13 May 2023

The early experiments and excitements are over. Now we must plan for a reliable service, and the keynote of every programme must be “It’s happening now.”

By M.J.L. PULLING, o.b.e., m.a., m.i.e.e.

Senior Superintendent Engineer, BBC Television Service



Cover of TV Mirror

From TV Mirror for 19 February 1955

THE linking up of the television services of the countries of Western Europe has followed rapidly on the heels of the starting of television services in many of them. We in this country have become so accustomed to the existence 6f an established service that it is easy to forget that in Holland, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland and Italy, television is a novelty — around a year old in the case of the last four countries — and as yet unable to command a large audience.

None the less, these countries have entered whole-heartedly into the problem of exchanging programmes at a time when one might have expected that they would be too preoccupied with problems of internal development. Without a doubt, what has been accomplished up to date is a tremendous tribute to the enterprise and determination of these newcomers to television, however much we in Britain, together with the French, may like to pride ourselves on being the pioneers of this particular development.

Honeymoon over

Let us for a moment take stock of the present situation. The month of concentrated exchanges in June and July last, which began with that memorable broadcast from the Vatican and ended with the final of the World Football Championship from Switzerland, was a spectacular demonstration of what could be done. But as the engineers in all the participating countries know only too well, we were at times “hanging on by our eyelids” in an attempt to keep the pictures stable and of good quality.

It was the honeymoon period of these exchanges — and on the whole a very successful and exciting honeymoon. But, the honeymoon over, the European television family has now got to settle down to the normality of regular married existence, if I may extend the metaphor.

Now European television is a new venture and, in my view, a very healthy one. We have tried to break down one of the barriers to international understanding— that of the difference of language — by exploiting the universality of the picture.

But in order that the picture may play its full part and tell its full story, the average technical quality must be improved. And that brings us to the first of the problems that lie ahead. Much of the apparatus at present in use for transmitting the vision signals from one country to the next is temporary and badly needs to be replaced by something of better quality, signed for regular use.


A map showing some of the Eurovision links


New problems

Up to the present this linking equipment has been largely contrived by the broadcasting authorities and the engineers to operate it have in many cases been taken from their normal work in research laboratories. This state of affairs clearly cannot continue indefinitely.

The responsibility for providing international communications is fundamentally that of the Postal and Telegraph administrations of the various countries. Gradually they will set up their own links and get them working on a reliable basis. But only then will the real cost of these links become apparent and it may well be that they will be such as to make the broadcasters think out their problems afresh.

Then there is the question of the artists’ unions. These unions looked on and said nothing at the time of the Anglo-French exchanges of July 1952 and during the period round about the Coronation when a number of British programmes were broadcast in France, Holland and Germany. But when the eight-country hook-up of last June was being planned, the unions made their views clearer.

The broadcasters were told that members of these unions — a very high proportion of all musicians, actors and variety performers — would take no part in future programmes until some satisfactory arrangement had been reached for additional fees to be paid, corresponding to the fact that their performance would be seen and heard by a much larger audience.

MJL Pulling

MJL Pulling

This attitude is understandable and the problem is now under discussion. It may be some time before agreement is reached. When it is reached, the outcome will naturally be to increase the cost of certain types of programme.

Thirdly, there is the question of sound accompanying the picture. Surprisingly enough, one of the lessons which has been learnt in recent months is that the practical problems on the sound side are every bit as great as those on the picture side, and the cost and complication rather greater than had been expected.

Thus, under three important headings there is every indication that for most countries the cost of programmes received from abroad is going to prove high. In order to justify these costs, the programmes will have to have high merit, either because of their artistic standard or of their topicality value or sporting appeal, and also that picture and sound will have to be of a high standard.

It has become clear that there is no purpose in using expensive international television circuits for programmes of a descriptive or documentary kind. Almost any programme where immediacy is not an important factor can be better and more economically handled by making a film of the subject and providing material for a commentary which can be given in the local language.

The early part of 1955 will be a period during which the number of exchanges will be drastically reduced — in fact this country will not be taking part in them at all — in order that engineers can get ahead with improvements to the technical apparatus needed for these relays.


Eurovision card

SD — Statsradiofonien Denmark; DFS —Deutscher Fern Sehen; SSR — Societe Suisse de Radiodiffusion; RAI — Radiotelevisione Italiana; RTF—Radiodiffusion Télévision Francaise; INR — Institut National beige de Radiodiffusion; NIR — Belgisch Nationaal Institut voor Radio-Omroep; NTS — Nederlandse Televisie Stichting


Growing networks

As from midsummer, we in Britain shall probably see a resumption of programmes from the Continent and from that time onwards they should become a regular ingredient of our television fare. Other countries will be starting up television services and will no doubt wish to be linked into the growing European network — Sweden, Austria and Jugoslavia may be among the next.

One’s thoughts naturally turn to the possibility of television becoming a means of “seeing through” the Iron Curtain. International football has already lowered the curtain slightly. There is no technical reason why international television should not help on the process.


Your comment

Enter it below

A member of the Transdiffusion Broadcasting System
Liverpool, Thursday 16 May 2024