Baird Television - 'First Light'

Baird Television - 'First Light'

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By Hywel Wiliam and Tim Hartley,
Friday, 5th February 2016

(above)  Jamie Medhurst (Aberystwyth University),  Don McLean (Chair, RTS History Group),  and Tim Hartley (Chair, RTS Wales Centre)

On 26th January 1926, John Logie Baird gave the first demonstration of television to a group that included  members of the Royal Institution.  90 years later this historic event was the subject of a talk by Don McLean, Chair of the RTS History Group, held at Aberystwyth University.  Don is the author of Restoring Baird's Image and an expert on early television.  He explained that lots of people were working in the field at the time and that asking the question, 'who invented television' is therefore largely meaningless.  For example, the system developed by Baird was electro mechanical, while other competing systems developed by EMI and others, were purely electronic.

Don explained how the original demonstration equipment functioned and showed images restored from a number of phonographic recordings made by Baird at the time.  These included shots of the famous ventriloquist's dummy head, 'Stookie Bill' (left), named after Glaswegian slang for plaster of Paris.

Baird however, truly understood the medium's potential - he was the first to televise the Derby and in his later experiments he even developed colour television.  But at the time some of his techniques were a closely guarded secret.  For example, the apparatus used in the earlier demonstrations now in the Science Museum was missing certain parts needed to make it work.

This fascinating lecture gave an insight into the highly competitive world that Baird and his pioneering contemporaries lived and worked.  At the end of the original demonstration, the invited guests were not particularly impressed and some doubted whether this new invention had any practical application.  But Don summed up the event's significance by explaining that, "There can only be one first time that this would happen, and 90 years ago tonight - officially, according to Baird - this was it".

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