Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

John Logie Baird on the Strathwonderwall

Glasgow is building up a large collection of murals with official ‘blessing’ (as opposed to the illegal graffiti and vandalism which mars many locations), now even with booklets showing ‘mural trails’ to help visitors find them.

The Strathwonderwall is one collection which can be found easily on the city’s George Street, on Strathclyde University’s Graham Hills Building, formerly owned and created by BT under its various names in earlier incarnations.

Strathwonderwall doesn’t seem to have a dedicated web site (although it has spawned the #strathwonderwall hashtag), but can be found described on various art web sites simply by searching online for the name.

But my particular mention here is for the memorial to John Logie Baird, shown beside his 600-ine colour television (which I think dates from around 1940), and is a reminder that he innovated many features, not just the early mechanical televisions normally mentioned, forgetting his other work.

Baird strathwonderwall mural

Baird strathwonderwall mural

The mural is not a random creation, but is based on a photograph of Baird with his electronic television:

The Strathwonderwall runs the length of Graham Hills Building.

Worth the effort of visiting if you are nearby, and you’ll find some more pretty impressive murals adjacent too.

Strathwonderwall

Strathwonderwall

March 4, 2017 Posted by | Civilian, photography | , , , | Leave a comment

Parliamentary motion to commemorate the 125th anniversary of John Logie Baird’s birth

Jackie Baillie MSP has proposed a motion in the Scottish Parliament to recognise John Logie Baird’s contribution to the television industry.

The motion read:

That the Parliament commemorates the 125th birthday of John Logie Baird; notes that the television inventor was born in Helensburgh on 14 August 1888 and considers that his legacy is truly global; acknowledges that the Helensburgh Heroes Project has purchased John Logie Baird artefacts to add to its Heroes Centre collection and has the backing and support of John Logie Baird’s family to promote his achievements in the town; recognises John Logie Baird’s contribution to the television industry, and remembers his lasting achievement.

The motion was supported by a cross-party group of MSPs — Jim Hume, Dennis Robertson, Nigel Don, Clare Adamson, Jayne Baxter, Angus MacDonald, Jackson Carlaw, Adam Ingram, Colin Beattie, Annabelle Ewing, Neil Findlay, Kenneth Gibson, Anne McTaggart, Richard Lyle, Mike MacKenzie, Stuart McMillan, Kevin Stewart, Sandra White, David Torrance.

Motions, Questions and Answers Search – Parliamentary Business :  Scottish Parliament – Motion S4M-07617: Jackie Baillie, Dumbarton, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 06/09/2013.

Via Holyrood recognition for Helensburgh’s John Logie Baird | This Week | News | Helensburgh Advertiser

Also noted on Parliament recognises Baird

Which mentions that the inventor’s son, Professor Malcolm Baird, is honorary president and active member of the Helensburgh Heritage Trust, and that the Trust has a permanent exhibit of Baird equipment and memorabilia in the Heritage Centre at Helensburgh Library.

20true,%20″”,%20″”,%20false,%20true))”>Motion S4M-07617: Jackie Baillie, Dumbarton, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 06/09/2013

September 21, 2013 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , | Leave a comment

Just how long will black and white televisions live for?

Old television

I came across some links I copied but forgot to read, and they reveal some interesting points regarding black and white televisions.

Back in January, figures issued by the TV Licensing Authority indicated that as of January 2013, the number of monochrome licences issued each year has fallen from 212,000 in 2000 to 93,00 in 2003, and is now down to 13,202.

Of those, TV Licensing Scotland said that Glasgow topped the black and white list with 256, Edinburgh 97, Dundee 30 and Aberdeen 19.

That put Glasgow in fourth position in the UK, following Manchester with 413,  with 574 and London leading with 2,715.

At the time of writing, a black and white licence costs £49, frozen until the BBC Charter Review in 2016, with a colour licence costing £145.50.

TV Licensing Scotland has indicated it does not believe that the continued existence of black and white licences is because people are inadvertently or deliberately purchasing cheaper licences for colour sets, rather that those who continue with them find it adequate for their needs, and consider that there is no need to replace something that is working fine for them.

Via Black and white TVs: No switch off as 800 Scottish homes continue use

I had a quick look to try to find out if anyone is still manufacturing black and white televisions of any sort, but the information is hard to find and far from definitive as the components were discontinued years ago, and I found various hints that some small black and white sets were still being made for small markets – but it would take far too long to research this definitively. But, it’s probably safe to say that with both the specialised components (such as the CRT and deflection assemblies they require) and the broadcast system they were built for now being obsolete, they are a thing of the past, and will only be seen working in museums and specialist collections where the signals needed to drive them can be created.

