Looking Back: John Logie Baird and Falkirk’s television first

As every schoolboy knows (or ought to know) television was invented by John Logie Baird of Helensburgh.

By Ian Scott
Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 12:30 pm
John Logie Baird.
John Logie Baird.

What all Falkirk ‘bairns’ should know is that our town has a strong claim to the inventor whose ancestors were Camelon farmers and who did much of his pioneering experimental work in the town.

Baird’s great-grandfather was the tenant of Sunnyside Farm and his grandfather farmed at nearby Sunnybrae.

Had his father decided to follow the family business then the young John Logie Baird might have been a ‘mariner’ but John senior chose the Ministry and was called to serve in the West Church in Helensburgh.

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John Hart's shop in the High Street.

So it was in the Manse there on 13th August 1888 that the great inventor was born.

As he grew up we can be fairly sure that Falkirk, and his grandparent’s farm, was a regular port of call and so we should not be surprised to find him at a much later date working in the town on his most famous project.

Historians who have studied Baird’s life are often exasperated by the gaps and contradictions which they cannot explain.

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Keeping secrets is the mark of the inventor fearful of the prying eyes of a rival and, in Baird’s case, we have the added suspicion that he was doing work for the Secret Service.

We do know that in the early 1920s he came into contact with John Hart, the owner of a radio supply shop in Falkirk.

Hart was a highly talented electrical engineer with special knowledge of radio transmission so the pair had much in common.

It seems that Baird came to Falkirk and worked with Hart in his workshop in the Pleasance and that members of the local Radio Club were familiar with Baird and aware of his work.

It may have been during this time that the first public demonstration of television took place.

I say may because this event, if it did take place, is shrouded in mystery and is not acknowledged by the official biographers of Baird.

They will tell you that London’s Soho was the real venue in January 1926.

The Falkirk claim is based mainly on an account by the late Robert Shaw, a celebrated pattern maker of Larbert.

Some years ago I heard him tell the story of how as a boy he was sent by his teacher from the Science and Art School in Orchard Street to see a special demonstration in the Temperance Café in the High Street.

It was in December 1925.

He says that during the evening Baird invited him to be the subject of a transmission and that his image was sent to a receiver in another part of the building.

It seems perfectly plausible but so far no confirmation by way of newspaper reports or other eye witness accounts have been found.

When Hart visited Baird in London in 1926 he was given a piece of apparatus with instructions to place it in a Scottish Museum.

Known as the Falkirk Televisor it is acknowledged as Baird’s work and was probably a prototype of the machine used in London.

John Hart moved to premises at the east end of the High Street where the apparatus was displayed in his window.

It may have been used in 1927 in a special transmission between Glasgow and London.

It is now in the Falkirk Museum collection but the public get little opportunity to see it which is a great pity.