Television receiver, BT 8090 Vision Unit, 7" black & white screen, timber/metal/glass rubber, General Electric Company, England, 1938
The BT 8090 Vision Unit, manufactured by the General Electric Company (GEC) in England in 1938, is a rare example of a portable pre-World War 2 television receiver.
GEC started designing and manufacturing television receivers in 1935 at their telephone works plant in London. Unlike many of GEC's early commercial receivers, the BT 8090 was a vision-only receiver. This meant that a separate audio signal was received via a stand-alone wireless. This separation permitted engineers to build small, compact and cheap units. The BT 8090 was one of the first truly portable or 'table model' television receivers commercially available in the United Kingdom. Up until the beginning of World War 2 most television sets sold were TV/radiograms, which were bulky and expensive, costing as much as Â?126. This compares to the GEC BT 8090's recommended retail price of Â?30.
The GEC BT 8090 was designed for use in London homes able to receive transmissions from the world's first successful television network - the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 1937. Broadcasting took place from the Alexandra Palace and only those living within 25 miles could receive a signal.
From 1937 to 1938 over 3000 television receivers were sold for London homes. Few of these now remain. Today pre-World War 2 British as well as US and British manufactured table-top television receivers are very rare. A leading authority on British TV, John Trenouth, Senior Curator of Television at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (NMPFT) in Bradford, estimates that there are less than 200 British pre-World War 2 receivers left in international collections. Most of these were either manufactured by HMV or Marconi. Neither the NMPFT or the Marconi-GEC Research Centre have a GEC BT 8090 and apparently there is only one other example, in the collection of a North London enthusiast.
Although a national Australian broadcast network was not initiated until 1956, popular interest in the feasibility and need for television in Australia dates back to the 1920s. Long before governments first debated the merits of a national television network in 1944, amateur electronic enthusiasts keenly followed the development of television through an array of magazines. Like telegraphy and radio before it, television and its potential to further overcome the 'tyranny of distance' fascinated many Australians.
From the 1920s, magazines such as 'Radio Electronics', 'Radio Review of Australia', 'Wireless Weekly', 'Radio & Hobbies Australia' and its later incarnation 'Radio, Television & Hobbies', regularly reported on the work of John Logie Baird, RCA, EMI and the BBC. Whilst these magazines carried articles, photographs and diagrams of television broadcast technology, opportunities to see demonstrations of contemporary receiver and broadcast technology in Australia before 1956 were rare.
One of the first demonstrations of television in this country occurred at the 1938 World Radio and Television Convention in the Great Hall at the University of Sydney in April, 1938. The convention brought together manufacturers and researchers from the UK, USA and Australia and included two television discussion evenings. It is believed that this receiver was demonstrated at one of these evenings.
The BT8090 Vision Unit is likely to be one of the first cathode-ray tube (CRT) television receivers exhibited in Australia and the oldest surviving example of CRT television technology in an Australian collection.
As the BT8090 is a British receiver, its design and manufacture were influenced first by the Television Commission, formed in May 1934, then by the Hankey Committee, who recommended that the UK should adopt a 405 line convention. GEC had been designing and manufacturing television receivers at their Telephone Works in London since the beginning of the 1930s. The BT 8090 is a vision only receiver, which means it receives only visual signals. Audio signals for the BT 8090 were received on a standard wireless. This separation of audio and visual signals was common in pre-war receivers as it allowed for significant cost reduction as well as overcoming the then technical difficulties of transmitting, receiving then synchronisation separate audio and visual signals. The BT 8090 was designed to work with a vertical dipole aerial which could receive vision signals at 45 megacycles (6.67 m) from as far away as 25 miles. Importantly the BT 8090 was one of the first truly portable or "table model" of television receivers commercially available in the UK. Up until the beginning of the war most TV sets sold in the United Kingdom were of the TV/radiogram variety which were exceptionally large and cost as much as 120 pounds, compared to the BT 8090's thirty pounds. This particular unit was built as a demonstration model and shown at the 1938 World Radio Convention, University of Sydney.
This particular television unit was specially imported into Australia as a demonstration unit by G.E.C. for the 1938 World Radio Convention at the University of Sydney. After the convention it remained in use by G.E.C. as a demonstration unit until the early 1950s. It was kept in storage until G.E.C. was forced to clear out its basement due to severe flooding, after which it was rescued and given to Mr Stewart.