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A look at TV viewing in black and white terms

TELEVISION is our window on the world.

True, you can neither lean out of it nor open it to let in air. But it's how we view war, politics and the gods, these latter being stars of the screen. Even as we tune in we tune out. Filmed reality negates the need to step out the door and experience the world for real, for there boredom and blood loom large and unedited.

So it makes sense that our television screens be up-to-the-minute: sharp, large and even 3D. Colour, you'd have thought, is a given.

Yet, in Scotlandshire alone, 794 homes remain loyal to black and white sets. How thrawn is that? How unenthralled to gadgetry can such people be?

The shock figures from TV Licensing put the figures at an impressive 13,202 across the UK. In Scotia Minor, the largest number of colourless loyalists (256) are in Glasgow. Edinburgh has 97, Dundee 30 and Aberdeen 19.

Before you write such people off as backward, London has 2715 black and white licences, and Londoners are all right brainy and sophisticated, ken?

The statistics have spawned bewildered and spurious attempts at explanation. Eccentricity has been adduced. We're invited to picture the black and white viewer sitting in his pants, with a tea-cosy on his head and pencils up his nose.

The suspicious allege fraud. A black and white licence costs £49 compared to £145 for colour. However, the authorities insist they check for this, and no can deny there's a whiff of the police state about TV Licensing. They're thorough and intrusive.

It occurs to me that some citizens may have a sight problem but keep the television for the sound. I had blind friends who listened to the television, though I can't recall if they did so in black and white or colour. But they got a 50% reduction in licence fees anyway.

The BBC quoted a Burntisland telly expert saying of the black and white minstrels: "They did not want to dispose of a perfectly good working item which, for them, fulfilled their needs."

How extraordinary. Perhaps it's just extreme conservatism, of self-detrimental resistance to change. Recently, after upgrading televisions, I decided to foist my old one on a friend who had a tiny thing that got only four channels and a bad picture.

When I arrived, with what was still a large set (my new one is humungous) and in HD an' all, he said he didn't want it. I brushed aside his objections, telling him I'd be the judge of what he wanted, and fixed up the set there and then.

He was amazed and exceedingly grateful. But if I hadn't forced him to improve his viewing, he'd still be peering at the world through a haze of static. With a tea-cosy on his head.

But still, perhaps there are merits to watching the world in black and white. Certainly, I don't believe all change is good. The virus-like spread of cycling attests to that.

Moral relativists of the modern age tell me I'm wrong to see certain crimes in black and white terms, but I still do and always will. Besides, you'll have experienced how black and white photography can be superior to colour, adding atmosphere and, crucially, chiaroscuro.

Look at the way we view the real world anyway, often donning shades to go out on a beautiful sunny day, wilfully dimming the blue skies and radiant grass. Then we return home to watch the same world in super-soaked colour on a dazzling screen.

I'm glad the black and white brigade remain with us. They remind me of the scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian, where the man mistaken for the Messiah tries telling the mob: "You're all individuals!" To which the crowd replies in unison: "We're all individuals!" Apart from one voice which adds: "I'm not!"

The black and white brigade have asked to be included out. Feverish talk of even greater roles for television in our daily lives – soon, we won't be switching on our tellies; they'll be switching us on – completely passes them by. We bid them well in the shadows.

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Consumer electronics

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