First television service 

16 December 2020








Derry Journal masthead

From the Derry Journal for 11 March 1936

The first public television service to be inaugurated anywhere in the world between two cities, 125 miles [200km] apart, was officially opened last Sunday by Baron von Eltz-Rubenach, German Transport and Posts Minister. The German capital and Leipzig were linked up by television, and the German Press duly celebrated “this technical miracle” with the correct amount of national pride.

It is felt in Berlin that Germany has stolen a march on both Britain and the United States. The German Post Office scientific laboratories have been working on the problem of successful television transmission for nine years. Last summer television made its first public appearance at the Berlin Radio Exhibition, but transmission cells were only about fifty yards [45m] apart. This week’s trial experiment is the first time that television at such a great distance has proved successful. A special cable had to be constructed for the purpose.

Naturally, the first television talkers between Berlin and Leipzig were public officials. Herr Rosenberg and several Government officials spoke to other officials in Leipzig. German press men then had television talks with other journalists attending the Leipzig Spring Fair.

Berlin and Leipzig each have two “Television Bureaus.” They function alternately. A three-minute talk costs five shillings [about £20 today, allowing for inflation]. The procedure is as follows:— Herr Braun, of Berlin, wishes to speak to Herr Schmifdt [sic], of Leipzig, at six o’clock on Tuesday evening. He must register his wish on Monday afternoon. Herr Schmidt, of Leipzig, is then requested by the Post Office in his city to be present at the Television Bureau ten minutes before the arranged time.


Courtesy of HuntleyFilmArchives. In this German crime film from 1939, the villain is discovered after the protagonists meet up in a fernsehsprechstellen – ‘television speaking room’ – to discuss the case.


In the Television Bureau, Herr Braun is ushered into a dark cell by a young lady attendant. He sits down in a comfortable leather club chair, opposite a dark screen, and is told to lean back well, so that the picture will be clear.

He then takes up the receiver from a telephone in front of him, and waits, Suddenly a greenish-yellowish, blurred light darts about in front of him, and soon it is transformed on the dark screen into the face of Herr Schmidt, sitting in the television cell in Leipzig. He at once talks away, and is answered just as easily by Herr Schmidt.

Amusing experiences were recorded by various television talkers. One German business man present at the Leipzig Fair had bought a toy animal for his small daughter, who sat in the television cell in Berlin, talking to him and showing pleasure at the promised toy in front of her.


Map of Germany

Germany as it stood on 11 March 1936. Modified from User:Alphathon at Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA 3.0


The service is open for nine days only. Then the Television Bureaus will be closed for a time till the Post Office has worked on necessary improvements. Although the trial has proved highly successful, it is too early to forecast services from the German capital to other large towns yet. Television research and experiments in this country are backed and financed by the Government. The German Post Office, whose Tempelhof scientific laboratories work on television, recently succeeded in television transmission at a distance of 250 miles [400km].



❛❛Russ J Graham writes: What is television for? In the pre-war days, nobody was quite sure.

In the UK, the Selsdon Committee had decided that it would be for entertainment, education and information, run by the BBC, just like radio – although even they considered that this was just a start. In the United States, television was for spectacle: live events, cameras pointed out the window at crowds, perhaps one day ball games and presidential inaugurations.

In Germany, television at home for entertainment was a very low priority. It would better be used for group edification, as with cinema, or as a two-way tool, for businessmen to have meetings, for Nazi party members to discuss policy and murder, for parted Aryan families to reconnect.

In all cases, nobody foresaw television supplanting radio as the dominant live medium in the world. The world war that would soon be upon us would close down many nascent television stations for variously given reasons, some of them truthful, and switch the world back to the comfort of radio.

The system being talked about in the Derry Journal was mechanical, at 150 lines. The blurred light darting about they mention is the Nipkow disc running up to speed, although it might be mixing it up with the flying-spot camera for the reciprocal picture.

The system continued in development for the next couple of years, joining broadcast services in going all-electronic. The line standard was continually increased, helped by the lack of bandwidth constraints in a double co-axial network, eventually reaching 1,000 lines.

The system was shut off in late 1939 as war began to roll across Europe, and in 1940 was officially abandoned, the co-axial cables put to use for telegraphy.

You Say

4 responses to this article

Ben Grabham 16 December 2020 at 12:55 pm

The article appears to be describing a form of television similar to Baird’s ‘Spotlight Scanner’.
Useful to note that:
“Always looking to broaden his marketplace, in June 1929 JLB found willing partners in Germany in the form of Bosch, Ziess Ikon and Loewe who were all interested in sharing technology for the development of television. JLB took a 25% share in the new company called Fernseh AG along with his three partners. Fernseh AG were well aware that the Spotlight technique was limited to small indoor studio use and had developed a system of film scanning using the Nipkow disc. ” – from
Tom Macarthur & Peter Wandell’s “Vision Warrior” also refers to this (pp 178-181) and explains that after the Baird Company were forced to divest itself of it’s interest in Fernseh AG by the National Socialist regime; “Major Church [Major Archibald Church MP – managed to negotiate a deal which resulted in a substantial payment for the Baird share. He also arranged an affiliation which gave the Baird Company all Fernseh rights in the British Empire”
Given Fernseh AG’s continued work on television, both its civil and military applications, as well as it’s involvement in German Radar, this may have made Baird an important source of intelligence preceding WW2.
It is perhaps not insignificant that despite not having been acknowledged as doing so, Baird undertook some form of War Work, and that it continues to be held under the 100 year rule…

Paul Mason 23 December 2020 at 6:04 am

Was the pre war German TV not dedicated to the poison of Nazi propaganda? TV was not so well developed then but the few hours could cover a Hitler speech or two. The UKTV Yesterday channel (Freeview 26) is like a Hitler channel but always rightly condemnatory. My WW2 education came from Granada TVs All Our Yesterday’s. between 1964 and 1970 when I was a Granadaland nipper!

Steve Gray 25 December 2020 at 7:56 am

..A Very Merry Christmas, To You All.

Kif Bowden-Smith 10 January 2021 at 11:18 pm

Thanks Steve!
Happy New year to you from all of us here at Transdiffusion!
Kif Bowden-Smith

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