This site is about John Logie Baird (1888–1946), a 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.
(Last updated 11th April 2021)
What's new at Bairdtelevision.com?
Redesign of Bairdtelevision.com
Iain Logie Baird has been working on an update and redesign of this website which you can now visit at www.bairdtelevision.com. This new version launched in March 2021. It has been determined that this page you are on now, which evolved from the original version of the site dating back to 1997, is faster and more stable for use on mobile interfaces. Thus it will be retained and layouts and design of some pages will be updated. To bookmark the address to use is www.bairdtelevision.com/mobileindex.html (the page you are now on).
The new John Logie Baird 50 pence coin has been released 4th January 2021.
Over the past year or so Iain Baird has been acting as a historical advisor for the design, packaging, and marketing information of a brand new 50 pence coin with the inscription “JOHN LOGIE BAIRD TELEVISION PIONEER” accompanied by a depiction of a television mast emitting circular radio waves with a range of dates relating to John Logie Baird and the dates “1888” and “1946” aside the mast. The 2021 Annual Coin Set including the John Logie Baird coin is now available and can be purchased at www.royalmint.com. The coin is now available as a single item on coin collection and internet auction sites.
"For 2021, a collection of coins celebrates and explores the stories behind Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott, who made history come to life, John Logie Baird and the making of television, and H.G. Wells, the man who made science fiction reality. Interwoven with The Royal Mint’s history, we also celebrate how we were the change makers in 1971 as we mark the 50th anniversary of decimal day, and wish Her Majesty The Queen a happy 95th birthday as she continues to make a nation proud." See the new article by Malcolm Baird H.G. Wells and J.L. Baird, 1931.
The sets are available in precious metal editions or struck in their circulating alloys, and are finished to either Proof or Brilliant Uncirculated standard."
The 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.
Malcolm Baird writes: My father wrote his memoirs between May and August 1941 while recovering from a heart attack at Tempsford Hall, a health farm 43 miles north of London. His company, Baird television Ltd., had been wound up soon after the war started in 1939. Since then, he had been working privately on colour television, while my mother and my sister Diana and I had been moved out of London to the comparative safety of Cornwall.
A shorthand secretary was summoned to Tempsford Hall and my father started to dictate his memoirs. These were memoirs in the literal sense (memories) as he was away from his office and his papers. He was also subject to a strict diet after the first few weeks he lost so much weight that his suit had to be altered by a local tailor. Understandably, the memoirs contain the occasional mistake and often the continuity is broken while he tells a funny story or makes personal remarks about some of his friends (and enemies). In spite of these imperfections they are highly readable, with a detached tone and a touch of dry humour.
Occasionally my father breaks into fury, as when he describes the muddy but compulsory football games at school in Helensburgh or the working conditions in the Glasgow factories where he served as an apprentice. Everything was dutifully taken down by the secretary and typed in double spacing the memoirs were divided into 9 chapters with a total length of 45,000 words.
After leaving Tempsford Hall in the autumn of 1941, my father took up a new project on high-speed signalling by televised images, sponsored by Cable and Wireless Ltd. This gave him some badly-needed financial support, while he also continued his work on colour and stereoscopic (3D) television. In 1944 he produced the world’s first colour cathode ray tube, the Telechrome. At the same time he was starting up a new company to produce television sets after the war. By the end of 1945, he was worn out he had a stroke in February 1946, made a partial recovery, but then died in his sleep on June 14th 1946. The memoirs were deposited in the office of the family lawyer and in 1948 my mother added a final chapter covering the years from 1941 to 1946.
The memoirs remained unpublished for many years although they were drawn upon by the biographer Sydney Moseley (1952) and by my mother in her memoirs (1973). At last, in 1988, Chapters 1 to 9 were published by the Royal Television Society, with support from the BBC. However, this first edition had a limited circulation and it only covered the period up to 1941. It was not until 2004 that the memoirs appeared in a popular edition that contained all 10 chapters. The book was published in paperback as “Television and Me” by Mercat Press (Edinburgh). It was well-received by the critics and parts of it were broadcast by the BBC as the Book of The Week.