For what it’s worth, all my black and white sets went long ago, but colour television did not replace them until the colour was decent, as many of the attempts at colour were so bad until the late 1980’s (I’m guessing) that black and white was generally preferable. While I have no working black and white televisions, I still have a sizeable collection of monochrome monitors that arrived with early computers in mind, and both amateur and closed-circuit television experiments.

Danger

While I was always happy to dive into the guts of anything electronic, the one thing I never touched was black and white television. In order to keep them cheap, they were generally manufactured with no isolating transformers, and used mains electricity directly to create the high voltages needed within, which meant that the chassis was generally live.

My memory of just about every TV repair engineer (and self-proclaimed “expert”) was of them all hopping around the room after being zapped when they got careless and brushed the chassis with a finger, hand, or arm. How we never ended up with a corpse on the floor during one of these visits remains a mystery to me. But their suffering meant I never tried that game.

Philips projection television

Philips projection television c. 1960

We had one set that any mistakes would have been lethal with, as seen to the right.

This used a special CRT that projected the picture onto the screen, and the voltages must have been huge in order to get enough light to create the image.

While this classic of the 405-line television era is long gone, and failed to survive through the 1970s when its insides began to fail, some bits survived.

While it would have been nice to keep it, it began to become very dangerous, as the old-fashioned components it used were just not able to take the stress and strain of the extreme voltage which must have existed within the circuits. Towards the end of its life, it would work for a while, then stop, as the sound of various components within the projector unit suggested they were breaking down, as they boiled, bubbled, arced, sparked, and melted.

While it never ever smoked or burst into flames, whenever it was on, everyone knew, as the entire house soon filled with the smell of hot electronics.

One of the survivors was the electron gun deflection assembly, shown below, which was really just a big valve.

Starting with the base on the right of the pic, the part in the centre of the view is the heater and electron gun that produced the electron beam, which then passed through two pairs of electrostatic deflection plates, one horizontal and  one vertical, which scanned the beam across the phosphor on the face of the tube (which would have been to the left, but is long gone). You can see the two of the plates to the extreme left of the pic. The other pair is just to right, but at 90°.

Projection television

Projection television electron gun assembly

Radar

While this was a domestic Philips television product, I have since learned that the same CRT was used by EKCO as part of a radar system, and provided it with a giant display for the operator to view the area which was being covered by the radar.

While an ordinary radar had a tube that was about a foot (20 cm) across its diameter, the EKCO (helicopter, I think) radar had a display that was more like 3 feet across.

Sadly, I am having to go by memory on this, as I have checked the links I had while sharing information with the EKCO history web site, and found that they are all now dead.

I don’t know if the site has gone completely or just moved, but a quick search for items I know were on it failed to come up with the pages I used to refer to.

This is something of a major loss, since the site was deeply researched and held much EKCO archive material.

If anyone reading happens to know of the EKCO site’s fate, a note in the comments below would be apreciated.

June 5, 2013 Posted by | Civilian | , , | Leave a comment

Babylon 5 plus 20

I hadn’t really thought about it, but it’s now 20 years to the day since Babylon 5 began to break the mould of the conventional television series in general, and science fiction in particular.

February 22, 2013, marks the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Babylon 5: The Gathering, the pilot film for what would eventually become the Babylon 5 television series.

Creator J Michael Straczynski’s vision of a 5-year story arc following the lines of a proper novel was almost unheard of, and probably everything else we were watching at the time (and since) tended to appear, last for a few seasons (or years), then disappear into nothingness, having had no real beginning, very little middle, and no end, as most series just evaporate when the sponsors pull the money plug.

And that last hurdle was one of the biggest that B5 needed to overcome, as far as I recall.

The Internet connection

One of the novel (new) things that helped make B5 unique was the arrival of the Internet (30 years ago), which was followed by easy web browsing (for ‘normal’ people). That long ago, such things were only becoming commonplace, unlike today, where folk don’t gripe about the ability to get online (or generally have to survive on 56 K dial-up), but prefer to moan about how slow their broadband connection is.

Thanks to the Internet, we were able to follow not only the development of the series, as fans prepared detailed breakdowns of each episode shortly after it aired – and you needed this, as JMS planted many seeds that only came to bloom in later episodes – but also JMS’ ongoing woes with the studios, as the series stumbled from year to year as sponsors fell by the wayside, and were driven by the ratings rather than the fans. It seems that the first dip in numbers is enough for the sponsors to go running to the well for something ‘new’ to crowbar their ads into, rather than to nurture an existing stream. I don’t know how close the reality of cancellation was during the arc, but reading about it as it was discussed only added to the drama.

