Search for oldest TV

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baird-transmitterHELENSBURGH-born John Logie Baird changed the world by inventing the television set . . . and on October 3 2008 his grandson returned to Scotland to launch a search for Scotland's oldest working TV set.

Ian Logie Baird — son of Helensburgh Heritage Trust president Malcolm Baird — is at the forefront of the campaign to get Scotland switched over to digital television, due to take place for the majority of viewers in 2010 and 2011.

Ian (39), who is curator of the National Media Museum in Bradford, visited Glasgow to talk about John Logie Baird and the future of TV. He also began a search for Scotland's oldest working TV set to highlight the point that everyone can take advantage of digital television.

The oldest box will receive a free digital makeover to prove that viewers do not need a plasma television to receive the new high-quality images and increased choice of programmes. "All you need is a relatively inexpensive set-top box," he said.

He was talking surrounded by working televisions from throughout the ages which had been borrowed from the BBC museum collection. The oldest was a Bush 22 manufactured in the 1950s, but it is hoped the search will locate some even older relics.

Ian, who was born in Canada, said: "Digital is very, very big in terms of the history of television. I would say it is bigger that the change from black and white to colour.

“It is bringing in a whole new range of services. It is almost like turning television into a whole new medium. It is a very good thing that is happening here, making the best use of what we have got."

Asked if his grandfather have approved of the new technology, he replied: "Oh yes, he was always in favour of using cutting-edge technology and he would have loved this. He was always pushing television forward and digital television is now right at the forefront.

"If he was around today he would have been a fan, particularly of the digital light processor which uses two million little mirrors. He would have liked that. It is like the modern day colour wheel that he used."

Ian never met his grandfather, who died in England in 1946, but has absorbed his passion for television, taking apart and rebuilding sets from a young age.

While John Logie Baird is credited with producing the first ‘greyscale’ television image from reflected light in 1925, Ian favours the use of a Sky Box.

He said: "I would say I watch around eight hours a week. I watch a lot of comedy and I like The Daily Show. Sometimes I watch Big Brother for work. I really have to because it is using TV in so many ways, but I wouldn't say it was really my cup of tea."

He believes that in the not-too-distant future the quality of television images will be the same as ‘looking out of the window’ and that the world will soon be equipped with mobile devices able to receive digital television signals.

On the quest for the oldest TV set, Paul Hughes, national manager for Digital UK in Scotland, said: "The really old sets are worth a lot of money. We want to show that even the oldest televisions can be converted. Even if they have an old aerial socket we can still get them digital-ready."

Scotland's switchover to digital began in Selkirk on November 6 2008. Around 25,000 viewers made the switch first, because of the area's reliance on a separate transmitter network from the rest of Scotland.

Around 98.5% of the population will be able to receive digital television following the changeover. Remaining viewers will have to rely on satellite signals once the analogue signals are switched off once and for all.

John Logie Baird did not restrict his inventive talent to television. In his twenties, he tried to create diamonds by heating graphite and shorted out Glasgow's electricity supply. Not long afterwards he perfected a glass razor which was rust-resistant, but it shattered.

He also invented a thermal undersock, which was moderately successful. He suffered from cold feet and found that an extra layer of cotton inside the sock worked wonders.

  • This article is an edited version of an article which appeared in The Herald on Saturday October 4, and is reproduced here by kind permission of the then Editor, Charles McGhee.