Test Card F

Test Card F

Test Card F is a test card that was created by the BBC and used on television in the United Kingdom and in countries elsewhere in the world for more than four decades. Like other test cards, it was usually shown while no programmes were being broadcast, but was the first to be transmitted in colour in the UK and the first to feature a person, [http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/showbiz/showbiznews.html?in_article_id=456720&in_page_id=1773 Daily Mail] ] and has become an iconic British image and is regularly subject to parody.

The central image on the card shows an eight-year-old girl, Carole Hersee, playing noughts and crosses with a clown doll, Bubbles the Clown, surrounded by various greyscales and colour test signals needed to ensure a correct picture. It was first broadcast on 2 July 1967 (the day after the first colour pictures appeared to the public on television) on BBC2.

The card was developed by a BBC engineer, George Hersee, father of Carole Hersee, the girl in the central image. It was frequently broadcast during downtime on BBC1 until that channel went fully 24 hours in 1997, and on BBC Two until its downtime was replaced entirely by Pages from Ceefax in 1998, after which it was only seen during engineering work, and was last seen in this role in 1999. Test Card J and Test Card W, which are digitally enhanced and widescreen versions respectively, have replaced it, although they are very infrequently broadcast due to the fact that the BBC now broadcasts BBC News and Ceefax pages on its terrestrial channels during downtime.

Technical information

Virtually all the designs and patterns on the card have some significance. Along the top (see above) are 95% colour-bars in descending order of luminance - white, yellow, cyan, green, magenta, red, blue and black. There are triangles on each of the four sides of the card to check for correct overscanning of the picture. The standard greyscale and frequency response tests are found on the left and right respectively of the central picture. On the updated Test Card J, the X on the noughts-and-crosses board is an indicator for aligning the centre of the screen.A child was depicted so that wrong skin colour would be obvious and not subject to changing make-up fashions. Even the garish colours of the clown had a purpose, according to the BBC, because their juxtaposition is such that a common transmission error called chrominance/luminance delay inequality would make the clown's yellow buttons turn white. The name of the broadcasting channel usually appeared in the space underneath the letter F - a sans serif F denoting an original optical version of the test card.

Originally a photographic slide made up of two transparencies in perfect registration - one containing the colour information and the other the monochrome background - the card was converted to electronic form in 1984 when electronic storage became possible.

Test Card F music

A sound of some kind usually is transmitted in the background. It is sometimes music, usually a composition commissioned by the station itself or "royalty-free" stock music. Composers whose music was used include Dennis Perry, Roger Roger, Johnny Pearson, Neil Richardson and Frank Chacksfield.

However, during more recent years in which the Test Card is only played during engineering tests on the BBC, it is more common to hear a steady tone of various pitches accompanied by a female talking clock. Test Card music had ceased to be frequently heard in the 1980s (though it continues to be played over Pages From Ceefax).

Bubbles the Clown

Along with his Test Card F co-star Carole Hersee, Bubbles has appeared for an estimated total of 70,000 hours [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/1282160.stm Test card special. BBC News.] ] on television, equivalent to nearly eight whole years, which is more than any living person other than Carole (who still owns Bubbles). [ [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2007/05/25/nosplit/bvtvtestcard25.xml Talking about the Test Card. "Telegraph".] ]


Bubbles' original body colour was blue and white, but the BBC engineers decided that green was also needed within the scene [http://www.murphy-radio.co.uk/gallery/tcf/bbc_tcf.html Murphy Radio: Rust 'n' Dust Test Card Gallery] ] as the other two television primary colours, red and blue, were already shown. A green wrap was made to cover his body and this can be seen in Test Cards J and W, along with more of his body shown in the photograph [http://www.meldrum.co.uk/mhp/testcard/bbc_test.html BBC Test Cards] ] - revealing the fact that he is actually holding a piece of chalk, which was not previously visible.

However, the shade of green material chosen was too subtle for the engineers' liking and so Bubbles' body colour in Test Card F was retouched (this can be seen from the edges of his image) to make it more saturated and also to give it a higher luminance value on screen.

Recent years

Since the late 1990s, Bubbles has only very rarely appeared on television as Test Card F has been discontinued, and Test Cards J and W are very seldom shown due to the advent of digital television and 24-hour programming.

For the fortieth anniversary of Test Card F, there has been renewed interest in Bubbles in the media: in a 2007 interview, Hersee mentioned that she would take Bubbles into school with her to prove to her headmaster that she really was the girl in the picture. [ [http://news.independent.co.uk/people/profiles/article2586577.ece Personal Column: Test-card special] "The Independent".]

