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John Logie Baird — by his daughter

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In this article, based on a talk she gave to the University of Strathclyde alumni group known as 'The Tech Club' on April 19 2006 and specially adapted in 2011 for the Helensburgh Heritage Trust website, Mrs Diana Richardson, daughter of TV pioneer John Logie Baird, recalls her father's life and work.

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IN 1946 John Logie Baird died in his sleep at our rented house in Bexhill-on-Sea. He was only 57 and he died at the wrong time: the war was over and things were starting to return to normal.

Men were being recognised for their secret war work and knighthoods were being handed out, but he missed all that.

He was busy starting a new business — cinema television on the screens of Gaumont British. Helped by his old school friend, Jack Buchanan, the music hall star, he started a new company (his fifth), John Logie Baird Ltd., with offices in Upper Grosvenor Street.

Baird_Switchover-1-27.04.11-wMy brother and I visited them once and I was most impressed by the magnificent marble floor in the spacious vestibule.

Unfortunately his offices were on the fourth floor — there was no lift — and as he trailed upwards my father joked that he would join us in a quarter of an hour or so.

He was very ill, but he had been ill so often that he himself did not take it seriously and none of the family realised the gravity of the situation.

A cinema television screen was installed in the Agar Street News Theatre and the first showing was of the Victory Parade on June 7, as it happened. It was a great success, but he was too ill to be there, and a week later he died.

With his death the business collapsed. My mother had nursed him to the end and then had to turn her attention to nursing Granny, her own mother, who had lived with us throughout the war.

She died in October and my mother, hardly surprisingly, had a complete breakdown that lasted several years.

My brother and I came to live at the Lodge, the family home in West Argyle Street, Helensburgh, then owned by our father's eldest sister.

She did a good job of bringing us up. We both got to Glasgow University, where Malcolm studied chemical engineering and ended his career as a Professor at McMaster University in Canada, while I studied English, met my husband and lived happily ever after.

But my father's memory did not fare so well. During the 50s and 60s his reputation declined to that of an eccentric inventor — a comic figure who messed around with sealing wax and string and lost a contract with the BBC in 1936 by insisting on using mechanical television, although it was being superseded by cathode ray television from America.

In fact back in 1936 there was virtually nothing to choose between Marconi EMI cathode ray television and the mechanical system. Both used high-definition short waves, both were black and white, and Zworykin's system was weak on broadcasting film, where the Baird system excelled.

However EMI was a big company and the cathode ray system was the way forward — my father knew this as well as anyone. But the then Baird Company wanted to stay with mechanical television as they had built up mechanical television to a high level of performance.

The general feeling was put about that the BBC had pioneered television — very far from the truth. Prior to 1930 they did everything possible to oppose it and concentrated on the radio, which was only four years older — the BBC started in 1922 and true television was first shown by my father in 1926.

Malcolm and I were busy with our own lives and let much of this bad publicity wash over us, but my mother was horrified.

She fought back by writing disclaimers in the papers, and by finally bringing out a book in the early 60s, 'Television Baird', in which she tried to justify his achievements. Unfortunately she was a pianist, not a scientist, and although she finally did get the book published in her native South Africa, it had little effect.

We were waiting for a champion. In 1973 my doorbell rang, and there on the doorstep were two men carrying an enormous box of chocolates. One man was the librarian from Strathclyde University and the other was a young lecturer from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Dr Peter Waddell.

He took up my father's cause. In 1986, with the journalist Tom McArthur, he published a book called 'The Secret Life of John Logie Baird' and a few years later an updated paperback version called 'Vision Warrior'.

With careful research McArthur and Waddell tracked down and authenticated a lot of evidence from people who either knew John Logie Baird or had met him in unexpected places during the war: a fascinating story indeed and one that is not yet complete.

I also have a book of memoirs, 'Television and Me', written by my father in 1941 while he was spending a few weeks at Tempsford Hall, a health farm in Bedford, after a minor heart attack. He was very bored and a fellow patient, the lawyer and former MP Mr Philip Morell, suggested he should write a book.

