Page last updated at 23:57 GMT, Wednesday, 26 August 2009 00:57 UK

End of the line for British TVs

By Michael Buchanan
BBC News


Great British television sets

On Thursday the final TV set made in England is due to roll off the production line at Toshiba's factory in Plymouth.

When it does, it will mark the end of mass TV manufacturing in the UK - a technology the country invented.

When John Logie Baird demonstrated his first television set to the world in 1926, a reporter from the Times wrote: "The image as transmitted was faint and often blurred, but substantiated the claim that through the 'televisor', as Mr Baird has named his apparatus, it is possible to transmit and reproduce instantly the details of movement, and such things as the play of expression on the face."

From those cautious beginnings, Britain was to lead the world.

They had [the TV] displayed on a stand with some aspidistras and ferns, to show it was a non-threatening technology
Iain Baird

The Baird Corporation was the world's only recognised TV manufacturer at the end of the 1920s, with their Televisor Model B being the first mass-produced, commercially available set.

"The Model B was debuted at the Radio Olympia exhibition (in 1928)," said Iain Baird , television curator at the National Media Museum in Bradford and John Logie Baird's grandson.

"They had it displayed on a stand with some aspidistras and ferns, to show it was a non-threatening technology and quite safe to approach because people were quite sceptical and superstitious of television."

The early sets had limited appeal - there were no broadcasts until 1929, and so TVs were bought by those who wanted to learn the science behind the technology.

Tin Stove
The "tin stove" designed by Percy Packman in 1930 only sold 1,000 sets

But as the BBC started broadcasting on television, more sets were developed by British engineers. The "tin stove" was designed for Baird by Percy Packman in 1930 but only sold about 1,000 sets as it was cheaper to buy a DIY TV kit.

After the war, British dominance continued with Bush producing a landmark Bakelite set, the TV22, which was far more compact than any other model on the market, while the Keracolor globe TVs were an iconic image of the late 1960s.

But around the same time as the Keracolor was coming onto the market so was the Sony Trinitron, and its appearance marked the beginning of the end for TV manufacturing in the UK. Here was a reliable set with excellent picture quality - made overseas.

Gradually household names such as Decca, Pye, Marconi and Dynatron gave way to Sony, Samsung, Philips, JVC and Panasonic.

Baird Televisor B
The first mass-produced TV was the Baird Televisor B

The drive overseas has been a combination of superior technology and lower costs - Toshiba say they are closing their Plymouth factory as it is cheaper for them to make their sets in Poland.

Instead of manufacturing the actual sets, Britain is now focused on making world-leading content.

Programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing, the Weakest Link, Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Pop Idol were all created in Britain and have gone on to huge acclaim and massive audiences across the world.

"Much as we may malign it, the British TV industry is full of creative, independent people," said Guardian TV critic Gareth McLean. "British television is at the forefront of creativity in the global television market."

With the development of digital broadcasting, broadband technology, and pervasive computing, questions have been raised about whether TV sets - wherever they are made - have a long term future.


But Rebecca Jennings, a media analyst at Forrester Research says that inconsistent picture quality on computers, and the fact that a PC is not conducive to groups of people watching an event together, means we write off the box at our peril.

Trinitron TV
The Trinitron marked the beginning of the end of TV manufacturing in the UK.

"In your home, as the main viewing platform for video content, wherever you get that content and it may be through the internet, the television will remain the main viewing platform for that content," she said.

The closing of the Plymouth factory will leave 270 people without a job, and the nation without one of its historical, life-changing industries, a development that Iain Baird believes would have saddened his grandfather.

"He worked his entire life to make sure it was a British invention, a British technology. In general he would have been very disappointed that it had got to the extent that there is no one major British manufacturer or television factory here."

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Great British television sets
26 Aug 09 |  Business

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