Sky Celebrates the Past, Present and Future of Television as it Turns 80

by Malcolm Baird

The British satellite television broadcaster Sky previewed its high definition service to the U.K. media on 21st November 2005. By a happy coincidence this event fell very close to the 80th birthday of television itself, which had first been achieved by John Logie Baird when he transmitted a human face across his small laboratory in the attic of 22 Frith Street, in the Soho district of central London.

Malcolm Baird at 22 Frith Street. The Televisor is on his left and the Sky logo is on the large screen behind him. [photo by Peter Smith]

As a reminder of the origins of television, Sky set up a special demonstration of old television sets, including the Baird Televisor (1930), at the Bar Italia which now occupies the ground floor of the Frith Street building. Peter Smith (G4JNU) of the Narrow Bandwidth Television Association very kindly loaned the Televisor and had it working for the occasion. I attended as the guest of Sky and gave a short speech in which I quoted from John Logie Baird’s memoirs describing the breakthrough in October 1925. I went on to say that my father would have been thrilled by the latest progress, which he had partly foreseen in his 1944 testimony to the Hankey commission on the future of British television.

After my speech, we walked a few feet along the street to the auditorium of the Groucho Club, for a demonstration of Sky’s high definition television, over their satellite, on a projection screen in the club’s auditorium. For the media people it was startling to see the change from the flickering picture on the Televisor (30 lines, about the size of a business card) to Sky’s high definition picture, which came out on a 10 foot screen with razor-sharp definition at the equivalent of 1080 lines. Can anyone guess what television will be like technically in another 80 years?