He dashed it off in a few weeks and never had time to revise it, but it makes lively reading. It was first published by the Royal Television Society in 1988, and in 2004 my brother edited a new version, which includes a final chapter by our mother which came to light recently. This book has done well, and I was very pleased when it was serialised as 'Book of the Week' on BBC Radio 4.

My father's main claim to fame is that he was the first person to transmit live images with light and shade. The date was October 2 1925. The claim has never been seriously challenged. But how did this come about?

By 1923 television was not a new idea. The Nipkow Disc, a flat, circular disc with a perforated rim which broke light up into dots as it revolved, had been invented by Paul Nipkow in 1884.

In 1911 Campbell Swinton had published a whole plan for electronic television using cathode ray tubes. He never tried it out but he published the idea as a “thought experiment”.

At about this time, a student called Vladimir Zworykin was studying electrical engineering in Russia and one of his tutors was Boris Rosing, an early experimenter in television. Zworykin was to emigrate to America after the first world war and his system of cathode ray tube television is still with us. As of 2011, it is rapidly being replaced by digital flat-screen television.

In the early 1900s, while still a schoolboy living at the Lodge, my father had experimented with television. He got the idea from a German booklet by Ernst Ruhmer on the selenium cell. This cell can convert light into electrical impulses which can be transmitted over the airwaves.

My practical father bought a stick of selenium and tried to rub it on to a porcelain cylinder, which he had heated on the range in the Lodge kitchen. The experiment resulted in burnt fingers, an unpopular mess on the stove and a terrible smell of burnt garlic — but he had learnt one thing.

JLB-with-D--M-1936The current from the cell was too weak to do anything useful in the way of transmitting. He had to have an amplifier. The valve amplifier was being invented even then, by Ambrose Fleming and Lee de Forest in 1905, but it was not readily available until after the First World War.

During the 1960s, while my father's reputation was at a low ebb, his early television equipment — hatboxes, darning needles etc. — had come in for some ridicule, but I myself think his triumph over lack of money and equipment does him immense credit. And by 1923, when he started working on television full time, he already had a lot of experience of improvising.

As you probably know, he spent the years 1906-14 at Glasgow’s Royal Technical College, finally achieving his diploma in Electrical Engineering. Because of his frequent absences because of illness, it took him eight years.

The diploma included practical work. He did this at the Argyll Motor Works, in Alexandria, Brash and Russell in Glasgow, and Halley's Industrial Motors at Yoker. During this time he lived in digs and participated fully in the work.

He writes in his memoirs: "I trudged to work in the cold dawn with sordid, miserable and grim poverty on every side, coughing and choking, either sickening for a cold or trying to recover from one.

"What a wave of resentment and anger comes over me even now, when I think of the awful conditions of work in those Glasgow factories — the sodden gloom, the bitter, bleak, cold rain, the slave-driven workers cooped in a vile atmosphere with the incessant roar and clatter of the machinery from six in the morning to six at night, and then home to lodgings surrounded by sordid squalor, too worn out to move from my miserable bedroom."

From this you can see he was a socialist and remained one throughout his life. He dressed the part, usually wearing a cloth cap, and once arriving at the Ritz with his belongings tied up in a red tablecloth. In the thirties and forties he also acted the part of an absent-minded inventor — he hated getting his hair cut, and my mother trimmed it when it became unbearably long.

We were evacuated to Bude in Cornwall during the Second World War and he visited us when he could.

One day he was sitting on a cliff top in a deckchair when he was arrested by a military policeman: the strange figure with his black astrakhan overcoat and long hair, writing busily in a notebook, looked suspicious. My mother bailed him out by showing his ration book!

The black astrakhan overcoat was his usual outdoor garment, winter and summer; he needed it because he was always cold. His feet were even colder than the rest of him — he had bad circulation — and he changed his socks several times a day. This fact led to his most successful early invention, the Baird Undersock.

However, I'm going too fast. Back in 1914, when he completed his diploma, he was told he could upgrade it to a BSc in six months at Glasgow University. His long-suffering family agreed to finance this and he had several most enjoyable months, making the most of student life and not spoiling it by overstudying.

The war had broken out in 1914, but it was supposed to be over by Christmas and no one took it too seriously. However the war was not over at the end of 1914.

