TV & Radio Archives
Welcome to the TV & Radio Archives, here you will find information on TV and radio history, test cards and the technology that has been used both in the UK and around the globe.
Take a trip back in time, back to remember British TV and radio from days gone by.
The 405-line monochrome analogue television broadcasting system was the first fully electronic television system to be used in regular broadcasting.
It was introduced with the BBC Television Service in 1936, suspended for the duration of World War II, and remained in operation in the UK until 1985, it was also used between 1961 and 1982 in Ireland as well as from 1957 to 1973 for the Rediffusion Television cable service in Hong Kong.
Sometimes called the Marconi-EMI system, it was developed in 1934 by the EMI Research Team led by Sir Isaac Shoenberg. The figure of 405 lines had been chosen following discussions over Sunday lunch at the home of Alan Blumlein. The system was the first broadcast system in Britain to use interlacing, though EMI had been experimenting with a 243 line all-electronic interlaced system since 1933. In the 405 system the scanning lines were broadcast in two complementary fields, 50 times per second, creating 25 frames per second. The actual image was 377 lines high and interlaced, with additional unused lines making the frame up to 405 lines to give the slow circuitry time to prepare for the next frame; in modern terms it would be described as 377i.
At the time of its introduction the 405-line system was referred to as “high definition”, which it was compared to earlier systems, although of lower definition than 625-line and later standards.
Read more: 405-Line TV
PAL was developed by Walter Bruch at Telefunken in Hannover, Germany, with important input from Dr. Kruse and Gerhard Mahler (de). The format was patented by Telefunken in 1962, citing Bruch as inventor, and unveiled to European Broadcasting Union (EBU) members on 3 January 1963, with the first broadcasts beginning in the United Kingdom and West Germany in 1967.
BBC2 was the first UK TV service to introduce “625-lines” in 1964.
Telefunken PALcolor 708T was the first PAL commercial TV set. It was followed by Loewe S 920 & F 900.
Telefunken was later bought by the French electronics manufacturer Thomson. Thomson also bought the Compagnie Générale de Télévision where Henri de France developed SECAM, the first European Standard for colour television. Thomson, now called Technicolor SA, also owns the RCA brand and licenses it to other companies; Radio Corporation of America, the originator of that brand, created the NTSC colour TV standard before Thomson became involved.
The term PAL is often used informally and somewhat imprecisely to refer to the 625-line/50 Hz (576i) television system in general, to differentiate from the 525-line/60 Hz (480i) system generally used with NTSC. Accordingly, DVDs are labelled as PAL or NTSC (referring to the line count and frame rate) even though technically the discs do not carry either PAL or NTSC composite signal. CCIR 625/50 and EIA 525/60 are the proper names for these (line count and field rate) standards; PAL and NTSC are only the method of transmitting color to the TV.
Read more see: PAL 625-Line
Test Card F
Test Card F is a test card that was created by the BBC and used on television in the United Kingdom and in countries elsewhere in the world for more than four decades.
Like other test cards, it was usually shown while no programmes were being broadcast. It was the first to be transmitted in colour in the UK and the first to feature a person, and has become an iconic British image regularly subject to parody.
The central image on the card shows eight-year-old Carole Hersee playing noughts and crosses with a clown doll, Bubbles the Clown, surrounded by various greyscales and colour test signals needed to ensure a correct picture. It was first broadcast on 2 July 1967 (the day after the first colour pictures appeared to the public on television) on BBC2.
The card was developed by a BBC engineer, George Hersee (1924-2001), father of the girl in the central image. It was frequently broadcast during downtime on BBC1 until that channel went fully 24 hours in November 1997, and on BBC Two until its downtime was replaced entirely by Pages from Ceefax in 1998, after which it was only seen during engineering work, and was last seen in this role in 1999.
The card was also seen on ITV in the 1970s. Test Card J, Test Card W and Test Card X, which are digitally enhanced, widescreen and high definition versions respectively, have replaced it, although they are very infrequently broadcast because the BBC now broadcasts BBC News and promo loops of programmes shown on the channel on its terrestrial channels during downtime. Testcards now only appear during the annual RBS (rebroadcast standby) Test Transmissions and, until 2013, during the BBC HD preview loop, which used Test Card X.
Read more see: Test Card F
The Alexandra Palace television station in North London is one of the oldest television transmission sites in the world. What was at the time called “high definition” (405-line) TV broadcasts on VHF were beamed from this mast from 1936 until the outbreak of World War II.
It then lay dormant until it was used very successfully to foil the German Y-Gerät radio navigation system during the last stages of the Battle of Britain. After the war, it was reused for television until 1956, when it was superseded by the opening of the BBC’s new main transmitting station for the London area at Crystal Palace. In 1982 Alexandra Palace became an active transmitting station again, with the opening of a relay transmitter to provide UHF television service to parts of North London poorly covered from Crystal Palace.
