Monday, February 1, 2016

John Logie Baird in Tea Cards

The recent Google Doodle of John Logie Baird's Televisor doubtless raised a few eyebrows -- Baird? Television? Most people, especially in the United States, have never heard the name; most assume that TV was invented by RCA, or (if they're fans of the "lone inventor" school) Philo T. Farnsworth.

Those claims have their supporters, but there's really no question that Baird, a reclusive Scot who 'preferred to work alone' through much of his career, first demonstrated a working television system to members of the Royal Society in January of 1926.

At the time, he was working in a chilly garret on Frith Street in Soho; his "televisor" was a cobbled-together affair, making use of lenses made for bicycle-lamps, cardboard tubes, and old "Rich Mix" biscuit tins. The room was too small to accommodate more than a few people at a time, with the result that the august members of the Royal Society had to be escorted up the stairs in small groups, a few at a time, all still in their formal evening dress, and all a bit chilly.

Television's first subject -- a dummy head known affectionately as "Stookie Bill," was on display -- in one room in person, in another as a 30-line televised image. Baird then invited the skeprics to see each other via his apparatus, and lo! there they were. One participant, Sanger Shepherd (a pioneer of color photography), was particularly impressed, and was heard to exclaim "Baird has got it! The rest is merely a matter of £. s. d (pounds, shillings, and pence)."

Many years later, long after Baird's original mechanico-electric system had been supplanted by electronic television, these three "tea cards" -- included as premiums in boxes Brooke Bond and other brands of tea -- showed that, when it came to television, Mr. Baird was still 'first in the hearts of his countrymen.'

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