BBC Test Card F: Explaining What the Hell That Thing Was

BBC Test Card F
Testing, testing.

BBC Test Card F was something we had to stare at a lot as stupid kids. You see, decades back TV channels used to shut down for the night.

Yes, no 24 hour running TV before circa 2001, we’re afraid! The BBC, in its infinite wisdom, would get tired and head off to bed.

But if you turned your TV on, you weren’t greeted with a screen of crackling static. You had to stare at a weird image. Why?

BBC Test Card F

Although it has nostalgic a factor for many Brits, for us we can’t say we like the thing. It meant that we couldn’t watch TV.

If you woke up at, say, 5am and wanted to watch some television you were greeted by that thing. The young Mr. Wapojif came to associate it with boredom.

But what the hell is actually going on there? We see a little girl staring and smirking at something off camera whilst she completes what appears to be a game of noughts and crosses.

Next to her is some sort of grinning green monstrosity that, we can only assume, is sentient and competing with the little girl in the aforementioned game.

BBC, why not just put up a picture of some daffodils, or something? Why plague young minds with such horrifying possibilities?

History of the Card

Anyway, we did some research and found it first appeared on 2nd July 1967.

The little girl is Carole Hersee (born in 1958)—she’s now a costume designer, but was eight at the time of the picture.

Due to the decades of exposure on TV, she’s thought of as the most seen face in British television history.

Her father, George (1924-2001) was a BBC engineer and introduced it to cover the BBC’s downtime.

Of course, BBC Test Card F is no longer in operation these days. It was last used in 1999.

It didn’t always go smoothly, though, as this clip (actually from late 1993) goes to show. Sometimes on live TV, you just have to bloody well cough.

But it’s certainly odd that the same test card was in use for so long. Tradition, we guess, us Brits get wrapped up on longstanding things.

Instead of using that nice image above with the clock, we had to stare at a little girl with a bizarre doll. Proper belting.


  1. There was something similar used in New Zealand, too. The weird thing is that the particular test card used in NZ turned up, decades later, as a Sheldon T-shirt. No really: The thing was that you could adjust the picture with it – my Dad was in the business at the time. He actually had an electronic device (all analog!) that Philips made which could generate a hatch-pattern on a TV set for an even more detailed adjustment; it was used to align the electron guns on the Philips K-9’s delta-style picture tube, which you did with a series of click-knobs inside the set (the external control panel dropped on a hinge to access them). If you got it wrong, the picture ended up with a cyan or magenta fringe around one side or the other of whatever it was displaying. As a kid I was fascinated by all of this stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I used to just stare at it when I was a kid wondering what it was all about. We had Ceefax/Teltext back then as well – the videotex technology – so around 5 am if I woke up early I’d lie in bed (circa 1990) watching either that test card, or the automated text pages.

      I believe the test card was used in other countries, but yeah not a surprise NZ gets its own version! What you describe makes me wish I had a technical mind. Must be great being able to create all that stuff.


  2. This test card, and its predecessor Test Card C, was actually very carefully designed to give a lot of information to broadcast and TV engineers — each line and dot is there for a very specific reason, and enabled TVs to be set up and adjusted on a consistent, reliable image source — at a time when many programmes were still in B&W and/or film of variable quality.

    The point of the little girl was to give a ‘standard’ fleshtone that could be used as a reference — remember, colour TV was only just coming in. And of course, because it WAS used as a reference, this was a very good reason for using it for such a long time.

    By the time it was phased out, there were fewer and fewer time-slots where engineers could take advantage of it, and in any case, service engineers by now had sophisticated electronic TV pattern generators that did a better job, like the standard PM5544 invented by Philips; while broadcast engineers could use the VITS signals that could be broadcast continuously during programming, and lent themselves to automatic monitoring and adjustment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow. thank you very much for those details! Very insightful indeed. Interesting reading the intentions of the card, compared to my reaction as a kid upon seeing it. Frustration there was no TV and/or bored indifference. But it has a big nostalgia factor for many people now.


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