In this essay I intend to discuss the factors that shaped the invention and development of television in the UK up to 1939; these include the social, cultural, political and scientific factors that took place as well as the many technological changes. I will then conclude by determining the most important aspects of its development. Technological developments The essence of the television began in the early nineteenth century with the development of the telephone and the telegraph.
These communication devices can be seen as a more technical version to the way Native American Indians communicated via their smoke signal technique. The early telegraphs were large outdoor mechanical structures that proved to be very expensive to produce. During the 1840’s there came a great discovery and this was of electromagnetism, electric current was found to be of great use within wiring. It was this discovery that inevitably led to the development of the ‘electric telegraph’.
The electric telegraph was a transmitter of messages and signals through electric wiring and was transmitted via connections throughout the world. One of its earliest forms of communication was with the use of Morse code and this was greatly used within the railway system; before this invention the railways found it difficult to co-ordinate the transport thus creating many accidents on the rail tracks. The telegraph and the telephone were then developed further between 1842 and 1862 with the use of photography and this culmination became ‘telephotography’.
This became available with the use of the telephone lines. At each end of the communicative line was a system of metal ‘forks’ that rested over paper soaked in an iodine solution and when an electric current passed through these forks it would also flow onto the paper thus leaving marks according to their movement. With the transmission from both communication sources, images would start to appear on the paper making it able to instantly receive and transmit images. Telephotography is still in use today; or rather it has developed into what is now called a fax copy, which is short for facsimile.
This alone is an important development in television technology because it enabled us, for the first time, to use electric currents to send and retrieve images and ‘it could be said that the origins of television date back to the discovery of electricity by Volte and Galvani’ (Sinclair, I, 1995). By 1875 Britain, France, Japan and Australia had been connected via transatlantic cables, using electric currents, thus making the countries of the world an operating integrated network. The technical aspects of the television involve the scanning of an image via beams of light in a series of lines.
These lines of light make signals that are converted into electrical impulses. These are then amplified, transmitted and reconverted into the image shown on the television screen. Karl Braun invented this system with the use of a Cathode-Ray tube- “the word ‘cathode’ means positive and the word ‘ray’ was fashionable at the time” (Wyver, J; 1989); but its earlier design was quite different and had an alternative use in mind. In 1884, Paul Nipkow designed his idea for one of the first scanning machines- an electric telescope.
It comprised of a metal disc drilled with small holes that rotated between Selenium, a conductive substance, and a lens. Even though this idea was never actually developed it was picked up on by John Logie Baird who only slightly altered the design by implementing the use of vertical line scanning. He began this research development in 1922 and used a transmission of thirty lines. Even though this was successful the image was not perfect as it regularly became ‘faint and often blurred ‘(Wyver, J; 1989).
During the early 1930’s a rivalry erupted between a new broadcasting company, EMI (Electrical and Musical Industries Ltd) and Baird’s company (Baird Television Ltd), and so the Selsdon Committee was founded by the British Government to settle the dispute. This committee decided that it would be the BBC who would regulate between broadcasters and would use a transmission scanning system of 240 lines. In November 1936 regular television broadcasts began and with the more efficient broadcasts of EMI (using scanning of 240 lines), as opposed to Baird Television Ltd (using only scanning of 120 lines), EMI became the dominant leader of the two.
By the year 1938 five thousand television sets had been sold and in a period of one year this grew to eighteen thousand. Still, on a national scale, this was only showing the small interest in purchasing a television set and was due to the high price of manufacture as well as its high purchase price. The weak transmissions were also initially accountable for the lack of interest as not many areas of the U. K. were able to receive the signal- what was the point in purchasing a set when it couldn’t be watched anyway?
The television might have taken on an entirely different form. Akin to the telephone it could have been used as a two-way device and showing images of both of its users at either end of the communication; it could have been used for Air ministry purposes as a reconnaissance device for the military; but the changes that took place within its development were not only linked to technological achievements but to other influential factors as well.
Social and Cultural factors New technologies created many social effects within society and this is called ‘Social Determinism’, but it also had the opposite effect; that changes in the needs of society (either for cultural or economic benefits) were in direct partnership with the technological outcomes, this is called ‘Social Determinism’. In 1939 broadcasts and sales ended abruptly with the start of World War Two and the radio was the preferred medium.
