The London Television Station 

9 July 2003

Take a tour of Alexandra Palace in August 1936

BBC press release, for publication on or after Monday, August 24, 1936


The cover of the booklet produced in 1937 (BBC)

A Description of the BBC Premises at Alexandra Palace

From a hill 306 feet above sea level, the BBC’s new television station dominates London and a large portion of the Home Counties. It is built into the south-eastern corner of Alexandra Palace – a North London landmark and pleasure resort for more than sixty years – and from the large bay windows of the upper offices below the aerial nearly all London can be taken in at a glance. The importance of height in this connection cannot be overemphasised, for under normal conditions the range of the ultra short waves used for television is extended as the height of the transmitting aerial is increased.


Television sound coverage from Alexandra Palace

Surmounting the reconstructed East tower, itself 80 feet high, is the tapering lattice mast, rising to a height of 220 feet. Thus the aerial array for vision transmissions, which is mounted at the summit of the mast, is more than 600 feet above sea level. Immediately below the vision aerial is the aerial for the accompanying sound transmissions.

Three Transmitters

The new station fulfils the recommendations of the Television Advisory Committee appointed to consider the development of television in Great Britain. Provision has accordingly been made for alternate experimental transmissions by the systems developed by the Baird Television Company and the Marconi-EMI Television Company respectively. Each Company has provided a complete television system, including both vision and sound pick-up apparatus and the television transmitter itself. The BBC has been responsible for the sound transmitter and its associated aerial, both of which were manufactured by Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company. [In fact both the vision and sound antennas were manufactured by Marconi-EMI and the mast itself was designed by EMI at Hayes].


The design of the aerials at Ally Pally (EMI)

In its main essentials, therefore, the equipment comprises a television studio for each system, with an associated control room and ultra short wave television transmitter; and, in addition, an ultra short wave sound transmitter common to both systems.

To these bare necessities, however, much has been added to provide, in the words of the Television Committee, “an extended trial of two systems, under strictly comparable conditions, by installing them side by side at a station in London where they should be used alternately – and not simultaneously – for a public service”. Provision has been made for the comfort of artists in the shape of dressing rooms and a restaurant, for staff accommodation, for the viewing and editing of films in a miniature cinema, for the storing of properties and scenery, and for many other adjuncts necessary to a smooth-working programme service. Practical experience during the next few months will doubtless disclose gaps in the existing equipment, but the station, as it now stands, constitutes the first step towards the creation and radiation of television programmes.

This cutaway drawing of the Alexandra Palace facility was published in the October 1936 edition of Television & Short Wave World. Click on the image to open a larger version in another window and see the rooms described in the text. (Electronic Engineering)

The Transmitter Floor

The entrance hall is at the base of the tower. To the right is the receptionist’s desk, while immediately facing the visitor is the main door to the stairway leading to offices and studios. On the left is the entrance to the ground floor corridor which houses the three transmitters, projection theatre, restaurant and scenery productions shop. Nearest to the entrance hall is the Marconi-EMI television transmitter which, like its Baird equivalent, operates on a frequency of 45 megacycles per second (wavelength: 6.67 metres). All the apparatus at the station is finished in grey cellulose and chromium.

Next is the sound transmitter hall which accommodates an ultra short wave installation of orthodox design for radiating speech and music accompanying the vision signals of both the Baird and Marconi-EMI systems. Its operating frequency is 41.5 megacycles per second (wavelength: 7.23 metres).

Miniature Cinema

Between the sound transmitter and the Baird plant is the film projection theatre, or miniature cinema, in which film excerpts can be selected and timed for inclusion in the transmissions. At least thirty people can be comfortably accommodated.

The Baird transmitter hall, with its control panel and array of generators and amplification stages, is at the south-west end of the corridor. Beyond this, at the south-west extremity of the BBC section of the Palace, is a large area intended either for scenery construction or for televising such objects as motor cars and animals which cannot be brought into the studio or televised outside. Lorries can drive straight in. A large opening in the roof enables it to be lighted and, if necessary, televised from above. Lifting tackle can take up scenery and properties weighing a ton through a trap door in the roof to the second floor, 25 feet above.

