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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.

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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