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

Getty Images
Getty Images

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.

 

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Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?

Elsa, Getty Images
Elsa, Getty Images

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team was founded in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions will host the Chicago Bears.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?

The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Washington Redskins on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?

In 2006, because six-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the New Orleans Saints will welcome the Atlanta Falcons.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

'Obscene' Books From Oxford's Bodleian Libraries Go on Display for the First Time

The title page of The Love Books of Ovid (1925), translated to English by James Lewis May and illustrated by Jean de Bosschère
The title page of The Love Books of Ovid (1925), translated to English by James Lewis May and illustrated by Jean de Bosschère
Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford // Reproduced with permission from Alain Bilot

A Picture of Dorian Gray and Lady Chatterley’s Lover were deemed so scandalous in the Victorian era that a separate restricted library was created within the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries just to store them. If a student wanted to read one of these semi-banned books, they had to submit a letter of support from a college tutor.

They were dubbed the “Phi books” after the Greek letter phi, which was the shelfmark used to categorize them. Now, for the first time, these so-called “obscene” books are on public display at the Bodleian's Weston Library in Oxford.

An illustration of two people about to kiss
The title page of the 1974 book The Joy of Sex: A Gourmet Guide to Lovemaking by Alex Comfort, with illustrations by Chris Foss.
Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford/ © ChrisFossArt.com

The collection contains around 3000 items, including scientific and scholarly works, as well as novels that were deemed too inappropriate for public consumption at the time. One of the texts on display is a volume of Love Books of Ovid that was held in the Phi section due to its erotic illustrations. The unillustrated version, on the other hand, was publicly available in the library.

Two other books on view are The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was restricted "presumably because of its homoerotic subtext," and a first edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover that was reportedly smuggled into Britain to avoid censorship laws. There will also be sex manuals, books about phallic symbolism, the "first modern European work of pornography" (the 17th-century Satyra Sotadica), and even a copy of Madonna's 1992 book Sex.

Why does the Bodleian have so many sexually suggestive books in the first place? It serves as a legal deposit library, meaning it's entitled to a copy of every book published in the UK. “This partly accounts for the Libraries' large Phi collection although the collection has also grown through donations and bequests," the library notes on its website.

Illustration of Dorian Gray
Title page of The Picture of Dorian Gray (1925), written by Oscar Wilde and illustrated by Henry Keen
Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

The title "Phallic objects and remains" is written under an illustration of a rocket ship
The cover of the 1889 book Phallic Objects, Monuments and Remains; Illustrations of the Rise and Development of the Phallic Idea (Sex Worship) and Its Embodiment in Works of Nature and Art, written by Hargrave Jennings
Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

The Phi shelfmark, which was established in 1882, only stopped being used in 2010 when the library opened its Book Storage Facility in Swindon and changed the way it catalogs books. As a result, the “obscene” books were no longer grouped together, and the Bodleian Libraries stopped separating sexually explicit books from other reading materials. 

The collection, called the "Story of Phi: Restricted Books," will remain on public display until January 13, 2019. Admission is free.

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