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June 28, 2019

Then and Now Photos of Carole Hersee, the Test Card Girl on BBC Television for 30 Years

Do you remember Carole Hersee? She was on TV for 30 years, several hours per day, every single day! As of now, she remains the most aired face in British television history.

The BBC test card, known as Test Card F, which shows Carole Hersee wearing a red shirt and red hairband, and Bubbles, the clown, surrounded by color scales and test graphics, was transmitted from 1967 to 1998.

Designed by Miss Hersee’s father, George Hersee, a BBC engineer, it is being broadcast again on the BBC's high definition (HD) channel to help viewers tune their HD sets, and is currently shown for 90 seconds every two hours when programmes are not on air. Technicians have rescanned the card in HD to allow viewers to set the color, contrast and sharpness on modern televisions.

“I think it [the record] is staggering, and now it has been brought back, there is no hope for anyone else to get anywhere near that record,” she told The Telegraph in 2009. “When we did it, nobody thought it would last for more than a few years, because none of the other test cards had.”

The most famous test card of all, Test Card F, still in use today by the BBC and used in 30 other countries. Designed by George Hersee and featuring his daughter Carole Hersee, it made its first appearance on BBC2 in 1967.

Above is the original version of Test Card F, BBC2. Did you know that the X on the noughts and crosses board was included to indicate the approximate centre of the card? The key differences between the original and today’s version are the labels for the frequency grating and the addition of a color bar at the top.

In 1984, Test Card F was converted to an electronic version. However this example pre-dates this, and is a strange hybrid from 1981. The Test Card is generated by a slide scanner, but the identification is electronically overlaid, as the slide says “BBC2”. The color bars have been introduced at the top, and in this example have been poorly superimposed.

Test Card F has been broadcast for an estimated 70,000 hours since it was first shown on BBC 2 in 1967, and Hersee is thought to hold the record for the most TV appearances by a single person. Carole’s younger sister Gillian also attended the shoot, but wasn’t used for the final shot as she’d recently lost two of her front teeth.

“My father was helping to design the color test card and took some photographs at home of my sister and I to give them some ideas of how they could use it,” she recalled. “And the committee decided in the end that they would use a child in order to get facial colors for the television. And they decided to use me!”

Original transparency of the central image created for Test Card F.

Talking about the shoot, she added: “I think I got irritable, apparently. Because every time they wanted to take another photograph, I was eating a biscuit or something!”

Carole was paid £100 for her picture, and she still owns the famous clown, called Bubbles, that was posed with her in the shoot.

Carole poses for another recreated shot, July 1979. (Getty Images)

Carole poses with Bubbles for a new version of the shot, photographed in 2008. (Rex Features)

Portrait of Carole in 2016. (PA)



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