First day of BBC television

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The first scheduled, high-definition (as then defined; meaning 240-line) television programmes were broadcast on 2 November 1936 by the British Broadcasting Corporation. They had been preceded by a number of low-definition BBC test broadcasts, as well as a 180-line Deutscher Fernseh Rundfunk service, from Berlin, since March 1935.

Background[edit]

The British Broadcasting Corporation, already an established radio broadcaster, began making low definition (30-line) test television transmissions under government licence in August 1936. These included short ad-hoc performances by musicians, with the duration limited as "lookers in" (as viewers were called) were found to experience eye strain through looking at the small screens then in use.[1]

The first regular electronic television service in Germany began in Berlin on 22 March 1935, as Deutscher Fernseh Rundfunk. Broadcasting from the Fernsehsender Paul Nipkow, it used a 180-line system, and was on air for 90 minutes, three times a week.

Line-up[edit]

The BBC Television Service officially launched on 2 November 1936.[2][3] The BBC's official publication, The Radio Times, listed the opening one-hour schedule – the first ever, on a dedicated TV channel – starting at 3 pm, as:[2]

  • 3:00 – Opening of the BBC Television Service
  • 3:15 – Interval; time, weather
  • 3:20 – British Movietone News
  • 3:30 – Variety
  • 4:00 – Close

From 9 pm to 10 pm, pre-recorded films and more news were screened.[2] The films included Television Comes to London, a pre-made fifteen-minute documentary about the launch, shot on 35mm film.[1] It was the BBC's first television documentary.[1]

Opening[edit]

The first person heard and seen was the announcer, Leslie Mitchell.[1]

According to advance publicity in The Radio Times, the opening was then to be:[4]

by Major the Right Hon. G.C. Tryon, M.P., H.M. Postmaster-General

Mr. R.C. Norman (Chairman of the BBC) and the Right Hon. the Lord Selsdon, K.B.E. (Chairman of the Television Advisory Committee) will also speak.

Variety[edit]

The Radio Times billed the Variety performers as:[2]

  • Adele Dixon – Musical Comedy Star
  • Buck and Bubbles – Comedians and Dancers
  • The Lai Founs – Chinese Jugglers

however, in the event The Lai Founs did not appear.[1]

Dixon performed a specially commissioned song, "Television", written by James Dyrenforth and Kenneth Leslie-Smith.[1] The event made Buck and Bubbles (Buck Washington and John W. Bubbles) the first black people to appear on television.[1]

The musicians were billed as The BBC Television Orchestra, led by Boris Pecker and conducted by Hyam Greenbaum.[2] The producer was listed as Dallas Bower.[2]

Technology[edit]

The broadcast was made from a converted wing of Alexandra Palace ("Ally Pally") in London,[2] using the 240-line Baird intermediate film system,[1] on the VHF band.

BBC television initially used two systems on alternate weeks: the Baird system and the 405-line Marconi-EMI system. The decision to use the Baird system for the first week was made on a coin toss.[1] The use of the two formats made the BBC's service the world's first regular high-definition television service; it broadcast from Monday to Saturday between 15:00 and 16:00, and 21:00 and 22:00.[5]

Alexandra Palace housed two studios (one for each system), various scenery stores, make-up areas, dressing rooms, offices, and the transmitter itself.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Television's Opening Night: How the Box Was Born". 19 May 2020. BBC Television. Retrieved 7 June 2020. Missing or empty |series= (help)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Variety". The Radio Times (683). 30 October 193. p. 88. Retrieved 7 June 2020.
  3. ^ "History of the BBC". BBC.
  4. ^ "Variety". The Radio Times (683). 30 October 1936. p. 88. Retrieved 7 June 2020.
  5. ^ Burns, R.W. (1998). Television: An International History of the Formative Years. London: The Institution of Electrical Engineers. p. ix. ISBN 978-0-85296-914-4.

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