The Birth of Television


A TV from 1936

On the 2nd November 1936 the very first high-definition public television transmission took place in Alexandra Palace, in the north of London, by the BBC. It was only eleven years since John Logie Baird had given the first public demonstration of low-definition television.

The first television sets cost about £100, the same price as a small car at the time, so only a few households could afford to own one. It took until 1932 for the first experiments in better quality transmissions to begin, from a studio in Broadcasting House. At first only the 20,000 homes with a television within a 35-mile range of Alexandra Palace could pick up the “flickering” rays of these first higher standard programmes on their 10-inch televisions.

Prior to the inauguration of BBC television’s high-definition service, many landmark moments had been featured on the television, including the announcement of the death of HM King George V on 20th January 1936, and the appearance of Elizabeth Cowell, the first female television announcer on 31st August. Then, on the 26th October, the first experimental high-definition television transmission – to Radio Olympia – was made.

The experiment was a success and meant that, on 2nd November, the inauguration of the world’s first regular high-definition service could take place. This broadcasting breakthrough saw the start of a period of rapid development and growth in broadcasting. Outside broadcasts began, and in 1937 television owners were able to watch
King George VI’s Coronation Procession, Wimbledon was recorded, and by 1938, the FA Cup Final and the Boat Race were televised. On 30th September 1938 Richard Dimbleby reported from Heston Airport, where he witnessed Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s return after his historic Munich meeting with Hitler.

Although at first outside broadcasts were only possible from places near London where there were sufficient resources, high-definition television had proved itself a major success and set the course for a revolution in broadcasting that continues to the present day.

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Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.

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