Instant Color TV

Kjell Stensson shows how to place a nylon stocking over a TV screen. He posed for this photo decades after 1962.

Sweden's most famous April Fool's Day hoax occurred on April 1, 1962. At the time, SVT (Sveriges Television) was the only television channel in Sweden, and it broadcast in black and white.

The station announced that their "technical expert," Kjell Stensson, was going to describe a process that would allow people to view color images on their existing black-and-white sets.

The broadcast cut to Stensson sitting in front of a television set in the studio. He began to explain how the process worked. His discussion was highly technical, going into details about the prismatic nature of light and the phenomenon of "double slit interference." But at last he arrived at the main point. Researchers, he said, had recently discovered that a fine-meshed screen placed in front of a black-and-white television screen would cause the light to bend in such a way that it would appear as if the image was in color.

Stensson told viewers they could experience the effect at home with the help of some simple, readily accessible materials. Nylon stockings, it turned out, were the perfect fabric to use as a fine-meshed screen. So all viewers had to do, Stensson said, was to cut open a pair of stockings and tape them over the screen of their television set. The image on the television should suddenly appear to be in color.

Stensson cautioned that the viewer would have to be seated at the correct distance from the screen in order to get the full effect. Also, it might be necessary to "move your head very carefully" back and forth, in order to align the color spectrum.

Thousands of viewers later admitted they had fallen for the hoax. Many Swedes today report that they remember their parents (their fathers in particular) rushing through the house trying to find nylon stockings to place over the TV set.

SVT attempted its first color broadcast four years later, in 1966. Regular color broadcasts were begun in Sweden on April 1, 1970.

The Instant Color TV hoax is ranked at #2 in the list of the Top 100 April Fool Hoaxes of All Time.

Transcript of the broadcast

The 1962 Broadcast

Below is a transcript of the broadcast translated into English (thanks to Herbert Tingesten for the translation):

Announcer: We hope you have the implements you need for the color TV experiment handy: A nylon stocking, a pair of scissors and a roll of adhesive tape. Over to our technical expert, Kjell Stensson.

Kjell Stensson: As you probably know, there's a lot of interest in the problem of color television all over the world. Research is currently being carried out in America, the Soviet Union, Japan and other places. I found it remarkable when, about one month ago, a suggestion was unexpectedly presented to me how this problem could be solved, which had the advantage of extreme simplicity compared to the hi-tech solutions.

Like all great leaps of progress, it was based on very elementary ideas, and didn't demand more knowledge about optics and physics than what's taught in basic school. We all know that white light consists of a mixture of the whole spectrum, and white light can be split up by simply using a prism. We've seen this diagram in school. Put a prism in the way of a ray of white light, and the white light gets separated into all the colors of the spectrum, all the colors of the rainbow beginning with red, orange and so on, all the way down to violet. The term is color dispersion.

It's also possible to achieve color dispersion by other means, which I will show you in the next picture. Two slits are made in an opaque wall and light is shone through them. The holes then act as two separate light sources. Depending on the distance to the opposite wall, the different color components of the white light will reinforce or suppress each other, and this will cause an impression of color.

Now, this is two slits only, and the idea of this suggestion was to cover the TV screen with some kind of raster, a kind of grid composed of multiple slits. The man who suggested this, a resident of Bockstahus north of Landskrona, Pål Arne Utmeister, came up with the idea that a nylon stocking could be used, or very fine-meshed curtain cloth, which would simply be put over the screen, thus creating such a raster.

I have done precisely that with the monitor here in the studio, I've covered it with a stocking. That's why I asked you to have a nylon stocking, a scissors and a roll of tape handy. It's essential that it's fine-meshed. Should you try something larger - I've made an experiment with this athletic undershirt, and clearly the holes are too large for the effect to appear.

However, if you put it up (and if you don't have time to do it during this programme, you can do it later), you will see this picture of me suddenly appear in color.

