The Simple Pleasures of Test Cards

I have just finished watching Life on Mars, a series on DVD from the BBC, it is all about time travel. In a nutshell, all the communication from the future is via the test transmission girl or via a radio. I had always had a womb like relationship with the test card image and so to find it communicating was very scary indeed, and this set me thinking about a new theme of work for after the fish madness.

When I was born (1960) we just had the radio. I must have been about 4 when we got our first TV. I was completely won over by it and spent long hours just watching the daytime test transmission. It was a spectacular piece of Byzantine time-wasting. With the test card music I was in a controlled trance and in charge of the buttons that induced it. I would twiddle my hair and stare transfixed by this drama, although there was supposed to be nothing on the screen to see. Or maybe there was?

Sometimes you could find another test card by turning the knobs, something grainy and almost illegible would pop up. I know this seems ridiculous by today’s standards of TV entertainment but when I was a child television was still a source of wonder and not something to be taken for granted. And still now I do not take it for granted as that early exposure to TV graphics has obviously created something. Test card music is a well-researched genre today: but what about the visual side of the output?

Now here in Spain I don’t have a TV that shows English programs, so maybe all this is about homesickness? I sort of miss the TV, the nostagia of the TV, it’s only now it’s gone that I can remember its compellingly stable importance to me as a child of the 60’s.

This is a link to you tube showing the test card