This site is about John Logie Baird (1888-1946), the Scotsman who was the first person in the world to demonstrate a working television system. On January 26th, 1926, a viable television system was demonstrated using mechanical picture scanning with electronic amplification at the transmitter and at the receiver. It could be sent by radio or over ordinary telephone lines, leading to the historic trans-Atlantic transmissions of television from London to New York in February, 1928.
This site provides information not only on Baird and his life's work, but also on other pioneers of television and the development of the television industry to the present day. The What's New section is on recent events, anniversaries, publications etc. concerning Baird. The Contents list gives access to a gallery of longer articles, some of which go back to the early 1920s. At the end of Contents are the Links to information about other prominent figures in the history of television and excellent other websites on television history.
Updates are made to the site every few months by its creators Iain L. Baird and Malcolm H.I. Baird who are, respectively, the grandson and the son of J.L. Baird.
What's new at Bairdtelevision.com?
A fresh view of television history
The Ph.D. thesis of Paul Marshall is highly recommended for afficionados of television history. The full thesis can be found at http://www.manchester.ac.uk/escholar/uk-ac-man-scw:125573. The abstract is given here and the last paragraph is of particular interest.
The University of Manchester
Doctor of Philosophy (2011)
Inventing Television: Transnational Networks of Co-operation and Rivalry, 1870-1936
In this thesis, I seek to understand what shaped the development of television, tracing the technology back to its earliest roots. In existing literature, the history of television in its formative years (before World War II), has largely been presented in technologically deterministic terms, culminating in the goal of adding "sight to sound" -- producing a wireless set with pictures.
Most of the existing literature focuses on "hero" figures such as British inventor John Logie Baird and his electro-mechanical television systems, or on corporate narratives such as that of RCA in the United States in developing all-electronic television. In contrast to such an approach, I will concentrate on the transnational networks linking individuals and companies, and on the common external factors affecting all of them.
Some networks could operate simultaneously as rivals and collaborators, as was the case with companies such as Marconi-EMI in Britain and RCA in the United States. Senior managers and researchers such as Isaac Shoenberg at Marconi-EMI and Vladimir Zworykin at RCA played significant roles, but so too did relatively obscure figures such as the Russian scientist Boris Rosing and the British engineer Alan A Campbell Swinton.
I will draw on newly available sources from Russia and the USSR, on overlooked sources in Britain and the United States, and on replicative technology to re-examine the story. The new material, coupled with the transnational networks approach, enables fresh insights to be gained on issues of simultaneity of invention and on contingency in the development and initial deployments of the technology.
By using these fresh primary sources, and by re-interpreting some aspects of the numerous existing secondary sources, I will show that the "wireless with pictures" model was not inevitable, that electro-mechanical television need not have been a technical cul-de-sac, and that in Britain at least, it was the political desire to maintain and extend the monopoly of the BBC, which effectively funnelled the technology into the model so familiar to us today.
Armchair Nation: an Intimate History of Britain in front of the TV, by Joe Moran Published in 2013 by Profile Books, ISBN 9781846683916.
There are two sorts of television history which do not mix very well.
Technical histories cover television as a branch of science or engineering and such books can be hard reading for those who are not familiar with basic physics and electronics. More recently the histories have been centered on the television programmes and their impact on viewers. For example in 2005 the American PBS network broadcast a documentary entitled "Pioneers of Television" which was entirely about entertainers such as Milton Berle, Carol Burnett and Sid Caesar, with no mention of America's technical pioneers such as Zworykin and Farnsworth.
Joe Moran's new book bridges the gap between the technical impact of television, and the programme impact. Much of the early technical impact, in the UK anyway, centres around John Logie Baird's public demonstrations in the 1920s and early 1930s. These were reported widely in the press but hardly at all on radio, because the BBC was very cautious about television. As late as 1952, they were only broadcasting television for 5-6 hours per day. Two events caused the BBC to change course from radio to television; one was the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953 and the other was the start-up of independent television in 1955.