My role in the 2004 edition was to choose illustrations, some from public sources and some from family archives. Additionally, I have inserted footnotes to give fuller background information about people and events. Some of my footnotes corrected the occasional errors that had crept into the memoirs because of the difficult conditions under which they had been written.
The 2004 edition has been out of print for several years, although public interest in television history is increasing. This new edition has been released as an ebook by Birlinn Ltd., which absorbed Mercat Press in 2007. I have written a new Preface and updated and expanded the footnotes. Among recent developments there have been two important technical books by Dr. Douglas Brown on my father’s work on colour and 3D television during World War II. In August 2020, an American journal published a research article by Brandon Inglis and Prof, Gary Couples, with details of the special photocell that my father used in the early stages of his research (1924–26). On the personal side, I have added a new note on the recently discovered identity of his first love (“Alice”) who was with him in the early days of television.
The ebook format of the 2020 edition will help the modern reader to navigate between the text and the footnotes and the index. Trivia addicts will like the search function which shows matches for “the Prince of Wales” (6), “Reith” (22) and “Hitler” (14). I hope that this updated edition of my father’s memoirs will serve as his personal addition to the publications and media events that are expected as television approaches its 100th birthday. This will fall on October 2 2025 based on the first breakthrough in the laboratory, or January 26 2026 based on the first public demonstration.
11 March 2021
Crystal Palace South Tower Listed
The base of the Crystal Palace’s southern water tower has been listed by Historic England following a proposal from Crystal Palace Foundation chairman Melvyn Harrison. The southern tower was the location of Baird Television Limited's vision and sound transmitter aerials starting in 1933–34, as well as serving as the location of some of John Logie Baird's own experiments concerning colour and large-screen television. Sadly, the upper section of the tower was demolished in 1940–41.
Click here for more information.
The Secret in the Box
On 26 January 1926, John Logie Baird first demonstrated television. This was reported in The Times and other newspapers and witnessed by distinguished scientists from the Royal Institution. And yet it had a mysterious aspect. Although Baird had patented many parts of his system, he did not give out enough information to allow his competitors to build an exact working copy.
For nearly 100 years, this has been a problem for technical historians and museums wishing to build a working replica of the first television system. One of the grey areas has been the type of photocell used for converting light fluctuations to electrical signals. During 2019, a step forward has been taken by two part-time researchers in Scotland: Brandon Inglis (a teacher) and Professor Gary Couples (with Heriot Watt University).
They have found that a key component in Baird’s television system was a photocell known as “the Thalofide Cell”. This had been developed a few years earlier by Theodore Case in the USA. Its main application was in connection with talking pictures that were being actively developed at the time. In July 1924 Baird bought one for £50 and after many months of further research he succeeded in producing a television picture of a human subject in October 1925—this was followed soon afterward by the public demonstration.
Appropriately, Mr. Inglis and Prof. Couples decided to publish their findings in a peer-reviewed American technical journal. Their 8000-word article, entitled “John Logie Baird and the Secret in the Box” appeared in the August 2020 issue (pages 1371–1382) of the Proceedings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. (IEEE). As of September 2020, it can be seen at the following link: https://proceedingsoftheieee.ieee.org/view-recent-issues/august-2020/
FULTON, Julie. Mister T.V.: The Story of John Logie Baird. illus. by Patrick Corrigan. 32p. Maverick Arts. Sept. 2020. ISBN 9781848866461.
Review by Malcolm Baird (son) and Iain Baird (grandson), 6 September 2020
Television history is a complex subject. Primarily it stems from science and technology, closely allied with innovative thinking, social sciences, business acumen and "politics". It was developed mainly as a broadcast medium, carrying news and culture and sport to millions of viewers. But as it approaches its 100th birthday, television is becoming an important person-to-person channel of communication; this new development is being driven by the COVID crisis. It is hard enough for a mature adult to get a handle on television history, but how on Earth can it be put across to young children?
