Toddler’s Truce: Why The British Could Not Watch TV at 6PM

Nov 30, 2021 0 comments

At 6 PM every day the television would go blank. The next one hour would be frantic. Parents would scoop their kids off the living room couch, get them to brush their teeth, take a bath, change into pajamas and get into the bed, just in time for the evening programs to begin. This one hour break in BBC’s television scheduling was known as “Toddler’s Truce”. The idea was that with nothing on TV, it would be easier for parents to peel their kids from the screen and put them to bed.

But why would a broadcaster care whether mums can drag their children away from the television? Because the BBC, which was the only broadcaster, prided itself on its social responsibilities, explains Chris Carter on Money Week. The BBC produced a handful of programmes for children, “each designed to aid a child's development within the harmonious environment of the family home”. One of its first children's program known as Children's Hour  featuring the famous puppet Muffin the Mule with presenter Annette Mills started in 1946 after the end of WW2. In 1950, BBC got a dedicated staff specialized in children programmes. Shortly thereafter began Whirlygig, the first 'children's variety programme', and All your Own presented by Huw Wheldon. There were also live dramas, often adaptations of classic books such as The Railway Children and The Secret Garden.

Toddler’s Truce began around the same time BBC resumed television broadcast after the end of WW2, in 1946. At first, the policy didn’t cause much issue. Viewers were not used to 24 hours of television programming. The BBC broadcasted for only a limited number of hours every day, and they didn’t broadcast overnight. So an extra hour of no TV in the evening was hardly the matter. This also helped BBC saved money, because producing content was expensive. The BBC’s revenue came from TV license and not from advertising, so the one hour of dead air did not impact their revenues. The Postmaster General, who dictated broadcasting policy, also accepted Toddler’s Truce as standard television scheduling policy.

Problem arose in 1955 with the launch of the first commercial television channel in the UK, ITV or Channel 3. Because ITV was funded through advertising, an hour’s closedown meant the loss of an hour's worth of ad revenue. Supporters of ITV pressurized the government to lift the Toddlers' Truce. Postmaster General Charles Hill weighed in, criticizing that the Truce was indeed patronizing.

On Saturday 16 February 1957, the truce ended with the broadcast of a music programme called Six-Five Special. It still continued to cease broadcasts between 6.15pm and 7.00pm on Sundays at the time of evening church services. From Monday to Friday, the 6 to 7 slot was taken by the Tonight news magazine.

# Chris Carter, “16 February 1957: The “Toddlers’ Truce” comes to an end”, Money Week
# Chris Maume, “Days like these: 16 February 1957”, Independent
# Toddlers' Truce, Wikipedia
# Children and the BBC, BBC


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