The transmitter is owned and maintained by Arqiva.
In 1935 the trustees leased part of the palace to the BBC for use as the production and transmission centre for their new BBC Television Service.
The antenna was designed by Charles Samuel Franklin of the Marconi Company.
The world’s first public broadcasts of (then) “high-definition” television were made from Alexandra Palace in 1936, an event which is alluded to by the rays in the modern coat of arms of the London Borough of Haringey.
Two competing systems, Marconi-EMI’s 405-line system and John Logie Baird’s 240-line system, were installed, each with its own broadcast studio, and were transmitted on alternate weeks until the 405-line system was chosen in 1937.
Read more see: Alexandra Palace
British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB) was a television company headquartered in London, which provided direct broadcast satellite television services to the United Kingdom.
The company was merged with Sky Television plc. in November 1990 to form British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB). It started broadcasting on 25 March 1990.
In 1977 the World Administrative Radio Conference assigned each country five high-powered channels for direct broadcast by satellite (DBS) for domestic use. In 1982 after being awarded two of the channels the BBC proposed its own satellite service, with two conditions:
Used a satellite built by “United Satellite”, a consortium of British Aerospace, Marconi and GEC, with cost estimated at £24M per year.
A supplementary charter was agreed in May 1983 which allowed the BBC to borrow up to £225M to cover the cost of the project as it was not allowed to call on public funds, nor use existing sources of revenue to fund the project.
During Autumn 1983, the cost of the Unisat had been greatly under estimated, and the new Home Secretary announced the three remaining channels would be given to the IBA to allow the private sector to compete against the BBC on the DBS. within a few months the BBC started talking with the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), about providing a joint project to help cover the cost. Subsequently, government allowed the IBA to bring in private companies to help cover the costs (dubbed the “Club of 21”) BBC – 50% ITV companies – 30% Virgin / Thorn-EMI / Granada TV rentals / Pearson Longman and Consolidated Satellite Broadcasting – 20%
Within a year the consortium made it clear that the original launch date of 1986 was pushed back to 1988, while also asking the British government to allow them to tender out the building of the new satellite system, to help reduce cost. The project failed in May 1985 when the consortium concluded the cost set up and viewers were not justifiable.
The BBC stated the costs were prohibitive, because the government insisted that the BBC should pay for the costs of constructing and launching a dedicated satellite.
Read more see: BSB
BBC TV Europe
BBC TV Europe was a BBC subscription-funded television service launched in June of 1987 serving continental Europe.
It was available on satellite and cable. The channel was transmitted via the IntelSat 601 satellite at 27.5º west, broadcasting on frequency 10,995 and 11,155 gigahertz.
The channel broadcast a mix of programmes shown on BBC One and BBC Two in the United Kingdom, as well as the BBC’s domestic Six o’clock News bulletin together with the regional news service from London. In 1991, the channel was replaced by BBC World Service Television, which was itself replaced by BBC World and BBC Prime in 1995.
The BBC began plans for a satellite TV service in the late 1980s. Earlier it had been suggested by someone at BBC World Service to create a TV version of the World Service. Nothing became of the proposal. In 1986 the idea was again suggested to the Foreign Office, this time around, the idea gained more support from both the BBC and the Foreign Office.
The government lead by Margret Thatcher did not support the idea or any public funds for the venture.
Support for an international BBC channel would eventually came from overseas, Denmark and the cable TV market.
The corporation’s commercial arm, BBC Enterprises was contacted by two Danish telephone companies, KTAS (Københavns Telefon Aktieselskab) and JTAS (Jydsk Telefon A/S). The companies were interested in rebroadcasting BBC 1 and BBC 2 on their cable networks in Denmark.
The two channels were already rebroadcast in Belgium and the Netherland, received from coastal antennas and relayed on cable.
Denmark was geographically too far away to receive terrestrial transmissions from the UK and offered to pay for satellite capacity for the BBC channels. BBC Enterprises looked into the Danish proposal, however copyright obligations for non BBC content was a barrier to the venture.
Read more see: BBC TV Europe
For many years, Alan Pemberton maintained a very useful website which brought together information on all the technical aspects of Television – standards, waveforms, etc. – which has proved to be a very useful resource to many over the years. Pembers Ponderings is no longer available, Alan allowed the site to be downloaded for personal use. It seems a huge shame for all this information to be lost to the many thousands of TV enthusiasts around the Globe.
I will try and include as much information and as many of the images from the original site as possible, while at the same time making the information mobile and tablet friendly.
Alan I hope you do not object to me making your fabulous work available again.