TV licence is needed unless a valid exemption claim is made. They would only need to check the exempt properties and would possibly be more effective at a local level than TV Licensing. If the local authorities had access to the various service providers’ records they could see who was streaming, downloading, watching satellite TV, etc.

This approach would probably cut down the number of people who watch TV illegally. In general, I’m not keen on people having to opt out (e.g. to receiving marketing) but feel that the approach is justified.

Does anyone here not have a TV (or alternative way of viewing TV)?

I’ve known quite a few people connected with higher education, including students and even an emeritus professor, who was eventually given a TV by his sons when he retired. One wanted to limit the time his children watched TV, so put the TV on the landing half-way up the stairs.

A friend runs a small business and is active in several societies. He has not had a TV in the 35 years I have known him.

I think everyone “here” has a device on the internet and therefore could use it to stream live TV.

My understanding is that UK licences are needed by anyone who watches live TV, no matter how they do that.

On YouTube, there are a lot of videos and channels that deal with the ins-and-outs of not having TV licences, as justified by claiming that you don’t watch live TV.

It’s interesting how the rules have evolved, Derek. It’s not so long since you could watch iPlayer without a TV licence. The businessman without a TV (see above) does watch YouTube and with the exception of live streams, none of this is live so at present should not need a TV licence.

95% of households own tvs, and the revenue produced is around £3.8 bn. This costs around £100m to collect – around 2.6%.

Licence fee evasion is around 7%, £300m, with the worst areas being Scotland (10%), NI (9%) as against England and Wales 6%.

Capita have the contract for collecting licence fees. They have some incentive in their contract to increase revenue by reducing evasion. With £300m at stake you’d think considerable technical and manpower resources would be justifies to tackle this without having to change the collection system. I do not see that fragmenting it by putting it in the hands of local authorities, of variable competence, would help.

Incidentally, our licence fee is significantly less than other European countries with a similar broadcasting model. It offers good value for money, in my view, at £3 a week. Not just to support tv, but also radio.

malcolm r says:
I do not see that fragmenting it by putting it in the hands of local authorities, of variable competence, would help.

Well, it would eliminate a layer of bureaucracy but on balance I suspect the real problem is that the BBC is tied politically. So long as the government of the day continues to change the makeup of the BBC’s governing body to suit its own agenda the the BBC might as well be simply funded through direct taxation.

The BBC’s far from perfect but the indirect political control through the licence fee review, Board nominations process and OFCOM have effectively shackled the BBC to whichever Government is in power.

Since the days of black & white TV, people have been pursued for not paying their TV licence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LweldrmZh50

I suspect that enforcement is now mainly by harassment of people until they pay up. When my late parents’ house was empty for about 18 months I had regular threatening letters mentioning gaining access to the property and taking legal action despite the fact that I had declared that the property was empty more than once.

At one time it was necessary to have a licence to listen to radio but that ended in 1971.

Interesting. Many of the YouTube videos that I’ve watched discuss that harassment and point out that householders can opt to refuse the entry of Capita’s TV Licence Inspectors to their homes.

When 7% of viewers try to escape paying for a licence it is well worth attempting to recover the substantial lost revenue, for the benefit of all of us. Harassment is illegal, but legitimate pursuit of debt does not need to be done in that way. How else could we recover £300m to support tv and radio? Will the BBC have to resort to electronic keys to prevent unpaid for use?

For various reasons my previous home remained empty for over a year. TV Licensing did not pester me to the same extent but the main improvement was that periodic declaration that no TV was in use could be done online rather than calling a costly number or responding in writing.

I think it can all be done more efficiently by taxation. In the same way that I claim a 25% reduction in Council Tax for single occupancy, someone else could claim a discount for not viewing TV or viewing in black & white.

I think some of the really stroppy folk on YouTube question why they should have to repeatedly keep on telling TV Licensing the same thing instead of just telling them once.

Simon Hockenhull says:
10 December 2019

So as I understand it if you have a black and white tv licence you can only watch the black and white TV and download programmes from non BBC sites to your iPhone or ipad? I am an ex TV engineer and worked on a lot of colour and black& white TV’s. Just changing valves was frowned on we would be expected to check voltages around the valve to see if they were correct and if they weren’t trace the fault to a say a leaky capacitor or changed value resistor. Recently my black and white TV developed a frame fault compressed at the bottom of the picture, stretched at the top. The PCL805 valve was fine but four capacitors needed changing.

Hi Simon – It’s probably best to study the TV Licensing website and bear in mind that rules change from time to time, as they have with iPlayer. I think your interpretation is right. From the website:

“Do I need a TV Licence if I only ever watch on demand services (like catch up TV), DVDs or downloaded programmes?
> You don’t need a licence if you only ever watch on demand or catch up programmes on services other than BBC iPlayer (and you also never watch live TV programmes on any channel, including on iPlayer).
>You also don’t need a licence to watch DVDs, Blu-rays or videos.
>You need a TV Licence to download or watch BBC programmes on iPlayer – live, catch up or on demand. This applies to any device and provider you use.”

You are quite right about components that are out of spec and the need to check voltages, but most TV engineers I’ve met would start by swapping valves to see if that fixed the problem. 🙂