Friday, September 16, 2016

Television before the first broadcast

All day channel 9 has been commemorating the 60th anniversary of the first television broadcast in Australia in 1956.  But I happen to know that there were broadcasts before then.  Test broadcasts, admittedly, but broadcasts nonetheless, and some people did actually watch them.

The first job my father, Ken Gibbons, had was as a cadet engineer with AWA.  One of the side lines AWA was working on was promoting television. They had a television camera, and a whole array of various monitors.  The camera was from Marconi in England, the monitors were mostly from RCA in America, and they used to take the gear round to various places and did a lot of closed circuit demonstrations. Their two stars were Joe the gadget man, who went on to become a regular promoting Nock and Kirbys (do you remember him saying "bring your money, bye [buy] now" at the end of his segments?) and a scientist who coupled the camera to a fairly low powered microscope. 

When the Queen came to Australia for the 1954 Royal Tour they did some of these demonstrations.  The first one was in Sydney.  The cameras were set up on the City side of the Botanical Gardens – possibly near the Man O'War steps – where a special wharf was set up for the arrival of the Queen and Prince Philip.  It was broadcast by microwave across to the Spastic Centre in Mosman (I know that isn't a politically correct word now, but it's what it was called at the time), and Dad was over at the Spastic Centre, where he took some photographs off the monitor screen. 

Marconi camera

Transmitted image

Then they went to Canberra for the opening of parliament with the Queen, and that was broadcast across Lake Burley Griffin to the hospital (the one that they eventually demolished with disastrous results), but no photo were taken there.

Finally they went to Brisbane and did the opening of parliament there too, and at that time Dad was actually at parliament house, not at the other end.

Access to the roof for microwave dish installation

Getting the dish up

Hauling it into place

Dish finally in place
The purpose of all this work was promoting television – trying to prove to certain investors that it could be a viable thing.  There was no film, it was all live, and there were certainly no video recorders in those days.  Such a thing as a flying spot scanner did exist which could convert film to live television, but there was no recording made of these test broadcasts of the royal tour.  The only recording method available was to photograph it an put it through a flying spot scanner.  So no record has been kept of any of it.  As far as he knows, the only record of it were his few photographs, because nobody else took any photos. 

Regular television broadcasts commenced two years later in 1956 on TCN-9, when Bruce Gyngell spoke those famous words "Good evening, and welcome to television."

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