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.



  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?


  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.

    • Will M

      September 20, 2018 at 1:21 pm

      The last I remember my family visiting a Radio Rentals was to get a 32 inch widescreen telly (before TV was broadcast in widescreen) with a 2 speaker surround sound.

      Killed off by the likes of Currys being able to sell on the never-never tick, cheaper TVs from the far east, TVs becoming more reliable (LCD TVs seem to last forever) and, conversely, more disposable. These days you can walk into a supermarket with a couple of hundred quid and walk out with what, 30 years ago, would’ve been deemed a small cinema screen.

  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 🙂

  14. Glenn Aylett

    September 4, 2019 at 9:20 pm

    Apparently 7000 households in Britain still have black and white, or could possibly be lying about it and using a black and white licence to watch colour, something the licensing people used to catch people out on big time in the eighties. Yet to be less cynical, could they be people who have bought a Freeview box and done the necessary work to watch television on some 12 inch 1979 black and white portable. In a way, I salute them, same as the handful of people who keep valve radios going, which look so much better than modern ones.

    • richardpd

      September 4, 2019 at 11:38 pm

      There are quite a few enthusiasts who have kept B&W sets going, even 405 line sets which need a fancy adaptor to convert a 625 line down to 405.

      I’ve got a 1982 Pye Rambler 12 inch set which still works well via a modified Playstation modulator or a Goodmans Freeview box with a modulator.

      It’s still possible to buy a new old stock CCTV monochrome monitor & use a Freeview box to watch digial TV legally without a licence.

      Somewhere I read that a family in Luton were still using a late 1970s large screen Ferguson B&W TV as their main set until the mid 1990s, as the woman of the house refused to switch to colour, even though she worked from home-making Christmas crackers wall watching it all day.

      Supposedly after she died the first thing the family did was to go out to buy a colour set.

      • Glenn Aylett

        September 6, 2019 at 2:51 pm

        I had a relative in South Shields that had a Radio Rentals black and white television as late as 1994, and when I was doing a magazine delivery job around the same time, there were still a handful of people in places like Raffles in Carlisle( the city’s poorest estate) who had black and white, but it was rare by then to see people without a colour set. I’d imagine as these sets wore out during the nineties and they couldn’t be replaced with another black and white set, people were obliged to go over to colour.

        • richardpd

          September 6, 2019 at 11:36 pm

          I heard some rental companies offered to de-colourise sets for customers by turning off the appropriate circuitry.

          When new large screen monochrome sets became hard to come by this was the only easy option for people who wanted B&W sets, normally they were older colour sets which had been rented out long enough to pay for their initial purchase price, & by the 1990s would have remote controls & other features customers wanted.

          For a long time people recovering from cataract operations were told not to watch colour TV for too long as it would stop their eyes from recovering. This was later debunked but quite a few older people kept believing it.

          I’ve also heard that black & white had a comeback when the colour licence fee was increased by a large amount in the mid 1980s. At least one independent rental company reconditioned some old Rediffusion monochrome sets to meet the demand & not lose customers, but soon returned to renting colour sets.

          • Glenn Aylett

            September 7, 2019 at 5:27 pm

            @richardpd, I don’t think there was any great return to black and white in the mid eighties, when the colour licence was hiked to £ 58 a year, as you could get licence stamps by then. By 1987, colour had reached 90{30e2395aaf6397fd02d2c79d91a1fe7cbb73158454674890018aee9c53a0cb96} of households, up from 58{30e2395aaf6397fd02d2c79d91a1fe7cbb73158454674890018aee9c53a0cb96} ten years earlier. This was the year when my paternal grandparents, after renting a 20 inch black and white Pye set from Visionhire for years, finally decided to splash out on a colour portable. Also Visionhire had told them should the Pye set break down, they could find it difficult to repair and they should consider upgrading to colour, which finally with golden anniversary wedding money they did.
            With black and white fading into oblivion and colour sets becoming far cheaper in real terms and generally reliable, the rental industry started to hit hard times and eventually die out by the early noughties. In my home town in the eighties, we had Radio Rentals, Visionhire, Co Op Rentals, Granada, DER, NORWEB and Colourvision, but in 2002 an end of an era was reached when Box Clever, which used to be Granada, closed its doors for the last time.

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