The Testcard

The testcard, for those who don’t know what life is like without 24-hour TV, is an image that is broadcast on the screen of your telly when there’s no program to watch. It is made up of complex lines, grey shades and colours, arranged to check for picture alignment – a bit like those printer test pages you get after changing a cartridge.

Testcard F at www.meldrum.co.uk

Testcard F is the one that I remember the most, and probably everyone else as well given that it was the most broadcast (according to BBC archives, this poor little girl has waited 70,000 hours for the clown to take his turn). But apparently there were a variety of testcards used before this one became standard. They were produced by George Hersee, and the little girl in Testcard F was his daughter Carole, who had a crap childhood as a result of her face being on the TV for hours at a time.

I’d like to make an appeal to Carole Hersee (I saw you on Blue Peter when you were a teenager), if you’re reading this please contact and send me a contribution to the blog. Was it really that bad? Was your whole life ruined because we stared at you? Did you used to have to go out with a sack over your head, or was it just stupid kids at school winding you up?

A testcard is usually accompanied by a loud tone, an A, which is apparently the tone most likely to wake you up if you’ve dropped off in front of the TV. If you, like me, were a childhood telly addict, then you might have, like me, sat in front of the testcard with the sound turned down.

I might sit there waiting for the programs to begin, or I might just be watching it for fun. My family thought that I was clearly mad, but I contest that there is a lot of fun to be had watching the testcard. Those of us with vivid imaginations, not dulled by hours of cartoon channels (yes, there were only 3 channels back then and no, there wasn’t anything that showed children’s programs all day long), had learned to make our own entertainment out of what we saw.

Several different methods of imaginative play could be used in front of the testcard. There was the conversation that Carole was having with the clown (muttered through gritted teeth, ‘Take your piggin turn, mate, my arm’s aching…’); there were all sorts of things going on out of the shot of the camera, a whole queue of Playschool toys waiting to have a go at the blackboard; there was what happened just after the picture was taken and the balloon burst and everyone jumped in shock. And that’s just the photo. Those grey boxes with lines in intrigued me more than the Nazca Plain. Where could they lead? Why were they parallel and perpendicular, and what was the significance of the thick black line at the top? It was a deep pool that you could get lost in.

The testcard has recently played an important role in Life on Mars. The little girl who plays Carole Hersee is reminiscent of Carol Anne, the girl in Poltergeist, which makes the memory somewhat sinister. However light-hearted I’m trying to make this site, the more I dig into my memories of the Seventies, the more sinister it all becomes. Perhaps that’s just the cynicism of age.


Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room

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4 Responses

  1. […] Grans to knit them Dr Who scarves and the poor Grans would stay up late into the night in front of the Testcard knitting these damn […]

  2. […] whatever else we have now, Bank Holidays were TV heaven. For the whole of one day, starting when the Testcard stopped showing at nine o’clock, there would be films to watch. Classics such as The Wizard of […]

  3. […] Recent Comments Josie on Big Daddy and Giant HaystacksSilver Jones on Big Daddy and Giant HaystacksSilver Jones on SubmitSilver Jones on Sweets That Are Now BannedBank Holiday Films « Pop&Crisps – Memories of the Seventies on The Testcard […]

  4. THERE !!!! Thank you PopnCrisps !! I have often wondered where my hatred and fear of clowns began !! Since I have a crap memory (lol) I thought it came from reading Stephen King’s “It” in a single weekend but now I see it started waaaay earlier than that !! My God that picture used to creep me out !! Still does 😦

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