We explore the science, technology and art of the still and moving image, and its impact on our lives.
Recently I’ve been researching the first occasion that television, as transmitted by the BBC, was officially received outside London. What a coincidence that the location of this reception was Bradford, only two train stops from the Museum.
Finally, in 1929, after much argument between the Baird Company, the BBC, and the Government, it was decided that television broadcasts would begin over the BBC. The Baird Company would make the programmes. From the Baird studios in London, television signals were then sent through phone lines to the BBC’s main radio transmitter, 2LO. Television would appear outside normal radio broadcasting hours, and the official launch of the service would occur on 30 September 1929.
The first official reception of these broadcasts in the Provinces would happen a week after the launch of the service, and would be organised by a gentleman by the name of Harry J Barton-Chapple. He had taught electrical engineering at Bradford Technical College between 1922 and 1925 (Bradford Technical College became the University of Bradford in 1966) and joined the Baird Company in 1928 as a technical advisor and publicist.
Barton Chapple travelled up by train from London with another well-known Baird associate, Sydney Moseley, bringing a Model ‘A’ portable Televisor. Their destination was the home of Sidney R. Wright, the manager of Christopher Pratt & Sons radio department.
Christopher Pratt & Sons, founded in 1845, was the north’s leading furniture store and in 1925 became one of the first stores in the country to offer wirelesses. At this time their store was located on North Parade in central Bradford (now Boyes). As well as hosting the demonstration in his sitting room, Mr. Wright supplied his own radio receiver set and loud-speaker. We believe the actual house may be one located on Bankfield Drive in Shipley.
A full report appeared in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus on 8th October. It read:
At 11 o’clock the announcement was made that the television transmission was to commence. The loud-speaker was switched off and the televisor switched on.
Through an aperture measuring, roughly, four inches by two — it can, of course, be enlarged to suit requirements — dots of orange light appeared. Quickly the dots flashed past the eye until nothing but a square of orange light was to be seen.
An adjustment here, and then the dots formed themselves into the shape of a man’s face. Another adjustment and then the face became recognisable.
Enthralled, the three or four people in the room watched this individual as he turned his head first to one side and then the other, opened his mouth, raised his eye-brows, laughed and scowled. It was difficult to imagine that this vision was being flashed 200 miles through the air. The man disappeared.
In its place there came another vision. Still a man’s face, which in a moment was easily recognisable as a profile of the Prince of Wales. He was without a hat, and his collar and tie were easily seen.
Many years later, Harry J Barton-Chapple’s son, Derek, would change his last name to Waring and have a career in television acting (he is best remembered for playing Detective Inspector Goss in Z-Cars). His other son, Richard, would become a TV scriptwriter.
I sense there is more to find out about the television reception of October 1929, and in the next few months I hope to share more information we have been able to dig up about the first reception of BBC television outside London. Stay tuned!
I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to this story and my research: Liz McIvor, Curator at Bradford Industrial Museum, Alison Cullingford, Special Collections Librarian at JB Priestley Library, and Mr David Pratt of Christopher H Pratt & Sons.