A group of amateur wireless enthusiasts, the majority of whom lived in London at the time, were given their first taste of television 90 years ago. They watched and listened to remarks by Sir Ambrose Fleming, a “turn” by comedian Sydney Howard, a song by Miss Lulu Stanley, and a speech by television pioneer John Logie Baird on mostly home-built sets. There had never before been a moment when the general people could watch television at home.
Television, the most widely used media, has a long and illustrious history. The pioneering work of scientists and inventors such as Paul Nipkow in Germany, Charles F. Jenkins in the United States, Denes Von Mihaly in Hungary, and Baird in the United Kingdom ensured that television would eventually be in every home, providing information, education, and entertainment to the viewing audience.
In the United Kingdom, it is commonly assumed that television “proper” began on November 2, 1936, introducing the BBC Television Service from the Alexandra Palace studios in North London.
This, however, was not the first television station. On September 30, 1929, the Baird Television Company launched an experimental television service utilising the BBC’s London transmitter (2LO). An “Experimental Television Transmission by the Baird Process” is sandwiched between a wireless talk on “How I Planned My Kitchen” and a wireless programme of vinyl records, according to the Radio Times entry for 11.00-11.30 on the day.
This seemingly small title conceals a historic event – the result of years of experimentation, press interest, and political pressure by some of the most influential figures in British television history.
‘By wifi,’ I’m watching.
In 1923, a Scot named John Logie Baird took the initial steps toward “seeing by wireless” or “seeing by electricity.” He was one of several scientists, inventors, and enthusiasts working around the world at the time to build on the success of the telephone, the telegraph, cinema, and, of course, the radio – the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) was founded and began broadcasting in November 1922 under the supervision of John Reith, the first managing director (later director-general).
There was no sense of a television “service” or, indeed, what television was or could become in those early years. These pioneers were motivated by the need to witness things in real-time from afar. Baird exhibited his innovative concept at Selfridges in Oxford Street, London, in April 1925. Hundreds of people flocked to see this new miracle, even though the images produced by the gadget were hardly discernible.
On January 26, 1926, Baird demonstrated his 30-line (low definition) mechanical television equipment to members of the Royal Institute in his laboratories in Soho, London – the world’s first demonstration of “true” television.
Despite the good feedback, television remained a laboratory-based product that was not yet suitable for widespread usage. However, Baird’s close allies were eager to publicise this new scientific marvel, and stories about viewing events from afar began to appear in the press.
Simultaneously, in the United States, television tests were yielding positive outcomes. The American Telephone and Telegraph Company broadcast images over a long distance, prompting one British MP, Sir Harry Brittain, to call television “a very boring invention.”
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