Baird Intermediate Film process at Crystal Palace & Alexandra Palace




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Published on Jul 19, 2009

This is an EXTENDED version of a previously posted video.

This film give a behind the scenes view of the Baird Television Ltd facilities at the Crystal Palace, south London and Alexandra Palace, the home of the BBC Television Service.

Two newsreel footage segements, first is from 1934, and shows the Baird Intermediate Film Technique (IFT) Camera being operated at the Baird studio complex at Crystal Palace, and the resultant image appearing on a cathode ray television receiver. The second sequence shows the Baird IFT installation in Studio B at Alexandra Palace - as well as images of both the installations and two frames from an actual IFT film.

The Intermediate Film Technique was a system of using a film camera to shoot studio images, the film going instantly into baths of developer, fixer and then water, and while underwater was scanned by a flying spot scanner, to convert the film into an electrical signal ready for broadcasting.

The IFT system worked, some of the time, but it had problems with underwater air-bubbles interfering with the sound, and often film emulsion would peel off and get caught in the gate and mask the picture. The system also used lethal cyanide as the film developer to get the processing time down to almost instantaneous in fact it took just under a minute.

This Baird system, along with telecine machines, and a spot-light studio were used in the two-company trial at Alexandra Palace, where the BBC began the world's first, regular, public high-definition television service on 2nd November 1936. The intention had been to reconsider the performance of the two companies in April 1937, but with the Baird system suffering continuing inferior performance and unreliability, the government decided to adopt the Marconi-EMI system more rapidly, and the final Baird transmission went out on January 30, 1937.

While many pundits felt that the apparent competition between the two systems was a good thing, engineers at Ally Pally did not share this view. Programme Organiser Cecil Madden, quoted in Bruce Norman's book "Heres Looking at You", noted, "working in the Baird studio was a bit like using Morse code when you knew that next door you could telephone."

The fire at the Crystal Palace in December 1936, destroyed the Baird laboratories and the company were then unable to maintain the equipment at the BBC studios. This was the final nail in the coffin of the Baird Company and led to the end of their involvement in the race to provide a television system to the BBC. The Baird company then moved to receiver production - Baird receivers being some of the best available on the market.

This film footage is from the Archive Collection held by the Alexandra Palace Television Society.


~ APTS ~
Preserving the televisual past for the digital future

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