The changing trends in television design 

20 November 2020 tbs.pm/71467

Earls Court Television and Radio Show logo

 

Towards a national television service

 

South Yorkshire Times and Mexborough and Swinton Times masthead

From the South Yorkshire Times for 30 August 1958

THE Radio Show, which opened this week, reveals a change in size is occurring. Mainly, this is due to the general use of the wide-angle tube – in this the electronic beam, where it leaves the neck of the tube on its way to hit the screen, swings through an angle of 90 degrees instead of 70 as previously. This means that the fore-runner of yet shorter tubes is on the way – a 110 degree type.

TELEVISION has in its short life brought much pleasure to millions. It is the liveliest of media and is always changing. For example, national folklore which in the past has received little mention outside the particular country on which it is based, is now being committed to film in such a way that, in many cases (and they are increasing) a change in the language on the sound track makes them acceptable to viewers throughout the entire world.

In the political arena, statesmen are using television more and more to speak to the people of their own nations and sometimes to address foreign audiences in a way and with an impact and with an impact which would have been impossible a few years ago. And on the technical side, one feels that the day cannot be far off when pictures will be relayed by ordinary telephone line into a tape recorder or even straight onto the air thereby giving television tremendous mobility and the added advantage of more immediacy.

Without doubt, television is not standing still and in the three years since Independent Television programmes started much has happened. The number of homes in the country with television sets has risen from 4,900,000 to over 8,250,000; the average number of hours of television programmes each week has grown from about 35 hours from one service to over 125 hours from two; and nine groups of people have become programmes contractors to the Authority and have thus been given an opportunity to devote their talents and resources to the development of this wonderful new medium.

Television is young but it has already a very distinguished past.

Bush in full bloom

ON Stand 27 at the National Radio Show are displayed the entire range of Bush receivers for radio and television designed for the Home market as well as for Overseas. This very comprehensive range comprises some 26 different sets. Of these no less than 14 have been designed since last year’s National Show, and have thus never been exhibited together in public before.

Table television sets can be supplied with specially designed tables (at extra charge), and floor type cabinets are this year much more compact, most of them being fitted with screw-in legs and roll-away doors.

All cabinet styling is attractively contemporary, but there are predominantly more sets with 17 inch tubes than any other – 17 inch being unquestionably the popular size to-day. Only one conventional console is included (also 17 inch) and this has three quarter length doors.

Twenty-one inch receivers are restricted to one table type set with all controls and speaker at the side, while a 14 inch set in a moulded case or, alternatively, a wood cabinet, is retained.

 

 

The changing trends in television design

THE main course of progress in TV aerials is towards compact assemblies for receiving all channels — B.B.C., I.T.V. and V.H.F. Considering that these units are directional and may need individual adjustments, and that the aerial erector is expected to secure a reasonable balance of signals by suitable choice of arrays, the variety of designs is almost infinite.

Most makers rely on essentially familiar designs and make the erector’s job as easy as possible by providing pre-assembled arrays, universal fixing brackets and the like. One or two firms set out to achieve similar results with ‘diamonds,’ ‘slots’ and other new shapes (J-Beam, Labgear).

The trend is definitely to aerials that require a single downlead to the set (Telerection etc). This entails matching the Band 1 and Band 2, and possibly Band 3 arrays, into the one lead. This may be obtained by diplexers and triplexers, now seen in well-engineered little units (Aerialite) — or by systems of ‘electronic’ coupling between aerial elements.

All-band loft aerials have appeared (Antiference), with ingenious mountings to allow adjustment in cramped quarters. V type aerials for standing on the sets are to be seen (Belling-Lee, Antiference), while others are made into floral decorative fittings (Burwell).

Test-Gear

Several new Instruments are being introduced at this year’s Radio Show and some popular lines are being price-reduced owing to modernised production (Cossor). For retail service there is a cathode-ray tube tester (Grunther) which can also recondition some tubes by a pulse technique. An improved signal generator for circuit alignment will be seen (Taylor), together with several compact multi-range test meters (Avo, Taylor).

