In this section you can find summaries and reviews of books, films, and a Ph.D. thesis, most but not all concerning John Logie Baird and television history.

Book and Film Reviews

A new edition of the John Logie Baird memoirs is now available.

For the past year or so Malcolm Baird has been working with Birlinn Publishers to create a new edition of Television and Me: The Memoirs of John Logie Baird. This edition is now available as an e-book.

‘A fabulous distillation of all the joy and bitterness, hurt and humour of an extraordinary man… I doubt there will be a better written, more interesting or important book published in Scotland this year'—Daily Mail (2004)

Funds were going down, the situation was becoming desperate and we were down to our last £30 when at last, one Friday in the first week of October 1925, everything functioned properly. The image of the dummy’s head formed itself on the screen with what appeared to me almost unbelievable clarity. I had got it! I could scarcely believe my eyes, and felt myself shaking with excitement.

In one of the most extraordinary and entertaining autobiographies to be written by any scientist or inventor, John Logie Baird tells the story of his life and the scientific journey which led to the creation of television. He writes with blunt candour and caustic wit about his childhood in Scotland and the wild escapades of his early business career, when he marketed his own patent brand of medicated undersocks, failed in a hilarious attempt to set up a jam-making factory in the Caribbean and went on to sell soap wholesale. Then he gives the definitive account of the epoch-making experiments through which television was created, and his later troubled relationship with the fledgling BBC and his bête noir, Lord Reith, who disliked television. The BBC obstructed and snubbed Baird at every opportunity.

Some of his commercial and scientific rivals made a concerted attempt to discredit his status as the central figure in the invention of television, and even today, this has led to his importance being misunderstood. This new edition of his grippingly readable autobiography, edited and introduced by Baird’s only son, Malcolm, will help to set the record straight.

To order:

John Logie Baird: a life by Antony Kamm and Malcolm Baird, 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) 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.

The National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh acquired a large collection of research information used in the writing of the book. The Accession Number is 17274.

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. It is rare indeed to find a book of real literary, scientific and historical importance. 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.'

On 15 May 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, 3-D 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 here:

Malcolm Baird has reviewed the book on this website.

[this picture of Dr. Brown by courtesy of Helensburgh Heritage Trust]

An important book appeared in 2009 under the title Images Across Space, The Electronic Imaging of Baird Television. The author, Dr. Douglas Brown, is Director of the Science and Technology Forum at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. The book is mostly based on his master's and Ph.D. theses (1996, 2000). A detailed review by Malcolm Baird is available here.

The Ostrers & Gaumont British, by Nigel Ostrer. 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 (1889-1975), 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. This book was written by Isidore's nephew Nigel Ostrer. Click here to read the review by Malcolm Baird.

Seven Other Books Relevant to J.L. Baird

The Master Switch is a detailed economic history of major electronic media (including television) by Professor Tim Wu of Columbia University. Click here to read the review by Malcolm Baird.

A 340-page television history 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.

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 was refurbished about ten years ago 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.

Mr. Kew Edwin Shelley (1894-1964) 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) 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.

Sir John C.W. Reith (1889-1971) 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. Click here to read the review by Malcolm Baird.

Leonard Frank Plugge (1889-1981) 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: the Biography of Leonard F. Plugge, by Keith Wallis, (Kelly Books, UK) appeared in March 2008 and a review by Malcolm Baird is available here.