Skip to content
We plan to reopen later this year
Domestic gamechangers

How TV transformed our lives

Written by Louis Platman, curatorial assistant
07/05/2020

From its inception, the TV has been changing the way we live, dominating our living rooms and dictating the nation's routines.

Can shared viewing experiences help us through lockdown?

A loft-style apartment, 1998, featuring a Sony TV on a matching stand A loft-style apartment, 1998, featuring a Sony TV on a matching stand

From cosy to Corrie

For centuries the fireplace was the focal point of domestic life: where families gathered for warmth, comfort and companionship.

However, following the mass adoption of the TV in the decades following the second world war, the glow of embers and the crackle of burning wood were swapped for Ken Barlow and the Benny Hill theme tune as the television came to dominate the living room.

The Marconiphone model 709 television, 1938. When the second world war was declared all television broadcasts were discontinued so they could only be used for their radios. The Marconiphone model 709 television, 1938. When the second world war was declared all television broadcasts were discontinued so they could only be used for their radios.

More time to tune in

The TV's arrival as an affordable piece of technology could not have been better timed: shorter working hours and new labour-saving devices like the washing machine and the vacuum cleaner meant that people found themselves with a lot more free time on their hands.

The possibilities that television contained, of being immersed in drama or transported to the other side of the world from the comfort of your sofa, proved an alluring prospect.

Colour television, Murphy model, 1973 Colour television, Murphy model, 1973
G.E.C. Sobell 'fineline' black and white television, c.1965–73 G.E.C. Sobell 'fineline' black and white television, c.1965–73
Black and white, Philips '320' series, 1974 Black and white, Philips '320' series, 1974

Watching together

The television changed the nation's routine.

Sporting events, film debuts and soap operas became essential 'appointment TV'. More than half of the UK tuned in to watch Dirty Den serve Angie with divorce papers in an 1986 episode of EastEnders. And remarkably nearly 22 million Britons spent two hours of their Christmas in 1989 watching Crocodile Dundee.

Even with the vast range of televisual choice we have today, this trend continues: in March over 27 million people watched Prime Minister Boris Johnson lay out the new rules of lockdown.

Even more recently, 16 million have tuned in to watch (and cry) while Marianne and Connell do emotional battle in the BBC's adaptation of Normal People.

Ferguson Videostar Deluxe video cassette recorder, 1984 Ferguson Videostar Deluxe video cassette recorder, 1984

With most of the country confined to their homes for the foreseeable future, we may be looking to TV once again to feel connected to one another through a shared viewing experience.

If, like me, you ran out of shows to watch in your first day of self-isolation, here's a few suggestions that should help see you through the lockdown:

  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015) – After being kidnapped and held captive for 15 years, Kimmy tries to start a new life in New York, all while being impossibly cheery. This brilliant comedy from the mind of Tina Fey can be achingly funny, and contains more than a few helpful tips for those who are starting to feel like one of the Indiana 'Mole Women'
  • Battlestar Galactica (2004) – A binge-watch classic, this tale of the last dregs of humanity in a beat-up old spaceship fighting to survive against the Cylons, a race of super-intelligent robots who are indistinguishable from humans, will make you forget you ever liked to go outside in the first place.
  • Oz (1997) – Set almost entirely within the walls of a prison known as 'Emerald City' this brutal but often hilarious series will shock and delight in equal measure – and remind you that sometimes there are worse places to be than stuck at home.

What are you watching in lockdown? Tell us about it for Stay Home, our new collecting project.

Cookie notice

Please see our coronavirus statement.

By dismissing this banner you agree to our use of cookies. You can read more about cookies in our cookies policy.