Teleprompt: the BBC test card

With news that the girl and the clown might come back, we ask: what's it all about?

Hey, d’you remember the old BBC test card?

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You mean the little girl with the clown? Yeah, I remember her. She always used to be on after chucking-out time…

Well, her card was on when the Beeb hadn’t got anything else to air overnight, yes. Anyway, it says in the Daily Mail that Auntie might be reviving it.

What, no more Ceefax? No more News 24?

Apparently not. As I say, the Mail claims that it could be coming back at night-time to cut costs.

Oh well, could be worse. I mean, they could’ve made a BBC version of ITV Nightscreen or something.

Good grief, there’s a thought.

Yeah, at least the test card’s pleasant for insomniacs – no lift music, no presenters urging you to phone in and play roulette. It’s restful. Zen, even.

Calm down, Confucius.

Sorry, got a bit carried away there. Anyway, d’you reckon they’ll be using the same noughts-and-crosses picture for it?

You’re thinking of the one called Test Card F, and in all probability it’ll look almost identical – there’s still a version of that card that turns up on BBC HD from time to time.

Good-o. So she’s still on telly, then?

Yep. In fact it’s funny to think that that little girl, Carole Hersee, has spent more time on TV than anyone else in the world, ever.

What, even more than John Barrowman?

By a few hours, yes.

That’s quite something.

Isn’t it just? And it’s all thanks to her BBC engineer dad, who took that snap of her aged eight back in 1967.

Did she ever do anything else on telly?

Not really, save a few interviews about the card. Apparently all the publicity she got as a teenager was more than enough for her. She’s a theatre costume designer these days.

Intriguing. Actually, thinking about it, what’s the point of a test card, anyway?

They’re basically there for TV cameras and receivers to be adjusted to display pictures correctly. That’s why they’re covered in different colours, line patterns and logos: if you can see everything as you should on the card through your kit, the equipment’s calibrated. Apparently the BBC photo’s especially useful as the cross on the blackboard’s dead centre on the card…

Ah, makes sense.

Yeah, back before digital broadcasting, people at home used to use them to make sure their TV sets were tuned in properly.

I see. I wondered why you didn’t see the old test cards on the box any more.

Well, that’s not the only reason. I mean, telly’s on 24 hours now, so Carole and Bubbles…

Bubbles?

That’s the clown’s name.

Oh.

Yeah, so Carole and Bubbles don’t get much airtime these days.

But that’s about to change, you say?

Maybe so. And if it did, it’d be no bad thing. After all, everyone loves retro and thrift, right?

Right. And something peaceful to pass out to after the pub…

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(Sigh)