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Opening of the BBC Television Service

The 'British Television Service' was inaugurated by the BBC from its new studios and transmitter at Alexandra Palace in North London on 2 November 1936 . The opening ceremony had to be staged twice, televised first by the Baird 240-line system and then the all-electronic 405-line Marconi-EMI system, with a short entertainment programme between.
        The service was officially opened by the Postmaster-General, the government minister with responsibility for broadcasting (as a branch of wireless telegraphy). These are the speeches made and repeated at the opening ceremony, followed by a list of the invited guests.

The Postmaster-General speaks to the Baird cameras.

Mr R C Norman
Chairman of the BBC

We are met, some in this studio at the Alexandra Palace and others at viewing points miles away, to inaugurate the British Television Service. My first duty is to welcome you, Major Tryon, in the name of the British Broadcasting Corporation, and to say how happy we are that you should have done us the honour of performing the inaugural ceremony.
     We of the BBC are proud that the government should have decided to entrust us with the conduct of the new service. We are very conscious of the responsibilities which that decision imposes upon us. At this moment of the starting of television our first tribute must be to those whose brilliant and devoted researchers, whose gifts of design and craftsmanship have made television possible. We are honoured by the presence of some of them here today. We wish also to record, Lord Selsdon, the guidance and encouragement which we have received from the two Television Committees over which you have presided.
        As for the future, we know already that television is much more complicated than sound broadcasting. We are, however, confident that television, in its special combination of science and the arts, holds the promise of unique, if still largely uncharted, opportunities of benefit and delight to the community.
     We are happy to think that some of its earliest opportunities will have as their setting the historic pageantry of next summer [the Coronation of King Edward VIII].
     The foresight which secured to this country a national system of broadcasting promises to secure for it also a flying start in the practice of television. At this moment the British Television Service is undoubtedly ahead of the rest of the world. Long may that lead be held. You may be assured that the BBC will be resolute to maintain it.
     Today's ceremony is a very simple programme. In every respect it will doubtless seem primitive a few years hence to those who are able to recall it. But we believe that these proceedings, for all their simplicity, will be remembered in the future as an historic occasion, not less momentous and not less rich in promise than the day, almost exactly fourteen years ago, when the British Broadcasting Company, as it then was, transmitted its first programme from Marconi House. In that belief, Mr Postmaster-General, we asked you to take the leading part in this ceremony, and I now invite you to inaugurate the new service.

Rt Hon Major G C Tryon
The Postmaster-General 

The Postmaster-General speaks to the Marconi-EMI camerasLord Selsdon, Mr Norman and all who are watching this ceremony from afar.
     It is a great privilege to be invited to inaugurate the British Television Service. For we are launching today a venture that has a great future before it. For me, it is also a new and extremely interesting experience. Though I have had experience of speaking into the microphone many times, this is the first occasion on which I have faced the television camera.
      Few people would have dared, 14 or even 10 years ago, to prophesy that there would be nearly 8m holders of broadcasting receiving licences in the British Isles today. The popularity and success of our sound broadcasting service are due to the wisdom, foresight and courage of the Governors and staff of the British Broadcasting Corporation, to which the Government entrusted its conduct 10 years ago. The government of today is confident that the Corporation will devote themselves with equal energy, wisdom and zeal to developing television broadcasting in the best interest of the nation and that the future of the new service is safe in their hands.
     I was very glad, Mr Norman, to hear your reference to the guidance and encouragement you have received from Lord Selsdon and the members of the Television Advisory Committee. We in the Post Office know well how unsparingly Lord Selsdon has devoted his great ability and high personal qualities to the public interest, both as Postmaster-General and on the Television Committees. I am very pleased that, under his guidance, the Post Office has been able to co-operate, through the Television Advisory Committee, in the development of this new service.
     I also should like to pay a tribute to all those who have devoted their talents and their time to solving the very difficult problem of television. We owe it to their skill and their perseverance in research that television has passed from the region of theory to the realm of practice.
     As you have said, Mr Norman, television broadcasting has great potentialities. Sound broadcasting has widened our outlook and increased our pleasure by bringing knowledge, music and entertainment within the reach of all. The complementary art of television contains within it vast possibilities of the enhancement and widening of the benefits we already enjoy from sound broadcasting.
     On behalf of my colleagues in the government, I welcome the assurance that Great Britain is leading the world in the matter of television broadcasting, and, in inaugurating this new service, I confidently predict a great and successful future for it.