In early 1916 he went to the recruiting office in George Square to join up. But the medical officer, after a cursory check up, stamped his card in big red letters 'unfit for any service'. This was a blow and it was not the last time his country would seem to reject him.

He had already taken a civilian job as Assistant Mains Engineer at the Clyde Valley Power Station in Rutherglen. He could scarcely have found more unsuitable work.

It consisted in being on call at any hour of the day or night — he had a phone in his lodgings — to gather his gang of navvies and trace and repair electrical faults. He got cold after cold.

The job was a dead end as he earned 30/- (₤1.50) a week with no chance of promotion because of his bad health and frequent absences. He was left with little alternative to launching out in business on his own account.

His first invention was an attempt to create artificial diamonds. He embedded a stick of carbon in a concrete-filled pot and passed an enormous current through it, to imitate the force and pressure which creates real diamonds.

This fused all the lights in Rutherglen, and although he soon restored them his bosses were not pleased and it hastened his departure from Rutherglen and the Clyde Valley Power Station. In the ensuing unpleasantness the pot of possible diamonds disappeared and it has never come to light again.

His next few projects were based on his own needs — a glass razor which would never wear out, a piles cure and pneumatic shoes to ease walking as he had flat feet. He experimented with all three on himself, with painful results.

Then he struck lucky. His feet were always cold and he invented the Baird Undersock, a thin sock sprinkled with borax and worn under ordinary socks. He publicised this by advertising in the 'People's Friend', resulting in one sale, and then by asking all his friends and acquaintances to go to the Polytechnic, Copeland & Lye, and Pettigrew's to demand Baird Undersocks.

He advertised with a plywood tank and sandwich women (not men), a new idea that did not catch on after the war. At the time it was 1917 and the slogan was 'keeps the soldiers' feet in perfect health'.

Soon he was earning in a week what would have taken a year at the Clyde Valley Power Station, but this was not to last. The inevitable cold necessitated six weeks in bed, and when he recovered the business collapsed.

Further thought was needed. He came to the obvious conclusion that the climate of Scotland was not for him and, with the profits from the Undersock, set sail for Trinidad. He took with him samples of haberdashery — safety pins, elastic, calico etc. — but soon found others had been before him and Trinidad was fully supplied.

What to do? The answer seemed to stare him in the face. Trinidad had sugar plantations and fruit — why not make jam? Possibly he also had memories of the brass jelly pans at the Lodge. He set up a jam factory and, with two helpers, operations commenced.

But they had forgotten something. The factory was virtually in the open and insects, attracted by the succulent steam, homed in on the mixture and made it unsaleable. He managed to recoup some £15 on his return to London by selling the remains to a sausage maker.

But was this the full story of the Trinidad episode? Dr Waddell quotes an article my father wrote in the Sunday Chronicle in 1936, about his voyage out: "I packed two large trunks with calico and a third trunk with books on sound, light, heat, electricity and the latest discoveries that pointed in the direction of my own goal, television. There would be plenty of time to read in the tropics."

Evidence of early television experiments in Trinidad come from eye-witness accounts from people who saw flashes of light proceeding from the bungalow he rented.

Jimmy Bain, chairman of Trinidad & Tobago Television, writes: "From my personal knowledge, Mr Baird did his experiments in Trinidad when I was a boy. He used to make guava jelly to sell and support himself while here and my father used to assist in selling his jellies.

"I remember my father mentioning the experiments he was doing here, although I would only have been ten years-old at the time. My father arranged for Mr Baird to live in the overseer's house on the cocoa plantation of Mr Albert Stollmeyer in Santa Cruz and it is here he conducted his experiments."

At that stage he was sending hazy pictures between two houses — no sound, of course.

He returned to London in 1921. More problems awaited him there. His long-term girlfriend, tired of waiting, had married someone else. Most of the money from the Baird Undersock had been spent and his health, always precarious, had been further undermined by malaria and dysentery.

He had not the heart for more than one project — the sale of cheap soap. But Baird's Speedy Cleaner was put out of business by Hutchinson's Rapid Washer, an even cheaper soap. My father's health grew worse and worse, until a doctor told him he must leave London at once if he wanted to survive.

I must now mention one of my father's main characteristics - he had a genius for making and keeping friends.