Such was the novel use of the Internet to develop B5, it has even been detailed on its own Wikipedia page:

Babylon 5’s use of the Internet

Found, not chased

I seem to recall the initial publicity for B5 was pretty poor here in the UK, and I didn’t rush home to turn on the TV and watch when it started.

In fact, the first series was probably well underway when I happened to find my first episode purely by chance. Spotted while channel hopping, it caught my eye, and was almost immediately hooked. I say ‘almost’ as a compliment, as you had to pay attention, and learn the various themes and cultures presented in each episode in order to fully follow and understand the 5-year arc. Star Trek etc, this was not:

“For the fans: no cute robots, no kids.” (JMSNews 12/4/1991)

You can read JMS’ words from the past in his archive:

JMSNews

I could probably waffle on for ages about B5, and have already wasted an inordinate and disproportionate amount of time looking at related material instead of writing, so I should quickly point at the following article, where a pretty good summary has been given:

The Strange, Secret Evolution of Babylon 5

And this is one of those rare occasions where I recommend carrying on and reading into the comments, where (apart from the inevitable rubbish which some seem determined to post), one can find later information on the series and event surrounding it.

I can’t find the reference again (so it may be wrong), but it seems we won’t even see a high quality release of the series, since the original material was destroyed.

Some suggest this doesn’t matter, since the CGI was so poor, but I disagree. The CGI was fine, and we have too many series – especially science fiction – where the creators have clearly lost the plot, and write stuff that shows of how ‘clever’ they are at CGI. Unfortunately… all it really shows is how poor they are at story writing.

I have to say I find it hard to go along with the suggestions that B5 and DS9 (Deep Space 9) were similar at the time, in the sense of being in conflict. The similarity of the story lines just isn’t there (for me – maybe corporate lawyers see it differently, and were rubbing their hand at the thought of long drawn out court cases), although the idea of a space station next to a worm hole or similar and an enemy on the other side is similar, it’s also very broad and general. And the Star Trek ‘manual’ suggests DS9 wouldn’t develop the same way B5 did – the chances of a Trek series with a beginning, middle, and end… just not likely.

If you are new to Babylon 5, then you should head over to The Lurker’s Guide to Babylon 5, still online since it was created by fans to accompany the series, and still the standard reference.

I’ll leave the last word to Vorlon ambassador Kosh – I liked the Vorlons, and they travelled in living ships, paired for life to their pilots.

It may not be the most significant quote from the series (or maybe it was, given its underlying meaning), but its simplicity made it the most memorable for me:

February 22, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Renewed plea for help to find lost TV shows

I see that another appeal has been launched in an attempt to find some of the lost TV shows from the early days of the medium.

The appeal will be launched on Saturday June 4, 20110, at a Kaleidoscope event in Stourbridge, West Midlands, and is being backed by the BBC Sound Archive and the British Library Sound Archive.

Many shows turned up from domestic sources the last time this was done.

In the early days of television, video recording was so new, and the tape so expensive, virtually nothing was archived at the BBC, and to save costs, video tape was erased and re-used. At the time, no real value was placed on the material it contained

A group devoted to the appreciation of vintage television is calling on TV watchers to search their attics for recordings of programmes feared lost.

Episodes of Doctor Who, Dad’s Army and The Likely Lads are among those of which no known copies exist.

“Many people recorded shows off the TV and radio as far back as the 1950s,” said Chris Kerry of Kaleidoscope, organisers of the Lost Shows appeal. The purpose of the appeal is to uncover those domestic recordings.”

Four missing episodes of 1950s sci-fi drama The Quatermass Experiment are among the most sought-after shows.

Four Dennis Potter dramas from the ’60s are also missing believed to be wiped by broadcaster, as is most of the first series of The Avengers.

BBC News – Plea put out for ‘lost’ TV shows

Lost UK TV Shows Search Engine

June 4, 2011 Posted by | Appeal | , | Leave a comment

Analogue TV signals end in mid-2011

Funny televisionThe switchover process to digital television is due to end on June 22, 2011, if the current plans carry on according to schedule. The BBC tells us:

The former Border TV area has already switched from analogue to digital while the former Grampian TV region will make the change between May and October.

It has now been announced that most of Ayrshire, Arran, southern Argyll and the Rosneath area of Dunbartonshire will switch off on 11 May next year.

