We're a Cinderella Town - yet again!

By Andy Gilbert

Photo:1960s ITV coverage in the South East - but not for Newhaven!

1960s ITV coverage in the South East - but not for Newhaven!

Courtesy of ITA

Photo:Newhaven's transmitter mast on The Highway, overlooking the town.

Newhaven's transmitter mast on The Highway, overlooking the town.

Courtesy of Simon Carey

When I was growing up in the early 1960s, TV reception in the town was dire. You got a fuzzy, grainy BBC picture from the transmitter up at Heathfield on a good day. As for ITV, unless you lived high up in the town, you were often lucky to get a signal at all. As you can see from the map, Newhaven fell into a dead spot between the coverage of the ITV transmitters at Dover and at Chillerton Down on the Isle of Wight. Just one small area - The Highway - could get a clear signal.

In the late 1960s things were set to change with the construction of the relay transmitter mast on The Highway, overlooking the town. This went live for BBC1 transmissions in 1969 but it was almost another year before ITV programmes were broadcast, starting on the 3rd of August 1970. In fact, the Newhaven transmitter was the very last link in ITV's UK coverage but this, like the BBC1 signal, was on the old VHF 405 line standard. (I somehow find it unsurprising to learn that Newhaven was the very first 405 line transmitter to be switched off a few years later in 1982!)

Although the higher quality UHF 625 line transmissions had already started to come on line nationally in 1964, with BBC2 starting up in the same year and colour broadcasting commencing in 1966, it would still be several more years before UHF arrived at Newhaven, with programmes only starting to be broadcast in 1973. At last, Newhaven had decent, up to date TV reception - we even got colour and BBC2!

However, Newhaven's reputation as the Cinderalla TV Town was set to continue, and continue and continue.....

Channel 4 was launched in 1982 but, as usual, Newhaven was late to the party and didn't get a signal until 1984. As for Channel 5, that was launched in 1997, rebranded simply as '5' in 2002 and went back to being Channel 5 in 2010 but, whatever name it bore, Newhaven simply never got the channel as an analogue signal.

With the much heralded big change to digital signals, Newhaven was once again right at the back of the queue, one of the very last transmitters to switch over at the end of May 2012. And with that change came the arrival of Freeview. You'll probably remember all the glossy magazine adverts and countless TV trailers at the time, with dozens of balloons bearing the names of all the more than 50 channels on offer.

Well, surprise, surprise, Newhaven's transmitter offers only the bare minimum required by public broadcasting regulations. Not for us the likes of ITV3 and 4, 5*, 5USA, Dave, Yesterday, Challenge or Quest. We don't even get Channel 5 in HD! 

Fair enough, we're in the same boat as a lot of UK TV viewers, as the commercial interests who run the transmitters won't pay up to make these extra channels available country-wide. It's not profitable enough for them, and the broadcasting regulator Ofcom won't force them into doing it, so what we've got is almost certainly all that we'll ever have. 

I won't enter into the debate as to whether or not these extra channels are actually worth having, but it's nevertheless par for the course for sleepy old Newhaven!

Do you have any photos or stories about the construction of the TV mast? If so, I'd love to include them on this page.


This page was added by Andy Gilbert on 22/09/2014.
Comments about this page

I wonder if this was the place I worked at as an apprentice. I went with one of the other carpenters Maurice Balcombe to work on the building below the mast. I remember the men working on the mast spent most of their time building a glassfibre kit car. Maurice reminded me about working on a transmitter with him when I saw him about 3 years ago.

By Terry Howard
On 25/09/2014

I spoke to Maurice when preparing this page. He kindly checked and told me that he didn't work on the Newhaven site, but on the one over at Whitehawk in Brighton.

By Andy Gilbert
On 28/09/2014

Thanks Andy, when I wrote the piece it occurred to me that it might have been Brighton but it was a long time ago. I have to admit at the time I was more interested in the car the men were building, I think it was some sort of Lotus.

By Terry Howard
On 28/09/2014

Just to put things in perspective, the gain/noise of the receiving set-up is just as important as the transmitter/aerial, and I think it's true to say that broadcast transmitter coverage maps normally show conservatively rated guaranteed coverage areas.

We lived in the depths of Denton, along from the Flying Fish, in the 60s, and we moved away in 1970. Before then, we had a colour telly, with a Jaybeam Multibeam MBM46 high-gain aerial on a six foot pole on the chimney! It was a bit of an experiment really, and, I did build a low-noise pre-amp, to help. Admittedly, the picture could be a bit noisy if conditions were unfavourable, but, most of the time it was quite watchable. I still have some screenshot photographs, somewhere.

It COULD be done!!

By Roger Morley
On 02/10/2014

Ah, low noise pre-amps and Jaybeam antennas. I remember building and using both for amateur radio.

Don't think many Newhaveners would have known how to do that back then and I certainly don't recall many large TV aerials, or many UHF aerials at all, much prior to the switch-on in 1973.

If you were getting UHF colour that early, that's remarkable. What transmitter were you pointing the Jaybeam at?


By Andy Gilbert
On 02/10/2014

Hi again Andy,

I was struggling to remember from which transmitter we were receiving our signals, to include that information in my comments, but I finally remembered it was Rowridge on the Isle of Wight. 

Ah amateur radio...there's the secret - I'm also a Radio Amateur, and, although I didn't take my morse test until 1972, I'd taken my written exam at Brighton Tech in 1970. Since those exciting days, straining to receive colour TV, I've also used a Jaybeam multibeam on 70 cms. Won't go on any more, on here! Don't want to bore everyone!

Maybe I should try to find the screenshots, taken at that time...

Newhaven wasn't singled-out - we've had our problems with UHF TV reception in more than one place since, but ended up being spoiled, having lived on top of the second-highest spot in Leeds for many years now!

By Roger Morley
On 03/10/2014

We lived up on Mount Pleasant (Beresford Road) and I don't remember our TV playing up at all. It was only black & white but we watched Coronation Street from the very first episode, 1961 I think.

You'd most likely have got a signal from Brighton over on the Mount. -  Andy 

By Brenda Hall
On 31/10/2014

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