 

 

Price Trends

THE new constructional methods are offsetting increasing costs, allowing slight reductions. Last year the ‘standard’ price of a 17 inch table TV was 69 gns. [£1,800 in today’s money, allowing for inflation]. While most 17 inch table televisions still appear to be around 67—69 gns. [£1,750 to £1,800], there are a few — including even at least one full-range model (Alba) — at 65—66 gns. [£1,650 to £1,700]; the most competitive of all are 63 gns. [£1,600] (Cossor).

The 14 inch table set is usually 56 gns. [£1,450], in choice of wood and plastic cases, as against 59 gns. [£1,500], a year ago; 21 inch models, table and console, may be a guinea [£25, very approximately] or so lower in price here and there. Although many TV models are now introduced in spring and summer, a substantial proportion of sets are being seen for the very first time. One major firm alone held five models on the secret list until Show eve. (Philips).

RGD Deep Seventeen TV

THE R.G.D. ‘Deep-Seventeen’ 17, [sic] with true-dimensional ‘Radiant Screen’ tube, automatic picture and sound control and interference suppression and in-built automatic focus.

The fore-and-aft dimension of sets is also being reduced, however, by a widely adopted device of pushing the tube face through the surrounding mask — instead of having the mask lapping slightly round the edge. The push-through technique also gives maximum picture area. Again, in sets using printed wiring the tendency is to do away with the chassis as we know it and to group a number of ‘printed boards’ around the tube neck. More space is saved. (Cossor, Philco, G.E.C).

To make utmost use of these bulk-cutting features, some firms are adopting clever styling ideas, sometimes quite subtle taper lines for slimming effect, sometimes a bold conception like sticking the screen right ‘through’ the cabinet and framing it in a projecting ‘picture frame.’ (Marconiphone, H.M.V., McMichael, etc.).

The reduced depth is often associated with transfer of speaker from side to front — without increase of frontal dimensions. The explanation is to be seen in a new shape of speaker, which may be as much as 8 in. wide by only 2 in. deep [20cm x 5cm].

The space-saving wrap-round (bentwood) type of cabinet remains popular but most firms offer alternative rectangular styles; even in a single range it is possible to find choice of contemporary, continental and traditional cabinets for one basic design. (Ferguson, H.M.V, Marconiphone).

Many table sets can be supplied with optional extra legs or with a matching table. Some have a new high-gloss, very tough plastics finish — polyester.

The consollette (leggy-type) is tending to develop vertical speakers at the side of the screen and capacious programme-holding shelves between the legs. (Philco, R.G.D.). The fitting of glide-away and roll-away doors is increasingly evident. (Decca, H.M.V., etc)

 

 

Transportable TV

PART and parcel of the move towards smaller sizes is the development of transportable TV sets with 17 inch tubes — there were already 12 inch and 14 inch models.

By combining neat chassis design with light but strong wrap-round fibre cases, smartly finished in washable materials, or by putting them in plastic and metal cases, makers are offering sets that can be carried from room to room without difficulty. In many areas they will work on extensible rod aerials that plug in the back. (Sobell, McMichael, Ekco, Feranti, Murphy, Ferguson, H.M.V.).

Some models provide radio as well, sometimes by switch, sometimes by tuning knob complete with miniature dial. (Sobell).

The conventional floor-standing TV console is still well represented and is often offered with or without doors. The reduction of size is to be noted in this type to. [sic] (Bush). Even the 21 inch sets, with the wide angle tube, come down to quite manageable proportions.

Most Popular Tube Size

A Bush TV.75

THE BUSH 17 in. Table receiver TV.75 Standard Chassis, with Wrap-around cabinet finished in velvet sapele veneer with moulded front.

INCIDENTALLY, the 17 inch models are maintaining their ‘top of the poll’ position despite the challenge of the 21 inch tube. But, of course, the larger tube is available in every maker’s range — indeed, at least two firms are presenting models wih [sic] 24 inch tubes. (K.B., Masteradio). The largest picture is still to be seen on a projection receiver, one example of which has nine years’ steady development behind it. (Valradio).

