Anniversaries in 2006

2 November 2006

The 2 November 2006, will see the 70th anniversary of the world's first regular television broadcasts by the BBC from the transmitter at Alexandra Palace.

The following extract which records the events of that historic evening in London has been taken directly from the book 'The Inventor of Stereo - the life & works of Alan Dower Blumlein', by Robert Charles Alexander (ISBN 0-240-51628-1 Publ. Focal Press):

The transmission at Alexandra Palace on 2 November 1936, to the great credit of the Baird engineers, had passed off without a hitch. The entire broadcast took just thirty-four minutes to complete, at the end of the Baird transmission, Leslie Mitchell explained to the viewers: “You have been watching the opening programme of the London Television Service, by the Baird system. Will you now please switch your sets to the Marconi-EMI system, by which a vision signal will be radiated at a quarter to four. From now until ten minutes to four, there will be a musical interlude in sound only, by The Television Orchestra. At four o’clock the opening programme will be repeated by the Marconi-EMI system”

Indeed at 4.00 p.m. precisely, the entire program was repeated; everything was planned and timed to the minute. Here is the entire inaugural address, as it was broadcast on the Marconi-EMI system at 4.00 p.m. on Monday, 2 November 1936. Leslie Mitchell once again appeared on screen (this time with Elizabeth Cowell in reserve): “Good afternoon once more everybody. This is the BBC Television Station at Alexandra Palace. At three O’clock this afternoon, the television service was opened by the Postmaster General using the Baird system. The opening programme will be now be repeated on the Marconi-EMI system. First, the Postmaster General will be introduced by Mr. R. C. Norman, Chairman of the BBC, and will be followed by Lord Selsdon, Chairman of the Television Advisory Committee, and Mr. Alfred Clark, a Director of the Marconi-EMI television company. The speeches are followed by the latest edition of the Movietone News, British Movietone News that is, then Adele Dixon and ‘Buck and Bubbles’, both accompanied by The Television Orchestra.

(Mr. R. C. Norman, Chairman of the BBC), “Mr. Postmaster General, Lord Selsdon, and viewers. We are met, some in this studio at the Alexandra Palace, and others at viewing points miles away, to inaugurate the British Television Service. My first duty is to welcome you Major Tryon in the name of the British Broadcasting Corporation, and to say how happy we are that you should have done us the honour of performing the inaugural ceremony. We at the BBC are proud that the Government should have decided to entrusted us with the conduct of the new service. We are very conscious of the responsibilities which that decision imposes upon us.

“At this moment, at the starting of television, our first tribute must be to those whose brilliant and devoted research, whose gifts of design and craftsmanship have made television possible. We are honoured by the presence of some of them here today. We wish also to record Lord Selsdon, the guidance and encouragement that we have received from the two television committees over which you have presided. As for the future, we know already that television is much more complicated than sound broadcasting. We are encouraged in facing its intricate and fascinating new problems, by the patience with which the public and the press have waited for this day, and by the interest, and let me add, at times the indulgence, which they have shown during the recent test and trial transmissions. We hope that their interest and tolerance will continue for we shall certainly need both. We are however, confident that television in its special combination of science and the arts, holds the promise of unique, if still largely uncharted opportunities, of benefit and delight to the community. We are happy to think that some of its earliest opportunities will have as their setting, the historic pageantry of next summer.

“The foresight which secured for this country a national system of broadcasting, promises to secure for it also a flying start in the practice of television. At this moment, the British Television Service is undoubtedly ahead of the rest of the world. Long may that lead be held. You may be assured that the BBC will be resolute to maintain it. Today’s ceremony is a very simple programme. In every respect, it will doubtless seem primitive a few years hence, to those who are able to recall it. But we believe that these proceedings, for all their simplicity, will be remembered in the future as an historic occasion, not less momentous, and not less rich in promise than day almost exactly fourteen years ago, when the British Broadcasting Company, as it then was, transmitted its first programme from Marconi House.

“In that belief, Mr. Postmaster General, we asked you to take the leading part in this ceremony, and I now invite you to inaugurate the new service”

(Major Tryon, The Postmaster General), “Lord Selsdon, Mr. Norman and all who are watching this ceremony from afar. It is a great privilege to be invited to inaugurate the British Television Service. For we are launching today a venture, that has a great future before it. For me, it is also a new and extremely interesting experience. Though I have had experience of speaking into the microphone, many times, this is the first occasion on which I have faced the television camera.

