TV Cream

Bric-a-Brac: T is for...

TV Repairs

A television set used to be for life, not just for the interval between two consecutive Christmases. A TV, in the old days, was like a car – you bought (or hired) it, you used it, it broke down, you got it fixed, return to start, rinse and repeat on a more or less annual basis. And the fellow charged with effecting those telly repairs was a very special fellow indeed.

Among the usual stream of regular house callers, the telly repairman ranked as high as anyone in the younger resident’s estimation. Higher, certainly, than the shifty meter reader, all cheap shiny hat and Ever Ready torch, or the boring old Avon lady, or that wretched peddler of empty promises known as The Man Who’s Come For The Pools Coupon. No, here was a set of blue overalls to gladden the heart, a van-driving knight here to rescue grieving souls from days – weeks, sometimes – of Richard Whitmore-free purgatory.

If over thirty, he was cheekily Michael Elphickish of countenance. If younger, an Ian Botham haircut and tache was the look (with optional earring). In he came, down he knelt, and off came the moulded plastic back of the telly, instantly creating a working environment more dangerous, surely, than that of a coalminer, big game hunter and SAS officer combined. Those scary lightening bolts weren’t drawn all over the casing for nothing, you know.

He was also heroically unshowy in the way be went about his vital duties. Not for him the jargon-laced superior tut-tutting of the plumber or mechanic. “Ah see, that’s the problem with yer MW22-16s. It’s got a bent gun assembly, that’s what’s giving you those burn spots. If you’d gone for an MW22-17 you’d be laughing.” That was just one of the platitudes you never heard from this stoically efficient lot.

Hopefully, all that was wrong was a ‘bad capacitor’, and, after filling the front room with the highly evocative odour of solder, burnt dust and Ronsonol fluid, your man would proudly tune the revived console to either Test Card F or that hypnotically lurid film of the Evoluon exposition, scribble out an invoice and be on his way with the reassuring tight smile that meant yes, there shall be Likely Lads tonight.

Of course, it wasn’t always so simple. If your problem was more acute (and an anxiously eavesdroping child might twig as much from the muttered exchanges about ion traps and keynectors) then the patient was wheeled out the front door with a sombre ceremony to make the most ardent Catholic funeral look like the Blockbusters end credits hand jive.

If you were renting your set from Granada, DER or Radio Rentals, you were of course guaranteed a replacement – of some sort – before too long (though note: “before too long” was always too long even before it was mooted). Those rich enough to have bought their set outright (or at least have it on HP) were, in a delightfully socialist reversal of the usual order of events, obliged to pin their entertainment hopes on the skill of the local repairs shop, the interior of which often resembled an imposing cross between a contract repair garage and a nuclear plant control room of the Sizewell B vintage.

Now, of course, sets don’t have cathode ray tubes, and therefore are about ten times less likely to emit acrid smoke, turn the corners of the screen a fetching purple, or make a noise like a ten ton bluebottle whenever the racing results came on. And the cost of replacement parts is so close to the cost of buying a new set outright that it’s seldom worth the bother. Thus, the chirpy man with the safebloc and the singular power to bring back Bagpuss has slipped quietly into oblivion alongside the man from the Pru and the ball and stick lady. Hats off to mourn his passing.

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. televisualcabbage

    February 15, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    My Grandparents repairman was called Mr Head… He repaired a set once and then after switching the thing on, much to my Grandad’s annoyance… There was ploom of white smoke that came out of the back of it…

    Plus they must all wear camel coloured workcoats and have a rusty toolbox!

  2. Jon

    February 15, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    It was always a big occasion when the TV repairman came round, I remember my grandmother being supplied with a temporary portable set whilst hers had to be taken away for repair.Of course, we tend to now live in a ‘throw away buy a new one’ society.

    I’m sure these old sets are still going in some living rooms, with booming sound and vibrant reds which make the likes of Dale Winton look like a tomato!

  3. Adrian

    February 15, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Another long lost relic of the Cream era, along with chirpy milkmen and long serving British Rail staff.

    Incidentally, a friend of mine’s family hired a radio from, yes, Radio Rentals, and probably paid for the thing several times over..

  4. Paul Jones

    February 16, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    And wasn’t there always a frirend of your dad’s or grandad’s who could fix tvs or at least make them a last a bit longer?

  5. televisualcabbage

    February 16, 2010 at 11:28 pm

    Usually that was by giving it a good old fashioned whack on the side!