It was radio that encouraged the growth of the television by becoming a part of everyday life in the homes of the nation. It was used as an entertainment during the turbulent time of war and as an educational and often political medium; but it was mainly used as a language expansion within social groups. As with the telegraph, the belief that there must be a need for social involvement was negated by some, ‘where was there the social necessity to turn these experiments into an invention? ‘(Winston, B, 1998, p. 5).
But television did play an important role in the changing of attitudes within society. For example, the experience of ‘time’ itself has changed due to the ample and up to date broadcasts of news. This change goes right back to the early newspaper publishing industry and argues how relevant the information collated or disseminated is due to the speed of its circulation within society- a newspaper or television broadcast may not use out of date information as it would be valued of lesser importance.
Thus showing that the speed of the communication tools used had a direct link as to the relevance of the information given or received. Finally, with the end of World War Two, interest in the television set was on the rise again as commerce greatly increased and the development of the television was becoming cheaper to manufacture and purchase. This enabled a more widespread population to buy their own sets as opposed to limiting them to the upper classes.
The public broadcasting of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II saw a huge increase in the sales of televisions. This event was a great political message on behalf of the royal family because in essence it could be deemed that they were inviting the entire nation to what would usually be a more private occasion – years before, the coronation of the King, seen on a smaller scale by the public, was not transmitted directly into their own homes and living spaces.
I believe that this event could have also been dubbed ‘the coronation of the television’ for this mass viewing showed broadcasters the true transmission potential that they had in their grasp; ‘public appetite is insatiable and our activities must be extended and the standard of programmes continually improved at all costs’ (Briggs; 1995, p. 209). During the period of the industrial revolution the public interest in new sciences and their potential to be beneficial was booming.
Manual labour increased with the demands of development and this also brought about a widespread interest in new technologies. Political and Economical factors The government saw the benefits of the developing sciences and invested time and money into the technological research for reasons of military development and national security. The government had control of the information over the airwaves of radio and television; and with the start of public service broadcasting in the U. K. the BBC issued licenses for both radio and television transmissions to subsidise the contents of the broadcasts.
The centralisation of political power led to a public need for unofficial messages; newspapers were the first examples of this and then television carried on the trend quite successfully. Televisions’ earlier medium, the telegraph, was an extremely useful tool when used in stock market communications by making it a more efficient economic system. However, illegal use of the telegraph occurred when the codes of information on the stock market were passed between private parties ensuing more developments. Conclusion
All of the influencing factors for the development of the television are important but there are certain aspects that, if left out of the equation, would mean its non-existence today. I believe that the economic factors of the television and its predecessors to be an important part in its development. Any developing science needs a source of funding and the television would not exist without the financing of research because ‘there would have been inadequate funds to develop the service’ (Briggs; 1995, p. 209).
Without funding the discovery of electricity might not have been realised; because of its expense, transatlantic cables would have been a luxury the U. K. wouldn’t have been able to afford. Manufacturing costs where extremely high, even in the development of the newspaper, for ‘by the 1880s provincial papers in Britain needed i?? 20,000 or i?? 30,000 working capital’ (Chant, 1990, p. 211). I also believe that the discovery of electric itself has great importance. Without this knowledge the use of electromagnetism would not have led to the invention of the telegraph, the first technological breakthrough that gained the U.
K. a place within the global communication network. The telephone could not exist without electricity and it was this that paved the way towards telephotography (fax machines), the predecessor to the television itself. Electricity radically changed developments from a mechanical form to an electrical form- it was faster and more nationally transmitted; again enforcing the notion that time is effective with technology. It is of my belief that another factor above all others has influenced the development of the television.
This would be convergence. The telegraph, the telephone, the radio, the facsimile; all of these inventions could not have come into being without the other, they are related. This has come about by ‘synthesizing a national culture from components that had begun to converge since the late nineteenth century’. (Cardiff & Scannell, 1991, p. 277). Without the convergence of the government and public service broadcasting there would not be the funding in place (licensing) to fulfil the public need for the service.
The convergence of industrialisation and the centralisation of political power fuelled the growth in the U. K. economy. Funding had a direct relationship with the social factors of industrialisation- the increases in manufacturing (employment); again, convergence is taking place. Therefore, I believe that it was this convergence of technology and social factors that was an integral part of the development of the television. Social and technological aspects have been intertwined for a long period of our history and history is always being re-thought as is technology.