Baird Television and the fire 

16 September 2020

The Palace in ruins

A view of the blazing Crystal Palace, showing one of the television towers.


Services Unaffected


Fireman’s danger when wind brings down girders


From the Dundee Evening Telegraph and Post for 1 December 1936

The following official statement was issued by Baird Television Ltd., following the emergency meeting held this morning to inquire into the extent of the damage to their plant by the fire at the Crystal Palace.

“Although a considerable amount of property was damaged by the fire an inspection carried out by our experts this morning revealed that the receiving sets production department escaped the full force of the blaze. In addition the servicing and testing departments were undamaged, and consequently the deliveries of sets will not be affected.

“The directors wish to state that the regular daily transmissions of television programmes by the B.B.C. from Alexandra Palace which, during this week, are being radiated by means of the Baird system, will not be affected in any way.”



‘Planes Busy.

Throughout to-day aeroplanes were busy at Croydon taking passengers to see the effects of the blaze.

Air liners on the commercial routes also passed near the Palace.

There were thrills in plenty during the afternoon, when a boisterous wind brought to the ground massive beams and girders which had been swinging from the roof of the north part of the Palace.

The supports had been burned away, and the wind, eddying through the vaulted roof, wrought havoc with what remained.

The firemen’s lot became hazardous, and for a time they left the building, as every moment huge sheets of glass, wooden props and girders crashed to the ground.

A reporter who had been inspecting the statuary had a narrow escape. When a fireman shouted, “She’s coming down,” there was a noise like a bursting shell, and debris came tumbling down all round.



❛❛Russ J Graham writes: Poor John Logie Baird! Always having victory just within his grasp and seeing it being pulled away at the last moment.

The conflagration had begun after a small explosion in a ladies’ loo, the cause of which has never been established. This caused a small fire that two employees attempted to fight, but it soon got out of control, spreading along the oak floor, fanned by a persistent breeze. The fire brigade were unable to make a dent on it and chose instead to let the fire burn itself out and damp down the remains.

The entire palace structure was destroyed, and one of the two water towers that flanked the building was pulled down shortly after, having been severely damaged. The remaining tower to the north was demolished by the army in 1941, fearful that it was acting as a landmark for Nazi bombers (it wasn’t).

Whilst the Baird Television Ltd statement shows hope that much of the company’s works survived, the experimental section was destroyed, ending further attempts to expand mechanical television.

Not long after all of this, the BBC decided that Baird’s cumbersome system was palpably inferior to EMI’s all-electronic 405-line method and dropped it. This left Baird Television with its small hand-built television set production – soon to be superseded by mass production techniques from other companies – and the dividends from some television patents. And then World War II came and television was off-air for almost 6 years, just as the patents began to expire.

Poor John Logie Baird.

You Say

1 response to this article

A. Snodgrass 18 September 2020 at 7:52 pm

Re “Poor John Logie Baird”

NEW information has come to light on John Logie Baird’s early research on television.

In June 1924 John Logie Baird bought a thallium sulphide (Thalofide) photocell as developed by Theodore Case in the USA. The Thalofide cell was part of the important new technology of ‘talking pictures’.

It took Baird many months of further work before this cell could be successfully applied to television, but it was almost certainly used in the demonstration on January 26 1926.

See: Inglis, Brandon D.; Couples, Gary D. (August 2020). “John Logie Baird and the Secret in the Box: The Undiscovered Story Behind the World’s First Public Demonstration of Television”. Proceedings of the IEEE. 108 (8): 1371–1382. doi:10.1109/JPROC.2020.2996793.

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