Like I said earlier, the viewing distance is of utmost importance. You should experiment with moving closer and further away from the set to get the correct color impression. In order to assist you, we have prepared a calibration card. (Image: "White / red / yellow / green / blue / black")

Now move your head very carefully (the necessary movements are very small) and when this spectrum appears, you have found the correct position. If you're too far away, the red color may disappear, if you're too close, the green color may go away. The result could be disastrous, for instance our female announcers, who are beautiful blondes, may appear red-haired, which may be somewhat disconcerting for them.

This is still in a very preliminary phase. I've been in contact with the television industry, which needless to say is very enthusiastic about this. They will engineer a kind of frame with tightening screws that allows you to fine-tune the distance, and it will naturally be available in very pleasing designs.

If you now can see this color range — white, red, yellow, green, blue, black -- perhaps not in the absolutely correct nuances but approximately, you will enjoy the following little film immensely. It's a video color recording of different flowers, which I find to be a breathtaking symphony in colors.

We would appreciate hearing your views. Please write to us and let us know how this experiment turned out.

Color Screens
Throughout the 1950s and 60s, screens were widely sold that, so it was claimed, could transform black-and-white television pictures into color. These screens were usually transparent pieces of plastic. The plastic was slightly prismatic, so that when it was placed in front of a television screen it would add a slight tinge of color to the image. However, the result was a far cry from true color reception. The appeal of the screens was that they sold for only a few dollars, whereas color television sets cost hundreds of dollars.

1954 ad for a colorizing screen

Some of these color screens reportedly were divided into three tinted horizontal panels. The top panel was blue for the sky, the middle panel was transparent, and the bottom panel green for grass.

In this undated photo (circa 1950s), two young boys, Robert Jenkins
and his brother Bill, experiment with their own homemade color converter.

Similar Hoaxes
Norwegian TV reportedly perpetrated a similar hoax during the 1960s. Viewers were told that if they turned off all power-consuming devices in their house except for the TV, they would receive color reception. Many viewers obediently turned off all the lights in their house to see if it would work. (Requires confirmation.)

On April 1, 2004, Sweden's largest newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, updated the color-TV hoax for the age of mobile phones. The paper reported reported that Hubert Hochsztapler, a researcher at Sweden's top engineering school, had made a surprising discovery: "if you shake your GSM, or second-generation, phone hard enough, you can access the new high-tech third-generation (3G) frequency which is only supposed to be available to 3G phones." In other words, users of older-model mobile phones would be able to watch movies on their phones simply by shaking them.
Instant Color TV Haiku(Submitted by Hoax Museum visitors)
For colour TV
The joy of quick solutions:
Marvellous nylons!
(by Paul)
Run in your stocking?
Don't throw away those nylons.
Get color TV!
(by AB)

Links and References


Well, while I think that this was a good joke the Norwegians had a similar one in the sixties:
It was told in the news on the only TV channel that if you turned of all powerconsuming devices in the house, except for the television set you would get color. The funny part was that if you were staning in your window you could see the "darkness" spreading while people turned of all lightsources to verify the claim.
Posted by Bj  on  Sat Apr 03, 2004  at  05:26 AM
My granny and aunt destroind one pair of nylon stocking to try it out. They of course found that it didn't work.

Posted by Dan  on  Sat Apr 03, 2004  at  01:27 PM
In the early '60s some entrepeneur tried to sell sheets of colored plastic that you could tape over your B&W TV for "instant color TV". These were advertised on the back pages of comic books. I think one of my friends actually sent away for one, and was bitterly disappointed. I am sure that many of those poor Swedes who fell for the joke were young children.
Posted by Carl  on  Mon Apr 12, 2004  at  04:03 PM
Back when I was a kid in Fredericton, NB, Canada, my friend's mother bought one of those plastic sheets mentioned earlier. This was around 1959 - 60.

I just wanted to add that it was in three (3) equal sections horizontally. The top was blue, to colour sky areass, the middle was transparent, the bottom green for grass areas. Needless to say, it was rare taht a transmission woul damtch up so tha tthe colour smad e much sense!<G> Even I aged around 11 or 12, thoughtit was stupid! <G> It may have been that she knew she got scammed, but was too proud to admit it!