    Oh give me for the days of Baird SuperSound! It was like Stereo, but coming through what looked like a 1940’s radiogram with so much wood they replant the rainforest with it…

  6. TV Cream

    February 23, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    The atrocious sound quality of pre-80s tellies is often forgotten. Clive James bemoaned the fancy way the Beeb filmed a 1974 Steeleye Span concert in echoey old Warwick Castle because it supposedly looked more interesting, forgetting that the average set at the time “possesses the sonic fidelity of a dishwasher”. And that was before the tiny speaker worked itself loose and started buzzing and rattling about underneath that grotty strip of felt.

  7. Adrian

    February 24, 2010 at 8:48 am

    I recall in the period between Radio 1 and BBC1 adopting Stereo, the Beeb suggested that people watch Top Of The Pops with the sound on the TV turned off with Radio 1 providing the sound!

  8. fl3m

    February 24, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    I remember that, I also remember watching an edition of Tomorrow’s World when the audio was broadcast simultaneously in stereo on BBC radio.

  9. andy Ex R.R. bench &Telebank field

    June 23, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    As a field service eng, as we were called, I remember with joy, writing on the job card of a customer , W.Y. F.O.T.W.O. == WIPE YOUR FEET ON THE WAY OUT . & the Punjunt Smell of the house with 13 tom cats , inadvertantly placing your hand on the customers carpet,your fingers, into some cat crap, or into, where a babys nappy had sat recently . Recalling the customers daughter who fancied you ,( She fancied any one, in trousers ) a fellow eng. saying , she’d be O.K. as long as you hosed her down first..
    ( She was one of the great unwashed ) The customer opologising for the state of the home, and had never tidied in her life . To the customers, where you had to tuck your socks into your shoes, to keep the fleas from biting you to death . To all the TELE MEN who have survived , I wish you my best .( suppose it was the good times when you look back , ) Andy……. San Fulgencio. Alicante Spain

  10. Stu ex Telebank engineer.

    June 23, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    As one of that dead [or nealy so] breed, one of the things that bugged me most was that the customers thought you were there not just to fix the telly but even more, to amuse the kids and they were in your toolbox or your face the whole time. One guy I knew would charge up a large electrolytic capacitor from the mains filter and stick it on the ground and tell the kid not to touch it. Sure enough in a few minutes he would pick it up, a loud crack and lots of screams and no more trouble from kid. Stu ..Auckland New Zealand

  11. Alan B

    June 24, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Remember those tellies with a little ZX Spectrum-like thermal printer built in, for printing out Telextext pages?

    Mentalism.

  12. Richard Davies

    August 10, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    My parents rented a set from Granada until late 1984. It was a typical 1970s one with a woodgrain cabinet & lots of chrome controls that me & my brother once messed with one morning & scared ourselves silly by turning up the volume & switching in on when there was nothing being shown….

    Once or twice it broke down & a repair man came out, sometimes they had a spare TV in the van just in case.

    Eventually my parents got a 16″ Phillips set with remote control. This probably paid off after a few years.

    This hardly needed any outside assistance, though the channel memory battery eventually wore out & needed retuning when it was unplugged. It was in my sisters room for a few years until we had the digital switchover & was sent to the tip.

    By the time we stopped renting most rental shops were offering video recorders to rent, which kept them going for a few more years, & when Sky started up had another boost.

    I can remember my local Granada shop changing into a Box Clever before closing a few years later, & recently the Martin Dawes as shut.

    Here’s something interesting about renting TVs.

    http://www.transdiffusion.org/emc/halcyondays/1970s/rentals.php

  13. Glenn A

    March 25, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    Not forgetting slot televisions, where you paid to watch the television by a coin slot on the side. There was a workshop near me, I’m sure it was the abovementioned Telebank, that fitted slots to televisions and had a sales outlet at the front. These seemed to die out in the eighties as people realised these televisions had a habit of cutting out in the middle of a crucial part of Coronation St and you had to put in another coin, and also those too poor to buy found out it was cheaper to rent by the month from someone like Radio Rentals.

    • Joanne Gray

      May 18, 2017 at 12:15 am

      Glenn, my grandparents had a black and white coin operated set and it was indeed rented from Telebank; someone used to call round every week and empty the coin box. I later found out when I started secondary school that the mother of one of my classmates was the one who went round our town (Hartlepool) emptying all the coin boxes and knew all of her customers very well. She remembered my grandparents – who had both died when I was still in infant school – and recalled that Nana always had a cup of tea and some fig rolls ready whenever she called round 🙂

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