The amount of time that today’s children spend looking at screens, whether on their mobiles, computers or television, is subject to much discussion. Could their time be better spent doing other things, are they turning into couch potatoes? We thought it would be interesting to take a look through the Archives to see when the very first television screen arrived at Hurst and also what the staff of the day thought about this television viewing!
The Hurst Johnian magazine proudly announced in the 1961 edition “T.V. COMES TO HURST”, with the accompanying paragraph:
“It was noted a little time ago with some incredulity that a television had arrived in the Common Room. We are apprehensive of the possible effects of this innovation upon the staff.”
The pupils themselves had to wait a few more years before a TV set was available to them and in 1965 one was installed in the Sixth Form Common Room. Given that by 1961 some 80% of households could watch TV on either new or secondhand sets, this does seem surprisingly late.
What were pupils watching at this time? In the early 60s, Britain had only two TV channels, the BBC and ITV. A third channel, BBC2, arrived in 1964. BBC2 was broadcast on 625 lines UHF (older sets could only receive 405 lines) whilst BBC1 and ITV were still broadcast on the old band. In the mid 60s sets were sold that could receive both. The public were less keen on BBC2 initially, programmes being deemed more ‘high-brow’ and, consequently, take-up was slower than had been for ITV when it was launched in 1955.
By the mid 60s, the top five BBC programmes year were as listed below.
1. Dr Finlay's Casebook (9.15pm Sunday)
2. Black and White Minstrel Show (7.50pm Saturday)
3. Top of the Pops (7.30 pm Thursday)
4. Perry Mason (9.25pm Monday)
5. Z Cars (8.00pm Wednesday
Mr Griffiths obviously had concerns about how much television was being viewed by the pupils, as he writes in his Headmaster’s Notes for the May 1968 Hurst Johnian as follows:
“So now I am writing to add my plea to members of the School to adopt a less apathetic approach, not to the ordinary day-to-day existence of the place, but to the various entertainments and performances provided during the term which are all a part of the general education we attempt to offer. I write this with some feeling, for the Lent Term, 1968, was in many ways an extremely successful term. Certainly the school societies flourished, as will be noted elsewhere in this magazine, and though the television attracted large numbers of
people on rather too many occasions and induced a generally passive approach to life, most members of the school, at some stage or other in the term, did a certain amount of work”
However, notwithstanding these concerns about TV viewing, the staff acquired a Television Room in 1973. This was created from the Crypt store and was also much used for private conversations and small meetings.
By the 1980s, the Shell were debating the question as to whether television did more harm than good. The school magazine records: “ S. H. McGhie was an able Chairman on this occasion. M. A. Cartwright supported by P. M. Riddy and J. P. Brooks speaking for the motion were opposed by A. P. King, C. M. Yarrow and J-P. Reynard. Again the motion satisfactorily drew a large number to contribute from the Floor, and despite the general feelings of the House the more able speakers, proposing the motion, managed to win the majority of votes.”
Reg Ruddock also had concerns about the benefits of television viewing. In the Hurst Johnian magazine of 1987 he reminisces with Christopher Guise about their early years at the school. Reg clearly remembered the pre-television days (he joined the school in the early 50s) and notes:
“Societies in those days were much more active. After tea on a Tuesday or Thursday, John Peters and I would vie with each other as to how many we would have in our various groups. He would boast that he had had fifty in his Biology Society that afternoon and I would retort that I had had sixty in the Geography! (Some "press-ganging" was probably involved.) The boys used to organise so much more themselves. Television has dulled their creativity and impetus.”
However, despite these concerns, the 1980s also saw the television become a useful adjunct to teaching. The Middle Sixth took part in the annual event on interview technique. This involved one-to-one interviews, and perhaps the most testing experience of all, a short interview recorded on television. And in the Modern Languages Department it was important for every set to view some live foreign television on a regular basis in order to expose pupils to contemporary language.
At this point in the 80s, TV viewing had much developed with sporting events, film debuts and, of course, soap operas which had become essential 'appointment TV'. In fact, more than half of the UK tuned in to watch Dirty Den serve Angie with divorce papers in an 1986 episode of EastEnders. And remarkably nearly 22 million Britons spent two hours of their Christmas in 1989 watching Crocodile Dundee.
These days, television watching is no longer confined to terrestrial stations and every house has a TV in their Common Room. The photos here of Pelican show two Common Rooms of today, complete with large screens on the wall, a far cry probably from the first student tv set of 1965