John Logie Baird: A Life



A new biography by Anthony Kamm and Malcolm Baird


This new biography of Baird dispels numerous myths about his life and work, making full use of the documentation surviving in the files of the BBC, as well as of personal reminisces and Baird's own notes and letters. What emerges is a far more human portrait of Baird, as well as a far clearer sense of his methods and manner of work. One sees here a man who deliberately concealed his most current work from public view, often demonstrating an apparatus that represented what he was capable of months previous, a "canny" inventor and marketer of television, yet a remarkably humble and self-effacing man who inspired tremendous loyalty among those who worked with him. In addition to shining much-needed new light onto the chronology of Baird's work, the central chapters of this book provide an object lesson in the perils of marketing new technology which may well be a cautionary tale for new media developers in today's market.

Among the more interesting points the book makes are the following:

• Baird was far from penniless during his days at Frith Street (he did not live there, but rented a flat a short commute away); the rooms were rented for him by William Day, his first substantial financial backer. Unfortunately, Day got cold feet just a short while before Baird's most successful demonstrations in January of 1926, and it took some effort on Baird's part to prevent Day from shuttering the premises and demanding all the equipment be returned!

• The demonstration which took place on 26 January 1926 probably used a flying-spot camera, not the lensed Nipkow disk and bank of hot lights which many have assumed were used.

• Even before this key demonstration, Baird had already patented a spark-gap "radio imaging" form of television, and was well along with the basics of color mechanical scanning which he did not demonstrate until some time later!

• After the full stock offering of Television, Ltd. was sold, Baird moved to a small country house, from which he was driven to and from the various Baird facilities in a chauffeured car. Baird continued his habit of having himself driven places even after he was displaced from control in his company. Nonetheless, he was a man of little ostentation, and actively tried to avoid the hero's welcome (complete with a troupe of bagpipers borrowed from the Ziegfield Follies!) prepared for him on his first visit to New York City.

• Baird deliberately cultivated the image of the disheveled, long-maned inventor. The long hair also had a practical function, as it helped prevent him from catching cold; this was also the reason he was invariably warmly dressed even in photographs taken in the summer months, or indoors!

• Baird's relations with Sir John Reith were more frequent and less hostile than has long been assumed; even though Reith did everything he could to delay and put off Baird's entreaties, the tone of their letters was uniformly cordial, even warm.

These are but a few of the revelations in this fascinating book, which will undoubtedly become the standard biography of Baird for many years to come.

465 pp., numerous black-and-white plates, appendix, index.

This book has been published in the UK by the National Museums of Scotland, but is available in the United States through Arthur Schwartz and Company.

Television History: The First 75 Years has a critique of this book by Michael Bennett-Levy.




Comments or questions to: Russell A. Potter,