Black and white TV still going strong

Forty years since the first colour transmissions on BBC1 and ITV, new figures from TV Licensing reveal today that over 28,000 homes across the UK are still enjoying their programmes in black and white.

Despite many developments in new ways of watching TV, and sales of flat screen sets soaring, the figures show black and white sets are not ready for the dump just yet.

TV Licensing has published the figures to celebrate the 40th anniversary of colour broadcasts on BBC1 and ITV, which were first aired on 15th November 1969 - and to remind people that a TV Licence is needed to watch or record programmes as they’re being broadcast, whatever device you use to view your favourite shows.

The biggest urban areas are unsurprisingly the places with the most black and white sets, with nearly 5,500 homes in London owning black and white TV Licences, followed by over 1,300 in Birmingham and almost 1,000 in Manchester.

While the figures show there may be life in the oldest TV equipment yet, new BBC statisticsi show that emerging technologies are changing the way many of us watch TV. In September, the iPlayer attracted over 1 million unique users a day, who watched 60.8 million TV programmes - on the internet using computers, smart-phones and games consoles and on TV using Virgin Media set-top boxes.

Yet despite the increasingly divergent ways to watch, leaning back on the sofa in front of your TV set is still the most popular - with sales of flatscreen TVs almost trebling in the last three years. According to the latest industry statisticsii, over 9.6 million flatscreen TVs were sold or hired between October 2008 and September 2009, compared to less than 3.5 million between October 2005 and September 2006.

Ian Fannon, TV Licensing spokesperson, said:

"These figures show TV has never been more popular across the spectrum, and with so many ways to watch TV now available, it's important people are aware of their legal responsibilities.

Whether you watch in black and white on a 40-year-old TV set or in colour on a brand new 37" LCD flatscreen, you need to be covered by a TV Licence if watching or recording programmes as they are broadcast. The same is true if you access programmes via the internet as they are being shown on TV - if you’re using a laptop, mobile phone, games console or any other device."

Sunderland MP Chris Mullin is one of the 28,000 with a black and white licence. He told TV Licensing he has no intention of getting rid of it just yet.

He said:

"My reason for sticking with my 30-year-old black and white has nothing to do with parsimony or an aversion to the latest technology. It has to do with waste. I simply can't bear to throw away something which still works."

A range of well-known TV stars who witnessed the transition from black and white to colour have shared their memories with TV Licensing, including Peter Purves, Brian Blessed and Ian Lavender.

Dad’s Army was one of the first programmes to be tested in colour on BBC 1. Ian Lavender, who played Pike in the hit comedy series, recalls: “I remember we bought our first colour television set to watch the 3rd series of Dad's Army, which had been recorded in colour. I was also the first actor to be killed by a colour TV set on colour TV in Z Cars when a robbery went wrong and the TV set was dropped on me from a great height by Nicholas Jones!!”

Peter Purves, Blue Peter presenter from 1972-1978, said: “We were one of the last programmes to go into colour. We were hugely disappointed because there was such an impact with colour that we hadn’t experienced previously. Suddenly, with the introduction of colour, sports events looked real and the Blue Peter summer filming trips were instantly more exciting!”

Brian Blessed said: "I was introduced to colour television in the late sixties. It was completely miraculous. I had just completed playing Porthos in a black and white version of The Three Musketeers followed by The Further Adventures of the Musketeers at Limegrove Studios. I was selected for colour test and I was gob-smacked when I saw myself! There I was as Porthos, dressed in yellow and orange! I was amazed by the colour, television was never the same again." 

Iain Logie Baird, Curator of Television at the National Media Museum in Bradford and grandson of John Logie Baird (inventor of the first television), believes the arrival of colour TV had an enormous social impact in the UK.

“The arrival of mass colour television was a technological breakthrough,” he said. “As more viewers made the switch, it gradually altered the effect of television as a medium: changing both programme styles and viewers’ perceptions. The addition of colour enabled viewers to have a greater feeling of actually ‘being there’ for live events and similarly, an increased sense of involvement in pre-recorded material, which had a major impact on the cultural fabric of the nation.”

For more information on when you need a TV Licence, and ways to pay, visit

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For more information, please contact the TV Licensing press office on 020 7544 3144.

Who needs a TV Licence?

If you use or install television equipment to receive or record television programmes as they are being broadcast, you need to be covered by a valid TV Licence. Viewing television without a licence risks prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000.

Paying for a TV Licence:

A colour TV Licence currently costs £145.50. A black and white TV Licence currently costs £49.00.

TV Licensing aims to make it as easy as possible for people to buy a TV Licence, which is why there are many different ways to pay.

  • Over-the-counter – people can now pay at any of almost 20,000 PayPoint outlets across the country
  • Direct Debit - monthly, quarterly or annual Direct Debit payment schemes are available and can be set up online at
  • To find out more about paying in weekly instalments over the counter, online, by text message or over the phone on the cash payment plan, call 08457 289 289
  • Online – people are now able to pay online at by Direct Debit or with a debit or credit card
  • Debit or credit card over the phone - this facility accepts payment from a range of debit cards including Maestro, Delta and Connect
  • By post – send a cheque made payable to TV Licensing to: TV Licensing, Darlington, DL98 1TL.
  • To find out more about paying in weekly instalments over the counter, online, by SMS or by phone on the cash payment plan, call 08457 289 289 or view payment methods

For more information about any of our payment options and concessions, to set up Direct Debit payments or to pay by debit or credit card please visit or call 0844 800 6732.

iBBC iPlayer usage statistics, September 2009

iiGfk Retail and Technology, Flat screen TV Market, Volumes Sales and Rentals of TV equipment, October 2008 - September 2009, v.s. October 2005 - September 2006.

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