At school, Larchfield in Helensburgh, he had been president of the Camera Club, largely on the strength of owning the best camera, a Lizar's quarter plate Perfecta. He also rigged up a telephone exchange to four of his friends, and flew a homemade aeroplane off the roof of the Lodge, launched by his friend Godfrey Harris (he escaped with bruises).

Godfrey Harris was also a free spirit — he ended up in backwoods America and was killed while clearing an obstinate tree root by dynamite. Other lifelong friends included Jack Buchanan, the singer and dancer, 'Bony' Wadsworth, Neil Whimster and 'Mephy' (Guy Fullarton Robertson, nicknamed Mephistopheles due to his cadaverous face).

Also good friends were Oliver Hutchinson, of Hutchinson's Rapid Washer, who became the manager of the first Baird Company in 1925, and Sydney Moseley, a journalist who helped with business negotiations in the 30s and wrote a book, 'John Baird', in 1952, in which their mutual affection shines through.

I remember watching my father and Moseley from my bedroom window over the front porch at Sydenham as they made their way round the carriage sweep arm in arm, laughing and joking together.

Back to 1923. By then Mephy had become an actor, though while 'resting' he was prepared to turn his hand to anything that offered. He had lodgings in Hastings and invited my father to join him there. It was literally a lifesaver. A picture shows them on the front — my father is well wrapped up and Mephy is also carrying a rug.

After a few weeks of this care in the clean air of Hastings my father felt much better. On a long walk to Fairlight Glen, a local beauty spot, his thoughts returned to television and he returned to the lodgings with a complete system of mechanical television in his head.

Mephy commented: "I hope this doesn't mean you are going to become one of those wireless nitwits. Far better keep to soap. You can't afford to play about, you know." But like the loyal friend he was, he was ready to help.

So goes the story in the memoirs, but it appears that from boyhood he had never lost the idea of television and his desperate attempts to earn money by business were meant to finance his experiments. At all events, from 1923 onwards television took up all his time.

He started in the bedroom of the Hastings lodging and then moved to an attic in Queen's Arcade. By then he had a backer, Will Day, who paid £200 for a third share in the invention.

Light was a big problem, and my father spent most of the money on batteries, which he proceeded to join end to end. His mind wandered and he received the full force of two thousand volts through his hands.

Luckily he fell backwards, breaking the connection and saving his life, but the noise and flash reached the local paper and the landlord asked him to leave. Mr Day found another attic at 22 Frith Street, Soho, London and it was there that television was finally achieved.

Diana-HD-1948I quote from the memoirs: "Funds were going down, the situation was becoming desperate and we were down to our last £30 when at last, one Friday in the first week of October 1925, everything functioned properly. The image of the dummy's head formed itself on the screen with what appeared to me almost unbelievable clarity. I had got it!

"I could scarcely believe my eyes and felt myself shaking with excitement. I ran down the flight of steps to Mr Cross' office and seized by the arm his office boy, William Taynton, hauled him upstairs and put him in front of the transmitter. I then went to the receiver only to find the screeen a blank.

"William did not like the lights and the whirring discs and had withdrawn out of range. I gave him 2/6 and pushed his head into position. This time he came through and on the screen I saw the flickering, but clearly recognisable image of William's face — the first face seen by television — and he had to be bribed with half a crown for the privilege of achieving the distinction."

The original apparatus and the dummy's head were placed in the Science Museum at South Kensington. They are now in the National Media Museum in Bradford.

Television Ltd, the first ever television company (Director John Logie Baird, Business Manager Oliver Hutchinson), was afraid that a big company would buy them out or someone else would poach their work. They decided to go right to the top for their first demonstration and invite only the members of the Royal Institution, with the Times to represent the press.

Reactions were mixed, but a Mr Sanger Shepherd, who had worked on telegraphing photographs, summed up the situation in a few words: "Baird has got it. The rest is only a matter of £ s d."

Baird had indeed 'got it', but what was this early television like? It used medium waves, which meant it could be picked up from Aberdeen to France if one had a lot of patience and the right apparatus. Only thirty lines were possible on medium wave and the quality was poor, images only becoming more lifelike when the subject moved.

