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.