Baird – Another View by Eric Vast

You will no doubt remember the original article from Joe. G3JPJ that has started the liveliest debate that I have seen for a long time. Here is a further contribution from Eric Vast, which I mentioned last month.   Editor

I went lo the Daily Express in 1928 to run their Picture Transmission equipment. As the apparatus had not yet arrived I poked around and found a character who collected press cuttings. He had a wad of these on PT and Television going back years. It appeared that every nation had its hero who had developed Television – even the Vatican. They for good measure had an Abbe who did it every year!

So you see, Baird had competition. I made a study as to what genuine services were about then. There were good ones at RCA, Western Electric, and a British one whose name I have forgotten. They were all of newspaper print quality. Western Electric ran a telephone between New York and Boston that carried a picture of the user at each end.

This was about the time Baird was going to Vic Mills for help. Vic taught maths and physics at the Hastings Grammar School and had a lot of apparatus. He lent Baird a power audio amplifier and also held his hand. I knew Vic Mills well and we often discussed Baird. When Baird floated a company the two fell out. Vic said that the Prospectus was conning the public and never co-operated with him again.

When the first Baird lecture was given at Hastings he was unable to show a picture but played the recorded sound of one. I saw the first Televisor at a friends house in 1932. The son of the house, a lad, had built it from a kit of parts. This was the one with the Nipkow disc and the 30 lines. It had no frame pulse and you had to fiddle with the speed control all the time. Later they organised a frame pulse by placing a white plank at the bottom of the transmitted picture. Other better things followed this rather dreadful device. A fast-developed film passed wet to a Telecine was installed in many West-end cinemas.

A cut down version was crammed into an aeroplane by Ray Herbert, and demonstrated at Hendon Air Show (to demonstrate to distant Generals, the enemy) Computing Devices do something similar even now, He had a transmitter at Kingsbury Manor, (where there is yet another Plaque) a rotating mirrors 200 watt lamp Kerr Cell model. The Kerr Cell didn’t like the 200 watts and did not last. The thing came from Siemens. By this time Baird had developed the unpleasing habit of picking up other peoples efforts and claiming their discards as his invention. The Engineers I worked with in Western Electric looked on him as bad joke.

Oddly enough we took on a number of Engineers ex Baird. On the whole they were quite good. We could never get them to comment on their late boss. Vic MiI!s told me that in his early Hastings days he (Baird) was plum ignorant of technical matters. About 1935(?) there was the pub!ic comparison between Baird – by now ORT and some 300 lines – and Marconi EMI on 405 lines.

This latter won hands down. Baird cried foul as well he might. Said he had been promised the same number of lines. The Government didn’t budge and he (Baird) lost. Baird had had great support from the Press and those were the days of the great press Lords and venal and wicked Print Unions.

Beaverbrook put a one eyed playboy in charge of the Express without telling the general manager. The other papers were as bad. Baird had the ear of the press and undoubtedly kept Television before the public notice.

What of the man? As a lad he was allowed to put a ragtime telephone system into the village where he lived and nearly decapitated a coach driver. And there was no parental reaction. He seems to have learnt little at school. When nominally adult he blew up the local power station trying to make diamonds, and only got the sack. Actually he had been trying to copy one Moissan who had only produced the hard crystal that accumulates in meteor impacts. Later, others would be successful in producing industrial diamonds. I think a case of well-off and doting parents!

Eric Vast (M1CYF) – February 2000.

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