I found my thrill on Beulah Hill 

22 September 2015 tbs.pm/7214

April 1955 - Croydon

By putting a small VHF transmitter on a tethered weather balloon – RAF and London Airport permitting – and raising it up to 175ft (53m), then getting the General Post Office to look for the carrier wave in various places they hoped that the signal would reach, the Independent Television Authority in April 1955 were prepared to hazard a guess as to who would be getting the new Independent Television service in September.

The temporary mast they were in the process of erecting was temporary due to a big fear: as Europe’s first secondary television service, would building a transmitter quite so close to the BBC’s stately mast at Crystal Palace wipe out either or both signals in some way not foreseen by the boffins of either side? The answer was a resounding no, so a taller mast with a more powerful transmitter atop would be built as the 1950s progressed.

In the meantime, Practical Television magazine is keen to tell its readers which of them will be blessed with the second service. If you’re in Welwyn, yes. Stevenage, to a degree. Hitchen, no. Twyford will, Reading won’t. Horley will, Crawley might, Horsham won’t. Tilbury will, Chelmsford should, Maldon and Braintree will have to wait.

For those out of the service area, and presuming they’re not in a horrible dip like Redhill and Reigate or behind the Chilterns like Aylesbury and Oxford, then what you needed was an enterprising aerial installer. One who would finagle a head-top booster, or put your already huge H-shaped aerial on a very high pole tied to the highest of your chimney pots and adjust it with the aid of the apprentice watching the testcard downstairs and calling up to you.

Thus does the world progress: a mixture of old technology and new tricks and new technology with old tricks. And with such tricks, the people of Canterbury, Uckfield, Petersfield and even Peterborough were ready on 22 September to look in on a ghosting, hissy, but very different, picture from the new ITV.

A month later: Practical Television reports that test transmission have begun with this testcard.

A month later: Practical Television reports that test transmission have begun with this testcard.

You Say

2 responses to this article

Alan Keeling 25 October 2015 at 11:07 pm

This particular test card appeared to be more like a tuning signal, though some people may disagree.

Joanna Tilsley 14 November 2021 at 2:47 pm

My grandfather, F. R. W. Strafford (‘Straff’) was the originator of G9AED. He was Chief Research Engineer at Belling and Lee Ltd, in which capacity he has served for many years; and was Technical Manager of the team that designed, built, and installed the test transmitter at Beulah Hill.

Straff, who was born in 1908, got the ‘radio bug’ aged 12. In 1922, at the age of 14, he was granted a wireless transmitting license (this was then a record so far as age was concerned) and his callsign was STG. One of his greatest thrills was when, although only in his early teens, he took charge of the wireless station at Parkstone Quay, nr Harwich, for a short period during an emergency (although what that emergency was I have yet to ascertain).

He worked at Belling and Lee Ltd for 33 years; and gained corporate membership of the Institution of Electric Engineers with a thesis on the Super-regenerative Detector (which is still cited today); and he wrote and lectured extensively, particularly on aerials and radio interference problems. During WW2, he was a radar ‘back-room boy’.

He resigned in December 1956, the year after the test transmitter was installed, ostensibly to become a consulting radio and electronics engineer on his own account. But he had suffered from a complete emotional breakdown, began to drink increasingly heavily, and unfortunately this gifted and innovative electrical engineer and inventor never worked again…

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