HUNDREDS of thousands of homes were today left without television after a fire broke out at the Oxford transmitter.

The mast at Beckley provides analogue and digital television for almost 410,000 homes across the county, all of which were believed to have experienced some form of signal black out.

Fire crews were called to the scene at about 2.30pm when smoke was seen drifting from the top of the mast.

The picture cut out across the county minutes later.

At 6pm viewers still could not see any digital channels and only one on analogue.

Arqiva, the company carrying out the work, said it was working to fix the problems but warned it could be days before the problem – which affected all channels apart from Five – was resolved.

Spokesman Bruce Randall said: “We have got to check the structural safety before we can do anything.

“It could be a matter of someone climbing up the mast, which could still be hot or could be structurally unsafe, and we are not going to consider doing that until we know it is safe.”

He added: “We would like to apologise, but these are highly unusual, difficult circumstances and we would like for people to bear with us.

“We will move channels back on to analogue if we can.

“Sometimes these things can take a matter of days rather than hours to fix.“ Anthony Dore, 65, and his wife Shirley, 60, of Southmoor, Abingdon, discovered their signal had gone when they tried to watch the afternoon news.

Mr Dore said: “I usually watch the news in the afternoon, but when we got back there was nothing there.

“My wife usually watches the soaps, like Coronation Street and Emmerdale, in the evenings while I go out and walk the dog. She will have to come with me now.”

Helen Redfern, from Southmoor, near Abingdon, is at home with a bad back.

She said: “I’m annoyed and I’m pretty bored.

“When you’re stuck at home ill and you can’t go out and you have got nothing to do, you live for your TV.”

Engineers have been working on the mast since February in preparation for the digital switchover, and thousands of viewers have already experienced months of difficulty receiving BBC and ITV channels as workmen upgraded the mast and fitted a new antenna.

Don Morgan, and his wife Ann, both 73, of Jordan Hill, had been looking forward to watching Changing Rooms, but their TV cut off in the middle of Bargain Hunt.

Mr Morgan said: “We have only got channel Five and we never watch that.

“It’s very annoying.”