Next year the BBC will be a hundred years old. To celebrate this momentous anniversary Jot 101 is looking at the Christmas 1932 number of the Radio Times,which can be found in your Jotter’s private collection.
The issue in question is the ‘ Southern edition ‘,which gives a flavour of the Corporation’s output, although it seems to exclude Northern England and Scotland.
Obviously, the festive period was a chance for the BBC to broadcast some of its best wireless programmes, but the magazine is also significant in that it tells us about the latest development of the period, which was Television. In the UK (other countries seem to have been more advanced in this area) the BBC were committed to the Baird system of ‘ low definition ‘ Television. This used a rather primitive method of revolving discs to scan an image of performers standing between two sets of photo-electric cells. Because the apparatus was comparatively rudimentary the result was a distinctly blurred image. The performers also needed to apply heavy make up and adopt a certain costume in order to convey their presence across the ether. Television broadcasting using this basic system began in August 1932, essentially as an experiment. Radio was king at the time and Television was relegated to a mere half hour of ‘ entertainment ‘ tagged on to the end of the day’s programmes at around 11 pm.
The TV fare offered by the BBC for this half hour was pretty basic and usually consisted ( in late 1932 at least) of a short dramatic reading and some singing or dancing. On December 27th, for instance, viewers were treated to a ‘Christmas Puppet Play ‘ entitled ‘Robinson Crusoe’ in which a certain Nell St John Montague was accompanied by a dancer called Priscilla Sarsfield. On the following evening ‘Donald Peers, Collins and Annette ( a Song and Dance Trio)’ did their thing accompanied by the dancer Rosemary Reynolds.
We can only imagine what kind of dance these two young ladies performed, but the get-up of one particular dancer, Miss Laurie Devine, suggested something rather extraordinary. The most prominent feature of one of her costumes was a triangular, rather futuristic, ‘Euclid mask’, worn with a special costume in which stripes and thicker bands of black contrasted severely with white areas. One wonders if this spectacular effect was influenced by the ‘ Dazzle ‘ camouflage invented by Futurist artist Edward Wadsworth for warships in World War One. There are certain similarities. Elsewhere in this issue of Radio Times the same dancer is shown holding an ethnic-looking mask while wearing a different all-black costume. Presumably the outfits were designed to accentuate the prancing ( think John Cleese’s Ministry of Silly Walks )movements of Miss Devine’s dancing style and make it more visible to the Television audience.
This experimental phase continued for a few years until it was decided that the image conveyed to the viewing public by the Baird system was far too crude, and so ‘ low definition’ Television was abandoned in favour of the ‘high definition’ Marconi-EMI system developed in the U.S. Before long this had been rolled out across much of the UK and thus the Television that we know today was born. [RR]