British Television Timeline

The start of television (even just in the UK) is complicated. The BBC takes pity on its viewing public by declaring that Television Started in 1936. In fact, it’s an unpopular misconception – an abridgement of the real description.

It should read ‘World’s First, Regular, Public, High-Definition Service’ (where 405-line standard is ‘high-definition’ as opposed to the German 180-line standard whose limited distribution programmes started a short while before). If you really want to understand television history, the Bibliography page will give references to the detail you seek.

Though led by the need for entertainment, the development of practical television was dependent on technology. Britain headed the world with the first demonstration of television by John Logie Baird in January 1926 (the start of the Timeline below) using an opto-mechanical approach. The next 10 years until 1936 saw:

  • the development and implementation of opto-mechanical television systems based on improvements to existing technology
  • the technological development of the electronic television camera, which with other improvements to existing electronics systems for radio communications and displays, would lead to a fully-electronic broadcast television system

The timeline below shows the Early Television Recordings in context with the differing phases of development and implementation in Baird’s early dominance of British Television:

  • Increased public awareness after Baird’s successful demonstration of television in January 1926 encouraged a highly productive Experimental period where he publicly explored and at times demonstrated colour television, 3D television, near-infra-red television and recorded television (‘Phonovision’).
  • The period roughly from 1929 through 1931 saw Baird start broadcasting of programmes using his 30 line system and giving various Demonstrations of new developments.
  • The BBC started a regular television service in 1932 using Baird’s 30-line standard. The service was terminated in 1935 as the electronic TV camera – under development in the USA and the UK – was showing great promise.
  • The Baird Company (with a new 240-line standard) lost an on-air competition to Marconi-EMI in late-1936 and the service using the Marconi-EMI 405-line system continued on its own in 1937. The 405-line service was terminated in September 1939 at the outbreak of war and re-started in 1946. EMI had offered the BBC the option to enhance the standard to around 600 lines, but (both eyebrows should be raised here) the BBC stuck with 405-lines, which was already inferior to the USA’s 525 line system.
  • John Logie Baird had little to do with the competition for the BBC service in 1936. With the take-over of the Baird Company in 1933, Baird focused on R&D projects, notably colour television and cinema projection systems, whilst Capt A G D West took on Baird’s prior role directing the technical future of the Company. (So the fact that Baird was missed off the VIP list for the inauguration of the high definition service in Nov 1936 (something he remarked in his autobiography) now makes sense.)

British TV Timeline