Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Just how long will black and white televisions live for?

Old television

I came across some links I copied but forgot to read, and they reveal some interesting points regarding black and white televisions.

Back in January, figures issued by the TV Licensing Authority indicated that as of January 2013, the number of monochrome licences issued each year has fallen from 212,000 in 2000 to 93,00 in 2003, and is now down to 13,202.

Of those, TV Licensing Scotland said that Glasgow topped the black and white list with 256, Edinburgh 97, Dundee 30 and Aberdeen 19.

That put Glasgow in fourth position in the UK, following Manchester with 413,  with 574 and London leading with 2,715.

At the time of writing, a black and white licence costs £49, frozen until the BBC Charter Review in 2016, with a colour licence costing £145.50.

TV Licensing Scotland has indicated it does not believe that the continued existence of black and white licences is because people are inadvertently or deliberately purchasing cheaper licences for colour sets, rather that those who continue with them find it adequate for their needs, and consider that there is no need to replace something that is working fine for them.

Via Black and white TVs: No switch off as 800 Scottish homes continue use

I had a quick look to try to find out if anyone is still manufacturing black and white televisions of any sort, but the information is hard to find and far from definitive as the components were discontinued years ago, and I found various hints that some small black and white sets were still being made for small markets – but it would take far too long to research this definitively. But, it’s probably safe to say that with both the specialised components (such as the CRT and deflection assemblies they require) and the broadcast system they were built for now being obsolete, they are a thing of the past, and will only be seen working in museums and specialist collections where the signals needed to drive them can be created.

For what it’s worth, all my black and white sets went long ago, but colour television did not replace them until the colour was decent, as many of the attempts at colour were so bad until the late 1980’s (I’m guessing) that black and white was generally preferable. While I have no working black and white televisions, I still have a sizeable collection of monochrome monitors that arrived with early computers in mind, and both amateur and closed-circuit television experiments.


While I was always happy to dive into the guts of anything electronic, the one thing I never touched was black and white television. In order to keep them cheap, they were generally manufactured with no isolating transformers, and used mains electricity directly to create the high voltages needed within, which meant that the chassis was generally live.

My memory of just about every TV repair engineer (and self-proclaimed “expert”) was of them all hopping around the room after being zapped when they got careless and brushed the chassis with a finger, hand, or arm. How we never ended up with a corpse on the floor during one of these visits remains a mystery to me. But their suffering meant I never tried that game.

Philips projection television

Philips projection television c. 1960

We had one set that any mistakes would have been lethal with, as seen to the right.

This used a special CRT that projected the picture onto the screen, and the voltages must have been huge in order to get enough light to create the image.

While this classic of the 405-line television era is long gone, and failed to survive through the 1970s when its insides began to fail, some bits survived.

While it would have been nice to keep it, it began to become very dangerous, as the old-fashioned components it used were just not able to take the stress and strain of the extreme voltage which must have existed within the circuits. Towards the end of its life, it would work for a while, then stop, as the sound of various components within the projector unit suggested they were breaking down, as they boiled, bubbled, arced, sparked, and melted.

While it never ever smoked or burst into flames, whenever it was on, everyone knew, as the entire house soon filled with the smell of hot electronics.

One of the survivors was the electron gun deflection assembly, shown below, which was really just a big valve.

Starting with the base on the right of the pic, the part in the centre of the view is the heater and electron gun that produced the electron beam, which then passed through two pairs of electrostatic deflection plates, one horizontal and  one vertical, which scanned the beam across the phosphor on the face of the tube (which would have been to the left, but is long gone). You can see the two of the plates to the extreme left of the pic. The other pair is just to right, but at 90°.

Projection television

Projection television electron gun assembly


While this was a domestic Philips television product, I have since learned that the same CRT was used by EKCO as part of a radar system, and provided it with a giant display for the operator to view the area which was being covered by the radar.

While an ordinary radar had a tube that was about a foot (20 cm) across its diameter, the EKCO (helicopter, I think) radar had a display that was more like 3 feet across.

Sadly, I am having to go by memory on this, as I have checked the links I had while sharing information with the EKCO history web site, and found that they are all now dead.

I don’t know if the site has gone completely or just moved, but a quick search for items I know were on it failed to come up with the pages I used to refer to.

This is something of a major loss, since the site was deeply researched and held much EKCO archive material.

If anyone reading happens to know of the EKCO site’s fate, a note in the comments below would be apreciated.


June 5, 2013 - Posted by | Civilian | , ,

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