Some of Fife and Lothian will switch on 1 June and the rest of the central belt will follow a week later.

About nine out of 10 Scots already have digital television on their main sets. But many portables and video recorders still use the analogue signals.

The full details were published on March 31, 2010, and can be read in the associated press release, Countdown Begins to a Digital Scotland

This will mark the end of analogue television transmissions, when the last of the old transmitters is finally switched off. If I’ve been reading the earlier literature correctly – and that was a few years ago, so it also depends on my memory (not the best thing to depend on) – it will also allow the digital system to function properly. While the analogue system was still live, the digital transmitters (in some locations) were running at reduced power, and there may have been other restrictions, which will no longer apply once the analogue system is finally purged.

So far, I’ve seen various gripes published by those unhappy with digital, which on the one hand is fair enough, but on the other is just a redistribution of transmission and reception problems, which we’ve always had, and always will. While it’s true that some will now have problems where they did not before, others who used to have problems no longer have them. It’s called life, and it’s not always fair, but it can be counted on to change, whether we like it or not.

The only real downside I have seen reported is that of areas served by a relay, rather than a direct transmission. In this case, issues with the relay equipment and original signal mean that only Freeview services of the BBC, STV, Channel Four, Five, and a few of the commercial channels can be relayed. I haven’t seen any indication that any changes to the relay stations are planned in order to improve this.

Even though I live in Glasgow, and can almost see the relevant transmitter masts, I could never rely on Channel 5 – I had it, but it could be decidedly rough. Sine the first day of digital all those years ago, all my reception became clear as a bell, and didn’t even need the outside aerial and amplifier I had to install for analogue, and even that was grainy, with rubbish frequently delivered by teletext.

Crooks

The real losers in the changeover have been the vulnerable folk targeted by crooks and conmen, whose activities have seen them lose hundreds of pounds in the purchase of unnecessary equipment, and paying for work they did not need to have done. The changeover process has also suffered by association, even though it is not connected in any way, and by the promotion and belief in a number of ‘urban myths’ promoted by the crooks in order to further their activities, and frighten people into parting with their cash.

There’s no telling how many have been preyed on by door-knockers selling them things like ‘digital’ aerials at vastly inflated prices, on the premise that they will not be able to receive any TV pictures with their current analogue aerials once the signal is turned off. Be clear that there is usually no need for a new aerial, or that there is any such thing as a ‘digital’ aerial. There may be case for replacing the existing aerial, if reception is poor, or the old one is past its ‘sell by’ date. However, all that needs is a new aerial, not a ‘digital’ aerial.

Then there are the ones who will talk your hind legs off and try to convince you that your current television set can’t be adapted, and you’d better buy a nice digital flat-screen model now, before the rush starts and supplies run low. Any reasonably new television will have SCART or other video connectors that make the process of connecting a Freeview box a few minutes’ work, and even earlier sets can still be used by the addition of a modulator. This only costs a few pounds, more if you need the services of a real engineer to install it along with the Freeview box, but if your TV is that old, you’d be better off donating to a communications museum, or selling it to a collector. However, the important thing is that even that step shouldn’t cost the hundred of pounds that the crooks take.

Probably the most disappointing aspect that made the news during the changeover was the reports of staff at the large electrical outlets handing out misinformation, apparently in a drive to sell new television sets, and drive up sales. Although possibly not quite in the ‘crook’ category, it was still misinformation, led to confusion among the public, and sold sets to vulnerable people who lacked the technical knowledge to challenge the sales staff concerned. The only positive aspect it that despite the purchase being unnecessary in reality, they buyers were not being charged inflated prices for sets that had probably fallen of the back of at least one lorry.

Non-event

The whole thing should have been a non-event, but thanks to the efforts of the lowest common denominator that seem to control our lives (the crooks), it has become an issue, and it’s unfortunate to reflect that even the well-meaning and caring folk that sought to help those who might have difficulty have ended up causing problems. I’m not knocking them by any means, but when you have so many vociferous people and organisations making themselves heard regarding a relatively small problem, the effect is to become a mob with a cause, and many folk that wouldn’t have a problem suddenly believe they have, simply because the publicity which is needed to let folk know there is help, also acts like a giant ‘Chinese whisper’, and raises a non-event into an event.

In a few years, once the digital system has had as much time spent on it as the analogue system had (more than 60 years in its postwar form), like our old friend from ‘the year 2000’ – The Millennium Bug – most will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.

And we can turn our attention to the modern-day farce that is Digital Radio in the UK.

Now that will be fun.

