I grew up watching television on a black-and-white receiver built by my father in the nineteen-fifties. This was a splendid construction with a tubular, metal frame - like a pram - with the main chassis attached to it. I know that's how it was made, because it went wrong sometimes and I used to watch as he mended it - occasionally cursing at the odd electric shock. Normally, the aluminium and twinkling valves were all housed in a varnished, light-wood cylindrical wooden box, so that the grey screen poked out of one end. In its assembled state it was a little like watching television on the end of a big sausage roll!
Although this monochrome television went to the dump in the nineteen-seventies, I still have my father's circuit diagrams and notes for it and it shows he was seriously considering converting this set to colour during the late sixties. This must have been when it seemed that the UK would adopt a colour system based on a 405-line variant of NTSC broadcast on the VHF band. In the end, the decision to move colour broadcasting in the UK to UHF and adopt 625-line scanning, meant the modifications would have been too extensive to this old set and my father looked around for a new colour television design he could build. He found this in a series of articles published in Wireless World magazine between May 1968 and June 1969 which described a UHF, colour receiver, largely based on Mullard designs.
The design was a hybrid solid-state/valve variant. All the small-signal stages contained transistors: the output stages and the timebases, valves. This wasn't a kit: all the electronics was either constructed on tag-board on copper-strip, matrix board (Veroboard). The only PCB was the IF strip and this was made by hand from copper-clad board with a drill and a sharp pen-knife! Certainly, the most remarkable part of the whole project was the colour decoder section, constructed on two, long strips of matrix board.
This television receiver was the family set for ten years until ill-health meant that my father no longer wanted to maintain it. Following his death, it sat in my mother's spare bedroom for twenty years until she moved and I was forced to throw it out. It was this short, sad duty which inspired me to write this little In Memoriam page.
Apart from the obvious, sad reflections on the works of man and the sum of our ambitions, I was struck by two further piquant thoughts in throwing this TV away. The first is that, my childhood (the nineteen-sixties) was an era before shopping became the principal British pastime, and a period during which people still pursued remarkable hobbies. Despite having worked as a professional, electronics development engineer myself, I still find the scope of my father's achievement in making this television remarkable. The breath of skills required, from building and debugging RF at one end to the signal processing in the middle, and to 25,000 volt EHT supplies at the other, is astonishing. Especially because the range, and quality of the test equipment he had was very modest. And my father wasn't alone in pursuing ambitious hobbies: our next door neighbour used to build world-class racing dinghies in his garage.......... You have to hand it to the wartime generation - people in the fifties and sixties really did stuff!
My final sad reflection, when heaving this set into the skip, was for what television meant to me and my family when my father laboured in the garage to build it, and what it has become. This was the period at the opening of the BBC2 when television still seemed a noble and wonderful medium; full of possibilities and hope. It's fashionable to sneer at the idea of television as a medium for improvement as elitist and snobbish. But when I consider the effort of building a colour television set from scratch, I ask myself, would I do the equivalent today? It didn't seem crazy at the time. Simply put, television in the late sixties, with all its politically incorrect Reithian values, was worth the effort. My father didn't live to see the multi-channel digital world of non-stop news, soft-porn pop-videos or reality-television, and - I have to say - I'm rather glad he didn't.
Address all mail to Richard Brice