A Significant Anniversary 

The Birth of Television



Eddie Kelly August 2011

A recently discovered article in the Keighley News dated 18th August 1951 reported the first official television pictures had been received in Keighley on the previous Wednesday - 15th August 1951. This was the date of the first test transmissions from the recently constructed Holme Moss transmitter erected on the hills above Huddersfield. The tests consisted in the main of 'experimental diagrams' and 'screen pictures'. At a later date, actual programme content was included in the run-up to the anticipated live broadcast date on 12th October 1951.

Following this first test transmission local radio retailer J S Ramsbottom & Co. of Cooke Lane reported reception as reasonably good but too much local interference in the area had affected picture quality. H Wilkinson another radio retailer with premises in the Arcade North Street reckoned there was great disturbance in the central area due to the extensive electrical equipment used at Victoria Hospital which affected the picture with the bottom half being 'washed away' from view with electrical interference.

The BBC had stated that reception could be impaired by electrical apparatus in use nearby; passing cars buses and aeroplanes as well as telephones ringing in nearby kiosks.

This statement became reality during the proposed first public viewing of the new technology which had been arranged to take place at a house in Scott Lane West, Riddlesden; the home of Mr. James Holden regional representative of the Murphy Radio Co. who had installed one of their receivers at the house. Unfortunately the proposed demonstration had to be twice abandoned firstly when Morton Banks hospital commenced using electrical equipment while treating a patient resulting in the screen being 'blacked out' followed by a lady in the house opposite continually using her electrical sewing machine creating too much interference which completely 'fogged' the screen making viewing unviable.

Mr. Holden suggested suppressors would have to be fitted to almost every electrical gadget to enable clear viewing. An appeal had been made to motor vehicle operators and users to have suppressors fitted to their vehicles at a cost of little more than a couple of shillings (10p) to help minimise electrical interference.

Following the initial trials and during the continuing test programme local radio, electrical and music dealers commenced a reasonably aggressive advertising campaign over several weeks in the pages of the Keighley News. First in the field appears to have been J S Ramsbottom & Co., already well established as a leading supplier of radio apparatus and provider of the radio relay service with a weekly listening fee of 1/3d (6p) advised testing from Holme Moss had commenced and suggested 'ordering your television receiver from the experts'. Ramsbottom's also commenced public demonstrations of television at their showrooms daily from 10:00AM - 12 noon and from 3:00PM - 4:30PM subject to the BBC transmitting programmes during the teat period. This company very quickly changed its business style to Radio and Television Engineers and was offering a bewildering choice of receivers with 9, 10, 12 and 16 inch screens from manufacturers such as English Electric, Alba, GEC, Marconi and Philco as well as those with lesser known or now forgotten names such as Ultra, Etronic, R.G.D. McMichael and Argosy.

Another early stockiest was the long established music business of W. H. Burns on East Parade who were the local agents for His Masters Voice musical products. HMV were now offering their AC/DC table top television receivers for 57 guineas (59.85) which purchased a receiver containing 14 valves and a 10 inch aluminised 'Emiscope' tube giving a clearer brighter 7 inch or 9 inch viewing screen. Consol (floor standing) models were available from 85 guineas (89.25). Also offered were models by Peto Scott, Marconi and McMichael. Keighley's other music store; Harry Midgeleys located in Cavendish Street were offering a further HMV model; the 15 inch consol retailing at 178 guineas (186.90).

Bacon and Coates electrical retailer at 75 Low Street were stocking models from English Electric - 'the last word in receivers', whilst almost opposite national retailer Currys located at 80 - 82 Low Street next door to the long gone Hare and Hounds public house had the Ferguson 12inch table model available for 65 guineas (68.25). Currys were also stocking equipment from Marconiphone, Ultra, Pilot GEC and Philco all available for cash or terms to suit. In addition this organisation reminded possible purchasers of their national presence and their expertise gained by carrying our numerous installations in the South and Midlands where the new technology had been available for some time.

