Going To The Pictures

The Advance of Television

The decline of cinema attendances and the closing of many cinemas from the mid 1950’s onwards has been attributed mainly to the rise and popularity of Television.

The British Broadcasting Company Ltd was first established in 1922 and in 1927 the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was established however and it was not until 1932 that the BBC’s experimental service began from Broadcasting House, and in 1936 the world’s first regular high definition service was broadcast from Alexandra Palace. The Second World War resulting in the television service closing down and on 7th June 1947, the television service resumed.

The television of the late 1940’s was rather staid with what many people would consider highly serious with concerts and plays dominating the viewing schedules bearing in mind that programmmes were only on of an evening, two programmes which survived from this period were Watch with Mother (1946 – 1973) and Come Dancing (1949- 1998)

The Coronation on 2nd June 1953 certainly advanced the television audience with many thousands of people buying televisions to watch the event however this was seen on a small screen approx 9 inches and in black and white.   From this point television rapidly gained popularity across the country and by 1955, many popular programmmes were being shown such as The Good Old Days (1953 – 1983) Panorama (1953 – present) The Grove Family (1954 – 1957) also in 1955 a major change took place when ITV – Commercial Television began broadcasting.

With the advent of ITV the BBC had competition and so had to produce programmes that would appeal to a much wider audience so in this year the BBC produced Dixon of Dock Green (1955 – 1976) Life with the Lyons (1955 – 1960) Crackerjack   (1955 – 1984) ITV were not to be left our and in first year broadcast The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955 – 1960) Sunday Night at the London Palladium (1955 – 1967)  and the two long running quiz shows Take your Pick (1955 – 1967) and Double your money (1955 – 1968). There would be also long running series such as Emergency Ward 10 (1957 – 1967) and No Hiding Place (1957 – 1967)

As the 1950’s developed the BBC produced more programmes that would become household names and long running White Heather Club (1958 – 1968), Grandstand (1958 – 2007) The Black and White Minstrel Show (1958 – 1978)

ITV on the other hand went for action and adventure programmes such as Ivanhoe (1958 – 1959), The Invisible Man (1958 – 1959), the Adventures of William Tell (1958 – 1959) however not to be outdone by Grandstand ITV had its own sports programme World of Sport (1965 – 1985) this programme introduced Ten Pin Bowling and Wrestling to a much wider audience.

Early pop shows included Six Five Special and Oh Boy, and also Juke Box Jury and later Thank Your Lucky stars and Ready Steady Go.   There were also serious programmmes produced by both Channels such as the BBC’s Monitor (1958 – 1965) and drama was also high on the list of programming with ITV’s Armchair Theatre (1956 – 1974)

Despite a great deal of homegrown programmes it was little doubt that American Television shows proved a big hit and kept viewers at home watching  such television series as westerns which included  Wagon Train, Cheyenne, Bronco, Have Gun will Travel, Bonanza and Gunsmoke, Maverick and Rawhide to name but a few.

There were detective and other drama series, 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, Perry Mason, The Defenders, The Fugitive, Dragnet, Highway Patrol, The Naked City and medical Drama’s such as Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey.

There were light entertainment programmes from America starring Perry Como and Andy Williams.

Comedy shows such as Bilko, I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan’s Island, and The Beverley Hillbillies.

Despite a massive influx of American television shows British Television was not be outdone in the early 1960’s with BBC programmes such as “Z” Cars, Dr. Finlay’s Casebook, Dr. Who, Maigret comedy shows such as Hugh and I, Steptoe and Son, Eric Sykes, ITV produced Coronation Street, and also adventure series such as Ghost Squad, The Avengers, The Saint, The Naked Jungle and Danger Man, comedy series with Charlie Drake, The Army Game and The Larkins

Younger viewers had always been catered from the early days with such shows as The Lone Ranger, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, The Range Rider, Whirly Birds, Champion The Wonder Horse Circus Boy,Blue Peter, Animal Magic, Billy Bunter, children had their own television programmes usually between 5p.m. and 6.pm.

It is interesting that cinema audiences had been in a steady decline since the late 1940’s and there is no doubt that this was accelerated by the new age of television in 1950 26.8 million people went to the cinema per week, by 1960 it was down to 9.6 million per week and by 1970 it was down to 3.7 million per week

A typical Saturday evening’s entertainment from 1963.


Notice that ITV had four film dramas including two westerns Cheyenne and The Dakotas, the other two being home made dramas Ghost Squad and the Avengers.

The satirical That Was the Week That Was closed the evening for BBC


A typical evening’s entertainment from Thursday August 29th 1963.

The BBC’s main entertainment for the evening was an Opera, and ITV had Television Playhouse



A typical Sunday’s television from 1963.

Notice the number of religious programmes on both channels.

ITV again showed a number of film dramas home grown Danger Man and O.S.S. and two from America the very popular 77 Sunset Strip and a western Lawman.

The BBC had a serial Martin Chuzzlewit, home grown Dr. Finlay’s Casebook, with two from America the western Wells Fargo and the popular Perry Mason.

On 20th April 1964 BBC launched a second channel BBC 2, the new channel’s main focus was on minority interest programmes, innovation and education.  It is interesting that Match of the Day (1964 – 1966) first aired on BBC2 before transferring to BBC 1. Popular entertainment programmes included Not Only But also, The Forsythe Saga and for young children Play School

The next major advancement in television was the introduction of colour, and colour broadcasts began on BBC 2 on 1st July 1967(initially this was for five hours a week).

The colour service was officially launched on 2nd December 1967, but it was not until 15th December 1969 that it was fully implemented on both BBC 1 and ITV

The cinema however still provided Television with a lot of its out put

This a list of films that were to be shown on the main Television Channels during the month of February 1967


Films could not be shown on television until at least five years after their initial cinema release, however films were regularly re- released and earned more money for the relevant studio and certain films would not appear on television for many years, The Wizard of Oz (1939) is a prime example, and it was not shown on British Television until 1975.


There are numerous other films that were never shown on British television for many years after their initial release, however in some cases this was due to the content of the film particularly films that had been given an X Certificate.

Poster from December 1964 advertising the release for the Christmas period of The Wizard of Oz as part of a double bill with Tom Thumb (1958).

This double bill was released regularly throughout the early 1960’s during school holidays.

The Walt Disney Organization during this period never allowed any of its films to be shown on television; they had a fantastic back catalogue of full length feature cartoons and live action films.   All these films would be re-released during the school holiday periods, supporting either a new cartoon feature or a live action adventure film.

In later years however it would relent and allow these films to be shown on television and with the advent of satellite television in the United Kingdom Disney had its own television channels which it also used to screen its films and specially made television programmmes.

By the end of the 1960’s television now had three channels, all were able to  transmit programmes made in colour, the output broadcast by the  channels included factual, documentaries, live sport, drama, light entertainment and  children’s, programmes, and of course imported shows from other countries the largest number coming from America

Since the early 1950’s the film industry fully realized the threat of television so it met the challenge head on particularly in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s  with epic blockbuster films, bigger size screens, large expansive locations and casts, but cinema numbers still kept on declining.