Posted by Dan  on  Thu Apr 15, 2004  at  05:43 AM
I lived in Denmark during the late '60s and remember, while returning from a vacation in Sweden, racing across the countryside so our dad could find somewhere for his two sons to watch the british show "Thunderbirds." We found an inn that had a TV in the lounge and were pleasantly surprised to watch our favorite show in color! Since we moved to the UK in Sept '69 (where we also soon enjoyed color - oops, COLOUR), the above 1970 date must refer to full-time color broadcasts.
Posted by Finn  on  Sat Apr 24, 2004  at  11:42 PM
I am to young to remember the sock, but once
my father came home with a coloured plastic
sheet that was attatched to the screen.
I worked o.k on landscape scenes but the
newsman looked really alien...
Posted by Raimo  on  Sun Jun 20, 2004  at  12:42 AM
Of course this couldn't work, because the sorce itself was black and white 😊

Seriously, there's the "Moiree" effect, it really works if the nylon is properly stretched so it _almost_ matches the lines of the picture.
Posted by Seibert  on  Mon Feb 28, 2005  at  06:57 AM
I remember those colored plastic sheets being advertised in the Sears Roebuck catalog.
I guess it worked OK for pictures of green grass and blue sky, but wasn't so lifelike for anything else. There was also a filter for a camera lens that had a similar effect. I'm not sure what the purpose of the camera filter was, since it would seem that you wouldn't need it with color film, and it wouldn't work with black & white film.
Another TV accessory, from about 10 or 15 years earlier, was a plastic magnifier you could stick over the whole TV screen (in those days, the TV sets were huge, but the screens were very small).
Posted by Big Gary C  on  Mon Mar 28, 2005  at  05:21 PM
Well, the thing is that this joke is not so hard to fall for. If you did not know it before,and I told you to put on one red-glassed and one green-glassed pair of pectacles and it would make you see 3d, you would'nt beleave me, right? I don't beleave that Stensson said that you would gain true-colour-tv from the nylon-sock, but a kind of 'colour-feeling' so to say, caused by the static electricity from the screen and the nylon fabric. And, swedes had a big 'if they say it on TV, it's true' -apprehension, since there only was one tv channel, and it had a big educative role with lots of documentarys and school-tv-programs.
Posted by MrMasse  on  Sun Apr 03, 2005  at  11:25 AM
Id sacrifice a nylon sock even if i didn't belive it, it _might_ work...:D
Posted by tim  on  Wed Apr 06, 2005  at  12:00 PM
Well, i actually think this joke has some simularity to commercials on TV's, i mena ,the guy showed how you did it and wow! there was colour! Same thing when ther is a commercial for a TV, which has a much better screen that your tv has, and they show something that looks so good! but , as a matter of fact, it is still your very own lousy TV that shows the possibilities of the new upgraded tv-screen
Posted by Jacob /swede  on  Sun May 15, 2005  at  02:51 PM
Also remember that the person explaining the procedure on TV was a famous technician in Swedish television, people believed him because he had gained trust with the swedish people. And as a previous poster said, this was the only TV-channel at the time and it was very educative.
If it's on TV, it's true.
Posted by Spiff  on  Sat May 21, 2005  at  10:41 AM
Beautiful april fools!
It was possible back then when the masses were totally isolated in sweden - the media was totally controlled by the state. Think of this prank as something scary as well...
Posted by Jon  on  Thu Mar 30, 2006  at  02:27 AM
My mom actually fell for that, or at least she says she did, I wasn't around... =)
Posted by Malena  on  Fri Mar 31, 2006  at  04:24 AM
I was just a kid at the time, but we have a picture in our family photo's of that plastic sheet that went over the front of the tv to give a blue sky and green grass. TRUE.

I like the other idea though. What better way to have a Swedish girl give up her stockings for you...? 😊
Posted by leonard  on  Fri Mar 31, 2006  at  09:07 AM
He he. I remember dad running around trying to find moms pantyhose to pull over our set. Remember the old TV:s? They were big monsters and he ripped all of them and when he finally got a pair over the set....nothing happened and dad told me and my brother that he was probably to late. And then he swore us to secrecy so mom would not find out what happened to her pantyhose. Now i have to call my brother and have a laugh at old times.
Posted by Kim  on  Sat Apr 01, 2006  at  05:16 AM
of course they fell for it, it was new tech and no one understod how it worked, i bet some people thought it simply was magic 😛
Posted by mr mister  on  Sat Apr 01, 2006  at  02:31 PM
Since we had already known it was a hoax, we tend to think that those Swedish people were stupid. I wonder how many people we would fall for that if we were to do a same poll today in the US?

But seriously, this may not be so far fetched in a couple of years from now. According to Dr. Eric van Stryland, dean of CREOL (Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers,, the first college of optics and photonics in US) at University of Central Florida, a research group at CREOL has been doing exactly the same research for over a year now with a grant of $23M from a defense contractor. With state-of-the-art nanotechnology, carbon nano tubes can be aligned so well in a thin sheet of substrate that the
Posted by Albert  on  Sat Apr 01, 2006  at  10:00 PM
you can view the clip here:

the whole thing worked partly because that guy gave a rather lengtht technical description. the nylon socks where said to devide the white light, like a prisma, resulting in coloUr.
Posted by jonas  on  Sun Apr 02, 2006  at  04:33 AM
Yep, my mum has admitted to falling for it. She is not more stupid than the next Norwegian 😉 but I think she found Mr. Stensson a very attractive man.

Joke aside, I think the story says something about how you tend to believe things you see on TV. Maybe more so in the 60's.

Great web site by the way.
Posted by King Kongsson  on  Mon Apr 03, 2006  at  08:28 AM
I've seen a recording of that joke. The man, Kjell Stensson, did a very good job in explaining how the nylon stocking worked from a physical point of view - how white light is composed of all colors, he used facts about optical gratings and dispersion to explain how different colors are split up etc.
Posted by Jake  on  Wed Apr 05, 2006  at  03:52 AM
its call Nylonstrumpan

use this rss and see it, problem its in swedish so you must have a norveigen to translate it .
Posted by Ingvarfa  on  Wed Apr 05, 2006  at  07:29 AM
Though this WAS a hoax, my father worked at WJW TV 8 in Cleveland Ohio in the early 60's, and he managed to figure out a way to broadcast color OVER a B&W set, using a device called a Benjamin Wheel. This was a wheel with alternating B&W stripes that provided the illusion of color when spun. The station actually gave it a try over the air, and the results were pretty impressive. It would NOT provide a full color picture, but might be used to color, say, a logo if masked over the disk.
Posted by dll932  on  Sun Apr 30, 2006  at  11:47 AM
OOPS! It was actually called a Benham's Wheel.
See page for demo.
Posted by dll932  on  Sun Apr 30, 2006  at  12:04 PM
This is similar to an April Fool's joke that I played on the Western Australia Mac User's Group.

Their next meeting was on April 1st. I was in charge of typesetting the group's magazine. On the front cover, I put a white square with a thin black border. Inside the magazine, I wrote an article about a "new advance in printing technology" involving "photographic ink".

The person had to hold the front cover (which was supposedly treated with this ink) up to a computer monitor, with the other side facing them. After a couple of minutes, their picture would appear on the cover.

At this next meeting on April 1st, I put together a couple of covers of the magazine, substituting the blank square with some grainy pictures of people. Many people came to the meeting having been fooled by the magazine... and then they saw the fake covers I'd put together. After the meeting there were still a couple of people trying to get it to work with the group's computers!
Posted by Chris Lees  on  Thu Nov 02, 2006  at  10:30 PM
The thing is that this guy, Kjell, was a relly serious person and no one would expect him to do this kind of thing. He was almost like a politician, so people wouldn't think twice about what he said. That joke is legendary in Sweden nowadays, there is no 1 april without you hearing about it like 20 times!!

Have a great day!

