Colour TV turns 50 – but 8,000 still view the world in black and white

TV Licensing Release B&W Index for 2017

This Saturday (July 1) marks 50 years since the first colour transmission on the BBC, but new figures from TV Licensing reveal more than 8,000 homes across the UK still enjoy programmes in black and white.

The TV Licensing B&W Index 1, published today, shows large urban areas hold the majority of black and white TV Licences, with more than 1,500 homes in London watching in black and white, followed by 377 in Birmingham and 276 in Manchester.

Almost 70 postcodes dropped out of the Index in the past 18 months, as entire suburbs convert to full-colour viewing. A further 313 postcodes across the UK boast a sole black and white viewer in their community.

Jason Hill, TV Licensing spokesperson, said:

It is striking that in an era of HD TV and spectacular true-to-life pictures, there are still viewers content to watch spectacular programmes like The Night Manager and Planet Earth in monochrome.

Whether you watch in black and white on a 50-year-old TV set or in colour on a tablet, you need to be covered by a TV Licence to watch or record programmes as they are broadcast. You also need to be covered by a TV Licence to download or watch BBC programmes on iPlayer, on any device.

While the figures reveal there may be life in the oldest TV equipment yet, BBC statistics indicate emerging technologies are changing the way many of us watch TV.

Fewer than 500 families had a colour TV set in 1967 when Australian John Newcombe took the Wimbledon Mens’ title in 1967. Comparatively, more than 9 million people tuned in to watch Andy Murray contest the title last year, with BBC iPlayer recording the highest unique browser reach on record, with an average of 19.9 million unique browsers weekly across June 2016 2.

A TV Licence is needed to watch or record live TV, or watch or download BBC programmes on iPlayer. A licence costs £147 and can be bought in minutes at tvlicensing.co.uk/info.

The TV Licensing B&W Index – Top 20

Index No. Area No. of B&W licences
1 London 1,596
2 Birmingham 377
3 Manchester 276
4 Glasgow 176
5 Leeds 138
6 Liverpool 131
7 Nottingham 105
8 Belfast 90
9 Sheffield 80
10 Omagh 80
11 Bristol 74
12 Bradford 68
13 Leicester 65
14 Coventry 59
15 Luton 53
16 Edinburgh 50
17 Dungannon 49
18 Cardiff 48
19 Bolton 47
20 Wolverhampton 45

A history of colour TV

TV Licensing has published the National B&W Index to mark the 50th anniversary of colour broadcasts on BBC Two, which were first aired on 1 July 1967.

The Wimbledon Tennis Championships marked the beginning of regular colour television in the UK, with David Attenborough, then Controller of BBC Two, announcing the channel would initially broadcast in colour about five hours a week. Just a handful of colour sets were in use at the start of colour transmissions, but by 1968 most BBC Two programmes were in colour and by 1977, sales of colour TV Licences had overtaken numbers of black and white licences in force 3.


1. Black and White TV Licences in force, as at 31 May 2017

2. BBC iPlayer BBC Performance Pack, April, May & June 2016

3. BBC Annual Report 1976/77


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