Moran describes the impact of television in terms of very readable anecdotes, among which he smoothly inserts some telling statistics. As the years wore on, the technology continued to improve, but its impact was gradually overlooked in comparison to the impact of the programmes. Television reached a sort of plateau after the arrival of colour in the 1960s, but before the mass audience was fragmented among many competing broadcasters. Today, the technology is more advanced than ever, but there is a groundswell of discontent about programme quality as well as a surge of publicity about individuals who have abused their inflated status as "television celebrities".
Television is 88 years old and it continues to grow and change. The old monolithic centralised broadcasting culture, epitomised by the BBC until 20 years ago, is being replaced by more interactive and individualised forms of television. Moran's book will help us to steer through these complexities, on the same principle that the good driver often glances at his (her) rear-view mirror.
Television play review: Heart to Heart (1962)
The above play is of considerable historical value as it shows us what television was like 50 years ago. It was broadcast by the BBC on Dec. 6 1962 and it was recently released on DVD as part of the Terence Rattigan Collection.
In the opening sequence we see a "British Television Company" (BTV, not BBC!) studio which looks like a disorganised clutter of thick cables and heavy cameras, silently manipulated by men in shirtsleeves. The control room contains a battery of cathode ray tube monitors and the atmosphere is tense. The cameras are trained on a small raised platform with a couple of chairs upon which the interviewer and his subject face each other. The part of the interviewer, modelled on John Freeman in "Face to Face", is played by Kenneth More. He is not the cheery young chappie that we came to know in so many of his films, but a mature and intelligent man stressed by his job in front of an audience of 15 million. At the same time, he is trying to overcome a drinking problem. A breaking point is reached when the interviewer comes before the cameras with a dodgy cabinet minister who presents himself as a bluff man of the people -- played brilliantly by Sir Ralph Richardson.
This play takes us back fifty years to a technically "primitive" era of television, with its cumbersome cameras and flickery black and white pictures, watched by millions of viewers before audience fragmentation set in. But Terence Rattigan's theme is 100% up-to-date: the psychological pressures and the moral dilemmas of people who are overexposed to public view, whether in the media or in politics. The play is recommended viewing for today's troubled times.
Part of a 1938 Scophony ES104 acquired by the National Media Museum
Iain Logie Baird's latest blog at the National Media Museum is about the Museum's recent acquisition of a piece of a 1938 Scophony ES104 television. No examples of this television survive today. With a 24" x 20" screen, it had the biggest and best picture of any home television set manufactured before WWII. Click here to read the full article.
Professor Malcolm Baird receives Pat Leggatt Award
Malcolm Baird has received a splendid inlaid glass plaque from the Britsh Vintage Wireless Society (BVWS) -- the Pat Leggatt award for their best article in 2012! This article appeared in the BVWS quarterly bulletin, reflecting on the 75th anniversary of the BBC's Alexandra Palace television studios.
Print versus Television: from Baird to McLuhan
On 26 September 2012, Professor Malcolm Baird spoke at the first public meeting of the Helensburgh Heritage Trust winter season, held at the Helensburgh Tennis Club. The Trust's president, he gave a talk entitled 'Print versus Television: from Baird to McLuhan', but because he had a very sore throat his presentation was read by Trust chairman Stewart Noble. Has television taken the place of print?
To read the full text of the presentation, click here.
Documentary, JLB - the man who saw the future - now on YouTube
This television documentary in its entirety is now available on Youtube, thanks to the Alexandra Palace Television Society. The making of the documentary in 2002 is the subject of an article by Malcolm Baird in the Gallery above.
Recent Books about J.L. Baird
[this picture of Dr. Brown by courtesy of Helensburgh Heritage Trust]
(2) In 1932, Baird Television Ltd. was rescued from financial difficulties when it was taken over by a major UK film company, the Gaumont British Picture Co. Its leader, Isidore Ostrer, believed that television was an opportunity for the film industry, rather than a threat. He foresaw that large-screen television of a news or sporting event could be shown to cinema audiences as well as conventional feature films. A new book entitled The Ostrers and Gaumont British has been written by Isidore's nephew Nigel Ostrer and it is reviewed by Malcolm Baird in the Gallery above...
(3) The Master Switch is a detailed economic history of major electronic media (including television) by Prof. Tim Wu of Columbia University. A review by Malcolm Baird appears in the Gallery.
