82 years of TV – Now in Colour! An update

Well, it is 80+ years since the first official TV broadcasts were made from Alexandra Palace. Logie Baird and EMI battled it out during an evening’s viewing in the late ‘30s, seeing which TV system would give the best results. Baird’s system was based on a frightening mechanical, 240 line system. If the main part, a spinning disc broke loose, it would have taken out half of Southern England. EMI’s version used all electronic cameras that could be mobile and the resolution was 405 lines. EMI won. This system remained in use in the UK until 1985. Just shows you how good it was. Of course, this was a black and white system, but colour was on its way.

Colour TV had been around in the USA since the late ‘40s. RCA had developed a system for transmitting colour signals working with the NTSC, National Television Standards Committee. This standard was also known as Never Twice the Same Colour, (I am being sarcastic, unusual). The system had flaw. The early colour decoder circuits in the TV, struggled to resolve the correct colours. People’s faces would slowly turn green and blue over the course off an evening’s viewing. Sets had a colour “hue” control to compensate, meaning chubby Chuck would have to get up from his god-damned-son-of-a- bitch chair to adjust the set every hour or so.

France adopted a colour system called SECAM, Séquentiel couleur à mémoire.  It was the first European system to be developed, really only used in France. Like most things French, including the women and Citroën cars, it was bloody complex and a nightmare to work with. Smoke a packet of Gauloises, down a bottle of Dubonet, was the best way to attempt a repair to these complicated circuits.

Britain and most of Europe used a colour system called PAL, Phase Alternating Line. Developed in Germany, it was a simpler system and worked well, being able to display existing black and white transmissions.

1967 The start of UK Colour TV!

BBC and ITV had been gearing up for colour, on the back of the new UHF 625 line TV system.  Radio Times proudly highlighted programs that were to be In Colour. This was a massive boost to the TV rental businesses.  Early Colour sets were not reliable. “Dodgy Bob” round the corner, had been bodging black and white sets up to now. Colour sets demanded expensive tools and some proper knowledge. You had to have a good aerial and a strong signal. If not colour would fade in and out.

Philips G6

In ’67, Philips released a monster of a TV chassis. It was a mix of valves and transistors. Very hard to work on. I would rather change an engine in a tug boat single handed than work on this set. Valves that gave off X-Rays, sterilising the engineers’ nether regions. Took 4 of you to get the set upstairs.


Late ‘60s-‘70s GEC brought out a range of colour sets. Again, Hybrid, a mix of valves and transistors. I have a soft spot for these sets. I bought them, ex-rental, by the car full, change a few parts that were known to go faulty and away the set went for another 5 years.  They did however, have a tendency to catch fire, which some people found annoying.

Thorn 2000

Here we go.  ’68, Thorn (Ferguson, Ultra, HMV..) designed an all transistor colour set! It had 14 different circuit boards, massive cable looms, loads of preset controls to twiddle in the back. The TVs were good and set the way for most makers’ development plans. Other Thorn chassis, 3000-9500 ran into the late ‘80s and were all good.

Mullard, Mazda made most of the colour TV tubes. Depending on how much the set was used, you might get 5-8 years before the picture went soft, out of focus, as the electron guns lost their emission.  Lots of little companies set up, selling “re-gunned” tubes. You took your old tube in, the vacuum within the glass tube would be released carefully, the glass cut and the old gun assembly removed. The new gun would be glass-welded to the tube and a vacuum pump used to remove the air. Back to the workshop, fit the tube into the set and spend the next day trying to set it up so the picture was watchable. Some of the re-gunning firms were rubbish! I made sure all the sets I bought to for refurbishment and resale had Toshiba tubes fitted. Shame, but these lasted so much longer.

We now have 60”+, high definition, 4K 8K, 3-D, Cinema sound and can watch TV on the move. I wonder what Logie Baird is saying about this?

Seth Pittham. Zeta Services.

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