April 9, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

BBC Scotland plans new children’s science-fiction game show

RobotA number of reports have appeared during the past week or so, telling of a new children’s game show based on a future robotic war, and entitled Mission 2110.

Note: (This series first aired on CBBC, beginning Monday, May 3, 2010.)

Location manager Stephen Burt has been reported as saying, “This is potentially an award-winning show. It is set in 2110 in a world where robots have taken over. The children who take part will be time travellers from 2010 and will battle the robots.” The game has been described as a cross between Crystal Maze and Doctor Who. There are to be 20 mission for the participants during the contest, with only one winner to be left at the conclusion.

The setting for the show will be two of the six Maersk container ships currently stored in cold lay-up in Loch Striven, and presently rendered surplus to requirements thanks to the worldwide downturn in trade caused by the recession. The loch has seen similar service over the past decades, as worldwide influences have rendered various cargo ships and tankers redundant, sometimes even before they have been completed, such is the time taken to build them in relation to market swings.

The action will take place within the massive holds of the ships, which are currently empty, and through the engine rooms, which are presently silent, as most of the engines have been laid-up to preserve them, awaiting re-activation when the vessels return to service.

Participants will live on board the ships for the three-week duration, and Maersk Beaumont and Bentonville (see below) appear to be the chosen venues for the activities, which will see three robots, created by a London-based special effects team which has worked on Doctor Who, and the sets arriving during December.

They will not be on holiday for the duration, and will be expected to take part in the competition, and take their schoolwork with them, and complete 15 hours of tuition per week.

Filming is scheduled to take place between January and March of 2010, and the show will appear on CBBC beginning on April 21, 2010.

The raft containing the six Maersk ships is shown below, with the two chosen ships being the second from the left (Bentonville), and second from the right (Beaumont).

Loch Striven Maersk raft 6

The six Maersk ship raft on Loch Striven, left to right, Maersk Brooklyn, Bentonville, Baltimore, Sealand Performance, Beaumont, and Boston

You can find further pictures of the vessels here: Maersk at Loch Striven Photo Gallery by Zak at pbase.com

Update

The BBC Press Office issued a Press Release regarding the new series and its production, on January 27, 2010:

Production starts on ambitious new CBBC game show Mission:2110

Date: 27.01.2010>
Category: Scotland; Children’s

BBC Scotland is currently in Argyll filming Mission:2110, an ambitious and bold new 13-episode sci-fi game show for CBBC from the team behind Raven.

Set in a post-apocalyptic landscape, in each episode a team of four contestants span time and space to travel to the futuristic setting of our planet, long after mankind has disappeared, to try to restore peace and stability.

The young recruits, guided by their mentor Caleb, have to battle, in a series of missions, against the Roboidz – intelligent towering cybernetic entities who now rule Earth – snatching Bio-Rods, the enemy’s vital fuel source, in order to shut down their empire.

The sheer size and scale of the mighty Roboidz was such that the production team needed to find an alternative location to the traditional studio format to create Future Gate, the Roboidz base.

After scouting numerous locations the production crew discovered that the empty container ships based on Loch Striven on the Clyde would provide them with the the industrial background needed to create a suitable backdrop.

Production has already started on the ship and filming is set to continue until early March, after which state-of-the-art compositing and computer-generated work will bring the futuristic world alive.

The series is set for transmission in the spring.

Prosthetic and costume specialists Millenium FX (Doctor Who, The Day Of The Triffids) are creating the Roboidz and Shades (humanoid slaves to the robots) and writer Phil Ford (Doctor Who, Sarah Jane Adventures) has created the back-story.

Lindsay Duncan (Doctor Who, Rome) will voice Neuros and Cybele, the good and evil alter egos of the Roboidz creator Laura Gant. The series also stars CBBC’s newest recruit Stuart Goldsmith, who plays the show’s hero Caleb.

Executive producer Sue Morgan says: “Mission:2110 is an exciting ambitious and challenging new fast-paced game show where the contestants will need to use all their cunning and guile to avoid elimination.”

Mission: 2110 is a BBC Scotland production for CBBC, series produced by Nick Hopkin (OOglies, Hedz), directed by James Morgan (Trapped, Den Of Doom) and executive produced by Sue Morgan (Raven, Ed & Oucho’s Excellent Adventures).

VT

Locals will be able to see the ALI CAT travelling to and from the raft, as the passenger ferry has been chartered to run twice a week – on Monday and Friday – to Loch Striven with production crews and children taking part in the programme.

