A Mickey Mouse Cartoon Was Interrupted By World War II
Not too many people owned televisions when World War II started. In all of England, only about 20,000 homes had TVs. And yet by this point, the BBC had been broadcasting regularly for three years.
On September 1, 1939, the channel was going to air a typical day of programming. At 11:00 AM was an interview hosted by the BBC’s Elizabeth Cowell. From noon till 3:00 PM, nothing would air, and then at 3:00 PM was a 20-minute “cabaret interlude,” featuring music and comedy. That would be followed by 10 minutes of news, and then “Touchdown Mickey,” a Mickey Mouse cartoon from 1932.
Things went a little differently from planned. Immediately after the interview program (“Come And Be Televised”), BBC rolled into a Mickey cartoon—“Mickey’s Gala Premiere,” a different one than scheduled for that day. They followed this with 20 minutes of “sound and vision tuning signals.” And then the network went off the air, for seven years.
Rather than broadcasting TV, the BBC’s transmission aerial (located at Alexandra Palace in London) served a different purpose during the war. It sent out signals using the same frequency as German bombers, to jam their communications.
On June 7, 1946, BBC Television came back on the air. “Good afternoon everybody,” said the presenter. “How are you? Do you remember me, Jasmine Bligh ... ?” And then they broadcast an encore presentation of “Mickey’s Gala Premiere.”
The story of the BBC hiatus grew weirder as people retold it. According to urban legend, the Mickey cartoon got cut off abruptly midway through and then restarted at that exact same point in the tape when the network came back on air seven years later. “Sorry for the intermission,” said Bligh, according to this (false) version of the tale. Another version has her first words following the resumption be “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted ... "
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