"Andy" Andrews, who passed away on 19 December 2016 at the age of 104, was one of the last surviving links with the heroic early days of television.
As a teenager, Andy had served as an apprentice with B.J. Lynes, a light engineering company in Euston Road that made components for John Logie Baird according to his designs. Andy had visited Baird at his office in central London (Long Acre) and helped in the construction and testing of scanning discs. On 9 September 1935, he joined Baird Television Ltd. as an instrument maker. He was listed in the company records as E.J. Andrews but he was generally known as Andy. His starting salary was 173 pounds per annum.
In 1935, Baird Television Ltd. was controlled by Gaumont British Pictures and it had moved to the Crystal Palace, a huge glass exhibition building that dated back to 1851. The Palace stood on high ground on the southeastern outskirts of London. Its two tall water towers were ideal for the aerials for the VHF (very high frequency) transmitters that were needed for experimental high definition television. The snapshot on the right shows Andy and a colleague at the top of the South Tower. Andy is on the right of the picture.
The Baird Company is mainly remembered for its involvement with mechanical television using "flying spot" scanning; but there was also a research group working on electronic television. Andy worked with W.O. (Owen) Williams on a patented method of applying phosphorescent screen coatings to cathode-ray tubes (see GB patent 47637). The picture on the left shows Owen Williams with the apparatus.
On 2 November 1936, the BBC started its high definition service from Alexandra Palace, on another hilltop site northwest of London, not to be confused with the Crystal Palace. For the inaugural BBC service, it was agreed that the Baird company, under its technical director Captain West, would provide the cameras on an alternating basis with its competitor Marconi-EMI Ltd. It was decided on the toss of a coin that the Baird system would be used at the start of the very first broadcast. However, on 30 November, a disastrous fire destroyed the Crystal Palace and most of the Baird research facilities. In early 1937 the BBC adopted the Marconi-EMI "Emitron" camera, which somewhat resembled the Radio Corporation of America's "Iconoscope". This 405 line system was to continue in use by the BBC until 1982 when the 405 line switch off began, with transmissions finally ceasing in 1985.
Despite the fire and the rejection by the BBC, Baird Television Ltd. stayed in operation as a manufacturer of electronic receivers. They also had a strong research interest in large screen television for cinemas. Mirror drums were built by B.J. Lynes. This picture from Andy's collection shows a coaxial assembly of three mirror drums, with a handwritten note "..which we were going to use..." for demonstrations of large screen colour television at the Dominion Cinema in 1937–38. In fact, as Mr. Paul Reveley has pointed out, those demonstrations used a single mirror drum rotating at 6000 rpm in conjunction with a rotating disc of filters in two colours (orange-red and blue-green) which in combination gave lifelike colour images. Details of this ingenious and successful arrangement have been published [1,2].
Baird Television was eventually dissolved in 1939 when the BBC closed its television service for the duration of World War II.
After many many years, Andy was persuaded to go public about his experiences with Baird Television. In 2011, at the age of 99, he gave a talk to the Bliss Probus Club at Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire (see picture on left). This talk came to the attention of Kenneth Crawford of the Helensburgh Heritage Trust. He transcribed Andy's hand-written notes and the full transcript can be seen here.
In December 2016 Andy gave an informal interview to BBC local radio (Oxford) but sadly, a few days after the interview, he passed away.
1. S.A. Moseley and H.J. Barton-Chapple, Television Today and Tomorrow 5th edition, p. 148 and 164–165, Pitman Press, London (1940).
2. R.W. Burns, John Logie Baird: Television Pioneer, History of Technology Series 28, p. 339–340, Institution of Electrical Engineers, London (2000).
I am very grateful to Andy Andrews and to his daughter Valerie for providing the historic pictures in 2012 and to Mr. Brandon D. Inglis for the information from the company records of Baird Television Ltd., and to Mr. Don McLean. I am especially grateful to my father's assistant Paul Reveley. Shortly before his death in March 2017, he reminded me of the single mirror drum design for large screen colour television.