7 min read

A visual history of the television set

From John Logie Baird’s early experimental ‘televisor’ to the precursors to today’s hi-tech hi-def devices, we’ve mined the excellent Science Museum Group’s collection online to chart the history of the TV through the ages

Baird ‘Tin box’ televisor

1930s televisor - amade from tin with a brass plaque

Baird ‘Disc model’ televisor, manufactured by John Logie Baird and Plessey Company Limited in c. 1930. Serial No. 191. © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London

In the mid-1920s, John Logie Baird was making big advances in transmitting live moving pictures. By experimenting with broadcasting a ventriloquist dummy’s head, called Stookie Bill, he was able to transmit 30 lines of television. Baird’s ‘televisor’ was the first television receiver sold to the public, and by early 1930 the very few who owned one were able to watch the first publicly broadcast television, which included musical performances, dance performances and plays.

In 1938 the Lord Mayor’s Show was first broadcast by the BBC and, apart from a short break during the Second World War, this tradition remains to this day.



Pye B16T television receiver

wooden television set with small screen and decorative herringbone speaker

PYE B16T table-top television receiver, manufactured by Pye Limited, East Anglia, England, 1946-1948. © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London

Manufactured by East-Anglian company Pye in the mid-1940s, this was the first new television to be released after the end of the Second World War.

While most other British electronics companies spent most of their time helping with the war effort, Pye set their sights on the future of television. So eager were they to share the fruits of their labour, this model was released even before the regular television broadcast resumed post-war.

This compact little set had a 9” screen whose clarity was a significant improvement on pre-war television sets. It also sported bakelite knobs and attractive wood veneer casing.



Ferranti Model T1825 black-and-white television

1950s tv in large wooden cabinet with doors open

Model T1825 black-and-white television, made by Ferranti Ltd, Moston, Manchester, c.1952. © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London

Manufactured by British company Ferranti, the big, wooden cabinet of this 1950s television is quite typical of the era. Not just appliances, televisions were pieces of furniture – a talking point, somewhere to rest your cocktail.

In this decade ITV, the first commercial television network in the UK, launched to break the monopoly held by the BBC. From 1955 the beeb’s typical programming of sporting events, news and current affairs had competition in the way of quizzes, soap operas and other light entertainment including TV shows imported from America.

The 1950s also saw the first airing of Panorama, The Sky at Night and Blue Peter, the three longest-running regularly broadcast TV shows in Britain.



Murphy Radio Ltd black-and-white television

bright red television set on chrome stand

Black-and-white television made by Murphy Radio Ltd, Welwyn Garden City, c.1968. © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London

By the sixties TV networks were broadcasting up to 625 lines of resolution, and more than two thirds of the households in Britain owned at least one television set. This British TV set was manufactured in Welwyn Garden City by Murphy Radio. Murphy Radio was amalgamed by the Bush Radio company in the early 60s, which still produces TVs to this day.

Reflecting a shift in cultural ideals, this set couldn’t look more different to that of the preceding decade. Despite being our brightest item on this list, this pillarbox-red 1960s TV could still only display black and white pictures, but all that would change in the 70s…

We have the 1960s to thank for some of Britain’s most iconic TV shows. Cult gems to come out of the decade include Thunderbirds, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Top of the Pops and not forgetting Coronation Street, the world’s longest-running soap opera. In 1966 the Fifa World Cup Final of England vs West Germany became the UK’s mot watched television event – a title it holds to this day.



Keracolor Sphere TV set

white spherical tv set with round white plastic base

Keracolor Sphere TV set, made in 1970 by Group Systems (Keracolor) Ltd, Northwich. © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London

Perhaps evoking the excitement of the space-race and the landing of the first man on the moon in the year prior to its manufacture, this iconic set is reminiscent of a space suit helmet. Advertised by nude female models sporting very 70s Farrah Fawcett-esque bouncy blow dried hairdos, it was hailed by the manufacturer as the television of tomorrow, today.

The Keracolor was available in a variety of sizes and colours, and there was even a model which could be hung from the ceiling, and one that came suspended from its own stand. This set is also the first colour television in our list. The first British broadcast of a colour programme was a performance by Petula Clark, which took place in November 1969.

The 70s also spawned the very first home video console, the Magnavox Odyssey. Launched in the US in 1972, and the UK the year after, the console kickstarted the video game industry, which is tipped to soon take over TV as the most popular entertainment medium.

By the end of the 70s more than 97.5% of homes in Britain owned at least one television set, a figure which has actually fallen in recent years.



Trinitron colour television

cuboid television set with chunky black plastic surround

Trinitron colour television, made by Sony Corporation, Japan, c. 1983. © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London

What happened?! Following the 80s trend for chunky electronics this TV may be a contender for ugliest in the list. Manufactured by Sony in Japan, the Trinitron family of CRT televisions were for more than twenty years considered the best in the industry. Thanks to their patented three-cathode picture tubes, Trinitron TVs were brighter, sharper and more expensive than their competitors.

1982 gave us two new major TV channels: Channel 4 launched as our fourth terrestrial channel and the UK’s first cable and satellite channel, today known as Sky One, also began broadcasting.



Philips Eureka Project 36″ Prototype High-Definition Television

Philips ‘MatchLine’ Eureka 95 high-definition monitor-receiver and HD-MAC encoder, 1992. © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London

Our first widescreen TV, this prototype set was manufactured as part of the EUREKA project to develop high definition television broadcasting. This is British manufacturer Philips’ contribution to the project which fostered competitiveness and innovation in technology companies across Europe.

Though only a prototype, this design is probably a pretty familiar-looking set to most of us. Incorporating a 16:9 widescreen but before flatscreen technology became viable, early widescreen TVs were, as a result, absolutely huge. Between the 90s and 00s widescreen TVs became more popular, and around this time we start to see the first commercially-available flatscreen TVs, but it wasn’t until the mid-00s that the HDTV dream would become reality.



15″ Flatscreen McPerson television

handheld television with silver plastic surround

15″ Flatscreen Television made by McPerson, Italy, 2004. © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London

Our first portable TV, and our first flatscreen TV, this Italian-made McPerson television hints at direction the technology would take in the following years.

In the late-00s Digit Al helped the British public usher in the digital age of television. One by one analogue transmitters around the country began to cease operation and the switchover to purely digital TV was completed in 2012, bringing an end to the technology pioneered by John Logie Baird many decades earlier.

Today, following the invention of ultra-high-definition and hi-tech screens, the rise of smart tvs and streaming services, and the failure of 3D TV it’s hard to see what the televisions of tomorrow will offer, but we’ll certainly have Logie Baird’s televisor to thank for it.



Explore the Science Museum Group Collection for yourself: https://collection.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *