A small town in Cumbria will become the first place in Britain to begin the process of going over to digital television in the early hours of tomorrow.

Whitehaven will start seeing its analogue channels disappear from 02:00 BST tomorrow when BBC2 is replaced with the first group of digital channels.

The switchover has been in the planning for years and is part of the government's move to have all British homes watching digital TV by 2012.

After tomorrow's switch is complete, attention will then turn to the final part of the process in four weeks' time when BBC1, ITV1 and Channel 4 are replaced by further digital channels on November 14th.

Digital UK, which is managing the digital switchover process, says the people of Whitehaven are all well aware of the situation and have made the necessary preparations.

The 25,000 residences in Whitehaven and the surrounding Copeland district have been sent details of the plans and the local branch of Age Concern has been working with older people in the area.

Digital UK chief executive Ford Ennals said: "Tomorrow is the first step on the road to a fully digital UK.

"Whitehaven is well-prepared to lead this process. Most households are ready to receive digital television and we expect those yet to prepare to do so over the next four weeks.

"The people of Whitehaven and surrounding communities can rightly feel proud of leading this important change, and of the work of local organisations such as Copeland borough council and Northwest Cumbria Age Concern who, along with the Digital Switchover Help Scheme, are supporting the community through this process.

Mary Bradley, director of Age Concern, north-west Cumbria, said: "Age Concern and other organisations have worked tirelessly to try and reach as many people as possible to ensure switchover is a success.

"We now all have a month to check that everyone is finally ready for full switchover on November 14th. I would urge everyone to help by checking to see whether their relatives, friends and neighbours are experiencing difficulties, and if so, whether they have the support they need."

Culture secretary James Purnell said moving over to digital TV was "essential if we are to ensure universal access to quality broadcasting".

He added that more than 80 per cent of British households have already gone digital voluntarily but that the enforced switch-off of non-digital signals will "prevent millions of people being stuck in an analogue ghetto".

After the final part of the switchover process is completed in Whitehaven next month, residents will need a satellite dish, freeview or cable box or a broadband TV provider in order to watch TV.

16/10/2007 13:05:35