“Few people would have dared fourteen, or even ten years ago, to prophesy that there would be nearly eight million holders of broadcasting receiving licenses in the British Isles today. The popularity and success of our sound broadcasting service are due to the wisdom, foresight and courage of the governors and staff of the British Broadcasting Corporation, to which the Government entrusted its conduct ten years ago. The Government of today, is confident that the corporation will devote themselves with equal energy, wisdom and zeal, to developing television broadcasting in the best interests of the nation, and that the future of the new service is safe in their hands.

“I was very glad Mr. Norman, to hear your reference to the guidance and encouragement which you have received from Lord Selsdon, and the members of the Television Advisory Committee. We in the Post Office know well how unsparingly Lord Selsdon has devoted his great ability and high personal qualities to the public interest, both as Postmaster General, and on the television committee. I am very pleased that under his guidance, the Post Office had been able to co-operate, through the Television Advisory Committee in the development of this new service.

“I also should like to pay a tribute to all those who have devoted their talents and their time to solving the very difficult problem of television. We owe it to their skill, and their perseverance in research, that television has passed from the region of theory to the realm of practice. As you said Mr. Norman, television broadcasting has great potentialities. Sound broadcasting has widened our outlook and increased our pleasure by bringing knowledge, music and entertainment within reach of all. The complimentary art of television, contains within it, vast possibilities of the enhancement and widening of the benefits we already enjoy from sound broadcasting.

“On behalf of my colleagues in the Government, I welcome the assurance that Great Britain is leading the world in the matter of television broadcasting, and in inaugurating this new service, I confidently predict a great and a successful future for it. Now, I have pleasure introducing Lord Selsdon, Chairman of the Television Advisory Committee”

(Lord Selsdon, Chairman of the Television Advisory Committee), “Mr. Postmaster General, Mr. Norman and viewers. I stand before you as representing both the television committee, which originally investigated the possibilities of this new field, and also the Television Advisory Committee, which continues to advise regarding its development. My colleagues and I much appreciate what has been said about our work, and I only wish that time and space permitted them to appear before this instrument today. In their name, I thank you.

“It has rightly been said that the potentialities of this new art are vast, and it is possible for instance to conceive of its being applied, not only to entertainment, but also to education, commerce, the tracing of wanted or missing persons, and to navigation by sea or by air. All these and more, will no doubt in due time, be tested, and some of them will arise. The patient industry of inventors has helped us so far, now we hope that the kindly interest of the public will help us further.

“From the technical point of view, I wish to say that my committee hopes to be able, after some experience of the working of the public service, definitely to recommend certain standards as to number of lines, frame frequency and ratio of synchronising impulse to picture. Once these have been fixed, the construction of receivers will considerably simplified. But meanwhile, do not let any potential viewer delay ordering a receiving set, for fear that a change in these standards may put it out of commission almost at once. It is and essential feature of the development plans that for two years after the opening of any service area, no such change shall be made therein. For at least two years therefore, today’s receivers, without any radical alteration, will continue to receive Alexandra Palace transmissions.

“Just how wide this London service area will prove to be, is difficult to say with absolute certainty. Roughly speaking, it will cover Greater London, with a population of about ten millions, or again, roughly speaking, a radius of more than twenty miles, with local variations. There may be some surprising extensions. For instance, I should be unwilling to lay heavy odds against a resident in Hindhead, viewing the Coronation procession. In the light of experience here, we shall proceed with the location of second and subsequent transmitting stations, according as public interest justifies this course. Technically, Britain leads today”

Following the speeches a film of British Movietone News ran for approximately 9 minutes, then the short entertainment from Adele Dixon, who sang the specially commissioned signature tune written for the start of television, ‘Here’s looking at you’; Buck and Bubbles, the two black American comedians, and The Television Orchestra which ran for approximately 7½ minutes; this was followed by Leslie Mitchell again with the closing announcement: “So ends the opening programme of the BBC Television Service. The next programme will be televised at nine o’clock this evening, by the Baird system. Good afternoon, everybody”

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Dora Media Productions. All rights reserved.

Alexandra Palace - the site of the world's first regular television broadcasts
by the BBC on 2 November 1936

More information can be found at the following websites to whom I am indebted:

Alexandra Palace Television Society

National Museum of Photography, Film & Television

In 2005, a new restoration project to save Alexandra Palace from further decay was announced
For more information about the restoration project click HERE
For a brief movie of the project outlines click HERE

June 2002 - 60th anniversary of Blumlein's death

June 2003 - 100th anniversary of Blumlein's birth

Significant anniversaries
in 2003, 2004 & 2005

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