“Your aunty was born in 1957,” my nan starts… “I think.”
She ponders for a moment and then tells me she’s sure it must’ve been 1957. I later took a peak at her first born daughter’s Facebook profile to see if I could confirm this information, however she has conveniently kept her birth year private, creating somewhat of a family mystery in regards to her actual age.
My nan tells me that when my aunty Diane was born they didn’t have a television in their house, in fact it was a number of years before they were first introduced to this form of lounge room entertainment.
“When we did get one you had to put two bobs in it to watch a movie… well two shillings,” nan explains.
I ask her why on earth she was paying for a TV to operate when it was already in her lounge room.
“We were just renting it,” is her response. A fact I was actually quite surprised by, I hadn’t ever been made aware that at some point in history TVs were rented out and to watch a program you had to pay… and in a currency I had never even heard of.
Thinking about it further the rental system does make sense; when I was a child every Friday evening my mother took me to the Video Shop to hire VHS tapes to watch over the weekend. The video shop was an absolutely magical place, and then VHS became DVDs which cost a little bit extra to rent at the time. These days we pay for Austar, Netflix subscriptions and can rent movies off the iTunes store, it isn’t an unfamiliar process, it just seemed quite strange to imagine popping ‘two bobs’ into my own television because for me, it’s always been as simple as turning it on.
It wasn’t too many years after this that my grandfather’s brother went to work at sea and gave the family (my grandparents and my mother – who was starting primary school at the time) a colour w2television that had already been bought – no more 2 shillings per movie for my family!
At this point in the conversation my mother walks into the kitchen and adds that soon after this my grandmother purchased a second television and she as a youngster was granted the privilege of having a television in her bedroom.
My nan’s expression turns serious, “and I told you not to watch that damn Prisoner show but you did anyway,” she is waving the wooden spoon she was stirring a pot with at my mum and I think it’s hilarious.
My mum explains that her father didn’t like her watching prisoner because there was too much violence and also lesbians in it. I confirm that she was just in primary school.
“Yes,” mum laughs, “I used to have to keep the volume low and hide next to the bed to try and watch it.”
I find it odd that my primary school aged mother was watching forbidden television in her bedroom, while twenty-years later a primary school aged me was not provided a television in her bedroom.
“I can’t believe you let her have a TV in her bedroom!” I say to nan, “I never had one!”
Mum explains the only reason there was a TV in her room was that there was simply nowhere else to put it. I still find it a little unfair that I had to fight to watch Sabrina the Teenage Witch on Friday nights when mum wanted to watch whatever movie of the week was playing on Prime while I was growing up and she never had to endure such hardships. It appears technological progression went backwards in my family.
I was almost thirteen years old when I received my very first television as a Christmas present and almost fifteen when my parents finally had it wall-mounted so I could watch it as a reasonable eye level. It was funny, discussing such topics with my mother and grandmother and discovering that while mum had sheltered me from an over technologised childhood, the same had not been done to her.
The image above is an example of the coin-operated television my nan spoke about. My mother later told me in confidence that she wasn’t sure my grandmother’s memory in this respect was completely accurate. Together we did some research and found a number of ads that prove coin-operated televisions did exist! This particular advertisement explains how money can be made by installing these products in various public places.
Notes & Credits
The woman referred to as ‘nan’ throughout this post is my beautiful grandmother Violet Whitfield who this year turned 80 years old. I would like to thank her and my mother, Tracy Whitfield for helping me gain insight into their television history.
Kelmon, J, 2015. “Is There A TV In Your Child’s Room?”, GreatSchools. Access at: http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/effects-of-tv-in-children-bedroom/
Coin-Operate Television Advertisement Credit:
“Coin Operated Receivers”, Earlytelevision.org, Accessed at: http://www.earlytelevision.org/pay_as_you_look.html