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?
Television is 90
Malcolm Baird looks back on 90 years of UK television since the first public demonstration by his father on 26 January 1926. Click here to read Malcolm Baird's article Television is 90 published on this website.
Capturing the Song of the Nightingale
Iain Baird's article Capturing the Song of the Nightingale has been published in the Science Museum Group Journal.
The first outside broadcast ever made by the British Broadcasting Company from a natural location was the Nightingale broadcast of 19 May 1924, in which the world-famous virtuoso cellist Beatrice Harrison performed a 'duet' with nightingales in her garden. The broadcast was made possible by the Marconi-Sykes magnetophone, an improved microphone developed by the Marconi Company for the early BBC. Iain's paper explores the historical and cultural significance of the Nightingale broadcasts, with a particular emphasis on the emotive aspects, and explains the role of the magnetophone in this context. The paper also concerns Captain A G D West, who was the BBC engineer in charge of the broadcasts. A few weeks later, West would pay a visit to Hastings to see John Logie Baird's earliest television apparatus.
"Stookie Bill" part of Helensburgh's new Outdoor Museum
On June 20 2015 an Outdoor Museum was unveiled in the town of Helensburgh, John Logie Baird's birthplace. This was part of the CHORD project sponsored by the Argyll and Bute Council, consisting of a number of statues and inscribed plinths erected around Helensburgh's Colquhoun Square. To mark the television achievements of J.L. Baird, it was decided to feature the dummy known as "Stookie Bill" that Baird used in his early experiments in the 1920s. The sculpture was created from a laser scanned image, using 3D printing. A quote from J.L. Baird's memoirs is included in the inscription on the south side of the plinth.
Television on the West End Stage - an Anniversary
Malcolm Baird recalls that it is almost exactly 80 years since television was featured in a smash hit musical play in London's West End.
"Glamorous Night", a creation of Ivor Novello with lyrics by Christopher Hassall, opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, on May 2nd 1935. The hero, played by Novello himself (shown here), is Anthony Allen, an Englishman who has invented a new television system. The opening scene is set in a quiet suburb, where Anthony complains that no one in Britain will support his invention financially. Then he departs on a pleasure cruise and ends up in the somewhat Ruritanian land of Krasnia. Here he meets Militza, a prima donna with whom King Stefan of Krasnia is infatuated. The plot then moves into the usual mixture of adventure and romance which went over well on the stage 80 years ago. Anthony of course falls in love with the glamorous Militza but eventually she must marry King Stefan in order to save her country from anarchy. On the plus side for Antony, the King has adopted his invention, so he travels back to England where, in the final scene, he sadly watches the Krasnian royal wedding broadcast on his own television system.
The production played to packed houses. The critics were grudgingly favourable and one comment was "if it is nonsense, it is glamorous nonsense, and for those who are ready to be entertained, it is the best show of its kind Drury Lane has had for years." A few weeks after the opening, King George V and Queen Mary attended a performance. Afterwards, the King remarked to Ivor Novello, "We enjoyed ourselves tremendously, with one reservation -- we could have wished a different ending. We found it a little sad, the Queen and I; in fact you made the Queen cry. Make the next one with a happy ending please."
In the final scene of "Glamorous Night", Anthony is dwarfed by a huge television image of Militza's wedding. This is rather at odds with the real world of television, as the B.B.C. was still broadcasting on the 30-line Baird system which gave an image a few inches in size. However my father had demonstrated large screen black and white television in a London cinema as early as 1930 and in 1935 he was working on large screen colour television.
It is not on record that anyone in our family ever went to see the show. My mother might have been interested but she was expecting a baby (me!). At this time, my father's company was working to upgrade its television systems for the competition for the first high definition television on the B.B.C. But in January 1937 the all-electronic Marconi-EMI 405 line system was adopted.
The success of "Glamorous Night" is an indication of the grip that television had on the public imagination. A few years later it was made into a film, but the television connection was quietly written out of the script, with Anthony Allen's occupation being changed from inventor to newspaper reporter. The film industry was getting nervous about television and this was fully justified by the disastrous impact of television on cinema attendance after World War II.
John Logie Baird honored by SMPTE
On August 26 2014 the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) announced that John Logie Baird has been inducted to their Honor Roll. This is welcomed by the Baird family because it marks a significant US recognition of Baird, who has been briefly dismissed by some American television historians. The SMPTE citation reads as follows:
The Honor Roll posthumously recognizes individuals who were not awarded Honorary Membership during their lifetimes but whose contributions would have been sufficient to warrant such an honor.
John Logie Baird (1888-1946) is inducted into the SMPTE Honor Roll in recognition of his lifelong contributions as a pioneer in television technology. His accomplishments include the first live television demonstration (in 1925), the first publicly shown color television system (1928), and the first fully electronic color television picture tube. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) began transmitting with the Baird system in 1929. Baird continued to develop new technology including a mechanical color system in 1939 (adopted by CBS/RCA); a 500-line 3-D system in 1941; and an electronic 600-line color display in 1944. Baird lobbied for post-war standardization of his 1,000-line electronic color television system.
Photo Credit - The LIFE Picture Collection, Getty Images
Other pioneers who were Honorary Members or on the Honor Role of SMPTE include the following:
Walter Bruch (1989)
Lee de Forest (1940)
Walt Disney (1955)
Ray M. Dolby (1992)
George Eastman (1928)
Thomas Alva Edison (1928)
Elmer W. Engstrom (1966)
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.
Anniversaries in 2015
90th April 1925. J.L. Baird gives public demonstrations of crude moving images (shadowgraphs) for three weeks at the Oxford Street Selfridges store.
90th 2 October 1925. J.L. Baird achieves true television images with gradations of light and shade for the first time, televising the first human subject (William Taynton) at his laboratory at 22 Frith Street, Soho.
85th 28 July 1930. First UK public demonstration of large screen television by John Logie Baird at the Coliseum variety theatre in London's west end. The screen measured 30 inches wide and 70 inches high, made up of 2,100 lamps spaced one inch apart.
80th 1 February 1935. The Baird Company reveals to the British press that 40,000 square feet of the Crystal Palace has been converted into a complete television broadcasting station.
80th 11 September 1935. The BBC shuts down the regular semi-experimental broadcasts with the Baird low definition (30 line) mechanical system which had been on the air since 1929.
75th 20 December 1940. J.L. Baird demonstrates the world's first high definition (600 line) colour television system.
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
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."
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