“PERHAPS the second most fantastic thing after the Moon visit itself,” said The Northern Echo breathlessly in its editorial of July 22, 1969, “was the fact that we were able actually to see the first man put a foot on the Moon as he was doing it a quarter of a million miles away.”

Fifty years on, the Moon landing clearly still has a hold on us. It was clearly an epoch-defining event, a symbol of man’s technological triumph over nature and of the victory of America’s open values over those of the secretive Soviets.

It still has a hold over us because only 12 people – four still alive – have ever set foot on the Moon. Back in 1969, they imagined the Apollo landing would do for the Moon what Orville Wright’s first 12-second manned flight on December 17, 1903, has done for the Spanish coast: opened it up to everyone.

Yet the last human footprint was left on the Moon by Harrison Schmitt on December 14, 1972, and so today, we can still only dream of going to the Moon.

Another reason the Moon landing is still with us is that it represented such an amazing technological breakthrough. Today, smartphones update on annual basis so we are immune to rapid change, but the events of July 1969 were watched by people born before the First World War in the age of horsedrawn transport. To them, the Moon landing represented an amazing transformation.

But one of the main reason we are still captivated is, as the Echo’s editorial suggests, because this was one of the greatest televisual events, watched live by 600m people – a fifth of the world’s population and a record not broken until 1981 when Charles married Diana.

At 3.39am on July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong opened the hatch on the Apollo Lunar Module, and began to bounce down the nine rungs of the ladder towards the Moon’s surface. As he took his first step, he activated a TV camera in the Modularised Equipment Stowage Assembly. Its broadcast was picked up by an antenna in Australia, which relayed it to Houston Space Center where it appeared on a screen which was filmed by another TV camera and buzzed around the world.

As the cricket authorities have just discovered, having something beamed live and free into everyone’s homes makes a great event of it.

“It is a tremendous tribute to television itself,” said the Echo. “Not so very long ago, TV news readers would tell us that they hoped to have film of some event in America just as soon as the jet carrying it touched down at London Airport.

“Now we are able to watch the countdown in Houston direct as it takes place and, most amazing thing of all, watch the astronauts step out on to the surface of another world altogether.”

Yet on the day it watched man land on the Moon, the Echo also said the prospect of breakfast TV, as proposed by Postmaster-General John Stonehouse, had “little appeal”. No one eating cereal, it said, fancied TV screens bursting with life first thing every morning”.

And also on the opinion page that day was an article by Harry Mead about the A66, from Teesside to the Lakes, “one of the most crowded and most dangerous roads in the country” which had failed yet again to be selected by the Government for major improvement.

Fifty years on, which would surprise those television viewers the most: that we don’t have regular space travel to the Moon or we haven’t fixed the A66 over Stainmore?

l See Memories tomorrow for the Echo's historic Moon landing front page