The Ferguson 12 inch consol model was available from Greenwoods of Cavendish Street for 80 guineas (84). H Wilkinson of the Arcade North Street were promoting 'the finest selection of receivers in town' including models by Murphy, Bush, Ekco, K.B., Philips, Ferguson, Pye and Ferranti all available on hire purchase terms if required. Nichols of South Street offered immediate delivery of all the previously noted models with prices commencing at 49 guineas (51.45) or from as little as 8/6d a week. The Co-op Radio and Electrical department in Low Street had eight models of their own brand receiver 'The Defiant' available. The TR949 model offered at 48.17.8d (48.88) was possibly the lowest priced receiver on offer in the district. The Co-op was the only supplier advertising aerials. Cussins furnishing store at 70 Low Street suppliers of the long forgotten Raymond F49 receiver offered for sale at 52.3.10d (52.19) or 10/- weekly provided the following specifications:

Cabinet: Beautifully polished 2 colour walnut veneer of charming design with 2 simple controls on the front. Picture: A brilliant picture is given even in daylight with needle sharp definition giving hours of trouble free entertainment. Loudspeaker: Sound circuits are designed to give life like reproduction of television sound. Interference: Suppressor circuits of unique design are incorporated to give massive rejection of any interference of both sound and vision.

Typical Advertisements

For the more enthusiastic members of the community who fancied building their own receiver; Harry Bairstow having recently moved to spacious new premises in Park Street Keighley began offering a range of government surplus valves, condensers and other components at much reduced prices.

It was announced the formal opening of the Holme Moss transmitter would be carried out by Lord Simon of Wythenshawe on Friday 12 Oct 1951; followed by a live transmissions lasting between 4 - 5 hours per day including broadcasts for children late afternoon and early evening with main programming commencing at 8:00PM. Sylvia Peters made the first announcement from Manchester Town Hall Banqueting Suite in front of two hundred guests assembled there. Richard Dimbleby introduced and spoke to several people before a 'TV Newsreel' was broadcast including a seven minute feature on the building of the Holme Moss transmitter. This was followed by 'From London - Hullo Up There' featuring Terry Thomas, Fred Streeter, Richard Hearne (Mr Pastry), Philip Harbern and other interesting personalities.

There appears to have been no reports of either any local interest or reaction to the opening night excepting J S Ramsbottom & Co. did open their Cooke Lane showrooms to the public during the whole of the broadcast. Unfortunately the opening night did clash with one of the highlights of the Keighley social year the annual Press Ball. Possibly the most likely purchasers and subsequent early viewers of the new phenomenon were engaged with this counter attraction.

Gradually more and more households invested in receivers or TV sets as they became known, many more taking advantage of rental schemes introduced from the early 1950's onward until television became the dominant social medium with people spending more of their spare time at home rather than participating in other activities. As this dominance grew the impact on other entertainment outlets proved disastrous. The first post war local cinema casualty was the Bronte Cinema at Haworth which closed 28th July 1956 because of increased competition from television. Eventually most cinemas would close or offer bingo as an alternative to television. The Hippodrome theatre in Keighley announced it would close following the last performance on 11th August 1956 although it did reopen for one week during late October the same year with Keighley Amateurs presenting Oklahoma. The final performance was given on Saturday 27th October 1956. Public houses were no doubt also loosing some of their clientele during the growth period of the 1950's, many providing alternatives to television by engaging professional entertainers and the introduction of more sophisticated surroundings with the provision by some of cocktail bars and dining facilities.

Social clubs appear to have not suffered much impact following the arrival and growth of television with total membership actually growing in Keighley. In February 1952 it was reported there were 57 clubs operating within the borough during the year from February 1951 with a total membership of 15,624. However very much against trends reported from other local entertainment sources total membership had increased to 16,392 during 1958 followed by a further increase to peak at 16,751 by February 1960.

Local sporting attendances at first remained stable; accountable perhaps due to these events and television broadcasts tending not to clash as one was played in the afternoon while the other was watched in the evening. A number of live broadcasts were made from the town during September 1952 including an outside broadcast across the national network of the entire match between Keighley and the Australian rugby league touring team on Saturday 6th September 1952. Australia scoring twelve tries as they convincingly beat the Keighley team 54 - 4.

Television has now become the most dominant and durable cultural medium ever, continuing to evolve as new technologies are embraced subsequently generating more informative, educational and entertaining opportunities for the viewer. It is significant that here in Keighley the first official transmissions were received 60 years to the month when the original analogue transmissions will be switched off as the blanket conversion to digitised signals continue.

Footnote. While the test transmissions commencing 15th August 1951 were the first officially broadcast signals received in Keighley it was reported a handful of enthusiasts had been attempting to receive transmissions from the Sutton Coldfield transmitter near Birmingham which commenced broadcasting 17th December 1949. The receivers and attendant aerials would have had to be located on the higher points in the town and the results would have been very inconsistent, possibly hopeless as the northernmost transmission limit of the Sutton Coldfield transmitter at the time was Stoke on Trent. It may have been possible to obtain a limited and extremely intermittent signal in only freak weather and atmospheric conditions.


Eddie Kelly August 2011