With the plethora of digital TV channels available to us via satellite, cable or even Freeview TV, it seems strange to think that at the beginning of the 1980’s we only had three TV channels to choose from – BBC 1, BBC 2 and ITV. It also seems unthinkable that with such a small number of channels, at certain times of the day we didn’t even have programmes airing on all three. Early mornings and late nights were when TV stopped, and the test card took over.
The test card had several purposes, but the reason it was original conceived was to allow you to check that your TV was tuned in correctly. To this end the average TV test card consisted of a number of bars and boxes drawn in various shades of grey or primary colours. You could use this image to ensure that not only was your TV tuned to the correct frequency for a particular channel, but also that your brightness and contrast settings were correct.
Pictured is probably the best loved test card from British TV. It’s official name is the rather uninspiring Test Card “F”, but for most of us it will always be known as “the girl playing noughts and crosses one”. Many is the time that I would switch the TV on around 8am, put on BBC 2, and be greeted with the little girl (Carole Hersee was her real name fact fans!) and her oddly shaped clown toy playing a game together on a little blackboard. Some people found this image creepy as a kid, and many still do in fact. The recent TV series Life On Mars used this fact to great effect, where Sam Tyler was living a life back in time (the 1970’s as it happens) and was haunted by this little girl on his TV set. Of course, for poor Sam she came out of the TV set too at times…
For a stack of technical details about these test cards, including the newer ones that were created for the BBC’s first widescreen broadcasts, check out Barney Wol’s in depth website. It even points out where you can find mistakes in the construction of the test card itself!