Page last updated at 02:10 GMT, Wednesday, 17 October 2007 03:10 UK

First town switches to digital TV

By Fiona Pryor
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Digital switchover countdown poster

The town of Whitehaven in Cumbria has become the first place in the UK to undergo the official switchover from analogue to digital TV.

BBC Two was the first to go digital at 0200 BST on Wednesday, with the remaining analogue channels to be switched off on 14 November.

Around 25,000 households will need Freeview, satellite, cable or broadband in order to watch television.

Analogue TV will be switched off in the rest of the UK by the end of 2012.

About 84% of British households have already installed digital equipment, according to media watchdog Ofcom.

The people of Whitehaven and the surrounding borough of Copeland have been the subject of a major campaign in recent months to make sure they are clear about what equipment they will need.

Whitehaven resident Joan Hartley
It's costly isn't it? I've spent £80 now because I've got one main television in the lounge and one in each bedroom
Joan Hartley
Whitehaven resident

On Tuesday, many local residents said they were well-prepared.

Katrina Shields, 40, said: "We've already got Sky so we're OK, we don't need to change anything over. We're getting digi boxes for the two bedrooms. On the whole, it's a pain."

Joan Hartley, 70, said: "I'm in the process of buying one of these disk drives that you can record everything on.

"It's costly isn't it? I've spent £80 now because I've got one main television in the lounge and one in each bedroom."

Peter Heslop of Arqiva - the company in charge of the technical side of the switchover - said he expected a smooth transition.

"Nothing in this life is 100% certain but I can tell you all the equipment has been fully tested. So, as certain as we can be, there will be no technical hitches tonight."

Digital UK, which is overseeing the move to digital TV, said on Monday that "probably nine out of 10 households" in Whitehaven were now ready.

Whitehaven map
17 October - Whitehaven
BBC Two's analogue signal switched offFirst group of Freeview channels become available (all BBC channels)

14 November - Whitehaven
Remaining analogue channels switched offEvery home will be able to receive at least 18 Freeview channels

2008-2012 - Rest of UK
Analogue signal turned off one transmitter at a time

Culture Secretary James Purnell said: "On my recent visit, I found preparations well in hand, and local people glad to be leading the way as we begin this huge technological and social change."

Local councillor Tim Knowles said residents had been looking forward to the switchover, but added that "a lot of the older generation are rather concerned about what the next few weeks might bring".

Across the UK, new equipment, installation and support will be given to people over 75, those with significant disabilities and the blind.

The assistance will cost £40, or will be free for eligible people who are also on pension credit, job seeker's allowance or income support.

In Whitehaven, Age Concern has set up an information centre to help older residents.

However, Mr Knowles thought most people would leave it to the last minute.

Speaking before the switchover, he said: "People will not realise that such a substantial change is coming until it actually happens and I think we'll find out on the day quite what the extent of that is."

Whitehaven's Tesco store has seen sales of digital set-top boxes rise by 1400% since the end of July, and digital TV sales were up 280% in the same period.

Craig Carruthers, who has worked at the local branch of Currys Digital electrical store for 13 years, said he had not experienced such a rush outside the Christmas period.

Local schoolchildren have marked the switchover by burying a time capsule containing an analogue remote control, television listings guide and their drawings of televisions.

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