December 13, 2009 Posted by | Maritime | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Black and white TV not so popular up here

Philips projection television

Philips projection television c. 1960

I used to be fairly obsessed with television, but that interest seems to rest in its history, the various technologies it has been developed with, and the programmes that appeared on it as it was evolving. At one stage (pre-internet), we even had our own amateur transmission and reception services. It’s amazing to look at the difference the internet has made to shifting TV images, as it cost a small fortune then, and needed high aerials even to cover a few miles. Now you can go worldwide for little more than a few pounds.

In more recent times, as it matured and multiplied in both type and content – not to mention its spin-off as satellite and cable – its attraction waned, as the channel filled with popular tat, and the original content was swamped in favour of any old rubbish that would attract the brain-dead to ogle the screen and have their remaining brain cells washed out by adverts which arguably began to get better then the content around them.

However, that’s another issue that could be debated for ages, or at least three minutes… if my attention span lasted any longer than that nowadays.

What was interesting was a recent look at the TV Licensing figures (released to mark the 40th anniversary of the first colour transmissions on BBC1 and ITV), and the numbers for black and white television licences: 28,000 in the UK with 1,950 in Scotland. That’s just under 7% of the total. Looking at the current population numbers, Scotland has just over 8% of the UK’s population.

While I don’t generally approve of figures analysed in isolation, something that includes the whole population might be less skewed than sampled results. So, simplistic thoughts could be that Scots are not a stingy as they are made out to be, and don’t think it’s worthwhile going for either an old black and white television, or telling porkies, and buying a black and white licence even though they have a colour set. Or maybe they are harder on their tellies than folk south of the border, and need to to replace them sooner. I’m sure a little more imagination would produce some even more fascinating theories for the differences – and it should be remembered that tying these figures together could be faulted for tending to assume one licence per person, as opposed to one license per address.

The first colour TV broadcasts began in this country in 1967 on BBC2 and on November 15, 1969, on BBC1 and ITV. The first colour pictures were seen on BBC1 in Scotland in December 1969.

I’ve no idea when our house went colour, but it certainly wasn’t in the early days. I do know we went through  series of small black and white sets, getting bigger until the beast shown above made an appearance at one point, and then had another that was dual standard, operating on both 405 and 625 line systems, but still black and white. Even in my pram, I reckon I thought the quality of the colour on those early television left a lot to the imagination, and were very artificial – probably too highly saturated just to emphasize the effect rather than the reality. Even today, I’m fairly unimpressed by many flat-screen TVs. While there are some gems in terms of colour fidelity, others look as if they have come straight out of a colour-blind artist’s palette. But when they’re good, they can be very good, and when combined with a good high-definition picture, the effect is almost worth the cost.

November 18, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Vintage tech auction may fetch up to £1 million

Philips projection television c. 1960

Philips projection television c. 1960

I’m looking at my own small collection of what now appears to be classed as vintage technology with renewed interest this morning, after reading of an auction to be held in Edinburgh by Bonhams next week.

A collection of some 758 items representing technology covering several hundred years of development, currently the property of Michael Bennett-Levy, from Edinburgh, and amassed over a period of  30 years is expected to sell for up to £1 million.

Included are 26 pre-war television sets, of which the auctioneers say only about 500 examples have survived. Although I could have had no say in the matter at the time, it makes me wonder what our postwar projection television (pictured) which originated in the 1950s would be worth – dismantled for parts when it expired.

Included in the auction will be LED calculators from 1971, estimated at £200 to £300. Some of these I do have, complete with advertising literature from the day, and recall that even the cheapest –  only 4-function devices (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division,with a constant key if you were lucky) – were priced at £79.95.

The collection also includes scientific instruments from the 1800s, early computers, and even the producer’s working papers for the opening of the BBC television service on November 2, 1936.

I think it may be time to move my collection of early PCs and original software into a safer storage area, and dig them out again after another 20 years has passed. At the moment, about 25 of them are serving as supports for shelves to store the rest on!

Even being careful with the old collection can be thwarted by disasters that happen nearby though, as I learned when a small shelf unit decided to fail and collapse. Although there was little weight involved, the resulting fallout still managed to throw small items a fair distance, and one early Galileo thermometer suffered a cracked base, leading to the loss of the liquid contents some days later as the crack spread and opened, and I’m currently having carry out a very tricky resetting operation on an aneroid barometer. This is not the typical wood and glass item seen adorning walls, but a proper scientific measuring device capable of reading atmospheric pressure to parts of a millibar. Despite being both robust and transportable, and in a heavy metal case for transport, whatever struck the casing did so in such a way as to cause the internal gearing to jump out of synchronisation, which will require complete disassembly to restore – an operation not made any easier by the need to fabricate suitable tools to match the special screws used to assemble the device.

