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From the archive: John Logie Baird and the invention of colour television

It’s 75 years since John Logie Baird gave his first public demonstration of colour television so to celebrate we’re taking a look back at the pioneer and his innovative invention.

John Logie Baird
John Logie Baird

Baird, remembered by some as the 'Father of Television’, was born in Helensburgh in 1888.

By the age of 13 he had experimented with remote-controlled photography, converted his house to electric light and constructed a small telephone exchange to connect his neighbours.

In 1906 he went to study electrical engineering at Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College and tried his hand at a number of different businesses, including jam making, before moving to Hastings, where he carried out many of his television experiments.

Baird’s original television system was built around a rotating disc with spirals of holes which light passed through to scan objects.

He applied for a patent on July 26, 1923 and by October 1925 had transmitted a 30 line image of a ventriloquist’s dummy named Stooky Bill across a room and the first face of a human being.

On January 26, 1926 he demonstrated his system to the public and in 1928 succeeded in sending images across the Atlantic.

He started broadcasting test images on the BBC from his studio facility at Savoy Hill on September 30, 1929 and began selling his ‘televisor’ sets to the public. The first play, The Man with a Flower in his Mouth, was transmitted on July 14, 1930 with the first outside broadcast of the Derby following in June 1931.

However, Baird Television Limited was in severe financial difficulty and control of the company passed to a subsidiary of the Gaumont-British Film Corporation.

The financial troubles and a boardroom coup to relieve him of his duties on the company's board were not enough to stop Baird’s work. On September 12, 1933 he demonstrated 120 line, 25 frames-per-second telecine equipment and on March 12, 1934 he televised 180 line transmissions.

He then made the leap to colour television, demonstrating his new invention to the press in December 1937 and in front of 3,000 people at the Dominion Theatre in London in February 1938. The demonstration featured images that were shown from Crystal Palace on a 12 foot by nine foot screen.

However, with the advent of war in September 1939, Gaumont closed down Baird Television Limited and terminated the inventor’s contract.

He continued his work largely unaided until his death at the age of 57 on June 14 1946. In 1941 he refined his television system to transmit colour stereoscopic images using revolving shutters and red, green and blue sectored discs and in August 1944 he demonstrated his all-electronic telechrome colour set.

However, despite the brilliance of both his colour and stereoscopic systems, they were never implemented commercially.

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