Here is the first British television advertisement in 1955
Until 1955 there was only one station. BBC. Then ITV was added – for those with enough money to own a television. Over the next ten years, with credit becoming easier (HP or ‘hire-purchase’) and companies springing up which rented out televisions. more and more people became hooked on the telly.
Things have changed somewhat. These days many people in the world’s rich countries have screens with access to thousands of television stations and millions of films.
Just as cinema and radio had, television changed the way we live and how we spent our time. One thing that has remained constant since 1955 are advertisements urging us to become good citizens of a consumer society.
In 1960 The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe was published, a few years later to become a gritty film starring Tom Courtenay. It’s centred on a young man in a Borstal (Young Offenders Institution). He narrates the story in the book, and gives a fascinating insight into the effect of advertising in the early days of commercial television.
To begin with, the adverts on the telly had shown us how much more there was in the world to buy than we’d ever dreamed of when we’d looked into shop windows but hadn’t seen all there was to see because we didn’t have the money to buy it with anyway. And the telly made all these things seem twenty times better than we’d ever thought they were. Even adverts at the cinema were cool and tame, because now we were seeing them in private at home. We used to cock our noses up at things in shops that didn’t move, but suddenly we saw their real value because they jumped and glittered around the screen and had some pasty faced tart going head over heels to get her nail-polished grabbers on to them or her lipstick lips over them, not like the crumby adverts you saw on posters or in newspapers as dead as doornails; these were flickering around loose, half-open packets and tins, making you think that all you had to do was finish opening them before they were yours, like seeing an unlocked safe through a shop window with the man gone away for a cup of tea without thinking to guard his lollyThe Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner
The new advertisements on what were very poor black and white small screens seemed exciting because they ‘jumped and glittered around the screen’. Today, we may be drawn to the far more technically advanced flickerings and glitterings of not only advertisements. Those images and sounds we experience are designed to influence us strongly. The line from the first British television advertisement in 1955 to today’s smartphones, pads and home cinema is direct. Technology does not force us to behave in certain ways, or give decades of our lives to digital immersion, or to buy, or to gamble. But technological developments are a very big factor in how we choose, or think we choose, to live our lives.