In size the screen resembled a postcard. It had a long way to go before it could become truly commercial and the fledgling BBC — founded in 1922, only three years before television arrived in 1925 — under its Director General John Reith was in no hurry to develop a new and untried medium.

Lengthy arguments ensued and it was not until the Post Office intervened in 1927 that the Baird Company got permission to use two airwaves — for sound and vision — and to transmit programmes for an hour or two around midnight, which they did from 1929 to 1935.

Numerous committee meetings were held by the Baird Company, which my father either skipped or slept through — he was not a business man. In his memoirs, he admits that this was a mistake.

He writes: "I was now a celebrity, but instead of using this to get into the right circle I turned down all sorts of invitations and continued to shuffle around in the lab in a state of dirt and dishevelment, absorbed in my bits and pieces.

"I paid for my carelessness later on, when big business got hold of television and of myself. Oh! Why did I not cash in while the going was good?

"A laboratory with all the apparatus I wanted was to me a perfect paradise. I was thoroughly absorbed and happy and there is no happiness to compare with the happiness of an inventor surrounded by his wires and mechanisms, trying this and trying that and ever anticipating some astonishing result."

Despite this absentmindedness the whole business depended on him and the company managed to get him insured for £150,000, an astronomical sum in those days. Because of his bad health the premium was £2,000.

And what about the 'bits and pieces' that he was messing about with in those early years? Between 1926 and 1929 he demonstrated four major inventions.

In 1927 he also broadcast television from London to Glasgow, at Central Station Hotel, and followed this up by broadcasting from London to New York early in 1928. On the way home the Baird Company broadcast to the Berengaria in the mid-Atlantic — the subject was Dora Selvey, the fiancee of the Chief Engineer. All this was done by thirty-line television on medium wave.

However, he was eager to find new fields for the invention. The first, in 1926, was noctovision: televising in the dark using infra red rays. This was much easier for the people being televised, as ordinary television used a battery of hot and brilliant lighting which was hard to sit under.

Later on infra red was replaced by reflected radio waves, but after 1927 no more appeared in the press. Because of its obvious use in the war the whole thing vanished into secrecy.

Also in 1926 he took out a patent for his 'electrical eye'. I quote from my brother's book, 'John Logie Baird, A Life', which came out in 2002: "While on the way to refining his spotlight scanning system, Baird devised an alternative method of using infra red rays.

"Instead of a lensed disc he employed two rotating slotted discs receiving an image broken up into dots or strips and sent through a honeycomb of hollow copper tubes, plated inside and closely packed together. He applied for a patent for this significant development in fibre optics on 15 October 1926."

Eighty years on, fibre optics are familiar to us all on very beautiful Christmas trees.

On the same day he applied for a patent for phonovision, an early form of video. This deserves a book to itself, and in the year 2000 it appeared - 'Restoring Baird's Image' by Donald F.McLean.

In a lecture given by my father to the Physical and Optical Societies on 6 January 1927 he said: "Vision modulations are audible if received on an ordinary wireless receiver and are heard as characteristic sounds, each scene having its corresponding sound . . . these sounds form permanent records of the scenes they correspond to.

"They may be reconverted into electricity by playing the phonograph in front of a microphone and, by using this electrical output to actuate a televisor synchronised with the phonograph, the original image may be reproduced."

My father left several of the phonograph records, but he decided that they would never compete with cinema as the quality was so poor. He was not quite right about this - witness the numerous video and now dvd shops!

His own discs have stood the test of time and, using digital, Mr McLean has been able to play them back. I have seen a demonstration — the quality was restored until we could see the high kicks of the chorus line and the face of Betty Bolton, a singer and dancer of the period.

Next came stereoscopic television, 3D. This was shelved for the same reason — poor quality. Another drawback, as many of us can remember from the cinema, is that the viewer needed to wear cardboard glasses with one red and one green lens.

I understand that Strathclyde University is now working on the problem and I will be interested to see the results. Braithwaite Telescopes are also currently working on a 3D front projection screen at Dalserf in Lanarkshire.

Malcolm-and-Diana-Baird_1952-wHis last ‘twenties' development has become universal — colour television. This was achieved in 1928 by covering the three spirals of holes on the transmitting and receiving discs with coloured filters, red, blue and green. It was shown on a screen about 3 inches by five inches.

