National Media Museum blog

We explore the science, technology and art of the still and moving image, and its impact on our lives.

Britain’s first TV set is one of the stars of our Collection

Over the past 30 years, we’ve acquired some of the most historically significant television-related artefacts in the world. One which deserves particular mention is the first television set ever put on sale in Britain.

Baird Model B Televisor, 1928, John Logie Baird, National Media Museum Collection / SSPLThe Model B Televisor in the National Television Collection was donated to us in 1994 by the Royal Television Society.

Baird Model B Televisor, 1928, John Logie Baird, National Media Museum Collection / SSPL
The Model B Televisor in the National Television Collection was donated to us in 1994 by the Royal Television Society.

The Model B Televisor was produced in late 1928 by my grandfather’s company, the Baird Television Development Company Ltd. You can see it on public display here in our television gallery, Experience TV.

Making the model B

The Baird Model B Televisor was officially known as a ‘Dual Exhibition Receiver’ due to its ability to reproduce both vision and sound. It was also nicknamed the ‘Noah’s Ark’ Televisor because of its shape and wooden construction. The latter name seems to have stuck.

The first commercial Televisors in the making at the Baird factory in Covent Garden, London, 1928.  (Television magazine, September 1928)

The first commercial Televisors in the making at the Baird factory in Covent Garden, London, 1928 (Television magazine, September 1928)

From 1928 – 1932 the Baird Company rented premises at 133 Long Acre (Covent Garden) in London. In 1928, all of the Baird Company’s television set manufacturing took place there.

Selling the Model B

My best estimate is that only about a dozen Noah’s Ark Televisors were built, although some historians think that up to 20 were made. The Model B cost £40 which was an awful lot of money in 1928. Add in a couple of deluxe radio receivers, and the whole kit and caboodle would have cost a staggering £150.

The Baird Television Development Company’s stand at the Olympia exhibition, London, September 1928  (Television magazine, November 1928)

The Baird Television Development Company’s stand at the Olympia exhibition, London, September 1928 (Television magazine, November 1928)

Noah’s Ark Televisors played a part in some of Baird’s most important experiments and demonstrations; including the first demonstration of stereoscopic (3D) television on 10th August 1928.

Struggling to get on the air

John Logie Baird and his company were eager to initiate regular broadcasts to stimulate the sales of the Model B and their other new Televisors.

After much argument between the Baird Television Development Company, the BBC, and the Government it was finally decided that regular television broadcasts would begin over the BBC London station, 2LO, in late September, 1929. However, the Baird Company would have to make the programmes on its own premises.

The first broadcast

The very first broadcast opened on the morning of 30 September 1929. From the outset, these broadcasts were semi-experimental, featuring a regular schedule of entertaining programmes, often attracting professional artistes from theatre, music, film and radio eager to try out the new medium.

Miss Lulu Stanley seated before the television transmitter in the Baird studio on the occasion of the inaugural broadcast through 2LO on 30 September 1929 (Television magazine, October 1929)

Miss Lulu Stanley seated before the television transmitter in the Baird studio on the occasion of the inaugural broadcast through 2LO on 30 September 1929 (Television magazine, October 1929)

There is little doubt in my mind that our model B would have been one of those tuned in to the first British television broadcast, because it would have been among less than 30 Televisors across Britain available to tune in on 30 September 1929.

First BBC television transmissions, 1929, Daily Herald Archive, National Media Museum Collection / SSPL

Sydney Moseley and two employees of the Baird Television Development Co. watch the inaugural television broadcast on a Noah’s Ark Televisor, 30 September 1929, Daily Herald Archive, National Media Museum Collection / SSPL

The low-definition television broadcasts would continue for the next six years, with viewership building up to a few thousand ‘lookers-in’ as awareness spread amongst the pre-existing radio audience that there was something to watch as well as hear over the airwaves.

Come and see the Model B Televisor this weekend

The Baird Model B Televisor is one of the iconic objects we’ve highlighted as part of our 30th birthday celebrations (this weekend!).

We’re dusting off some of the most famous objects from the history of photography, film and television and getting ready to party. Visit our website to see what’s happening this weekend.

Help us count down to our 30th birthday by sharing your memories of the Museum. Leave a comment on this blog, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter, using the hashtag #NMeM30.

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About Iain Logie Baird

I currently work as an Associate Curator at the National Media Museum, where most of my responsibilities concern the radio and television collections. I also study communications history and media ecology.

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