The story of the birth of television at Alexandra Palace


Television and Short-Wave - November 1935

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Short Wave World - October 1936

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The BBC London Television Station at Alexandra Palace

'Television and Short-wave', November 1935

&

'Short Wave World' magazine, October 1936

These two famous cutaway images of Alexandra Palace were produced to demonstrate to an eager public, desperate for information, how the newly constructed London Television Station would look when completed. Initially, and while plans were still being drawn up, the project was represented to the public in 'Television and Short-wave' magazine of November 1935.

However, this diagram would bear little resemblance to the final construction.

By the time the second diagram appeared nearly at year later in 'Short Wave World' magazine, of October 1936, construction had been completed, and rehearsals had begun for the inaugural transmissions to commence a month later. Naturally, as this second diagram is of a much later date, the detail matches that which had been installed with a high degree of accuracy.

Alan Dower Blumlein, who headed the team at EMI, Hayes who were responsible for developing the electronic High Definition Television system that we all use to this dayJohn Logie Baird, who is always given credit for 'inventing' television, but who really just modified a mechanical version of the Victorian magic lantern

Alan Blumlein, John Logie Baird and Television

Though John Logie Baird is often given credit for 'inventing' television, Baird himself never claimed this, as his early experiments were all with mechanical systems. High definition electronic television as we know it was not invented by any one person, but through the efforts of many.

However, the research and development team at EMI in Hayes, assembled in by Isaac Shoenberg in 1932, was undoubtedly the first to produce a viable system. This was proved later when, following a series of test transmissions at Alexandra Palace from November 1936 to February 1937, the EMI 405-line system was chosen by the BBC for the worlds first regular television service.

Alan Blumlein, as head of this team, was therefore the key figure in the development of the electronic high definition television system.

When Television Began

Public interest in the new London Television Station being constructed at Alexandra Palace was enormous in the months leading up to inaugural transmissions. This famous cutaway picture was the first pictorial layout published to show the proposed sharing of the facilities between the Baird Television Company and Marconi/EMI.

The construction took place during the summer of 1935, and was completed in mid-1936. It was to include two sets of television studios and control rooms, one for the Baird system and the other for Marconi/EMI system, who were in competition with each other for the right to broadcast on a regular basis. Television broadcasts were commenced on 2 November 1936, with Leslie Mitchell announcing (see picture right).

The Baird and EMI transmissions continued on an alternate basis until February 1937, when it was concluded that the 405-line Marconi/EMI system was far superior to that of the 240-line Baird system.

In February 1937, the Baird transmissions were discontinued. From then on, with a break during World War Two, and right up until 1981, television programme production continued from Alexandra Palace.

Today, much of the material made during the many years of television production is lovingly restored and collected in archives such as the Alexandra Palace Television Society (to whom, incidentally, I am indebted for much of the archive photographic material on this part of the website) and the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television. In 2005 a new restoration project was announced: For more information about the restoration project click HERE

2 November 1936

2 November 1936 - The inaugural television transmission from the Baird studio at Alexandra Palace

The inaugural transmissions from Baird ...

2 November 1936 - The inaugural television transmission from the Marconi/EMI studio at Alexandra Palace

... and Marconi/EMI

Despite the huge fire in 1980, which gutted much of the Palace, the wing containing the television studios survived pretty much intact. However, since the BBC removed the last of the transmission equipment in 1981, the condition inside has decayed at an alarming rate.

Disused, except for storage, the two main studios and their associated control rooms have been allowed to fall into utter disrepair and are now quite dangerous in places. Pigeons have nested between floorboards and the overall dilapidation of the rooms - once the pride of the BBC - is a very sad sight.

Despite the best intentions of organisations such as the Alexandra Palace Television Trust, the once proud television studios, from which the worlds first regular television service was broadcast, are now in serious danger of being lost forever.

By clicking on the seven links in the main Alexandra Palace cutaway picture above, you will be able to view pictures of the current conditions inside the television studios.

These photographs, taken in July 2000, graphically show just how dangerous and run-down the inside of the building actually is. As the public do not have access to these areas, little is known in the outside world of how one of Britain's most important pieces of national heritage is quite literally wasting away.

Without enormous help and funding, it may just be that by the time we realise the importance of what took place here, and the enormous effect it has had on the world, it will be too late to save.

The first BBC Television announcers

When the BBC began its television transmissions from Alexandra Palace on 2 November 1936, the three announcers had little or no idea how they would become celebrities over the coming years. To find out more about Leslie Mitchell, Elizabeth Cowell or Jasmine Bligh click on their photographs or their name link.

Leslie Mitchell

- the first BBC Television announcer

'Good evening. This is the BBC Television Station from Alexandra Palace'

This was the familiar greeting from Elizabeth Cowell (above) and Jasmine Bligh (below).

They were the first female BBC television announcers, and who shared announcing duties with Leslie Mitchell following the inaugural transmissions on 2 November 1936.

Alexandra Palace television transmission mast

The transmission mast built on top of the south east tower of Alexandra Palace.

An Emitron camera of the type developed by Blumlein and his team at EMI.

 

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Leslie Mitchell - 1905-1985 The first BBC Television Announcer Elizabeth Cowell - 1912-1998 Jasmine Bligh - 1913-1991