The Toddlers' Truce: Why You Couldn't Watch British TV at 6pm Until 1957

Turn on the TV at 6:00 this evening and you’ll find the local news, SportsCenter, or perhaps an old Seinfeld rerun. But until this day in 1957, British TVs at 6:00pm wouldn’t show a thing. Thanks to a post-war BBC policy known as the “toddlers' truce,” stations would not broadcast between 6:00 and 7:00 in the evening to give parents a chance to put their children to sleep before the evening programming. The thinking went that if the television programs stopped, it would provide a nice end to the children's day and give parents time to get them to bed before the evening's shows began.

The policy didn't raise much of a reaction among audiences, although some in the government thought it reeked of a nanny state. However, the 1955 launch of the advertising-based ITV (in contrast to the BBC’s public broadcasting model) threw a wrench into the works. ITV felt that going dark for an entire hour, especially the one preceding primetime programming, meant the loss of an hour's worth of ad revenue, giving the BBC an unfair financial advantage.

ITV companies protested and fought for government intervention to lift the “toddlers' truce.” Finally, in late 1956, the stations and government struck a deal to allow programming in that hour, shepherded by Postmaster General Charles Hill, who felt the original policy was paternalistic to begin with.

The first 6:00 shows started on Feb. 16, 1957, and stations reported almost no problems. A BBC spokesman told newspaper reporters that the network had received just six phone calls complaining about the change.

“We regard that as a negligible public protest,” the spokesman added.

Rock 'n' Roll, Calypso and Church Hymns

The BBC actually went about as far away from silence as it could get in its first 6:00 program, airing a rock 'n' roll jukebox show called The Six-Five Special. The show – which started at 6:05 on Saturdays, hence the name – featured hosts Josephine Douglas and Pete Murray, with house band Don Lang and the Frantic Five, plus guests ranging from Petula Clark to boxer Freddie Mills.

Throughout the week, the BBC tried to attract a mix of young and old viewers with a new news show called Tonight. Producers tried to nix the BBC's traditionally stern tone and make Tonight more informal and loose, allowing viewers to tune in and out during an hour when they would usually be doing chores or moving around the house. The show contained everything from interviews to news reports to a regular segment where entertainer Cy Grant sang news-based calypso tunes (check out a clip of one of his "topical calypsos" here, followed by a report about dinosaurs).

Tonight was only slated to run for a few months, but ended up being so successful (audiences averaged around 7 million people a night) that producers left it on the air for eight years.

A sticking point, however, remained with the 6-7 hour on Sunday, when evening church services were held. The BBC elected to keep the hour empty for a while, then later relented and allowed 15 minutes of programming (the remaining 45 minutes stayed dark). Finally, in 1961, the BBC found an acceptable program to fill the full hour: Songs of Praise, a show based around Christian hymns.

Image by flickr user smays.

Quick True/False: World Capitals
Bain News Service - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
10 Pats Born on St. Patrick's Day
A photo from the 1919 wedding of Princess Patricia of Connaught to the Hon. Alexander Ramsay.
A photo from the 1919 wedding of Princess Patricia of Connaught to the Hon. Alexander Ramsay.
Bain News Service - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Need some St. Patrick's Day conversation fodder that doesn't involve leprechauns or four-leaf clovers? Ask your friends to name a "Pat" born on St. Patrick's Day. If they can't, they owe you a drink—then you can wow them with this list of 10.


Princess Patricia was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who gave up all of her royal titles when she married a commoner. She was born at Buckingham Palace on March 17, 1886.


The Dallas star was born on March 17, 1949. And here's a totally random fact about Duffy: His nephew is Barry Zito, former MLB pitcher for the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants.


Pattie Boyd
Larry Ellis, Express/Getty Images

Pattie Boyd is well-known to lovers of classic rock: She has been married three times, including once to George Harrison and once to Eric Clapton, who both wrote a couple of the most romantic songs in rock history in her honor (including The Beatles's "Something" and Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight"). Boyd was a model when she met Harrison on the set of A Hard Day's Night in 1964; the pair were married two years later. They divorced in 1977 and she married Clapton, Harrison's close friend, in 1979. She also had an affair with Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones toward the end of her marriage to The Quiet Beatle.


Belfast-born Pat Rice is a former footballer and coach who spent the bulk of his career with Arsenal F.C. (that's "football club," a.k.a. soccer to us Americans). He joined the Gunners in 1964 as a mere apprentice, turning pro a couple of years later. He became captain in 1977 and left the club for a few years in the early 1980s to go to Watford, but returned after he retired from playing in 1984. In 2012, after nearly 30 years with the organization, he announced his retirement.


Patty Maloney is an actress with dwarfism who stands just three feet, 11 inches tall. She has appeared in many movies and T.V. shows over the years, including operating the Crypt Keeper puppet in Tales from the Crypt. She also played Chewbacca's son Lumpy in The Star Wars Holiday Special.


Michael C. Hall and Mathew St. Patrick in 'Six Feet Under'

Ok, so Mathew St. Patrick is the stage name of the actor, but he was born Patrick Matthews in Philadelphia on March 17, 1968. You probably know him best as David's boyfriend Keith on Six Feet Under.


He may not be a household name, but the recording artists Patrick Adams writes for and helps produce certainly are. Adams has been involved in the careers of Salt-N-Pepa, Sister Sledge, Gladys Knight, Rick James, and Coolio, among others.


It's possible you look at Patrick McDonnell's work every day, depending on which comics your newspaper carries. McDonnell draws a strip called Mutts featuring a dog and a cat named Earl and Mooch, respectively. Charles Schulz called it one of the best comic strips of all time.


 Singer/Guitarist Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins performs onstage during Live Earth New York at Giants Stadium on July 7, 2007 in East Rutherford, New Jersey
Evan Agostini, Getty Images

Yes, you know him better as just plain old Billy Corgan: he's the face of the Smashing Pumpkins, engages in public feuds with Courtney Love, and maybe once dated Jessica Simpson. He made his debut on March 17, 1967.


Patricia Ford is a retired model probably best known for her Playboy photoshoots in the 1990s.


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