Curious about people’s early televisual memories, I called my dad Jim to pick his brain for memories of television, both televised content and the status of the television itself in the home. Was it an important fixture, huddled around by the whole family during the evening as a family activity, or just a tool that sat in discreet corner of the room which merely related important events when necessary? Questions such as these were posed to and answered by my dad, with verification from my Nan.
First, I asked him some basic questions to give an overview of his home life. Living with three younger siblings (Susan, John and Jacqueline), my dad held the unique and prestigious mantle of ‘The Older Brother’. Growing up in the family home at Hunter’s Hill in Sydney, which he tells me still then featured farm land and cattle (!), Jim told me that he vividly remembers having to climb above the roof when the wind was wild in an attempt to try and stabilize the TV signal for the rest of the family below. Living in the age where physical television aerials are rarely tinkered with or acknowledged at all, I could already see a gap forming between our experiences with TV. He offered another fond memory after we discussed the last, of him regularly returning from Cubs on a Friday night and, being The Eldest™, allowed to stay up and watch The Avengers (1961 – 1969). From my extremely limited knowledge of the show, it’s a classic British serialized spy series, which I’d imagine the likes of Get Smart (1965-1970) would infamously lampoon thereafter.
When I asked, he said that his family didn’t usually eat dinner in-front of the TV but at the dinner table, insisting that it was still the predominant, civilized eating place. Now, I’ve spent a good portion of my life eating meals in-front of the television and bared witness to my dad doing the same. And so, it didn’t come as much of a shock to me hearing his mother and my Nan assures me that plenty of dinners were spent in front of it. When they weren’t, the television would still be heard in the background. Something else she made note of, was the newly serialized nature of shows like The Avengers which clashed with events being arranged during that particular time-slot.
Jim remembers very little of watching the television by himself, instead it was the feature part of the living room where he mainly watched cartoons with his siblings and Hey Hey It’s Saturday (1971 – 1999). The TV in fact accompanied the preexisting stereo system, reel-to-reel tape player and music library which together formed a true ‘entertainment room’.
Watching the television in the home wasn’t a particularly sacred activity however, if the dinners were any indication. As Jim remembers, it was usually always on and he doesn’t remember any specific etiquette surrounding its consumption. One interesting note Jim was keen to point out was the fantastic sound quality featured in earlier televisions that isn’t generally a touted selling point in new, slim panels. Presumably, with a spacious design needed to accommodate the CRT components there was the ability to include a bigger and better speakers.
This paled compared to his grandparent’s, my dad reminisces. Theirs had bi-fold doors and a 12 inch screen. Not only that, but they could afford to get the latest and greatest which meant an early TV remote .With some research I assume it was similar to the device dubbed the ‘Lazy Bones’ originally build by Zenith. As Jim remembers, it was wired to the TV and could only change channels and turn off the unit.
Despite their exciting technology, Jim says when he visited the grandparents, they preferred listening to the radio. When they moved to Port MacQuarie though, his grandfather build a giant television antenna to attempt to capture the broadcast signal from far-off. Dad estimates it must have been almost 50ft tall. Perhaps enlarged due to a child’s perception, but it must have seemed as tall when he used to climb it.
I asked what his fondest memories watching television was, and he eagerly told me of his viewing Australia’s victory in the 1983 America’s Cup. Despite being sure he was the only one in the neighborhood celebrating, he posits, that didn’t stop him from yelling excitedly.
So, from this conversation I gathered that Jim’s experiences with television were similar to those of mine and I imagine many other people’s growing up: technical issues due to location, superior watching privileges due to age, fascination by new technologies, family viewing habits and celebrations. Interestingly, there’s some divergence between his memories and those of his mother which could serve an intriguing premise for a project.
Thank you Dad and Nan for your input!