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Over the rainbow Swiss TV marks 50 years of colour

It’s been 50 years since Swiss public television switched from black-and-white to colour. In the early days of colour TV, hosts felt obliged to describe the vivid innovation to viewers with older TV sets. 

In an era where screen size, resolution, and download speeds dominate the viewing experience, it’s easy to forget that people used to make do with monochromatic moving pictures – small and firmly rooted to a box. 

The United States introduced colour TV in 1950 and featured it permanently from 1953. Countries like Japan, Mexico, Canada, and the Philippines had been enjoying colour TV for years when Switzerland decided to up its palette on October 1, 1968 – the same year as Bermuda, Iraq and Denmark, and exactly one year after the Soviet Union.

Early shows

In fact, the Swiss got their first taste of colour TV during a test run of a quiz show called “Dopplet oder nüt” (Double or nothing), broadcast by Swiss public television, SRF, on August 29, 1968. A few days later, viewers enjoyed another dose of colourful hues with a top-of-the-pops style music show, “Hits à Gogo” (Unlimited hits). 

The official kick-off of colour TV followed on October 1. True to its public service mandate, SRF provided a “how-to” the next day, explaining how the colours made their way from studio to living room, and how viewers could adjust these at home. 

However, because so many homes only had black-and-white sets, presenters sometimes commented on the array of colours decorating the studio sets as well as the guests’ wardrobes. 

SRF is celebrating the golden anniversary on Monday with a late-night marathon of those first full-colour programmes.

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