The exercise will ultimately be worth the effort though, as the same barometer is still available from its original Swiss manufacturer today, to the same design, for a mere £5,000 list price!

September 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Clueless ITV

A few weeks ago, a chance remark in our Forum alerted me to stories in the media of rumours that Taggart was to be dropped.

In the midst of claims, counter-claims, and denials in the press, I’m not even going to try and confirm or deny this story, but it would be a pretty desperate and misguided management team that “threw the baby out with the bathwater” while cleaning, and dump a series that remains highly popular after more than 25 years. For those unaware of the detail, although Taggart is STV’s best known programme, it is neither commissioned nor paid for by STV, but by the ITV network. In July 2009, rumours persisted of Taggart’s demise, and various claims and stories appeared in the media. All rumours regarding the demise of Taggart are denied by ITV.

However, the point of this entry not the ditching or otherwise of Taggart, serious as that may be, but the repeated assertion in the news at the moment that ITV is in difficulties, with falling revenues from advertising, and presumably viewer numbers.

Perhaps if ITV had sent someone to  the Edinburgh International TV Festival which has just taken place, then they might have heard the talk given by David Simon: BBC NEWS | Scotland | Wire writer says adverts kill TV

The creator of highly-acclaimed hard-hitting TV drama The Wire has said television can only be worthwhile when freed from the constraints of advertising.

David Simon was appearing at the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

He said: “Television as a medium, in terms of being literate and telling stories, has short-changed itself since its inception.

“That is because of advertising.”

Simon, whose work originates on US subscription cable channel HBO, said: “Only when television managed to liberate itself from the economic construct of advertising was there a real emancipation of story.

“American television up until the point of premium cable was about the interruptions every 13 minutes to sell you cars and jeans and whatever else.”

Sell products

He said the adverts became more important than the show.

“You had to bring the most number of eyeballs to that show and that meant dumbing down and making plots simple, gratifying people within the hour.”

He said they achieved this through the use of sex and “more stuff that blows up”.

Simon said HBO gave him 58 minutes where he was not interrupted by the need to sell products.

That meant he could concentrate on developing the story…

I wonder if anyone from ITV actually watches any of their output nowadays? I honestly doubt it. If they did, it surely wouldn’t be the hash it has become in recent years.

The aforementioned Taggart provides a clue. Often repeated on ITV4, it would seem they only have the right to recyle a few episodes now, or no-one can be bothered to walk to the archives and dig out another batch of episodes, so their output is a repeat of a repeat of a…

While the ad-breaks in the short episodes are semi-bearable, and can provide a handy intermission for a tea, coffee, or comfort break, their interruption of the longer special episodes is little short of criminal. And speaking of length, many of the ad-breaks are so long I can boil a kettle and make a mug of tea, together with a slice of buttered toast, and return before the programme has restarted. I can even go and do a timed 3-minute session on my exercise machine, and find the adverts are still running when I return!

First, we are subject to the incessant and mind-numbing repeats of the current sponsors tags at the beginning and end of the episode itself, and then at the beginning and end of every ad-break. The same stupid animation and voice repeated time after time certainly does nothing to convince me to do business with the sponsor. I not only use these things to make a boycott list, but cancelled every policy I once had with Standard Life because the constant repetition of their tags just became an irritation I wasn’t going to be forced to fund.

Second is the near hysterical increase in the rate of repeat of these things as the longer episodes draw to a climax, with the interval between interruptions falling to ten minutes, or less, as the climax approaches.

Third, and stupidest of all (assuming their aim is to win customers, rather than alienate them), is the last ad-break. To this viewer at least, these appear to be timed to take place just before the conclusion and summing up of the episode plot is carried out by the lead character, which can often take only a few minutes to complete, but those few minutes are preceded by that intrusive pair of sponsor tags around the ad-break, and followed only minutes later by the rolling of the  programme credits and , yes, you guessed, yet another running of that damned sponsor tag at the end of the credits.

And they wonder where their audience share – the people that are forced to fund the adverts – is going?

Or why it is heading for alternative sources for the same programme material, where it can be had without being spoilt by incessant, intrusive ad-breaks?

There is a fourth sin they commit, particularly on ITV4, and which they just repeated today, providing a convenient reminder and example.

Although they start out by showing many past series from the 1960s onwards, which is fine and welcome, they then waste the experience by repeating them too soon, and then breaking up the episode order. I enjoyed seeing series such as Lovejoy first time they were shown, then they re-appeared, then they re-appeared again,  and then they appeared to be shown at random. Although I wasn’t watching these later repeats, I could see they were no longer being shown in any sort of regular slot, so if I had been trying to watch the series, I couldn’t.