Most ranges include TV sets that will also receive the three V.H.F. [radio] programmes. A development here is the appearance of models designed to give full performance on frequency-modulations reception; avoiding all compromise they contain a separate radio section for V.H.F. (Bush, Ferguson).

Judith and John

 

NEWCOMER to the National Radio Show is Judith Chalmers, who is to be one of the Radio Industry Council’s announcers. Blonde, blue-eyed and 22, Miss Chalmers has already had considerable experience of broadcasting as she began her career on the air aged 13 in “Children’s Hour.”

Born and living in Cheshire, she has done most of her broadcasting work in the North. Judith has been heard in “Woman’s Hour” and has acted as an interviewer for many programmes in sound and vision.

In 1956 she became the B.B.C’s first regional TV announcer in Manchester. She now has her own two regular monthly programmes, “Over to you” and “Out of the Music Box.” She has also done a good deal of work for A.T.V.

Sharing Judith’s duties in the ever popular glass-walled R.I.C. control room will be John Lindsay. This will be his third Radio Show – he was a R.I.C. announcer in the Scottish Radio Show early in 1957 and in the National Show in London last year.

Lindsay, who now chairs the discussion programmes “Not Proven” in Scotland, recently married and intends to bring his bride to the Radio Show.

In charge of both announcers and supervising the feeding of the numerous programmes to the hundreds of television receivers around the hall, will again be John Goss.

Born in 1925 John started his career as a variety-review artist and came to television via stage and film production, writing and management. He collaborated in the present system of Eurovision and is now in charge of B.B.C. screen promotion and programmes.

John Goss’s right-hand man in an actor [sic], with ambitions to the control room this year is to be yet another John, John Fabian – produce. [sic]

 

 


 

❛❛Aidan Lunn writes: It’s always fascinating looking back on advancements in television technology as I sit here having just finished the restoration of a 1956 Pye and am now on to resurrecting the first of two 1982 Grundig Video 2000 format VCRs from the technological grave ready to scour and digitise a batch of about 100 V2000 tapes for content for my YouTube channel, that the original owner said must contain Granada, ATV/Central and Yorkshire stuff from between 1980 and 1983, as he switched to VHS in 1983…

Anyway, the race for thinner television sets is actually one that is much older than people realise. As seen in this article, they were making good progress to get TV sets down in depth (without the knowledge of light emitting diodes, liquid crystal displays or plasma) subject to the technology they had at the time.

 

Three CRT tubes

From right to left, the development of CRTs with shorter lengths. A 1956 110° MW43-69, a 1958 90° AW43-80 and a 1959 110° AW43-88. Shortly after 1959, the AW43-89 was designed, which was an -88 but with a shorter neck, allowing the CRT to be even shorter, however I don’t have an example of a model using this CRT. [Image: Aidan Lunn, all rights reserved]

 

However, in many cases, this isn’t as revolutionary a development in television technology as the reporter trumpets it to be. Frame and line (vertical and horizontal deflection of the beam, respectively) output power stages have to apply a certain level of current to deflect the beam through the scanning coils (to the uninitiated, this was part of the round assembly mounted around the cathode ray tube where the “neck” meets the “funnel”). Most TV manufacturers (like Ekco) simply modified circuit designs they had already very successfully employed in previous sets to provide the increased scanning current to deflect the beam on a wider angle. Some (like Pye) took the opportunity to design a completely new circuit, whereas GEC and the aforementioned Ekco were still using the same chassis and circuits – with many modifications – from the mid-1950s until the dual-standard era.

In fact just before their television factory in Southend-on-Sea was shut down by Pye (who had taken them over in 1961), Ekco did make a dual-standard set with UHF/625 reception fitted as standard, still based upon a chassis and circuit that had been heavily modified over time since it was introduced in the mid-1950s. In the late 1950s, the chassis layout was changed from a horizontal one laid along the bottom of the cabinet, to a vertical one with a hole through which the CRT neck protruded. Yet the actual circuit itself was still the same (with modifications Ekco applied to keep up with competition).

