The Afterlife of Test Card F
White City's Television Centre pumped out programming for over fifty years – a powerhouse of creative activity and a “factory for television” that never slept. But the face the BBC broadcast more than any other was Carole Hersee's, better known at the girl on Test Card F.
POEM - Robert Seatter
Hersee has logged more than 70,000 hours of screen time, more than anyone else in British television history. From 1967 til 1998, her photo appeared on TV sets during downtime in the centre of the BBC's test card, which was used to calibrate equipment across the chain of transmission.
This graphic is seared into the memories of anyone who made a habit of falling asleep in front of the TV in the 70s. And now it lives on. Artists Craig and Karl have just completed an installation, HERE AFTER, in a disused petrol station next to Television Centre. Its colours, inspired by the test card, give a new incarnation both to the design and the place itself.
The pair are known for their distinctive, timeless and vibrant installations. They say: “We view this project as the petrol station’s second life, or ‘wonder years’, which led us to use the words 'Here After' as a reference to heaven or utopia. Now that the petrol station has fulfilled its duty, so to speak, it's free to enjoy itself.”
You can enjoy it too, by going to White City tube station and turning right. Below, a poem by the head of BBC History, Robert Seatter, reflects on this slice of television history.
The Girl in the Test Card
I’ve googled her, I know who she is, how old,
how she came to be – through a quirk
of family fate (her dad a BBC engineer,
connected somehow with that criss-cross
of lines, that serious grey geometry fencing her in) –
held in that circle on our TV screens.
Forever there, with a noughts and crosses blackboard,
ragged clown doll, forever child smile.
The rest of us had anonymity, we traipsed off
disorderly into furtive adolescence, failed marriages,
children, the jobs that satisfied more
or less, cars that took us somewhere different
or stood stock still on the gravel drive.
But she is still there: the child of our boredom –
when does it start? we’d say. Or our game of look away,
and you’ve done a runner, gone: someone else’s life
is happening down the street on a brand new
five-speed bike. Then forward light years
to the adult existence we thought we’d have,
complex, calibrated, and laid out clearly
like that wonderful pattern. Which we’ll understand,
we’d say, as we sped through the spectrum:
black, blue, red, magenta, green, cyan, yellow…
towards that perfect, luminous white.
Explore more of Craig and Karl's influences through the month of content they guest-edited for White Noise, In Colour. Painting was carried out by Global Street Art, and neon signage made by White City Signs.
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