The current example is The Prisoner. This just completed a complete re-run a few weeks ago, which was fine, and enjoyable as they chose to show one episode per week, followed (one of) the)episode sequences. This made it much like watching the series as it was intended to be, in weekly episodes, rather than ITV’s more usual format of daily episodes.

However, almost immediately on completing this weekly showing, ITV4 then started sort of daily episodes. This appeared to comprise of two episodes repeated during the week, but on different days. It then seemed to change to three episodes per week, then went back to two, or maybe not, perhaps it was more, or less. It was impossible to tell without consulting a schedule days ahead of the broadcast.

This week, I expected to see an episode appear today (Tuesday), but a check showed nothing. There’s nothing scheduled tomorrow either, nor is there anything shown up to next Tuesday – I couldn’t be bothered looking further. Anyone who may have decided to actually watch the series to completion has just been unceremoniously shown two fingers – and dumped, with no idea when, or even if they will see the rest. Maybe ITV4 will just spontaneously restart the repeats from episode 1, or just pick up from where it left of, or maybe it will never be seen again. Whatever, it’s no way to treat an audience, and no way to keep it happy, and coming back for more of the same abuse.

This example provides another indication that ITV is clueless, and not looking at it’s own output, or even bothering about it’s audience. Had I been watching this run of The Prisoner – and the actual series concerned is irrelevant, it’s how they treat their viewers that matters – then I’d now be left hanging in mid-series, unaware of whether I will see the latter episodes or not. And there’s no point in suggesting I go look at the schedule – I shouldn’t have to. I should be able to trust ITV to at least finish broadcasting a series they began, not throw the episodes all over the schedule on different days and at different time, and be able to watch without having to employ the services of a fortune teller.

ITV’s revenues might pick up when they stop treating their audience not like idiots, but as customers, and as valued and important as those clients they are chasing to hand them money for advertising space.

No viewers = no revenue.

No revenue = no new programmes and no jobs.

September 1, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , | 2 Comments

British television production ends

The rise and rise of the various forms of thin, flat screen television (not to mention the cheap labour to our east) has finally put an end to large scale television production in the UK, and todays’ closure of Toshiba’s Ernesettle plant in Plymouth (Friday, August 28, 2009) follows production of its last television set the day before. Production will move to Poland as the company tries to keep pace in a market which the company has described as “fiercely competitive”, and seen the loss of 270 jobs.

The occasion is particularly significant, as the first practical television, and television service, was based on technology created by John Logie Baird, a Scottish inventor from Helensburgh. His Televisor was demonstrated in 1925, and manufacture of his Model B began in 1926, by what was then the only television manufacturer in the world in – the Baird Corporation. A remarkable achievement, as the BBC would only start television broadcasts in 1929, so those who bought the sets had to be rich enthusiasts.

Baird’s system was mechanical, with all the problems inherent in providing television using such a system, but it did work, and was the first into service – but it was ultimately doomed as it became increasingly complex, and could not practically compete with later, fully electronic systems, which would ultimately displace it from 1934 onward.

Of course, both America and the Russia like to lay claim to being the inventors of television, and in truth, there were many others involved, such as Paul Nipkow, whose spinning disk system was at the heart of the Baird system, many years before Baird (the scanning disk was described about 1884, but probably never built, and predated the light sensors needed to be workable), but Baird was the one that took television to market first, as a practical, working system, and earned the accolade.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The whole CRT (cathode ray tube) sector has collapsed over the years. Mullard (Philips) once had a successful television factory in Durham, which I had the opportunity to visit on a number of occasions, but which was forced to close around 2005, after producing some 65 million CRTs over 34 years. Around 1990, it was given the job of producing a 21-inch CRT for £50, a task it not only achieved, but was to improve on over the years, and eventually bring its production cost down to less than half of the original figure. Visiting the factory in those days, as it was as busy as it could be, it would have been hard to believe any predictions that it was to disappear in the next few years.

Closer to home, Motherwell saw the arrival of Taiwanese manufacturer Chunghwa, with the opening of a CRT factory in 1995, but in the years it took to commission, the market changed, and market price of their product halved. Production changed from 14-inch computer monitor CRTs to 14-inch colour television CRTS, but by 2002 the factory had been closed.

Once the largest CRT manufacturer in Europe, it seems this country now has no such manufacturing facilities remaining.

August 27, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

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