In popular culture

* In the 1970s ITV satirical series, "End of Part One", there is an audition for a new test card 'girl'. This features various adults (including a bearded man) sitting behind a giant test-card cutout and attempting the same pose as Test Card F.
* The image has appeared on recordings of easy listening music played during transmissions: "The Girl, The Doll, The Music" and "Big Bandwidth", both released by Chandos Records.
* A fictional version of Test Card F, of sorts, appears in the BBC television series "Life on Mars". A girl resembling Carole Hersee as she appeared in the test card acts as a sort of spiritual guide in the series. The real thing flashes on and off during a BBC One ident in order to create the feeling of the 1970s.
*Appears (in a very small detail, on a television by the inferior left-corner) in the montage-painting "View from the Hill" by Mark Wilkinson featured in the gatefold sleeve of Fish's first solo album "Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors".
* The Weebl and Bob cartoon "merchandise" features a parody of Test Card F, in which Carole is replaced by Weebl and the clown is replaced by Bob wearing a clown's hat and makeup.
* A close-to-Test card F (With Carole replaced) can be seen in 2006 on Channel M as part of the Frank Sidebottom show.
*Roger Mellie of "Viz" magazine fame appeared in the introductory frame of one of his cartoons as a substitute to Carole Hersee. Instead of playing tic-tac-toe he has written 'bollocks' on the blackboard.
*ITV Digital, the former UK pay-TV platform, featured "Al" (Johnny Vegas) "and Monkey" as the girl and clown on its spoof testcard, shown when some of the channels on the platform were off air. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/tv_and_radio/1883306.stm Johnny Vegas: Veteran Newcomer. BBC News] ]
*A spoof of Test card F was done by Channel 4 as an advertisement for an uncut music video programme. The advertisement features a supermodel posing as Carole and then picking up the chalkboard using it to beat the clown.
* A parody has suggested the fate of Bubbles after his test card fame. [http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Museum/3278/nottrue.html Tears of a Test Card Clown] ]
*An updated version of Test Card F has appeared on Sky HD, with television presenter Myleene Klass playing the role of Carole Hersee. Unlike the original static Test Card F, Klass steps out of the frame and gives viewers a ten-minute guide to high-definition television.
*Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding of BBC Three's cult comedy programme "The Mighty Boosh" posed for a parody of Test Card F for Guardian Unlimited in 2006.
* Sun television columnist Ally Ross uses a parody of Test Card F, replacing Carole Hersee with himself, the blackboard text always referencing an event from that weeks popular TV programmes.
* In the Movie Sid & Nancy the test card can be seen on the television in the apartment.
*Bubbles is often seen as an evil clown, inciting phobia in some young children who witnessed him, and is described as "somewhat unsettling". Dorian Lynskey of The Guardian notes of a spoof of the clown's style:

* Nick UK showed in off-time circa 1993 a parody of Test Card F, using Test Card N. It features a big Nick "splat" logo in the center, and pictures of "stars" (like Tommy from Rugrats, or Stimpy from Ren & Stimpy) on other areas.

*Fonejacker Life Insurance [ [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJuUrJn3yd4 Fonejacker Life Insurance sketch] ] sketch features Test Card F on the screen of an ECG machine.
* The test card is parodied in the music video for (Waiting For) The Ghost Train by Madness, replacing a band member in drag for the girl and replacing the "BBC TV" logo with the text "MAD 1 COLOUR" (with a similar look to the BBC logo). [ [http://youtube.com/watch?v=etxd0z5TfiA Madness - Ghost Train music video on YouTube] - first seen at 10 seconds into the video introduction]
* The celebrity quiz show "It's only TV, But i like it" used a version of the test card replacing the scene with the host Jonathon Ross and regular team captains Julian Clary and Phill Jupitus surrounding the chalkboard as a promotional image.
* A parody featuring a Goth-looking woman and a man smoking a long-stemmed pipe appears immediately before the ending credits of the surreal horror cartoon clip "Look in the Mirror". [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=so0Gz2YgKJs]


*An early trial slide of test card F can be seen at the [http://www.meldrum.co.uk/mhp/testcard/bbc_test.html MHP The Test Card Gallery]

ee also

*Test card
*List of BBC test cards


External links

* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1282160.stm Test card special] (BBC News, 19 April 2001)
* [http://www.barney-wol.net/video/testcardf/testcardf.html A history of the card]
* [http://www.meldrum.co.uk/mhp/testcard/bbc_test.html A history of the BBC's test cards]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/classic/classic/testcard.shtml Down-loadable test card wallpaper from the BBC]
* [http://news.independent.co.uk/people/profiles/article2586577.ece Carole Hersee interview marking the 40th anniversary of test card F]
* [http://arts.guardian.co.uk/britishcomedians/story/0,,1868259,00.html Interview about the Mighty Boosh's Test Card F parody]
* [http://www.oodletuz.fsnet.co.uk/tcd/ukcards.htm A reproduction of Test Card F in The TCD Resource] (Requires the [http://www.oodletuz.fsnet.co.uk/soft/tcmaker.htm FML Test Card Maker] program.)
* [http://www.meldrum.co.uk/mhp/testcard/bbc_test.html MHP The Test Card Gallery]

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