Outdoor Television

An interesting feature at this point is the ramp or sloping runway down which the television camera can travel to a concrete “apron”, approximately 1,700 square feet, on the terrace outside, forming a platform for televising open-air performances or special experimental programmes.

Beneath the productions shop is the boiler plant serving the whole of the BBC section of the Palace. Also on the ground floor is the Restaurant, providing an all-day service for the benefit of staff and artists. There is seating accommodation for sixty, and at least 1,000 meals can be provided during a working day,

Returning to the Main Entrance Hall, the new tower staircase leads up to the studio floor, passing en route a first floor on which are offices of the engineers. Offices on the second, or studio floor, are occupied by the Productions Manager, stage managers and secretarial staff.

Studio Design and Furnishing

Leaving the tower on this floor we enter the Marconi-EMI studio. Measuring approximately 70 ft. x 30 ft., with a height of 25 ft., this studio is divided into two stages – A and B – of which A, the larger, gives an acting area of approximately 24 feet square. It is equipped with two sets of tableau curtains. Lining the studio on two sides are hanging velvet curtains running on two tracks, the front curtain being black and the back one white to allow for interchange of backgrounds. Each stage has separate lighting, controlled from a central switch-board. Emitron instantaneous “cameras” are used.


Soloist in the EMI studio

Across the middle of the studio runs a steel lighting bridge which will allow additional lights to be trained on either stage.

High up in the west wall a large plateglass window indicates the position of the control room, where the producer and the engineering assistants operate. The floor is covered with thick black linoleum and the walls are acoustically treated with an asbestos compound.


The Marconi-EMI control room

Next to the control room, already mentioned, is the Marconi-EMI tele-ciné room containing two projectors and scanning cameras for televising films.

Leaving the M.-EMI “territory”, the Baird tele-ciné room comes next. It also is fitted with two projectors and the necessary equipment for film transmissions.


Baird tele-ciné room

Next to this room is an additional small studio to be used with the Baird Company’s “spot light” system of direct television of three-quarter length portraits such as would be used for announcements and talks.

The main Baird studio is the same size as its M.-EMI counterpart. The floors and walls are of similar construction, but the arrangement of the stages is different. The larger stage is placed diagonally to the intermediate film camera room, which is situated in the centre of the studio and looks rather like the bay window of a modern villa viewed from without. The curtains are the same as in the Marconi-EMI studio, but the hanging arrangements differ in that they have to suit the different position of the two stages.

Dressing Rooms

On the opposite side of the corridor on the studio floor are the artists’ dressing rooms. Five rooms are for men and five for women, each set of rooms having its own bath. There is also a chorus room. Forty artists can be accommodated – 21 women and 19 men. In each room are buzzer calling signals operated from the corner of each main studio. There are also an artists’ waiting room and a special make up room on the same floor.

Band Room and Theatre

At the south-west end of the studio floor is the concrete scene dock for storing scenery and properties. It may also be used for televising objects in the productions shop below, as already mentioned.

Adjoining the dressing room is the Band Room, the walls of which have been acoustically treated.


Hyam Greenbaum and the BBC Television Orchestra in a test broadcast to Radiolympia, August 1936 (BBC)

The BBC has also acquired the Alexandra Palace Theatre, which may be used later on for preliminary rehearsals and experimental programmes.

With compliments from the British Broadcasting Corporation, Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London W1. 23rd August, 1936.

You Say

1 response to this article

David Michael 1 June 2015 at 9:37 am


I really like the site.

I am from the UK and teach English language to students at Nantong Shipping College in Nantong, Jiangsu province, China.

I would love to show my students the famous black and white ‘test card’ with the picture of the young girl.

I would greatly appreciate it if you could (I assuming you can locate it!) send me the image or a link to the image.

Kind regards

David Michael

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