(4) A 340-page television history has appeared from Lulu Publications (2011) under the title Spinning Discs, Mirrors and Electrons. It is by Australian authors Robert Forster and Douglas Grant, who give a broad technical coverage from the early scientific observations in the 19th century up to the arrival of video recording in about 1960. The book contains a chapter on J.L.Baird, as well as details on the work of less well-known pioneers such as Tihanyi (Hungary), Von Ardenne (Germany) and Walton (England). This book was favourably reviewed in the March 2012 issue of the AWA Journal which circulates to the members of the Antique Wireless Association of the USA.
(5) On May 15 2012, Dr. Douglas Brown's new book entitled "The Three Dimensions of John Logie Baird" was published by the Radio Society of Great Britain. John Logie Baird is remembered as the inventor of television with the qualification that his first system was mechanical. Dr. Brown's book sets out Baird's later work in electronic colour, 3D and holographic television and his significant contributions to other information sciences and their resulting technologies. It goes into detail about how the systems worked and their later development after John Logie Baird's death. Further details and ordering information can be obtained at the following link: http://www.rsgbshop.org/acatalog/Online_Catalogue_General_Books_30.html. Malcolm Baird has recently reviewed the book on this website to read this review click here.
(6) In May 1927 John Logie Baird made an historic television transmission from his company office in London, to the Central Hotel in Glasgow. The hotel has recently been refurbished and renamed as the Grand Central Hotel. Baird's part in the hotel's history is described in a recent book: Glasgow's Grand Central Hotel: Glasgow's most loved hotel, by Bill Hicks and Jill Scott, published in January 2012 by Waverley Books.
60-line television pictures in colour from France
It is easy for modern critics to scoff at the quality of low-definition television pictures as produced by mechanical means in the 1920s. Readers will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the 60-line colour pictures recently produced by the replica mechanical system of Roger Dupouy who lives in Clermont Ferrand, in France. The scanning lines are much less obvious in a colour picture than in black and white. Roger has also held exhibitions of early mechanical equipment, see poster on right. Please refer to the website http://la-radiovision.fr/a-gallerie7b.htm
Anniversaries in 2014
90th 24 July 1924. J.L.Baird's research on television at his workshop in Hastings is interrupted by a serious accident (explosion) in which he is nearly electrocuted. A few months later, he moves to premises in Soho, in central London.
70th July 1944. J.L. Baird announces his fast facsimile image transmission technique. For technical details, please refer to article on this website "What did JLB really do in World War II?"
50th 16 April 1964. The Baird Festival of Television is sponsored by Radio Rentals Ltd. This gala event at London's Albert Hall is compered by BBC announcers McDonald Hobley and Peter Haigh. The guest of honour is Margaret Baird who presents special achievement awards to television pioneers and personalities, including William Taynton (the first man to be televised) and the singer Gracie Fields who took part in the experimental 30-line broadcasts on the BBC in the 1930s. An article about this event will soon appear on this website.
Large Screen 3D TV from Sky and the BBC after 64 years
In March 2008 a Scotland vs. England rugby match was shown on large-screen 3D television at the old Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, West London. As reported in the sports section of The Times of March 11 2008, the viewing audience wore special glasses to get the 3D effect. More recently, The Daily Mail of December 19 2008 reported that Sky Television will soon be introducing 3D programmes. Since then there has been a gradual campaign to build up consumer interest in 3D television.
This technology was first developed and patented by John Logie Baird in World War II at his private laboratory in London, while the German bombs were falling. A full-page description of Baird's 3D television appeared in the Illustrated London News on May 9th 1942. In his 1944 testimony to Lord Hankey's commission on postwar television development, Baird had recommended the early use of 3D technology in broadcast programmes. Baird's recommendation has been followed after nearly 70 years, which seems like quite a long time to wait.
Recent books on people in J.L. Baird's circle
John Logie Baird was a public figure during the second half of his life and his circle included many interesting people who were also public figures. Several of these are mentioned in recently published books which are noted below.
