AP mast (2K)


by Arthur Dungate

This is Direct Television.....


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It was in 1996 that I was asked to prepare a talk on my personal experiences in BBC television and so I started to think back, and many memories came back about things I hadn't thought about for over 40 years. Thus a script for the talk began to be formed, and research started on pictures to illustrate it.

After giving the talk to one audience, it was remarked that they hadn't realised how much fun it had been, working in BBC Television in those days. To which I can reply - Yes - it was!

I called the talk "This is Direct Television from Alexandra Palace", mainly because that is how "high definition" television began, with that announcement by Elizabeth Cowell, in August 1936. (However I was not involved with it, being only 5 years old at the time!). This is an expanded Internet version of that talk, though without the audio clips.

What Elizabeth Cowell actually said was "Hello Radiolympia - this is Direct Television from the studios at Alexandra Palace......"

Elizabeth Cowell (2K)

It was the first transmission from the studios with the EMI 405-line high definition system, broadcast for the benefit of visitors to the annual radio exhibition at Olympia in London. The regular television transmissions did not start until November that year. However it is not the purpose here to relate the history of television, that has been done in other places, but to reveal some "inside information" in a personal way, not published elsewhere.

Before leaving pre-war television, I am pleased to be able to include some anecdotes about those early days, pre- and post-war.

Exterior of AP, April 1953 (6K)

I started with the BBC in Central Telecine at Alexandra Palace in 1952 and that's when BBC Television was just "Television" - there was no other in this country at that time. This picture was taken by my Dad in April 1953 while on a visit. The great hall, on the left, has its original roof which would be destroyed by the fire in the summer of 1980.

The roof of the great hall can be seen more effectively in this shot, taken by a BBC News cameraman in the late 1950s.

Exterior of AP (9K)

The BBC had a habit of using initials for almost everything, and that meant that Alexandra Palace was referred to as "AP", and "BH" meant Broadcasting House, in central London. Somehow, though, the television studios at Lime Grove never got "initialised" verbally - "Elgee" didn't seem to work, so we used to refer to it as "the Grove").
And although after buying the famous Ealing Film Studios the BBC called them the "Television Film Studios", or "TFS", it was always "Ealing" to me, and to a lot of other people as well. Even memos were full of BBC initials. In 1953 this one was circulated :-

From: Engineering Establishment Department.

Room No. &


1. The new BBC Television studio premises at Shepherds Bush must never be referred to as White City - WC, but as Television Centre - TC.

2. From 1st April 1953 the abbreviation to be used for the Telecine section of television recording department will be TK.

(signed) O.L.D.MacDonald. E.I.E.I.O. Engineering Induction and Engineering Information Officer.


First published 1999 Second edition 2002/2003..... Page created by Arthur Dungate