History of the BBC

History of the BBC

The story of BBC Television -
Baird and the BBC

Baird television studio
'He's got it. The only thing now is to find the money to develop it'
Sangar Shepherd, member of the Royal Institution 1926

The 'money to develop it' would come from the sale of television sets (or as Baird called them 'Televisors'). However, there was a major snag. In order to sell the sets you have to have programmes to watch - a television service. Baird built a television studio in Long Acre (Covent Garden) and experimented with a small transmitter, but he soon realised that he needed a much more powerful transmitter to broadcast his programmes. The BBC had such a transmitter, called 2LO, situated on the roof of Selfridges in London. 2LO was used for daily 'wireless' programmes, but the BBC service closed down in the evening at about 11pm and often did not re-start until mid-morning. So Baird approached the BBC for permission to use the transmitter during these periods.

 

The Man with a Flower in His Mouth
The Man with a Flower in his
Mouth - the first play to be
broadcast.

Eventually the BBC reluctantly agreed and by the end of 1929 Baird was running a programme of regular television broadcasts which would continue for the next six years. Unfortunately, at first the BBC only had the one transmitter (for television you need two; one for the picture and one for the sound). It meant that for the first six months, television programmes comprised two minutes of picture, followed by two minutes of sound and so on.

 

By March 1930 the BBC had opened a second radio transmitter, and so simultaneous sound and picture transmissions began. Three months later Baird televised the first play to be transmitted on television in this country - Pirandello's The Man with a Flower in his Mouth. Produced by the BBC's Lance Sieveking, the play had been chosen because it only had three characters, plenty of long speeches and very little action. The actors, daubed with a strange blue and yellow make-up to compensate for deficiencies in the camera system, took turns to slide into a fixed seat in front of the camera, which could only show one head at a time.

 

pdf Internal BBC memo
A senior member of staff is unimpressed after viewing a demonstration of the early Baird system in 1928.

At the end of 1932 the BBC took over the programme making, having built a television studio in the basement of Broadcasting House. Regular daily transmissions, watched by several thousand enthusiasts who had bought Baird Televisors, continued until 1935, when the system was shut down ahead of the launch of the first regular ‘high-definition' service in November 1936.

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