Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Test That Marks the End of Fuzzy Wigs and Wrinkles; TV WATCH

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Test That Marks the End of Fuzzy Wigs and Wrinkles; TV WATCH

Article excerpt

Test Card Sky Arts HD

LONG long ago, back in the days when I was a radio producer, I was once in charge of the live broadcast of a one-act "avant-garde" opera. During the performance (which sounded uncannily like a fire in a pet shop), I sneezed in the control booth and accidentally pressed a button, whereupon a tape of Francois Couperin's Le Tic-Toc- Choc roared out through the Tannoy at 130 dBA into the concert hall, blaring on for a full five seconds until I managed to switch it off again.

Afterwards, as the audience were leaving, I eavesdropped on their conversations, and heard someone clearly say, "Wasn't the moment with the baroque harpsichord exquisite? A masterstroke & perfectly timed & it said so much." Which I confess caused me to lose what faith I'd ever had in experimental art of all descriptions, and even to rebel against it by starting to draw pairs of cubes on the lavatory walls of art galleries, accompanied by the legend "balls to Picasso".

Much to the chagrin of the critics (though what the hell do they know about anything?), the best-known and bestappreciated pieces of 20thcentury art aren't avantgarde at all.

No, they're the functional design classics that we all take for granted in our everyday lives, such as Harry Beck's inspired map of the London Underground, or George Hersee's Television Test Card F, which has been viewed by far more people than anything hanging on the walls of Tate Modern.

In these days of 24-hour broadcasting, Test Card F seldom gets aired by the BBC, but we all still instantly recognise the sight of George's daughter Carol playing noughts and crosses with Bubbles the Clown, in the centre of a geometric design that once enabled engineers to check the grey scale, linearity, ghosting, frequency response, corner focus, chrominance and luminance delay error, static, and convergence in the central screen area.

Who can forget the anticipation felt while watching it, as we waited patiently for the real programmes to begin? Or the famous afternoon in 1966 when BBC1's transmission of the Test Card drew higher ratings than the Election Special over on BBC2? Test Card F may be rarely seen nowadays, but the Test Card tradition has just been revived on the Sky Arts High Definition channel. And when I tuned in recently, there was classical pianist and star of The Vagina Monologues Myleene Klass, seated by the blackboard next to a simulacrum Bubbles, and even dressed in the same headband and frock, though with considerably more cleavage on show than was ever the case with the eight-year-old Ms Hersee.

As a child, I was convinced that the Test Card was actually a live broadcast (with 'Who can the famous afternoon 1966 when BBC1's transmission the Test Card drew higher ratings than Election Special over on BBC2? …

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