Did Anglians Dream of Electric Screens?

Working with the people of Norfolk to write a history of Television in Norfolk.

Tag: television

Then and Now: Tacolneston 1954-2014

One of the things I enjoy about undertaking research with a foundation in the local area is that it’s comparatively easy for me to pop along to any physical sites that I think have a historical significance and that I’d like to see for myself.

The reality that a number of these sites are places that I’ve been past countless times during my life in Norfolk, sometimes paying attention to them but often not. Inevitably if you read about the history of something often enough you begin to view it in a different way, and that’s definitely the case when it come to some of these locations. The transmitter site at Tacolneston is a case in point.

The process of its construction throughout 1954 was a visual signifier that television was finally going to be available for the majority of the people of Norfolk (and East Anglia), and its initial activation (and period of test broadcasting) in February 1955 really signified the culmination of a campaign to bring television to the region that took place in both Parliament and the local press, as well as within the BBC.

Of course no historical site ever remains untouched by either time nor human progress, and Tacolneston is no exception to the rule. The site, currently owned by Arqiva, has been subject to considerable redevelopment over the years as technology has advanced; understandably it now looks a little different. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to compare a photo taken during its construction (published in the EDP on 13/12/1954) and a photo of the largest mast that I took during a site visit on 23/03/2014 – things have definitely changed over nearly 60 years, but I think that merely makes you appreciate what an achievement the original transmitter mastwas (and how health and safety rules have changed)!

The BBC’s original transmission mast at Alexandra Palace is perhaps the most famous example of a transmission mast, its silhouette becoming an iconic shorthand for the achievements and ambitions of broadcasting as it reached into the London skyline, but I like to think that Tacolneston has its own charms too, and despite its lack of fame we shouldn’t ignore its importance to the history of television in Norfolk.

In particular, and as shown in the photo below, I love the fact that from a distance the towers look like they have erupted from the earth, growing out of the woodland; creating a juxtaposition between steel and wood, between the natural and the synthetic – it seems to me that it could be an interesting visual metaphor for how a technology can become physically embedded in our natural geography.

Tacolneston-landscape-20142

The question is, did television become embedded into the lives of Norfolk people in a similar way?

You can learn more about how you can help me explore that question by clicking here and I’d love to hear from anyone who has any other early photos of Tacolneston transmission mast!

  • Thanks to Tony Currie for pointing me in the right direction on my usage of terminology, the tower should be called a transmitter mast not a transmitter.
  • Thanks to @TAC_TX for pointing out I should actually use the term ‘transmission mast’.

The Launch of the BBC Norfolk Television Studios

What better way to start off this website than by having a look at some of the earliest broadcasts and promotional materials from when the broadcasters first began regularly broadcasting from the region!

Anyone who listened to my original radio appeal on BBC Radio Norfolk will recognise the audio from this footage held by EAFA (click to watch), which was created to promote the imminent opening of the new television studio at St. Catherine’s Close, and which would have been broadcast to the region by the Tacolneston transmitter (remember that Norfolk was part of the Midlands BBC Region, based in Birmingham, at this point).

I mentioned in my original interview that the BBC and Anglia Television were engaged in a race to be the first to establish a regular broadcast from the region, in fact in May of 1959 the BBC began discussing the need to try and beat Anglia to the punch (the BBC had already begun to provide an East Anglian television news bulletin from London at this point). Rather surprisingly the BBC moved at an astonishing pace on this issue, perhaps recognising the promotional value of being able to claim the title of ‘first on air’ within the region and the need to combat a sense of discontent amongst the people of the region in respect to how they had been historically treated by the BBC. Despite a reputation as a monolithic institution, that deliberated for an age over strategic decisions, approval for accelerating the building of the Norwich television studios by the BBC Board of Management only took 1 week from the initial memo at the beginning of June, and by the 23rd of June final authority had been given for the necessary expenditure!

Ultimately the BBC did manage to beat Anglia Television to air by around 3 weeks, whether it actually mattered in the long term is something that I’ll be keen to explore as my research progresses. So can you remember the first broadcasts from the BBC Norwich Studio or does this type of footage inspire some memories? If so then please consider getting involved with the project.

Welcome

So this is the start of the Did Anglians Dream of Electric Screens? website, but it’s definitely not the start of the project!

In fact my research on the topic of the history of television in Norfolk has been officially taking place for around 18 months. I’ve been surveying secondary texts on the history of both British and international television, identifying different approaches, looking for gaps in the literature and most importantly looking for that special something that triggers a flash of inspiration. I’ve also been lucky enough to be able to visit, both in person and virtually, a number of archives, looking at primary sources that relate to British television in general and television in Norfolk in particular.

You can read about the overall aim and focus of the project here as well as finding out how to be a participant here, but I’m hoping that these blog posts will allow me to keep you all up to date with what I am up to, as well as giving a peak behind the curtain of academia. I’ll try to talk about where I’m going, what I’ve seen and what I’m thinking about and I’ll also try to share some of the material that I’ve been engaging with.

It’s been a fascinating journey getting to this point, and I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences of researching the history of TV in Norfolk with those who were present at the time and anyone with an interest in local, social history. After a gap of nearly 60 years, isn’t it time we really talked about TV in Norfolk?