Julie Fulton has met the challenge with a human story drawn from J.L. Baird's own memoirs (1941) which are to be republished soon. Patrick Corrigan’s colour illustrations are more eye-catching than the (mostly) grainy black-and-white photos in the archives. We like Ms. Fulton’s use of time-lines which give the young readers a sense of history, moving along in parallel to the growth of television. Mister TV also recognizes that many people in different countries have contributed to television, both in the early days (Nipkow, Rosing, et al.) and in the later stages (Farnsworth, Zworykin, et al.).
New John Logie Baird exhibition at the MZTV Museum, Toronto
A new exhibition at Toronto's MZTV Museum honours the work of John Logie Baird. On the 25th of May, 2019, the exhibition was officially opened to the public, with MZTV founder Moses Znaimer, Malcolm Baird, and Iain Baird in attendance, who each gave a short speech. Iain is a co-curator of the exhibition, and a former curator at MZTV.
Alice Who art thou? An old mystery
Malcolm Baird has written an article about "Alice", the mysterious woman with whom John Logie Baird was romantically involved during the 1920s, (before and during his earliest years of television work). This article was first published in early 2019. You can find it at this link.
John Logie Baird Anniversaries in 2021
95th—26 January 1926. First-ever public demonstration of television to forty distinguished scientists of the Royal Institution at 22 Frith Street, Soho, London.
90th—3 June 1931. The first televised sporting event, the Epsom Derby—also the first remote outside television broadcast. See: Televising the Derby (1931).
85th—26 August 1936. 'High definition' television programmes intended for the public were broadcast by the BBC to the Radiolympia Exhibition.
85th—2 November 1936. The official start of the 'world's first high-definition television service' from the BBC's new television studios at Alexandra Palace. Initially, both the 240-line Baird television systems and the 405-line EMI-Marconi system were used.
80th—December 1941. JLB demonstrated high definition stereoscopic television to the press. See: What did John Logie Baird really do in World War II?
75th—14 June 1946. Death of JLB at Bexhill, at age 57.
Diana Richardson (nee Baird), 1932–2016—Tribute written by Elizabeth Richardson for the Museum of Communication, Burntisland, on 10 July 2016 and published in their newsletter, Nov. 2016
Diana Richardson was a wonderful wife and mum. She was also John Logie Baird's daughter. Born in Hampstead in 1932, Diana moved to Sydenham where she spent the pre-war years living happily with her father, mother (Margaret Cecilia Baird - an accomplished concert pianist) and her brother Malcolm who was born in 1935. Sadly he was celebrating his birthday on the day Diana died, 2 July 2016.
During the war the family moved to Bude in Cornwall where my mum and Malcolm attended the evacuated Sandown School, which is now a hotel, but was then a boarding school, overlooking my mum's beloved Crooklets Beach. Mum's favourite place of all was the breakwater but she also loved Duckpool (Coombe Valley) where the family would go when her Mum could get petrol for the car. My Mum loved walking along the beach with her father - as she often said - because they could walk at their own pace. His magnifying glass is probably her most treasured possession.
After the war the family moved to Bexhill-on-Sea. This was a sad time because JLB was in poor health and suffered at least one stroke during that time. He died in his sleep on 14 June 1946 and my mum has waited 70 years to be reunited with him. Diana and Malcolm moved to Helensburgh in 1947 where they lived in the family home, "The Lodge", with Aunt Annie and her housekeeper Margaret Scott. After leaving school, Mum went to Glasgow University to study English and it was there that she met my Dad, Norman, both going on to Jordanhill to train as teachers after getting their degrees. Mum and Dad were perfect for each other and have given me, my brothers David and John and my children William and Katie all a fantastic start in life. John's son, Alex, holds a particularly special place in my mum's heart and he wrote a beautiful poem about her which was read at her funeral. It summed up all that she had meant to him in a few lines that captured her perfectly.