 

The development of thinner CRTs allowed for a huge reduction in size, such as between this 1956 Pye (bottom) and 1968 Ferguson (top). The Ferguson, by the way utilised the Thorn 981 chassis, which a development of the 980 chassis designed for Thorn 12” portables. The 980 and 981 were the last 405 line-only TVs ever built, being made from 1967 to 1970. [Images: Aidan Lunn, all rights reserved]

 

These advancements in tube design came only a relatively short time – averaging around 5 years from different CRT manufacturers – after ways that were discovered to make square (-ish) CRTs. As late as 1955, Mazda of Brimsdown, Enfield (so not the Japanese one!) were still making circular CRTs – or “roundies” as they are known by collectors. So yes, there were some TVs – particularly Ekco and Murphy sets – that could tune ITV on “roundies”, although the pictures shown on them and the bezel mask surrounding them were still square. Ish. (Most of you are probably asking “so?” but the blend of pre-war CRT manufacturing technologies with the brand new technologies allowing ITV reception fascinates me!)

 

Circuit diagram

Block circuit diagram of a contemporary television receiver showing services to the tube, from ‘Television Receiver Servicing’ (2nd ed) by EAW Spreadbury, published 1961

 

The reason why TV sets lost this drive to be “thinner” from the late 1960s onwards – with some notable exceptions – was because of the dawn of colour, and the increased amount of circuitry plus the extra demands placed on picture tube design having to have the output of three guns – as opposed to one in a black and white CRT – pass through purity and convergence magnets before passing through a shadow mask. It seems advancement in one area of TV set technology was curtailed for what was seen as more necessary advancements in another.

Light up and play

On one of the article’s subjects – cabinet styling – this article was printed right on the cusp of many manufacturers – Sobell, Pye, GEC, Kolster-Brandes, Philips and a few others I’m sure I’ve forgotten – releasing TV sets where the cabinet design was heavily influenced by US TV set cabinet designs of the same time, which were in turn influenced by the “new age” Jetsons ideas of futuristic design. For a while between 1959 and 1961/2, wood was still in (it had to be), plain wooden or bakelite boxes were out. Chrome trim, pastel-coloured plastic screen bezels (and of course, thinner cabinets) were the “in” fashion. This signifies to me what the youth of the time aspired to. The fashions in general, the music, even the cars (like the different iterations of the Ford Consul, one of which would go on to become the Ford Capri, itself a design classic of the 1970s and early 80s with roots in the late 1950s).

Rock and Roll, of course, started to become popular among teenagers here around 1956. Now it was almost 1959 and – assuming they had followed the then usually expected sequence of events in their late teens – they would very soon be getting married, moving out of their respective parental homes and designing a home of their own around the fashions of the time. And TV set manufacturers knew this, they knew that this was the first generation where TV was truly important to them, so one of the first things they would be doing upon moving out was getting a new TV set – almost certainly rented.

 

A Ford Consul

1960 Ford Consul Mark II Deluxe 1.7 | Picture source: Vauxford, CC-BY-SA 4.0

 

However, this didn’t mean that manufacturers stopped designing TVs to cater for their parent’s or grandparent’s tastes. More traditional designs that looked like they would fit into a living room probably last redecorated in the 1930s or 40s were still being made. Parents of the 1930s to 50s were products of WW2 austerity, the rationing (that extended for several years after the war as supply lines got back up and running) who had also learned some spendthrift ways from their own parents, who themselves grew up in austerity brought about by WW1 and the Great Depression.

Most manufacturers (Pye were one very notable exception) by now simply shared the same circuits and chassis between many different models (with both “new” and “traditional” cabinet designs), with the relevant modifications made to add or delete “features” like the different screen sizes or built-in FM radios that were necessary to reflect each model number’s features. We are not yet at the “modular” design of circuit board “modules” to aid with servicing and feature-adding/deleting that would become popular with manufacturers starting in the early 1970s – some manufacturers at the time of this article being published were still relying on the more expensive and labour-demanding “point-to-point” soldering – but they were on their way.

