Television in the 1950s changed my life. The Mickey Mouse Club was my all-time favourite show. I had a crush on the host Jimmie Dodd and a desire to look, act, sing and dance like Annette Funicello, Darlene Gillespie or Doreen Tracey. I can still hear the club song in my head, “Mickey Mouse Club, Mickey Mouse Club”…and my favourite day on the show was Tuesday, because it was a day that was “full of surprises”.
How things have changed though. My children and grandchildren would never understand, or even conceptualise, a home without television. My son recently advertised on Facebook that he had a 42-inch television he no longer needed. It was free to whoever could get there to pick it up. Generous of him, I thought, and very quickly it was snapped up. You see it wasn’t a smart television, sadly it was non-smart and no longer a valuable asset for their family. They already have three televisions and an overhead projector, so this dumb TV will not be missed.
It led me to thinking about my first introduction to television and how the older generation (my parents) would react to someone giving away a television. My family was one of the last in the street to own a television. One local girl, whose family was the first in the street to purchase a television, would choose, from a group of eager neighbourhood children, who could watch with her after school. She did her selection by gathering the group of us unfortunates around and choosing – via a pointed finger – who could follow her home and view this amazing visual talking box. I must have been in the right spot sometimes because I remember being first dazzled by The Mickey Mouse Club at her home.
A few years later, my parents must have found enough room in their ‘buy now, pay later’ budget because our family too owned a 17-inch black and white television. It was an admirable, four-legged piece of furniture that took pride of place in our lounge room.
Our television was smart for its time and it made me smarter, as I could visually see what I previously envisioned when listening to our radio. Early televisions were not without fault and there were many times one of us children had to adjust the inside coiled antenna, moving it this way or that. Sometimes it seemed we spent more time adjusting the antenna than watching the television. Later the inside antenna was replaced with a large metal one that bolted to the outside chimney.
Of course, old televisions never had remote controls, just two small knobs on the front, one for on and off, and the other for volume control. A larger knob set to one side could be rotated to tune in one of the two analogue channels. The fine tuning and setting controls were on the back of the television, out of the reach of children. At our place children were invaluable and used by my father as a ‘living remote control’, jumping up to adjust the volume or change the channel when requested.
Television changed our world, even the test-patterns that played before and after shows were interesting to watch. It gave us an insight into whether the set was tuned in properly by identifying the different shades of grey leading between the black and white spectrum. In our home the only person allowed to fine-tune the television was my father – and God help anyone who fiddled with the settings.
Initially the types of shows my siblings and I could watch were limited and included; Looney Tunes, The Mickey Mouse Club, Leave it to Beaver, Lassie and Father Knows Best. Later Cheyenne, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Rawhide and 77 Sunset Strip broadened my early teenage world. I developed serious crushes on the lead male actors; Clint Walker, Michael Langdon, James Arness, Clint Eastwood and Roger Smith. The best time for viewing was on weekends, when my sisters and I could watch Six O’Clock Rock with the bad-boy Johnny O’Keefe and Bandstand with the good-boy Brian Henderson. These two television shows made the music come alive.