P.S. My dad had red food colouring in the pancakes and tricked me and my sis that he had a nosebleed...
Posted by Simon  on  Sun Apr 01, 2007  at  06:00 AM
Isn't it strange how those who accuse the people who fell for this prank for stupidity, seem to have the bigger problems with typing and spelling in proper English..? Hmm...

Any-hew, I can see why this was a succesful joke: back then, there were no sarcasm or pranks on TV - everything that was said on there was serious business and trusted!

So, yeah, one can say that the TV folks misused the people's far too great trust in them by pulling this joke but I believe that people, perhaps, also had the ability to laugh at themselves back then. It was before 'teh Intranets', you know, where everything is serious and You are the most important person of them all... 😉
Posted by El El  on  Mon Apr 02, 2007  at  06:56 AM
They did the same joke in Norway too, and people went for it there as well. Only that was in 1987.
Posted by Johan  on  Mon May 21, 2007  at  06:47 PM
I used to hang around with an au pair from Jonkoping (sigh). She made me promise never to speak my version of Swedish to any other human being.
I remember a cartoon from early '50's TV where you could draw on a piece of plastic over the TV screen, like if the character needed to get across a river you'd draw a bridge for him, things like that. Probably still got it around somewhere.
I tried the thing with the nylons and it doesn't work. What...over the _TV_, you say...?
Somebody want to tell me how to get this thing off my head? Please hurry--it's getting hard to breath...
Posted by King Edward IV  on  Mon May 28, 2007  at  10:06 AM
Ah! Thats a classic, that we still talk and laugh about back home.

And it erned it self a third place. Im proud 😊
Posted by Dragonmind  on  Fri Aug 24, 2007  at  01:37 AM
I just wrote a blog for our local newspaper and talked about those plastic sheets you tape on the TV. I was researching it and found this article through a search engine. Thanks for your comments, all. I just wanted to reply to the one who thinks people had no common sense back in the day. All I have to say to you is LOL! You must be joking. Technology is not knowledge. I would like to see you do long division or name the 50 states. People back then were innocent...thank you God, but they were not stupid or lacking common sense. I wish the world were innocent again! Youngsters today think they are so smart, but they don't know the answers; they just know how to find them on the internet.
Posted by Karen  on  Thu Jan 03, 2008  at  08:46 AM
King Edward IV

Is the cartoon of the 50s youre talking about is Winky Dink?
Posted by Yuri  on  Tue Apr 01, 2008  at  05:03 PM
A guy called James Butterfield invented a method that could give the illusion of color on black-and-white TV receivers. All the magic was performed at the studio end; you didn't have to do anything to your TV.
Posted by Mike Grant  on  Wed Feb 22, 2012  at  12:02 PM
Cut up a stocking
Tried to get color TV
I fell for the hoax
Posted by Cryptid lover  on  Wed May 09, 2012  at  09:39 PM
I remember my dad came home with a tri color piece of plastic that he tapped onto the tv screen the plastic was blue on top then went to red in the middle and finished with green on the bottom we were the 1st in our neighborhood with color television.
Posted by ron martin  on  Sun Dec 23, 2012  at  07:09 AM
Putting the surface effects of a CD onto B&W imagery won't give anyone color TV. It will give them rainbow B&W.
Posted by Corona  on  Tue Jan 07, 2014  at  08:40 PM
I still have in the original thin paper slip one of those color screens. An elderly couple had put it under a dresser drawer for safe keeping (or to hide their silliness from others) there. I bought the old dresser in 89-90 from an estate sale after the gentelman had passed. It also had an old war time group photo of some soldiers in which they family did want back and I was happy to return. They said for me to keep the screen.
Posted by Eddie Fields  on  Mon Mar 17, 2014  at  09:38 AM
There was a similar hoax on british tv (it was at least 60 years ago ), can't remember which channel.
my parents let me stay up way past my bedtime to watch it.
Excitement mounted as the program started.
Lo and behold - a greengrocer's stall with labels stuck in the produce - 'yellow banana', ' red apples', 'green grapes' ECT.
All in glorious black and white.!
Posted by Pete williams  on  Tue Apr 28, 2015  at  03:32 AM