As the saying goes – Vive la différence.

In 1953 the USA’s National Television Systems Committee adopted the NTSC colour system – unaffectionately known as Never Twice The Same Colour because of the fluctations in hue caused by any phase shifts in the signal.

German engineers developed the Phase Alternation Line system to cure the problem. As with NTSC, PAL carries the two colour signals on each line of the picture but PAL reverses their phase to cancel out errors.

France came up with another solution; Sequentiel Couleur a Memoire. SECAM carries only one of the two colour signals on each line of the picture; the chosen signal flip flops from line to line.

In 1965 a conference was held in Vienna to choose a standard for Europe. Even before it began, France had said it would use SECAM anyway. So Europe split, with France, Russia and the Eastern bloc opting for SECAM and everyone adopting PAL.

The SECAM camp hoped to protect local manuacturers from Far Eastern competitors. The East wanted to stop its captive population watching Western TV. East German TV was monumentually boring – news from the Kremlin and how to build a bookshelf from scrap wood.

East Berliners could watch PAL signals from across the Wall, albeit in black-and-white only, but were forbidden to do so.

Schooteachers would ask children to draw the TV clock, which was different in the West. So the child’s drawing told what the parents were watching.

The protectionist policy failed. Japanese companies built PAL TV factories and created jobs across Europe, but not in France. In 1991 business boomed for these factories.

After the unification of Germany, the East stopped using SECAM and switched to PAL. East Germans were given hard currency for their worthless DDR marks, and most used their windfall to buy a new PAL TV set.


France carried on clinging to SECAM, but most sets were dual standard, so that French viewers could watch PAL programmes from the surrounding countries. The launch of digital TV services finally buried the maverick format, when along with the rest of Europe, France adopted the standard  Digital Video Broadcast (DVB) system.