My Mum put her energies and priority into our family but she was immensely proud of her father's achievements. She was understated but remarkable in so many ways, for example translating Agatha Christie's "Death on the Nile" into Esperanto over a 5 year period, writing excellent one act plays and, in the last couple of months, completing a beautiful tapestry.
Mum didn't ever seek the limelight and gave interviews only to help her father's achievements be recognised. She took these things in her stride and played down their importance: when I lived in Edinburgh my family connections only emerged after a decade there because a Belgian TV company film crew walked down the street to my house with boom and camera to meet my Mum! The irony is that my parents never even had a TV until I was 7 and only then because my Dad's parents had bought a new one and offered their's to us. In the age of colour TV, BBC 2 and STV, we could only get BBC 1!
The Museum of Communication meant a lot to my Mum and my parents have enjoyed every visit to your meetings and AGMs. The work you are doing there to highlight all aspects of early forms of communication and the ground breaking achievements of individuals, like my grandfather, is crucial. It is valued greatly by families like us who are fortunate enough to have had inventors or pioneers amongst our number.
My Mum died suddenly last Saturday having spoken to my Dad some 90 minutes earlier from Monklands Hospital where she had been admitted overnight. She left us without a fanfare, just as she had lived and is now with God, her beloved father John Logie Baird and, we hope, a huge assortment of the various cats she's had over the years!
John Logie Baird honoured 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 Honour 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 1926), the first publicly shown color television system (1928), and the first fully electronic color television picture tube. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) began regular transmissions with the Baird 30-line system in 1929. Baird continued to develop new technology including a mechanical color system in 1939 (later adopted by CBS in America); a 500-line 3-D system in 1941; and demonstrated a fully electronic 600-line color display in 1944. Baird lobbied for post-war adoption of his 1,000-line electronic color television system.
Other pioneers who were Honorary Members or on the Honor Roll of SMPTE include: Walter Bruch (1989), Lee de Forest (1940), Walt Disney (1955), Ray M. Dolby (1992), George Eastman (1928), Thomas Alva Edison (1928), and Elmer W. Engstrom (1966)
In 2016's SMPTE (UK Section) John Logie Baird lecture, held on the evening of 22 June in London, speakers looked at how modern information technology in television has influenced the content chain from concept to screen. Iain Logie Baird was in attendance to receive the Certificate on behalf of his late grandfather and the Baird family. Click here for further details.
Iain Logie Baird Leaves National Media Museum
Following a downsizing of the curatorial team at the National Media Museum, Iain's final day at the Museum was 13th May 2016. Iain had worked as a curator at the Museum since 2007, and in his last two years there, his work included making major acquisitions to the Science Museum Group's radio and television collections, including the personal archive of BBC Engineer Captain A.G.D. West, a very early electro-dynamic microphone designed by H.J. Round in 1923, and the original BBC Television 'Little Ben' in-vision (on-air) clock used in their Lime Grove Studios during the 1950s.
Iain's research investigating the first outside radio broadcast from a natural location was published in the Science Museum Group Journal in October 2015. It was presented at the Toronto School Then | Now | Next international conference at the University of Toronto on 15 October 2016.
Papers of Benjamin Clapp Purchased by University of Glasgow
In September 2015 the University of Glasgow Library, with generous financial assistance from an anonymous donor, purchased the papers of Benjamin Clapp, a very important part of the story of John Logie Baird and the first trans-Atlantic television transmission. The collection, which includes Clapp's radio logbook, papers, ephemera, and the earliest surviving Phonovision disc had been purchased by a foreign collector. The granting of the export license was delayed when, on Iain Logie Baird's recommendation, the Science Museum Group raised an objection that these materials were of national historical importance. A six-month export bar was imposed, and on 29 June 2015 the Arts Council issued a press release regarding the situation. In his role as a curator at the National Media Museum, Iain had successfully presented the case for an export bar at the Arts Council hearing and subsequently acted to champion efforts to find a domestic buyer—until, following a press release by the Arts Council, an anonymous donor stepped forward. Click here for more information.