Dr Alexander Russell wrote in Nature: "The coloured images we saw were quite vivid. Delphiniums and carnations appeared in their natural colours and a basket of strawberries showed the red fruit very clearly."

Meanwhile, negotiations with the BBC for air time were not going well. As was almost inevitable, Britain had lost its monopoly of television in April 1927, when the American Telephone & Telegraph Company, AT&T, first demonstrated television.

They used Baird's system without saying so, as Dr Alexandre Dauvillier, the French physicist who had himself produced an electronic system, commented in a 1928 article for the Revue Generale de l'Electrique. The Americans had sent television from New York to Washington, a distance of 250 miles. Baird bettered this the same year with his broadcasts to Glasgow and New York, to say nothing of the liner Berengaria.

In 1929 the BBC, urged on by the Post Office enquiry, granted the Baird Company the use of two airwaves, for sound and vision, and granted them an hour or so of air time in the middle of the night, after the wireless closed down. Midnight television went out from Long Acre Studios.

The entertainment was often members of the Baird staff reading aloud or reciting, but distinguished artistes like Gracie Fields and Jack Buchanan also appeared. Among them was a young South African pianist, Margaret Albu.

By 1930, my father was living in some style. He rented a hunting lodge, Swiss Cottage, near Dorking and had staff and a cat — our family have always like cats. He asked Mephy to join him and take charge of the domestic arrangements. For transport they used taxis.

After the first meeting with Margaret, things moved rapidly. He invited her down for lunches and dinners, with another girl as chaperone, and in a few weeks it was obvious that they were in love.

On a business trip to New York in 1931 he telephoned her, pointing out that it cost £1 a minute, and asked her to join him and get married. She joined him and they were married in his hotel bedroom, where he was laid low with the usual chest problems. The witness was his assistant, Mr Knight.

In 1932 the BBC finally recognised television and took over the broadcasts, using the Baird system. It was about time.

The Baird Company had had to rent the airwaves, pay for technical help, provide studios and pay the artistes. By 1932 they had sold nearly a thousand receivers and there was a big audience who had built their own sets. But even so they could not afford to run a full-scale broadcasting service.

From 1932 the BBC ran a limited low-definition service on 30-line medium wave, but it was obviously time to move on to high-definition television on short wave. The last 30-line programme went out at 11pm and included the pianist Cyril Smith, who had taken part in earlier BBC programmes. The date was September 11 1935.

High-definition television on ultra-short waves and using the Marconi EMI system started in 1936. It could only be seen in a 40-mile radius of London and programme time was limited.

After that my father retired from public life and devoted his energies to working in his offices in the Crystal Palace and in the lab at our house in Sydenham. He concentrated on cinema television with Gaumont British and also on perfecting an all-electronic scheme of colour television.

In December 1940 he demonstrated 600-line colour stereoscopic television by cathode ray tube on a screen 2ft 6in by 2ft using electronic scanning and interlacing the two basic colours blue/green and red/orange.

The stereoscopic effect was achieved without the red and green-lensed glasses we needed in the cinema, but the viewer had to keep his head still. The demonstration was a success, but in 1941 no cash offers to develop it appeared.

However, he continued with the work and on August 16 1944 he gave a press demonstration of colour television by means of the Telechrome: a spherical cathode ray tube.

My brother Malcolm writes:  “The essential element was a cathode ray tube of a rather special type, incorporating a screen which was semi-transparent and was bombarded with electrons from both sides."

A News Chronicle reporter wrote: “The image was in colour as natural as any colour film I have ever seen. The light grain of my pipe stood out clearly, a bead of perspiration on my forehead was highlighted and the book in my hand was pictured so clearly that the coloured title of it could be read."

Late in 1943 a government committee was formed to investigate post-war television. It was called the Hankey Committee after its chairman. Evidence was taken from the GPO, BBC, Scientific and Industrial Research, Air Defence and one individual — John Logie Baird, Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

The committee published a white paper in 1945 accepting many of his suggestions. These were: restarting pre-war high-definition television; starting commercial television (ITV), which happened in 1954; colour television, not until 1967; and all-electronic stereoscopic television, still to come.

