“…many people have foolish ideas concerning the limitations of a wireless set and are fearful that the coming of television will mean that they themselves will be seen in the privacy of their baths by unprincipled Peeping Toms.” Wireless World March 1935
On 22nd of August 1932, the BBC broadcast its first experimental programme using the system developed by Scot John Logie Baird.
Seeing By Wireless: Orkney’s First Televisions
On the 30th of September 1929 John Logie Baird began regular experimental 30 line television broadcasts with The Baird Televisor. The transmissions in London took place on week days between 11pm and 1145pm by the BBC. It was never envisaged that they would be seen in Orkney. John Logie Baird and the Televisor: #OnThisDay
Orcadians Jack and Jimmy Twatt were fascinated with wireless. As boys, in 1923, they were invited to a neighbour’s house to listen to a wireless set. Jimmy who was 8 at the time recalls:
“Of course, we had to listen using headphones. At that time loudspeakers were rare and needed powerful sets to drive them. Putting on the headphones I felt transported. I felt I was in the distant studio and experienced a feeling of privilege. “
The set was quite small with only one valve which stood out on top but it lit up more than the room that day for it sparked a lifelong interest in wireless and inventing.
By 1931 Jack and Jimmy were very skilled at building their own wireless sets and read all the technical magazines of the day that they could buy from the local newsagent. They had read about John Logie Baird’s experiments in television and the development of his 30 line vertical system. They set about building their own.
Kim Foden, Jack’s daughter, and a custodian of The Orkney Wireless Museum, has made a working replica of that first Orkney television following the original diagrams written by Jimmy .
Jack and Jimmy built their televisor from bits and pieces, including: a disc from light cardboard punctured with 30 precisely evenly spaced square holes, a bicycle lamp, a DC motor and a neon lamp. The whole lot was mounted on a board cut out of the back of the family book case.
It was crucial that the holes were extremely accurately spaced for it was the spinning disc passing before the bulb that would produce the 30 vertical lines.
“The 30 holes in the disc were located on a spiral near the edge of the disc. Each hole should be 0.02inches in diameter (better 0.02 inches square!!) and desirably should be positioned to an accuracy of better than 0.005 inches in each direction to preserve definition. “
Making the disc recalls Jimmy, took more time than anything else in the construction.
The lens was from the bicycle lamp and required the viewer to look through it at a distance of 9 to 10 inches. The neon lamp was positioned 3 inches from the disc and about 7 inches from the lens. This meant that the picture would be illuminated and bright. The DC motor used was already rather old. It was made by Siemens Schuckert of Germany and may have been ‘liberated’ from the scuttled German Fleet in Scapa Flow.
Between 11 and 1145 pm on weekday nights the Twatt family home in Kirkwall would be visited by queues of neighbours to view the pictures being transmitted all the way from the BBC in London via wireless.
If they wanted to hear what was being transmitted a neighbour would bring their wireless to allow the broadcasts to be seen and heard. The broadcasts were often of women singing or poetry reading.
The last 30 line transmissions were in 1935 to be replaced with a high definition 405-line system using a cathode ray tube to display the picture instead of the spinning disc.
In May 1956 The Orkney Herald reported:
“With an estimated population of 20,400 persons and a total of 5,394 wireless receivers, Orkney has rather more than one wireless for every four inhabitants.”
Orkney was outside the range of the nearest television transmitter at Meldrum, Aberdeenshire but Jack built a huge wooden mast topped with an aerial. When conditions were right a snowy double picture could be seen.
In 1956 74 households in Orkney had t.v. licences – two years before television officially arrived in the islands with the opening of the Netherbutton transmitting station in Holm.
Many thanks to Kim Foden for her help in producing this article. A replica of Jack and Jimmy’s televisor can be seen at The Orkney Wireless Museum,Kirkwall, open throughout the summer months.
This article was first published in the iScot Magazine