Today, television can be many things. It can be an escape from reality, a reminder that at least you’re doing better than Jersey Shore contestants (I hope), or the most risky device on which to watch Netflix (Orange is the New Black is not to be watched in public, people). Television for most people 50 and under has been a permanent object in their lives – always becoming more technologically advanced, bigger, and better – but not revolutionary.
My beautiful Nana, Valerie Palmer, tells a different tale. Her stories of television are filled with nostalgia and a lingering sense of wonder. For her, television was not always about curing boredom, but was an avenue for access to the world outside of her town and a greater sense of communication and belonging.
Born in Middlesbrough, U.K. in 1935, my Nana was only four when World War II began, and ten when it ended. Having a childhood somewhat defined by wartime, for my nan and her siblings,”television was the most exciting thing that happened in [their lives] after the war ended”. Nana’s mother, Olga, was renowned for splurging on goodies perhaps not entirely essential, unbeknownst to her husband, Wilf. So the story goes, Wilf came home from work and “low and behold, there’s a TV in the living room.” And not just any television – a top of the range TV, encased in a mahogany wooden cabinet, complimented by folding doors.
The memories this television brought, although decades old, are still vivid. The television was housed in the corner of the living room, amongst the linoleum and floral axminster carpet. With the coal fire crackling in the background, my nana and her siblings (Norma, Pat and Anthony) used to fight for the best seats, often competing with friends who didn’t have their own televisions, but were always invited to share the experience on special occasions.
One such occasion was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. Being English, this was a huge deal for my nana and her family.
“This was the main reason mum bought the television, because all the ladies were talking about how exciting it was going to be. The coronation was watched by me, my bother and sisters, parents, Grandparents, Aunty and Uncle, Cousin and two school friends. It was most certainly not an event to be missed – everyone was crowded in the living room, sprawled across the sofa and armchairs, even the dining room chairs were brought in.”
Not only was my Nana excited to be experiencing the coronation, but she also recalls the connection it gave her to the outside world. Middlesbrough is in the North of England (“Oop North!”, as my Mother would say), and what Australian’s may now refer to as ‘bogan’ (the correct English term is ‘Chav’, p.s.). Television, as such, really represented the beginning of barriers being broken down as the North and South has insights into each others lives and were experiencing the technological phenomenon together.
“We were all in awe of the fact that we were watching something happening in the South, in London – in Westminster Abbey! It was the most exciting thing we could have imagined ever happening in our lives.”
Television is not simply a mundane pastime, an avenue for procrastination, or your simple 5.30pm wind down. It has the ability to form lasting, permanent memories of wonder and awe. It holds memories of childhoods, friendships, life changing moments and even the end of the war. For my Nana, at least, it was life changing.