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Old Television Programming FAQs
Station idents, TV commercials, public information films and trade test transmissions

Note: this is a collection only of brief FAQs. Detailed articles can be found in the Information index.

How many old TV commercials have survived?

In fact many (but not all by any means) survive, well back to the 1950s and 60s. Those made since, say, the mid-1970s tend to be held by the Museum of Film, Photography and Television in Bradford (this is the collection formerly maintained by the ITV Association, previously the ITV Companies Association), whilst many are still kept by the original advertisers or, more commonly, their advertising agencies.

Yet more are in vaults at Pinewood studios, abandoned or forgotten by their owners (but Pinewood are not empowered to destroy them or release them to anyone else). Finally, some are in the care of the History of Advertising Trust (an under-funded organisation) whilst others have been catalogued and copied by an organisation called The Advertising Register (they were the people who supplied the ads for the BBC-2 programme Washes Whiter a few years ago).

Copyright still subsists in these commercials as well as other rights of the actors, music and musicians employed, which is why it is sometimes very difficult to get clearance to show them again on television.

For obvious reasons, copies of old commercials are released only on a controlled basis and to organisations who can satisfy the copyright owners of their good intentions (and who can solve the rights issues without incurring the wrath of one of the parties involved). This applies to some extent for all old television and film material. In addition, some of the organisations mentioned do not have the means to provide copies and are not prepared to delve into their holdings without serious money and a letter of commission from a TV programme maker up- front. This makes it difficult for the serious but non- professional researcher.

The best book on the subject of TV commercials, richly illustrated, is The Tuppenny Punch and Judy Show by Jo Gable (published by Michael Joseph, 1980). It is now out of print but can be found in second-hand book shops or ordered through a library.

How do I get hold of the Trade Test films once shown on BBC2, also the old animated idents on ITV and the start-of-day films shown in some ITV regions?

As for getting hold of the trade test films you have two methods. One is to buy copies on video from the film library that produced the film originally (Ride The Wild Horses is a BP film, for example, so in this case you would need to approach the BP film library).

On this site is a listing of all the trade test films together with a list of organisations selling copies on VHS.

There are also plenty of copies of (most of) these films scudding around collectors' circles and if you put a small ad in the right places you will probably get a reply from someone prepared to trade a copy with you. Obviously these copies cannot be sold for cash and most sensible people swap them without any money changing hands (or just charge the minimum for providing blank tape, postage, wear and tear on their tape machines, etc.).

Both 405 Alive and the Test Card Circle's magazine cover the subject of trade test films and both magazines carry small ads.

As for ITV idents and music, there is no official archive collection. We understand some enthusiasts have compiled their own tapes, so the only hope is wants ads in the two magazines mentioned above.

Not many ITV companies made start-of-day films and the only one you can obtain officially is that shown by Westward Television, available on a compilation tape for around £25 from the TSW Film and Television Archive for the South West, New Cooperage, Royal William Yard, Stonehouse, Plymouth, PL1 3RP (01752-202650, fax 01752-205025).

Can anyone help me get hold the nuclear war public information films made under the Protect and Survive banner please?

These are on the Charley Says compilation of Public Information films released by Sound & Media Ltd. See [Matthew Dickinson]

The Spring 2000 catalogue from DD Video includes a new entry which may be of interest - Protect and Survive - a 90 minute black&white/colour video including the Protect and Survive series of information films to tell the public how to prepare for nuclear war. It also includes "The Waking Point" and "Sound an Alarm", both on the same subject. Cost £12.99 plus postage from DD Video, telephone 0800-975 9933 [Darren Riley]

Has anyone identified the still picture landscapes shown by on the various ITV transmitters during trade test transmissions in the black-and-white days?

Yes, Malcolm O’Neill has managed to identify more ITA views, which were coincidentally (and conveniently for us) published in the 1957 book entitled Presenting Britain by G. Douglas Bolton. They are as follows:

For readers totally baffled by this, the various ITA transmitters were originally provided with black and white slides of attractive scenic views for showing during trade test transmissions. It just happened that several of these views were also used for the book Presenting Britain.