Some manufacturers had re-tooled their factories and re-trained staff to accommodate early printed circuit board technologies, other manufacturers were biding their time. Most would have gone over to the new method by 1963, though KB/ITT-KB of Sidcup, Kent took a long time. Their first two colour TV chassis – the dual-standard CVC1 and the single-standard CVC2 – had the distinctions of being the only colour TVs sold in Europe that had totally point-to-point soldering. The CVC2 was replaced by the CVC5 around 1972 (I too, don’t know what happened to the CVC3 and CVC4, they were possibly chassis that spent all their time in R&D and never made it to the shops) and at this time, ITT-KB finally re-tooled their factory and re-trained staff for printed circuit board manufacture for both colour and B&W TVs!

Up on the roof

I personally don’t have much interest in the technicalities of aerials and was born too late to experience over-the-air 405-line television. However, the trend for smaller TV set cabinets by 1958 is also extending to rooftop aerials (should a wire coat hanger not be good enough for 405-line reception!). They are undoubtedly nostalgic now, but in large numbers were big and ugly at the time (which is why many local authorities, particularly in “new towns” like Milton Keynes, Livingston and the like, banned them and insisted residents share some kind of cabled system either from a cable operator or from a council-owned communal aerial, like those seen on some 1960s council housing estates here in Sheffield. The council houses I have in mind – Finnegan and Vic Hallam houses – are flat-roofed and have no attic, so attic aerials were clearly off the table!). Those large “H” or “X” Band-I aerials are starting to become a thing of the past by 1958 and the Band 3 Yagi arrays – on which a discrete Band-I dipole “stick” could easily be discreetly mounted – are “in”.

Interestingly, TV set manufacturers would very soon be developing aerials built in to the TV – my 1959 Kolster-Brandes QV30/1 has a sheet of metallised paper on the inside of the cabinet acting as one half of a dipole and the metal chassis itself the other half! Even stranger now with modern eyes is that there was one post-war TV (I forget the make and model as TVs before the announcement of ITV are of little interest to me) that had the aerial cable (literally a cable acting as an aerial) inside the mains flex, twisted round the live and neutral mains wires. This was particularly useful to those who lived in flats, where the communal landlord may not have allowed the erection of an outdoor aerial.

At VHF frequencies, such arrangements could get satisfactory results quite easily. However due to the nature of radio waves at UHF frequencies, indoor arrangements were less likely to cut the mustard and now are not advised for satisfactory reception unless you are virtually next-door neighbours with your transmitter!

Testing, testing, 123

Radar 202

From ‘Television Receiver Servicing’ (1961): “The Radar model 202 cathode-ray tube tester and reactivator. The reactivation process is performed on a different principle from that which applied with the earlier models, which it replaces. It uses a combination of heater voltage “boosting” and pulsed emission, being driven from an internal oscillator. In addition it performs many useful tests on a C.R. tude, and all its operations can be carried out without removing the tube from the receiver. Some kinds of internal leaks and short circuits can be cleared.”

Test gear is as test gear does, it might surprise the “laymen” reading this article but actually there is a huge variation in the quality of test gear just as there was (and still is!) between TV sets. And again, the difference in quality is down to price. Some of the CRT testers and rejuvenators mentioned here likely would have been “cathode strippers”, just applying a short burst of high current to the cathode that instead of stripping off a stagnant layer of emissive surface to reveal a fresh layer beneath (which is what the good ones did!), actually would have applied the current burst in such a crude way that it would have totally stripped the cathode completely. Off the CRT would then go to get its gun/cathode assembly replaced!

Undoubtedly re-gunners like Suffolk Tubes loved these cheap “cathode” strippers as it meant more business from the repair shops for them, but rental companies would have hated them as the cost of a decent rejuvenator (like many made by Leader and B&K and a few others) would mean more expense in the short run buying the things and save money in the longer run by only sending CRTs for re-gunning when the CRT was totally clapped out. (Which on most Mazda-made CRTs of the late 1950s was more often than not due to deficiencies in the “pumping” and “baking” stages of CRT manufacture – their Brimsdown factory being near a swamp would have meant impurities in the air when manufactured. The CRTs should have spent longer in the baking process to drive out any last remaining pockets of air. Possibly 8 hours instead of the standard 4. Or they could have just moved…)!

