East of the M60’s 2021 Advent Calendar looks at The Cable Connection – Swindon’s role in multi-channel television history
The use of cable for broadcasting TV and radio stations is a far from new idea. Though Sky Glass is being presented as a new satellite dish-free idea, cable broadcasting has been with us for near a century. Fibre optic cables have been used for nearly forty years.
In the UK, cable television is a small scale operation – usually in areas where TV aerial reception is difficult. Companies like British Relay, Rediffusion, and Radio Rentals provided cable television, albeit with a wall-mounted selector box away from the television set. There was also community television stations which broadcasted for a few hours a day. One example was Sheffield Cablevision, whereas the UK’s most successful local cable channel was Swindon Cable.
Well before the advent of multi-channel television, Swindon has had cable distributed radio services since 1928. Swindon Cable has its roots in an experiment by Thorn EMI and an earlier channel called Swindon Viewpoint. This channel was in operation from 1974 to 1982. By 1982, it was taken on by Radio Rentals’ cable television division and became Swindon Cable.
Swindon Cable was its most successful and innovative incarnation. It ticked all the boxes for truly localised programming – even with a dedicated sports programme for local leagues in Sport on Saturday. It also had its own localised news programming and went to major live events. In later years, it was ahead of QVC (in the UK at least) by having a home shopping strand and (well before Quizmania and The Mint) had its own live bingo programme. Known as Tele-Bingo, game cards could be picked up from Swindon’s Littlewoods store. The items for sale on that slot could have been collected from the same department store too.
By the late 1980s, it became Swindon’s Local Channel and the initial spark gave way to corporate realities. There was still a live Christmas special and the same local programming, but staff levels were cut back with improved technology playing some part.
In 2000, Swindon Cable, its forerunners and predecessors were consigned to history. What couldn’t be ignored was the part it played in creating localised content. Some of which by a team of locally based camera operators and technicians as well as presenters. People with a real feel for the railway town whose other best known cultural exports are (via Waterford) Gilbert O’Sullivan, and Supertramp founding member Rick Davies.
Without Swindon Cable, there probably wouldn’t be other successful local channels across the UK (like the equally missed Channel M in Greater Manchester). With local cable services as well as Eastman Kodak’s vision, no such thing as YouTube either.
Behind the final door of East of the M60, we shall be taking you to a town off the East Coast Main Line. It is known these days for an EFL football club that yours truly saw when they were in the same league as Stalybridge Celtic. Whatever you do, don’t touch that dial!
S.V., 23 December 2021.
Image of Hymek and Warship diesel hydraulic locomotives at Swindon Works by Barry Lewis, circa late 1960s/early 1970s (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic).