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Scope: In the late 1920s, John Logie Baird - considered to be the inventor of television - was experimenting with 'phonovision' in which he attempted to record television signals onto gramophone discs. His efforts were mostly unsuccessful and this technology largely forgotten, until the 1980s when Don Mclean came across the discs and set about restoring them with modern computer-based techniques.

The recovery of these images gives us a fascinating glimpse of what the earliest television was like (before official TV services started). As well as helping to explain a poorly understood period of television history, this unique book sheds new light on the activities of John Logie Baird and the definition and invention of television itself.

Book review

"...a fascinating read...The book goes a long way to help the reader appreciate the significance of these recordings and the era in which they were made...a TV historian's delight providing a refreshing 'new look' history in both words and pictures." Electronics World, September 2001

"...the author's passion for his subject and scholarship shine clearly through, making this the most authoritative book on Baird's work yet published...this is an excellent book that is unlikely to be equalled" Andrew Emmerson (Northampton), British Journal for the History of Science, Vol. 34, pt. 2, no. 121, June 2001.

"...provides a unique and thoroughly unexpected glimpse at how television looked in its paleolithic era." Invention & Technology, Summer 2001.

"Scholarly research and "can't put it down" writing are rare companions. Don Mclean has succeeded magnificently in conveying the excitement of unearthing and restoring recordings Baird's 30 line TV pictures." British Vintage Wireless Society Bulletin, volume 25, number 3 - Autumn 2000.

"As the title suggests, this book deals largely with the retrieval and restoration of Baird's 30-line television pictures recorded on shellac and aluminium discs over the period 1927-35. Many authors writing about the history of television are faced with the difficulty of finding something new and prefer not to quote too often from earlier accounts written by other people. Donald McLean manages to avoid most of these problems since he is in the unique position of being able to describe a form of television archaeology never attempted before. 

Written in a conversational style, this book covers a considerable amount of new ground. It is copiously illustrated and 40 of the photographs have never been published previously. The flavour of the infant years of television is captured most successfully and the book represents essential reading for everybody with an interest in those days." Ray Herbert, Baird historian, (extracted from NBTVA newsletter, August 2000)

"Our Review Copy arrived yesterday and we were immediately impressed by this amazing book...It is in ten main sections covering just about everything there is to know about Baird and the recording of television pictures." TV Graphics Review, December 2000

"Don McLean has presented a revision of the history of television presenting a new perspective on the work of Baird the inventor of 'failed' technologies. I have long thought that history written from the perspective of 'successful' technologies is an unnecessarily restricted exercise. It is too easy to dismiss 'yesterday's technology' as misguided, primitive, crude, and leading into blind alleys and so on.

 McLean's work is interesting on several levels, ranging from the representation of Baird and his work to a truly fascinating account of the discovery of and the unravelling of the content of early video recordings. This lively and engaged work presents the history of television in a way rarely seen, and introduces a new approach to an understanding of the process of invention that Baird applied." Dr Colin A Hempstead, University of Teesside

Book readership

Historians of science, technology and media, especially radio, audio, broadcasting and television; electrical and electronic engineers; media studies.


Reference; professional.

Book contents

Introduction; 1: As others see us; 2: Distant vision; 3: The path to television; 4: Phonovision; 5: Restoring vision; 6: Discoveries; 7: Television develops; 8: It's all in the groove; 9: Capturing the vision; 10: Revising history; Appendix 1: Derivation of aspect ratio; Bibliography; Index



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