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The only way forwards is backwards

Blog | By Gyles Brandreth | Mar 04, 2020

Screenshot of Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and Karolyn Grimes in the American film It's a Wonderful Life (1946). (Copyright: the film lapsed into the public domain in the United States due to the failure of National Telefilm Associates, the last copyright owner, to renew)

Mary Killen and Giles Wood, from Gogglebox, love watching old films on Talking Pictures TV - as do veteran journalists Sir Peregrine Worsthorne and Paul Johnson. Gyles Brandreth agrees

Thanks to Talking Pictures, the TV channel that specialises in reruns of old British movies and TV series – from Ealing Comedies to Armchair Theatre – I have discovered that life looks better in black and white. I can’t cope with watching the box in full colour any more and I am doing something about it. Last Christmas, I treated myself to a vintage TV set: it’s 50 years old, and so it can transmit only in black and white.

I am excited. Getting all my small- screen entertainment in monochrome, I am happier – and richer, too. These days, if you are under 75, it costs £154.50 for a colour-TV licence, but only £52 for a black-and-white one. Regular colour broadcasts began on BBC2 in July 1967 (with the Wimbledon tennis tournament) and the number of black- and-white licences issued has been in steady decline ever since. In 2000, there were 212,000. By 2015, the number had dipped below 10,000. Now, they reckon, it’s closer to 5,000.

My friend Jeffrey Borinsky is a TV and radio technology historian and he helped me find the right set. As he says, ‘Who wants all this newfangled 4k Ultra HD, satellite dishes or a screen that’s bigger than your room when you can have glorious black-and-white TV?’