Kew Edwin Shelley (1894-1964)
Mr. Shelley was a London barrister who helped Baird to form a new television company in 1944 and later became co-executor of his estate. Shelley was a paternal grandson of Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee (1844-1906) who had been the first president of the Indian National Congress. In 1921 Shelley had changed his surname from Bonnerjee by deed poll. His background is detailed in Family History, by Janaki Agnes Penelope Majumdar (edited by Antoinette Burton, published 2003, Oxford University Press). In her memoir, written in 1935, Mrs.Majumdar provides a personal account of two distinguished anglophile Indian families.
William Le Queux (1869-1927)
Le Queux was a phenomenally successful spy story writer of the early 20th century and his writings are said to have led to the formation of MI5. He was living in Hastings while Baird was doing his early television experiments and he gave moral (but not financial) encouragement. A detailed biography, William Le Queux, Master of Mystery, has been written by Chris Patrick and Stephen Baister and privately published by them in 2007.
John C.W. Reith, (1889-1971)
Sir John Reith was Director General of the BBC while Baird and his company were trying to convince the BBC to broadcast television. In a new memoir entitled My father, Reith of the BBC,(2006, St.Andrew Press, Edinburgh), Marista Leishman provides a unique view of her father's prickly and eccentric personality, against the backdrop of his public achievements and eventual elevation to the peerage. This book confirms that Reith did not like television, though his personal relationship with Baird was not as bad as has sometimes been alleged.
Leonard Frank Plugge (1889-1981)
Mr. Plugge was a pioneer of commercial radio broadcasting to the UK in the 1920s and 1930s, when such programmes were transmitted from continental Europe for legal reasons. He first met Baird in the Hastings days and they met frequently in London during World War II, when Plugge was an M.P. and chairman of the Parliamentary Scientific Committee. A biography of Plugge entitled: And the World Listened -- Leonard Frank Plugge, by Keith Wallis, (Kelly Books, UK) appeared in March 2008 and a review is given on this website. (see above)
Isidore Ostrer (1889-1975)
This book, published in 2010, is the subject of a news item (above) and it has been reviewed by Malcolm Baird in the Gallery.
Many books and articles have been written about John Logie Baird, but few poems have appeared. A recent Scottish poem "An Engineer Sae Bricht", shown in the Gallery, is by Andrew Roxburgh McGhie, Associate Director of the Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter at the University of Pennsylvania.
John Logie Baird: a life
hardback * c. 450 pages * 70 b/w illustrations
...a meticulously researched story based on first hand interviews and quoting many new documentary sources, some of which have only recently become available. At long last we have a book that sounds and feels like the truth about the man who was the first in the world to demonstrate working television (Michael Bennett-Levy, 2002)...click here for the rest of the review
"Kamm and Baird, the latter the inventor's son, paint a strikingly clear portrait of the inventor who started it all." (Russell A Potter, The Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television (US) 2004)
Read the full text of the JLB promotional brochure here
Television and Me: The Memoirs of John Logie Baird
paperback * c. 160 pages * heavily illustrated
The autobiography of John Logie Baird. A new version of his memoirs, only published previously as a specialist monograph, are written with blunt candour and caustic wit. His memoirs cover the wild escapades of his early business career and the dramatic pioneering days of his scientific work.
"Television and Me" was named Critic's choice, Scottish book of the year 2004.
Excerpt: Baird's Story is Pick of the Best
(Scottish Daily Mail, Jan. 7th, 2005) by Tom Kyle
So the appearance in the spring of the little-known and almost unpublished, autobiography of the most influential Scot who ever lived was the most significant publishing event of the year. Television and Me: The Memoirs of John Logie Baird ... was living proof that the best books need not always be the most lavish or expensive.
Baird tells his own story - from his Helensburgh boyhood to the great and precarious days when the first television pictures were transmitted, to his ultimate betrayal by the BBC - with a caustic turn of phrase and a self-deprecating wit.
His memoir is a fabulous distillation of all the joy and bitterness, hurt and humour of an extraordinary man. I said at the time I doubted there would be a better written, more interesting or more important book published in 2004. I see no reason to revise that opinion now.
The Scots Magazine, September 2004
"...Baird was not given the recognition which was his by right during his lifetime."
As of 2011, "Television and Me" is out of print at the Edinburgh publishers, Birlinn Press. However, copies can be ordered via Amazon.
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