Lord Selsdon
Chairman, Television Advisory Committee

Mr Postmaster-General, Mr Norman and viewers: I stand before you as representing both the Television Committee, which originally investigated the possibilities of this new field, and also the Television Advisory Committee, which continues to advise regarding its development. My colleagues and I much appreciate what has been said about our work, and I only wish that time and space permitted them to appear before this instrument today. In their name I thank you.
        It has rightly been said that the potentialities of this new art are vast and it is possible, for instance, to conceive of its being applied not only to entertainment but also to education, commerce, the tracing of wanted or missing persons, and navigation by sea or air. All these and more will, no doubt, in due time be tested, and some of them will arrive. The patient industry of inventors has helped us so far; now we hope that the kindly interest of the public will help us further.
     From the technical point of view I wish to say that my Committee hopes to be able, after some experience of the working of the public service, definitely to recommend certain standards as to number of lines, frame frequency, and ratio of synchronising impulse to picture. Once these have been fixed the construction of receivers will be considerably simplified but, meanwhile, do not let any potential viewer delay ordering a receiving set for fear that a change in these standards may put it out of commission almost at once.
     It is an essential feature of the development plans that for two years after the opening of any service area no such change will be made therein. For at least two years, therefore, today's receivers, without any radical alteration, will continue to receive Alexandra Palace transmission.
     Just how wide this London service area will prove to be is difficult to say with absolute certainty. Roughly speaking, it will cover Greater London with a population of about 10m or, again roughly speaking, a radius of more than 20 miles with local variations. There may be some surprising extensions; for instance, I should be unwilling to lay heavy odds against a resident in Hindhead viewing the Coronation procession.
     In the light of experience here we shall proceed with the location of a second and subsequent transmitting stations according as public interest justifies this course.
     Technically, Britain leads today, and we shall try, in the words of Sir Antony Gloster, to 'Keep our light so shining a little in front of the rest.' Today's simple ceremony will live in history, and I am proud to have taken part in it.


This is the list of those present at the inaugural ceremony.

Major Rt Hon G C Tryon MP, HM Postmaster-General
Lt-Col A G Lee OBE MC, General Post Office

Members of the Television Advisory Committee
    Rt Hon the Lord Selsdon KBE, Chairman
    Sir Frank Smith KCB, FRS
    Colonel A S Angwyn DSO, MC
    Mr F W Phillips CMG
    Mr O F Brown
    Mr J Varley Roberts MC

Marconi-EMI Television Company
Board of Directors
    Rt Hon Lord Inverforth, Chairman
    Mr H A White
    Mr A Clark
    Mr L Sterling
    Mr I Shoenberg
    Mr G E Condliffe
    Mr A D Blumlein
    Mr C O Browne
    Mr N E Davis

Baird Television Ltd Board of Directors
    Sir Harry Greer DL MP, Chairman
    Mr Harry Clayton
    Mr J L Baird
    Major A G Church, DSO MC
    Captain A G D West
    Captain W J Jarrard
    Mr T M C Lance
    Mr B Clapp
    Mr J D Percy
    Mr B D L Mogridge

Mr C E Rickard OBE, Technical General Manager, Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company

Radio Manufacturers' Association
    Mr Edward E Rosen, Chairman
    Mr L M Macqueen
    Mr D Grant Strachan

Sir Gordon Craig, President, British Movietone News
Mr CÚsar Saerchinger, London representative, Columbia Broadcasting System
Mr H T Young, President, Institution of Electrical Engineers
County Councillor E J Cawdron JP, Chairman, Alexandra Palace Trustees
Lord Rutherford OM FRS
Sir John Cadman GCMG DSc

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
Board of Governors
    Mr R C Norman, Chairman
    Mrs M A Hamilton
    Caroline Viscountess Bridgeman DBE
    Sir J C W Reith GBE DCL, Director-General
    Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Carpendale CB, Deputy Director-General
    Sir Noel Ashbridge, Controller (Engineering)
    Mr B E Nicolls, Controller (Administration)
    Mr Cecil Graves MC, Controller (Programmes)
    Sir Stephen Tallents KCMG CB CBE, Controller (Public Relations)
    and other members of the BBC staff.

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Page updated 2 March 2006