Coronation Day - and our first TV set - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

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Coronation Day - and our first TV set

One day at the beginning of June 1953, I was summoned by the senior clerk. She told me that the office manager, who had a large desk at the far end of the office, wished to speak to me. That was a bit ominous. Office managers normally didn't speak to temporary clerks. However, I need not have worried: Mr Webster had either recognised, or been told, that I was down in the dumps. He told me to sit down on the chair facing him that was usually reserved for important visitors. I was conscious of the fact that everyone else in the office had fallen silent, presumably wanting to hear what crime I had committed. I could feel their eyes burning into my back.

"Tony," said Mr Webster, "I'd like to give you some advice. I know you've not been very happy here at St Johns but you've done an excellent job in your short time with us. Now that your National Service is imminent, have you considered signing on as a regular for the minimum three year engagement? If you do that, you'll have the choice of which service you want to be in - and get paid nearly twice as much as National Servicemen. If you wait until you're drafted you'll have no choice about whether you go into the Navy, Army, or Air Force and you'll end up in whichever job happens to be available at the time. You could end up as a clerk in an office again. With your six GCE O Levels, I'm certain you can do better than that."

That was a very long speech. I hadn't thought of the impending National Service like that. The prospect of receiving seven shillings (35p) a day as a regular instead of the measly four shillings a day paid to National Servicemen settled it for me. That day I wrote in my diary, "I've never been so bored in all my life as I was today. Mr Webster talked to me this morning. He's really quite nice, after all. About 1230, during my dinner hour, I went to the Army Recruiting Office in town and picked up a pamphlet on careers in the Royal Army Education Corps. Since Monday of this week I have personally filed over 1,300 vehicle registration cards."

Coronation Day, 2 June, was a public holiday; even Dad had a day off from his duties at Wakefield Prison. My Mum, my sister and I spent the whole day watching the historic event on a neighbour's nine-inch black and white television set. Dad, having refused to buy a television, spent the day all on his own in our house three doors away, doing we knew not what. (Note my diary comment "relayed televison instantaneously". Today's equivalent, "live" is much more succinct.)

After that Dad realised he was onto a loser. Our family must have been the only one in the entire United Kingdom to have bought a television set on the day after the Coronation. It was installed on 4th June and the roof of our house became, for a few weeks, only the second one in the street to sprout the large, H-shaped television aerial that was essential to pull in the TV signal. That really was a status symbol! That first evening, Mum, Dad, sister and I watched the BBC's offerings from 7pm, when the transmission started, until 10.35pm when it closed down for the night. There were only two programmes: a basketball match featuring the Harlem Globetrotters and a two-hour drama production about Florence Nightingale. I think we probably got cricks in our necks on the first evening, there was certainly a lot of wriggling and grumbling, because our room was laid out in the traditional manner whereby the three-piece suite and, therefore, those sitting on it, were facing the fireplace. The TV set had to be placed off to one side, but not too close to the fireplace in case it was damaged by over-heating.

On our 3rd television day my diary records that: "This morning we swapped the furniture around. We made the front room into the dining room and the other room into the TV viewing room." What that internal re-organisation resulted in was that the three components of our three-piece suite were now placed close together in a curved line facing the tiny nine-inch screen which was set into a corner. A small coffee table was placed in front, on which we placed the Radio Times and light refreshments ready for the inevitable visitors. That arrangement, typical of most homes thereafter, meant that no longer could families look directly at each other. Was that the beginning of the of family life as we had known it?

The verb "to view" started to take on a new meaning, leading to questions from neighbours such as: "What will you be viewing tonight?"; "Is there anything good to view tonight?"; and even, "Did you view last night?" The questions clearly meant: "May we come to yours to watch the television programmes on your set tonight?" It became very clear that we would need extra seats to accommodate visitors. The costs of this new-fangled entertainment were starting to increase - and, of course, there were refreshments for the visitors to be paid for. Dad was beginning to get worried.

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