In addition the London transmitter also had Tower Bridge, the Sphinx on the Embankment, the Thames at Cookham Lock and a view of The Thames with a barge. Southern transmitters showed a view of Corfe Castle. The Anglia region had a picture showing a river scene, with people standing on the right-hand bank; this was the River Granta at Grantchester. Midlands ITV also had a view of Ladybower Reservoir.

Winter Hill (North) used slides of Esthwaite Water and of Furness Abbey. Emley Moor (North) had Shibden Hall (Halifax) and Fountains Abbey. TWW had pictures of some cottages at Selworthy and the Roman Baths at Bath. In the Republic of Ireland RTE showed some similar views and the Marconi company had an in-house test pattern with a view of Kersey, Suffolk.

Why do you get upset when people talk about TV logos?

Because most of the time that’s not what they mean! A logo or logotype is a single word or phrase printed or always used in a unique, stylised way. The word CENTRAL in heavy block letters was an example of a logo, as was the old-style ‘Anglia’ and the letters BBC in tilted blocks. By definition, logos cannot be animated; they are static (check the dictionary!).

An ident (short for identification symbol or emblem) is a complete graphic device or image used to give a TV station a unique and recognisable identification. The overlapping eyes of ATV, the Westward galleon, the Scottish thistle (or rampant lion) and the shaded globe of Central are all examples of idents. A symbol is the graphic element commonly used as the graphic element within the ident.

What’s the difference between a test card and a tuning signal?

That’s easy! A test card is used for detailed adjustment of receivers, i.e. for testing, and incorporates detailed geometrical patterns to allow checks to be made. Many broadcasters still transmit test cards, at least for periods of the day.

Tuning signals are not seen nowadays; they were simple visual devices allowing viewers to tune in their set and check picture balance without detailed technical complications. The most technical thing you saw in a tuning signal was a greyscale (black and white tuning signals) or coloured blocks and a picture incorporating flesh tones (colour tuning signals).

What’s a greyscale then?

A greyscale, stepwedge, stairstep or staircase is the black and white equivalent of colour bars, a sequence of stripes running from black to white through various levels of grey. On a properly adjusted set you can distinguish each shade of grey, whereas with the contrast or brightness wrongly set the darkest grey will merge into black or the palest grey will look like white.

Can one find television test cards on the Web?

Yes, you need to read the Test Pattern List compiled by Tom Walsh and Steve Mindykowski (All rights reserved. May be copied for personal, non-profit uses only; for other uses, please contact the authors.

The most recent version of this document is available at

This copy is the version of August 20, 1997. Its purpose is to list and document all websites dedicated to displaying test patterns, also provide links to them.
The List:

WMAQ-TV: 1948-1968 on Rich Samuels' Broadcasting in Chicago, 1921-1989:
Interesting site on the history of radio and TV broadcasting by a retired veteran reporter.

Stay Tuned:
This site is dedicated to the preservation of European test patterns (Testbilder in German). Steve calls it a ‘random’ site, a good description. Most patterns may be seen by entering the testbild museum. The sources of the patterns are not listed but may be guessed from the titles of the image files.

Test Pattern and TV Presentation List

Indian Head test pattern:
This is the most famous (besides color bars, of course) American test pattern.

BBC ftp Archive:
The famous Test Card F from the BBC available in several sizes and formats.

Mike Brown's CD Review Page:
Review of a CD containing British TV test card music; has a few pictures, too, all found on The Meldrum Home Page.

SONERA Technologies' commercial site has a few free samples to view and download; test patterns for video equipment and browsers in .GIF format.

Loki's LOK-TV test pattern:
Apparently part of Loki's ideal sci-fi TV schedule; has big color bars for your browser.

Further addresses:

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