Hopes of Yorkshire television 

8 February 2021 tbs.pm/72275

But start unlikely before 1950

From Our London Correspondent

 

 

Yorkshire Post masthead

From the Yorkshire Post for 30 March 1948

FLEET STREET, Monday Night

A FIRST contract has been placed by the B.B.C. for apparatus for a Northern Area television station. This news, and the possibilities inherent in what is known as the television wireless link – the transmission of television signals by radio – encourage the hope that television will become available to Northern viewers at a comparatively early date.

Too much optimism, however, should not be induced. The real difficulty – apart from the considerable although unspecified cost – is a shortage of labour and materials. Preliminary work has began on a series of relay stations that are to link Alexandra Palace, the London television station, with the new station at Sutton Coldfield that is to serve the Midlands. But at Broadcasting House there is no confidence that television will begin at Sutton Coldfield much before the end of next year.

Further developments rest on the decisions of the Television Advisory Committee rather than on those of the B.B.C. It is not impossible that the Committee will approve an early “advance” into Yorkshire and Lancashire, but, on the whole, the probability is that 1950 will be well advanced before Yorkshire viewers see in their homes the first television programmes. It is understood that sites for stations north of Birmingham have been considered, but I am assured that “no sort of conclusion” has been reached on the subject.

The hilly character of the Northern country makes the choice of sites more difficult. Experience has proved that hills tend to screen television signals, and although the range of the Alexandra Palace station is supposed to be about 45 miles, many owners of television receiving sets find them ineffective at far shorter range. On the other hand, an acquaintance at Ashford, Kent, which is about 60 miles from Alexandra Palace, reports favourable reception. Presumably in this instance the signals find a channel for themselves between the North and South Downs.

 

A 45-mile radius circle drawn with Leeds at its centre and other towns and cities noted

Assuming an effective range of 45 miles, the 90-mile-wide circle shows the approximate area that will be served if the B.B.C. choose Leeds as one of the centres for the television stations that are expected to be set up in the North, probably beginning in 1950.

 

Delayed by ‘phone traffic

There can be little doubt that the so-called wireless link provides the most hopeful prospect for television developments. Before the war the transmission of television signals over long distances was generally thought to depend on the co-axial cable which was laid first from London to the Midlands, and subsequently extended to Scotland via Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle. But the expansion of long-distance telephony has completely choked this cable: all circuits which it carries are fully occupied with telephone communications. The G.P.O. is now providing a second co-axial cable, but of unknown assignment; the Department declines any further information.

The advantage of the co-axial cable for television purposes is that it can be tapped by mobile television vans. By this means any events, such as a Royal function or a sporting fixture can be recorded on the spot by the television camera and the “picture” carried through the cable to Alexandra Palace and thence to viewers’ screens.

To enable television signals to be radioed forward between between main stations four relay stations will link Alexandra Palace and Sutton Coldfield. The first outside London will be at Grimsdyke [sic] House, Harrow Weald, Sir W. S. Gilbert’s old home, in the garden lake of which he was drowned while trying to save the life of a guest in difficulties during a summer bathing party.

Other relays in the wireless link between London and Birmingham will be near Dunstable, Charwelton and Rowley Regis. These little relay stations, which “beam” television signals forward in either direction will be automatically operated and will need no staff once they are in operation. In due course one may expect to see similar stations scattered throughout the country. When that happens a programme televised in London, Yorkshire or elsewhere can be made simultaneously visible throughout the country, just as a sound broadcast can already be transmitted throughout the world.

The following section is commentary from Transdiffusion's expert writers

Russ J Graham writes: This article reads as if the author is only hazily aware of what television is, let alone how it works. But he does show up the UK’s biggest problem when spreading television to the provinces: the time and expense involved in laying cables from one transmitter to the next to create a chain.

Other large European countries got around this by establishing a local television service, run by the national broadcaster, in each city. This allowed for the lines to be connected up at a later date whilst television got underway without them. But it was terrible television: each station had only a couple of hours on air, showing locally-produced programmes and no access to the output of each other. This in itself was more expensive than the cable connections were and failed to drive television set sales – although people did complain bitterly when their local television stations was replaced by the capital city’s service when the co-axial did eventually arrive.

The slow pace of the development of ITV from 1955 was also due to the need to build these links to allow networking – backwards and forwards in the case of the original Big 3 regions and their 4 companies (the local companies had to wait years to get a line back to a near big neighbour to allow them to network their output, by which time the Big 4 companies had filled nearly all the programme niches the smaller companies might want to fill anyway).

The Post‘s article contains a hint that there may be local BBCtv stations until the co-axial is in place, but the fact that the BBC was building Sutton Coldfield at the same time as the links were being laid down suggests this was certainly not the BBC’s plan.

The tiny relay stations mentioned are microwave links. These are shorter range than the co-axial cable, meaning lots of them are needed – four just to reach the west Midlands. They’re quicker and easier to set up, yes, but the large number means they work out just as expensive as the Post Office’s co-axial was.

However, both the BBC and the ITA’s networks would use a mixture of the two, with the aim of balancing costs: co-axial where it was easy to lay down (along an existing railway, for instance, or built next to the newly arriving motorway network later in the 1950s), microwave for where the cable faced expensive obstacles (hills, waterways and mountains spring to mind).

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