The first combined radio and TV licence was issued in June 1946 at a cost of £2 but it was to take another six years for a method of detecting non-payers to take to the streets. Radio still dominated the airwaves (Britain's first 'detector' van had been introduced in 1926 to catch radio listeners without a compulsory ten shilling licence) and at the end of 1951 there were 12.5 million broadcasting licenses issued of which only 1.2 million included television sets but the video revolution had begun and more than 67,000 new TV licences were being issued each month.
On February 1st 1952 a new method was unveiled for the tracking down of users of unlicensed television sets. The first TV detector vans were developed at the Post Office's experimental radio laboratories in Dollis Hill, London. The detection equipment was demonstrated in front of the Postmaster General, Lord De La Warr and the Assistant Postmaster General, Mr Gammans.
The Postmaster General stated that people without licences were receiving free entertainment subsidised by those who had paid and said that he was determined to discover who the non-payers were, although he was sure many people had simply forgotten to get their licence. "We are most unwilling to start a snoop campaign or to follow it up by prosecutions," he added.
Claimed by its inventors to be sensitive enough to pick up the vast majority of television receivers, whether the aerials were internal or external, the units consisted of three horizontal loop aerials, fixed to the roof of a vehicle, that received signals issuing from television sets and converted them to radio waves, providing both audio and visual information.
By 1955, fleets of new Hillman vans with rotating aerials were cruising suburban streets. Britain's longest-serving TV detector vehicle, the Commer van, was brought into service in 1968 and survived until 1983 when it was replaced by the less striking Volkswagen Transporters.
Detector Vans - Fact or Fiction? TV Detector Vans (Pathe 1969)
TV and Radio Licence Chronology 1922-1973
1904 Broadcast receiving licenses introduced by the Wireless and Telegraphy Act 1904, made permanent by the 1924 Act.
1922 In Oct 1922 some electrical manufacturing companies set up the British Broadcasting Company. It gained a GPO broadcasting licence and was partly paid for by sponsored programmes from British newspapers and partly from the manufacture of radios.
1923 The Government made a decision not to allow the BBC to fund itself using commercial advertising, instead requiring people to buy a licence in order to receive their broadcasts. The General Post Office licence fee of 10 shillings (50p) is introduced from 1st November.
1926 Radio detector vans are used for the first time. The British Broadcasting Company was dissolved at the end of 1926 and the assets transferred to the nationalised British Broadcasting Corporation.
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