After the war he started a new company, John Logie Baird Ltd., for cinema television, but he died before it got properly started.

However, underneath all these public achievements lies a stratum of secret work, dating from the late 1920s when noctovision vanished from the papers. The family knew absolutely nothing about this until the revelations of Dr Peter Waddell appeared.

My father was well able to observe secrecy — he liked to have several irons in the fire and even his assistants did not know everything he was doing.

The only factor that has ever suggested to me that there was more going on than television was his absolute refusal to leave London during the war. It was the only disagreement between my parents. My mother begged him to return with her to South Africa, where the climate would certainly have helped his health or, failing that, at least to join us at Bude.

There was no real reason why he couldn't do colour television there and it would have been cheaper than running two establishments. However he refused to move. The windows of the house were blown out several times. Finally it was boarded up and he had to live in several uncomfortable wartime hotels; luckily the lab was still usable.

To us he made a joke of his discomforts, telling us stories of Izzy and Dizzy, two flies who lived with their mother, Mrs Flossie Flannelfoot, in equally uncomfortable surroundings. He struggled on until 1944. Then, my mother rented a house at Bexhill, 1 Station Road, from where he could commute to London and still enjoy the sea air.

Two of his wartime achievements are in the public domain. One is air-to-ground television. The French air force wanted air-to-ground reconnaissance pictures, and in 1938 they chose the Baird system over EMI, as lighter and less cumbersome. A French Marcel Bloch bomber was equipped with secret television and cine systems by the French.

Experiments, supervised by Ray Herbert, one of my father's assistants, started at Hendon Airport and then moved to Orleans and finally Toulouse. Further details were lost in the German occupation.

Another achievement we do know about is facsimile television. In 1944 the Daily Telegraph was allowed to publish an article on this work under the headline "5 Novels a Minute", referring to the extremely high rate at which information could be transmitted, estimated at 750,000 words a minute.

But there is another, even more important reason why he stayed in London — radar. Noctovision, seeing through darkness with infra red rays, immediately suggests military uses. There are tantalising glimpses of this right through my father's career.

He was reportedly seen in Trinidad, a collecting point for transatlantic convoys, during the war and he also turned up, dressed in uniform, at various training camps during the twenties and thirties.

My aunt's housekeeper, Margaret Scott, thought she remembered seeing a uniform in the front bedroom wardrobe at the Lodge. You can read the full story in Dr Waddell's book, 'Vision Warrior', published in 1990.

However, his main achievement was television. It would have come eventually, but without his urgency and drive it would have come to Britain at least much later, and more probably from America.

I have some copies of my father's memoirs at £9 - the money goes to a John Logie Baird Scholarship Fund at Strathclyde University. The memoirs were written at Tempsford Hall where he was recuperating in 1941.

He never had time to revise them, but the man himself shines through. There you will get his breadth of spirit, his very Scottish sense of humour, his generosity and above all his courage — a fitting legacy of a great man.

Diana-Baird-1983-Radio-Rentals

April 2011 Update: Unfortunately the memoirs 'Television and Me' are out of print, but copies can still be obtained through Amazon.co.uk. The companion book entitled 'John Logie Baird: a life', by Antony Kamm and Malcolm Baird, is still in print.

  • Photo of Mrs Diana Richardson outside the John Logie Baird pub in Helensburgh is copyright Donald Fullarton Photos.
Last Updated ( Sunday, 14 October 2012 17:43 )  

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  • Wednesday October 29 — AGM at 7pm; Robert Layden: The 9th Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in World War One
  • Wednesday November 26 — Ian McKellar: Parkhead and the Garden, Rosneath       

  • Wednesday January 28 2015 — Michael Gallagher: Reinventing Ruins — stories from Kilmahew and St Peter's Seminary
  • Wednesday February 25 — Tam Ward: Recent Discoveries by the North Clyde Archaelogical Society
  • Wednesday March 25 — Michael Davis: Curious Interconnections of the Mansions of Cowal

All meetings are in the upstairs meeting room at Helensburgh Tennis Club, Suffolk Street, at 7.30pm

Charity Number

Scottish Charity
SC024603