1936: Vision On, Sound On – The BBC Began the First World TV Broadcast Service

Helen McKay performs ‘Here’s Looking at You’, 1936.

On the 2nd of November 1936, at 3 pm, the BBC began the world’s first regular high-definition TV broadcast service from specially constructed studios at Alexandra Palace, North London.

BBC Television is a service of the BBC. It produced television programmes from its own studios from 1932.

The BBC operates several television networks, television stations, and related programming services in the United Kingdom. As well as being a broadcaster, the corporation also produces a large number of its own programmes.

The BBC began its own regular television programming from the basement of Broadcasting House, London, on 22 August 1932. The studio moved to larger quarters in 16 Portland Place, London, in February 1934, and continued broadcasting the 30-line images, carried by telephone line to the medium wave transmitter at Brookmans Park, until 11 September 1935, by which time advances in all-electronic television systems made the electromechanical broadcasts obsolete.

After a series of test transmissions and special broadcasts that began in August 1936, the BBC Television Service officially launched on the 2nd of November 1936 from a converted wing of Alexandra Palace in London. “Ally Pally” housed two studios, various scenery stores, make-up areas, dressing rooms, offices, and the transmitter itself, which then broadcast on the VHF band. BBC television initially used two systems on alternate weeks: the 240-line Baird intermediate film system and the 405-line Marconi-EMI system. The use of both 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. The first programme broadcast – and thus the first ever, on a dedicated TV channel – was “Opening of the BBC Television Service” at 15:00.

Take a look at what BBC TV looked like in 1936.

The birth of TV:

John Logie Baird (a Scottish inventor, electrical engineer, and innovator), set up the Baird Television Development Company in 1926. On the 30th of September 1929, he made the first experimental television broadcast for the BBC from its studio in Long Acre in the Covent Garden area of London via the BBC’s London transmitter. Baird used his electromechanical system with a vertically scanned image of 30 lines, which is just enough resolution for a close-up of one person, and a bandwidth low enough to use existing radio transmitters.

The simultaneous transmission of sound and pictures was achieved on 30 March 1930, by using the BBC’s new twin transmitter at Brookmans Park. By late 1930, thirty minutes of morning programmes were broadcast from Monday to Friday, and thirty minutes at midnight on Tuesdays and Fridays after BBC radio went off the air. Baird’s broadcasts via the BBC continued until June 1932.

Description: A woman watching an early homemade experimental mechanical television receiver in 1928, from Hugo Gernsback’s magazine Science and Invention. During the 1920s some radio stations began broadcasting experimental television programs, which could be viewed by mechanical “televisor” receivers like this one. The video signal from the receiver (left) is applied to a neon lamp in the viewer (right). In front of the lamp a metal disk with holes rotates, creating the scan lines of the image. This created a dim monochrome orange image 1.5 inches (4 cm) square with 48 scan lines at 7.5 frames per second, visible within the viewing cone, which the woman is watching.) Photo: Science and Invention magazine, November 1928, Volume 16, Number 7, cover, published by Experimenter Publishing

Note: Mechanical television or mechanical scan television is a television system that relies on a mechanical scanning device, such as a rotating disk with holes in it or a rotating mirror drum, to scan the scene and generate the video signal, and a similar mechanical device at the receiver to display the picture. This contrasts with vacuum tube electronic television technology, using electron beam scanning methods, for example in cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions. Subsequently, modern solid-state liquid-crystal displays (LCD) are now used to create and display television pictures.

John Logie Baird – inventor, electrical engineer, innovator, Getty Images

Cover photoAlexandra Pallace website