Entertainment TV Greatest moments of analogue TV: Colour television

Greatest moments of analogue TV: Colour television

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At the stroke of midnight everything changed.

Where only seconds before the wooden box in the corner of the living room had been full of grainy gritty monochrome images, as drab and familiar as the morning newspaper, now, at the flick of a switch, our televisions burst with luminescent primary colour.

My brother Andy and I stayed up all night in anticipation of C-Day. Nothing was going to dislodge us from our seats in front of this new thing. Colour.

At 12.04am precisely I seem to recall watching a badly produced show called Welcome To Colour which comprised half an hour of televised colours.  The programme resembled a Dulux paint catalogue accompanied by a sonorous John Meillon voiceover. “This is Blue”. “And this is Green.” “Welcome to Red.”

The station promotions spoke of ‘Living Colour’. But no living thing resembled these colours. Evolution would not permit it.

Next cab off the rank was the minister for communications Senator Maclellan who delivered a carefully crafted message again extolling the virtue of colour. Even today I remember this as being the most boring speech I have ever heard. There is only so much one can say about colour. What’s to say about chartreuse? In fairness to the Minister, much of his thunder had already been stolen by the preceding Welcome to Colour special.  Manfully the minister barrelled on. “You’ll really enjoy the redness of red”

Then we got down to business. Monty Python’s Flying Circus. A revelation. Shows I’d memorised in black and white were now reincarnated in colour. Lost In Space featured Judy, the beautiful blonde older Robinson daughter who flaunted around the surface of a foreign planet in her body hugging violet jumpsuit like Bridget Bardot in velour, all the while pursued by testosterone riddled Major Don: and now, in glowing colour, I wanted to be Major Don. Ditto I Dream Of Jeannie. Ditto Samantha from Bewitched. Suddenly everything old was new again.

It has to be said this colour was not colour as we know it today. This colour was that of a badly printed TV WEEK magazine come alive. This was the colour of searing lime green and burnt orange. Brilliant scarlet and fluorescent purple. It wasn’t just that the fledgling 1970s technology heightened colour, but rather the Age of Aquarius had burst into our lives and commandeered the paint charts.

We sat riveted. Colour television was an LSD trip supervised by Walt Disney.

Here were the colours of the Seventies; the luminescent splash of afro haircuts and flared pants, Vietnam protests and bra burnings, space invaders and Frisbees, flokati rugs and Lava lamps. These were the colours of free sex and swinging and love-ins. Like the 70s, colour television screamed and chanted its way into our living rooms.

They say none is so blind as he who will not see. The possible exception was the designer responsible for Channel O’s studio colour scheme.

The refurbished set of Channel O’s Nightly News service resembled the interior of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The evening news was less news and more Jackson Pollock. Vi’s Pad, Channel O’s morning offering, unleashed a colour scheme approximating a handful of melting M and Ms. If colour television was the name of the game, every television set designer in Australia appeared determined to outdo each other in an unbridled psychedelic assault.

The station promotions spoke of ‘Living Colour’. But no living thing resembled these colours. Evolution would not permit it.  If colour is the smile of nature, Channel O’s had imbibed laughing gas.

We cared not.

Later that first night, it must have been a Sunday, the iconic music show Countdown exploded into our living rooms in “Glorious Colour”.  ‘Glorious Colour’ was the other phrase. Not just Colour. But ‘Glorious Colour’.

For the first time that night we glimpsed the ‘Glorious Colour’ of our youth.

In ‘Glorious Colour’, Johnny (not yet John) Farnham looked uncannily like Olivia Newton John. Skyhooks performed Horror Movie sporting a wardrobe of clashing colours that did justice to their song title. Bongo Stark wore a black and gold Prussian helmet, Red Symons painted his face vermillion and cream and wore a bright pink cape, Shirley Strachan  cavorted in a fluorescent harlequin outfit; and the general effect was suggestive of a Panzer Division colliding with a circus caravan. Bill and Ben performed the memorable Santa Never Made It To Darwin; mercifully I have no recollection of what they wore. William Shakespeare, the singer not the 16th Century member of the Lord Chamberlains Men, closed the show wearing a black and cream jumpsuit laced with costume jewellery. I can’t remember what he sang; he might just as well have recited the opening soliloquy from the Scottish play, so distracted were we by his hypnotically multi coloured garb.

We sat riveted. Colour television was an LSD trip supervised by Walt Disney.

By the end of the first day it was apparent; things had changed. This would be an era in which television productions were to be reverse engineered around colour. The hue of the set and the shade of the costume were king. Colour dictated style and style dictated form and form dictated function.

With so much to dazzle, little wonder content played second fiddle. We barely noticed or cared.

We had ‘Glorious Living Colour’.