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The First Commercial

Gibbs SR Toothpaste

I joined Associated-Rediffusion TV in May 1955, and was in Master Control Room at Wembley on Opening Night. The nervous tension in the staff of the control room was extreme.  Things had gone reasonably well since the start of the evening, and now we were taking a Variety Show from Wood Green Empire, during which the first TV commercial was scheduled for transmission.

Telecine machines required a five second run-up to speed from a still frame, and so all films had a five second-long leader with numbered frames, starting from number '6'. The normal procedure was to have a film ready for transmission laced up with '6' in the gate.  The leader was not meant to be seen on transmission.

There came the crucial moment when the compere, Jack Jackson, walked up to the microphone and said: "And now the moment we have all been waiting for......"  He had been rehearsed to continue: "....the first commercial on British television", - but he forgot. There was a second or so of confusion in the control room as whether this was our cue to roll the commercial or not.  The intro. had been timed to allow for the leader to have run through out of sight and to transmit the film from its first frame.

In the event, the Programme Controller said: "Was that it ?!"  Slightly unnerved, he gave the cue: "Roll, telecine", and inadvertantly said: "Take!" and the Vision Mixer dutifully switched the film to air.

The British public were treated to their first ever commercial, complete with its leader!  Our only consolation was that no viewer would be aware that this was not the normal way it was going to be.

Gordon Butler.   A-R.TV 1955-56   GTV 1956-1984.

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