The group calledThe Test Card Circle presently has a membership of over 200. It was formed in 1989 when a few people discovered they were not alone in enjoying the music played during BBC and ITV Trade Test Transmissions. They teamed up and agreed to appeal in the press and television to investigate whether others had the same interest. It was also decided at the time to publish a regular magazine with readers' memories and details of music and visual sequences. The publicity resulted in a number of enthusiasts from across the United Kingdom coming forward. Each person who contacted the group thought he or she was alone in appreciating test card music.
Now, because of increased publicity and the release of several test card music CDs, the TCC has dramatically increased its membership. So what's so appealing about the music? For many it was the mystique. The test card was transmitted by television companies at times when viewers weren't supposed to be watching. So it was a bonus to be able to 'listen in' to a wide variety of orchestral and instrumental tunes at times when most people thought there was nothing on. (And in the sixties and seventies there were long periods during the day when no programmes were shown - BBC 2 for example would often close down at 11.25am and not re-open until 7.30pm). Don't be fooled into thinking this was bland lift music. Far from it, the test card provided an outlet for high quality entertainment by well-established artists. Included in a day's schedule might be light classical pieces, big band numbers and medleys from the shows. In addition listeners could hear a large number of original compositions and novelty pieces. These tunes would be recorded on half hour or hour long compilations, so would always appear in the same order. On BBC 1 and BBC 2 at any time there was a maximum of seven tapes on the go, each remaining in service for on average eighteen months.
The music played by the BBC was Library Music. These were tunes specially recorded for television and radio companies to play in trailers, adverts, themes and so on, and were cheaper to use than commercial material. Many members of the TCC remember their great distress when, after enquiring to the BBC where they could buy the music, received a reply which coldly explained that this music was not available in the shops. So the only thing for it was to record the music directly from the television, usually using a hand held microphone, and many fans speak of recordings of tunes which included dogs barking in the background, telephones ringing and mothers calling them in for tea! However, despite this, the group has managed to re-create almost all the tapes ever used by the BBC. For many, the golden age of test card music was from the mid sixties to the late seventies, but membership interests span from the early 1950s right up to the short Ceefax breaks which still occur on BBC2 at weekends today.
Apart from the music used in Trade Test Transmissions, there were other interesting features to look out for when no programmes were being broadcast. It goes without saying a variety of test cards have been used over the years, but in addition, many viewers remember that when colour was new, a whole collection of colour films were regularly broadcast to enable engineers to show off their new stock of colour televisions. Favourite daytime offerings wereThe Home Made Car, Roads to Roam, Journey into the Weald of Kent and Evoluon. Again, the TCC has managed to collect a number of these.
One of the highlights of the year for many members of The Test Card Circle is their annual convention. This takes place in the market town of Leominster near the Welsh border every April, and includes a whole weekend of nostalgia!
Some members meet up during the year to produce mini conventions of their own. But for those who prefer to save their enthusiasm for the yearly bash, they're kept up to date with events in the quarterly Journal produced by the TCC. This contains 52 or more A4 pages and is packed with information and memories. Because there is obviously a cost involved in printing, members are charged an annual subscription.
If you would like to join, please contact the Secretary of The Test Card Circle:
The Test Card Circle,
175 Kingsknowe Road North,
Please also register interest on-line by contacting Stuart Montgomery at :-
It would be helpful if you could also include your postal address.
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Last Update 11/08/11