Re-gunners themselves were of varying quality too, but they didn’t have to do very good jobs to beat the Mazda originals! At one point in the mid-1950s – I think on a “roundie” labelled the CRM92 – Mazda were making more CRTs that were replacements for TVs under guarantee – and it was only a 6-month guarantee as standard – than they were for new TV sets! Mazda only started to get their act together when things got this bad – though I don’t know how they remedied it – when one manufacturer (Ekco) threatened to change their custom to Mullard).

Luggables

I don’t have much to say about “portable” TVs that haven’t already been covered above (as the increase in the number of “portable” TVs was mainly brought about by reducing the depth of the CRT and therefore the cabinet). However, the reason why I use “portable” in quotation marks is down to the fact that most such TVs of the late 1950s were supplied with carry handles. That’s the only difference. There was no attempt to reduce the weight over a new regular TV of the same make and chassis of the time. Still the same tube. Still the same metal chassis. Still the same “will the handle snap?” weight! The little 9” Ekco TMB272 of 1955 is 16.5kg (and it was only a 9” CRT!) of top-grade 405-line TV (I have never come across another collector who didn’t like them!). Calling them “portable” is a misnomer in another sense, too. Power consumption of the Ekco TMB272 on its battery connector was 6.2Amps, which would drain the average car battery of the time flat from fully charged in a matter of hours – more so if the car was driving at the time (I think Pat Phoenix – “Elsie Tanner” – had one mounted in the back of her car so she could watch TV while being driven around). For this reason, by 1958 manufacturers didn’t consider it worth supplying TVs with battery terminals, so they were only truly “portable” if you happened to be Giant Haystacks and only within the vicinity of a mains plug. Some “portable” sets also needed you to supply the aerial too. Strangely, the KB QV30/1 of mine I mentioned above has its own internal aerial wasn’t a “portable” as it has no carry handles…

Radio too

I’m not sure why the editor has chosen to leave mentioning the fact that some TVs had built-in radios for the “portable” section. I have several non-”portable” TVs from the late 1950s with built-in radios. Aaanyway… almost all TVs with incorporated radios had FM-only tuners (because it was seen as the future and was easy to supply, as the Band 1&3 tuners bought from tuner manufacturers could often also tune into Band 2 – used for VHF/FM radio. Many manufacturers bought their VHF tuners from US manufacturers, as they already had band 1&3 VHF TV there for a while by the time the Television Act of 1954 which led to the creation of ITV passed through Parliament). BBC Radio started broadcasting on FM officially on 2nd May 1955 (although there will have been unofficial test transmissions before then). However, people already had dedicated radios – some with FM built-in. And even then the FM functionality often went unused as AM was frequently considered good enough (or habit and acquired knowledge of the AM frequencies may have played a larger part). The one usurper was Philco (who were the “Ford” of domestic electronics, having been a US manufacturer with a European division run totally separately), who released a number of sets over here around this time still using AM radio, but even with their apparent recognition that FM wasn’t popular, having a radio regardless of its wavebands made no difference and by the time of the dawn of the dual-standard TVs around 1963/64, most manufacturers had dropped it (except of course on the large luxury radiograms with built-in TV sets). As many manufacturers made TV/radiogram combis in the late 1950s, often those who wanted to use such a TV/radio combi went for those and those who didn’t but bought a TV with an integrated radio anyway were the same as those who bought a TV with no integrated radio – they had a mental demarcation between radio programmes on a “wireless” and TV programmes on a TV.

Such TVs didn’t maintain a lit screen when the radio function was used – a large mechanical switch activated when a radio station was chosen would move metal contact pins from ones where all valve heaters were powered (TV function) to ones where only the tuner and sound stage valve heaters were powered (with a large resistor switched into circuit to substitute the voltage drop by the unused valve heaters, otherwise the cathodes in the sound and tuner stage valves would be barbecued from the increased voltage drop across their heater filaments and would wear out quickly). Consequently when switching from radio to TV function with the set on, you’d get instant sound (as the tuner and sound stage valves would already be warm), but vision, frame stage and line stage valves plus the CRT itself would need a minute or two to warm up. That’s in addition to the crackling from the speaker(s) of the switch being thrown – smoke particulates from cigars, cigarettes, pipes, coal/coke fires and the like would always get into mechanical joints like metal electrical contacts inside electrical devices. TV repair technicians must have been regular visitors to the houses of cigar-chompers like Lew Grade (who undoubtedly would have had a Pye TV…)

