16 February 1957: The ‘Toddlers’ Truce’ comes to an end

It’s 6pm on the dot. The telly goes blank, and in comes mum to sweep the rugrats off the carpet. So went the logic behind the ‘Toddlers’ Truce’. It provided parents in the post-war years with 60 distraction-free minutes to unstick the kids from the TV and put them to bed.

In those days, the BBC, which was the only broadcaster, prided itself on its social responsibilities. The programmes it produced for children were designed to aid a child’s development within the harmonious environment of the family home.

If that meant suspending transmission so mum and dad could tear themselves away from the sofa to look after the children, then so be it. Conveniently, it also saved the corporation a few bob.

Then barbarians invaded the televisual landscape. In September 1955, ITV made its inaugural broadcast. The Postmaster General dictated broadcasting policy, so the newcomers had to abide by the Toddler’s Truce as well.

ITV thought that was grossly unfair. Unlike the BBC, it didn’t have a TV licence to fund its programming – it had to rely on advertising. So, for them, the Toddlers’ Truce was a lost hour of income.

The BBC said that exposing young children to advertising would warp their fragile little minds – a concept lost on the Americans, where children were not only fair game, but viewed as a critically important consumer group.

But it soon became apparent that the BBC’s concerns were a lost cause. London School of Economics psychologist, Hilde Himmelweit, and ‘social scientist’ Mark Abrams were separately investigating the viewing habits of children.

They found that even younger children were watching adult programmes, with ‘violent’ westerns and police drama Fabian of the Yard proving special favourites. And given the choice, they preferred to tune in to ITV rather than Auntie Beeb.

On Saturday, 16 February, 1957, the Toddlers’ Truce was finally broken. Perhaps sensing change in the air, the BBC decided to broadcast a rock n’ roll programme Six-Five Special in its place.