Video production and presentation are a huge part of what we do at Fisher Audio Visual, providing a wide range of state of the art video, visual and production solutions, all of which can be traced back to the pioneering innovations in television in the early part of the 20th Century, most notably by engineer John Logie Baird. However, the fate of the first face of Baird’s television experiments would be a shocking revelation of how difficult and dangerous early television technology was, and the risks these early pioneers would take to show their face around the world.
Television would be theorised and developed as early as the late 19th century as a logical extension of several major technological advances that came about at roughly the same time. Telephones proved that sound could be sent across a wire and later without a need for wires at all. On the visual front, the development of projectors had advanced to the point that an entire industry was beginning to form around showing films to the public. As well as this, the first step to combine visuals and sound and telecommunications would appear with the invention of the Nipkow Disk in 1884, named for its inventor Paul Nipkow which would be used as part of early television tests, including the first major demonstration by John Logie Baird in 1926.
To quickly explain, the Nipkow disk basically works by being a circular disk with a set of holes cut into it, which when it spins captures one line per hole and can send each segment across a line and transmit it to a screen that used similar technology to receive the image. John Logie Baird was one of a handful of inventors across the world who attempted to be first to take Nipkow’s theory and turn it into actual broadcasts.
It was far from the easiest job, and Baird didn’t exactly get out of his experiments unscathed, which is less surprising perhaps given that the first television set was made using a hatbox, a pair of scissors, some darning needles, bicycle light lenses and an old tea chest. He rented a workshop and got to work enhancing his prototype, an arrangement that ended after his landlord kicked him out for getting a 1000V electric shock. Somehow he got away with just a burned hand and an eviction notice. That was bad, but a much worse fate befell the first actor who appeared on television, Stooky Bill.
By 1925, Baird’s invention had developed to the point that he could actually send a moving image over radio waves, with a few caveats. The first was that the broadcast image would be the size of a postage stamp despite being recorded on spinning discs the size of dinner plates. The other is that the contrast was so low that incredibly hot incandescent lights had to shine very close to the subject, to the point that it would actually cook any poor person who tried to watch, not even taking into account the sheer amount of light boring straight into their eyes. None of that mattered to Stooky Bill of course, because he was made of sterner stuff than that. Plaster of Paris to be exact.