 

 

Such TVs typically had no fully flexible radio tuner (though the aforementioned AM Philco might have done, I don’t know as I’ve never had the luxury of working on one). My two Ekcos in working order with the feature (the aforementioned 1955 TMB272 and a 1959 17” TC346) – had three dedicated tuned presets (so they could not be readjusted by the end user but could be readjusted by a service technician probably using lots of expensive RF alignment equipment) on the VHF turret tuner, marked “H”, “L” and “T” – BBC Home, Light and Third services, which were the only three UK radio stations at that time on FM. The limitation in the station choice here isn’t simple bloody-mindedness, it was quite obvious that manufacturers thought there would never be any other FM radio stations at least within the design life of the set (which was usually between 10 and 15 years). “Free market” thinking of the way we are now used to would still have been very alien at the time, despite the 1954 Television Act.

However, the idea of integrated radios wouldn’t entirely fade away after this and wasn’t new either. The idea was applied to pre-war and some early post-war TVs more successfully and then – with arguably even greater success – on small portable TVs (usually around 5” screen size or larger and in black and white) in the 1980s on clock radios and those TV/ghetto blaster combis. However, here – as in pre-war and post-war Britain – the roles were usually reversed, with the TV usually being of secondary use to the radio. When the idea could be applied to all TVs through the availability of radio stations on digital TV from 1998 (and I think on Sky Analogue before it), it took off for a while in the 2000s but most people now seem to listen to the radio either still on a traditional radio or via the internet in some way.

Big, bigger, biggest

There are undoubtedly two reasons for the choice of people’s screen size and of 17” being most popular. One being the size of the average living room/lounge at the time, the other being that 21” screens were really pushing the 405-line system to its limit, the black gaps between the scanned lines would look more obvious and objectionable. Some manufacturers (again, like Ekco) used a method of “fattening” the electron beam’s scanned lines to reduce the black gaps between them and make the picture more pleasant. However, in the manufacturer’s quests to offer ever-larger screens for our ever-larger living rooms funded by our ever-larger bank overdrafts and credit card loans, it was obvious that the definiton of the picture had to increase. “Oh what’s that, Europe? It’s now the early 1960s and you have a ready-made 625-line system we can take advantage of? Perfect, that’ll work with our 20-something inch TV screens perfectly maybe until the late 2000s!” And that, ladies and gentlemen is why – now in a digital world – the same basic principle explains why 625-line SD TV programmes look anywhere between “meh” to “atrocious” on your HD or 4K TV, yet they looked fine on your 1996 25” Fastext Sanyo TV. The demand for bigger screens on non-portable TVs has always driven the need for higher-definition pictures.

Project project

I have never had the time or storage space for these or the inclination to restore a projection TV and they never really took off, the only times I ever encountered their 1990s colour descendants were in dodgier-looking pubs. One thing I have noticed is that I don’t think any “mainstream” TV manufacturer made them in the 1950s and 60s. I don’t recall any such models during the 1960s and 70s (though two huge colour ones make appearances in an OB from Trafalgar Square early in the BBC’s 1970 election night coverage). The idea resurfaced in the 1980s and 1990s – this time from mainstream manufacturers like Mitsubishi (yes, readers even younger than me, they used to make AV equipment as well as cars!) but once again was completely impractical for the home user and picture quality (or lack of) led to most pubs that boasted things on a banner like “SKY SPORTS HERE!!!” just using several domestic off-the-shelf CRT TVs fed from one or two Sky TV boxes. The pictures were smaller but much brighter and livelier. Of course the advent of cheap and large flat panel TVs with high-quality pictures has killed off both CRT and rear-projection TV, though rear-projection TV does have much more successful offspring in the shape of PC projectors.

I won’t continue to comment on Judith Chalmers but I sure as hell wish I was there…

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