by Arthur Dungate



This is a technical account of how the very first television pictures from outside the country were carried to the UK. The report is taken from a battered torn-out page from Wireless World of October 1950, to whom due acknowledgement is made.

Metre- and Centimetre-Wave Radio Links between London and Calais
by M.J.L. Pulling, M.A, M.I.E.E. (BBC Television Service)

It was not very long ago that the use of the BBC's television OB units was limited to an area within about 25 miles radius of the receiving point at Highgate [near Alexandra Palace, north London], this being the limiting range of the only two mobile vision transmitters then available. These transmitters have a radiated power of 1kW and work on a frequency of about 65 MHz. Their chief drawback is size and weight and the considerable demands which they make on manpower.

More recently experimental work has been undertaken with transmitters of much lighter weight and lower power and working on much higher frequencies, with the object of using two or more in tandem and so extending. the outside broadcast "catchment area." The particular frequencies used have been in the neighbourhood of 200 MHz and in bands near 5,000MHz and 7,000MHz. Some success was achieved earlier this year in the use of these bands for outside broadcasts from more distant points; notably from Southend on May 26th and 29th, and from Trent Bridge, Nottingham, from July 20th to 25th.

It was decided to mark the centenary of the laying of the first cable across the Straits of Dover by a television programme from French soil. Calais was an obvious choice both from the point of view of a programme as well as from its nearness to England, and the date decided on for the programme was August 27th. (A second programme was also taken from Calais on August 30th.) This project was clearly more ambitious than any of the previous ones, and in practice it turned out that four radio links were needed for the first programme, and a fifth was added for the second programme.

map of links (9K)

As the map indicates, the first link was from Calais to Swingate, on the cliffs near Dover. At Calais, a microwave transmitter with its paraboloid was installed at the top of the tower of the Hotel de Ville, operating on a frequency of 4,700 MHz. At Swingate, the receiving paraboloid was set up on one of the masts of the RAF radar station at a height of 350 feet above sea level.

microwave transmitter (5K) The First Relay:
The paraboloid for the microwave transmitter mounted on the upper platform of the masts at the RAF radar station near Dover. The transmitter, working on 6,800MHz, is housed in the canister at the back of the reflector.

The output from this was fed in turn to another microwave transmitter, immediately adjacent, working on 6,800 MHz. The second relay point was established at Warren Street, near Lenham, where the receiving paraboloid was mounted on the top of a water-tower. For the third link it had been intended to use a transmitter working on 187 MHz, but trouble developed on this link a day or two before the first programme and at the last moment one of the higher power 65 MHz transmitters had to be sent down to take over this particular link. This was a disappointment, because it had been hoped to demonstrate a range of this kind (Calais to London) could be spanned by a series of lightweight transmitters and receivers in tandem.

The third relay point was established at Harvel, near Wrotham, and here again the top of a water-tower proved a most convenient location for a receiving aerial and for the 4,750 MHz transmitter which was to cover the final link to London.

interior of transmitting van (7K) The Third Relay:
Interior of the transmitting van used at Harvel, near Wrotham. The technician is shown adjusting the gear associated with the STC microwave transmitter.

The receiving point in London was on the top the tower of the London University, Senate House, in Bloomsbury. This receiving point had been used for previous tests and had been found to be very satisfactory: so it proved also on this occasion.

At this point the picture signals were fed to the GPO, Museum Exchange, little more than half a mile away, a normal telephone circuit being used. At Museum Exchange the signals were fed over the normal route to Broadcasting House and thence to Alexandra Palace. Over the whole of this part of the route a 1-inch diameter coaxial cable is used.

At this time all telephone and broadcasting land lines were laid and operated by the General Post Office (GPO). Later, under privatisation, this operation would be separated from the Post Office and become British Telecom (BT).

The chief novelty and technical interest in these two programmes lies in the linkage by which the picture signals were transmitted from the mobile control room in Calais to the central control room at Alexandra Palace. The total distance is about 100 miles and, at various stages on their journey the signals were conveyed by almost every means at present known in the television art - coaxial cable, a normal telephone pair, a radio link using a frequency near the television broadcast band, and, of course, microwaves. To this already impressive list was added a further local link in Calais for the second programme on a frequency of 187 MHz.

A complete television OB unit and its staff were sent over to Calais and good pictures were obtained with Marconi camera equipment using image orthicon pickup tubes. The television radio link equipment was supplied by three British companies - Standard Telephones and Cables (STC), Marconi's, and Pye.

end-of-tube tv picture (2K)End-of-tube picture taken during the first television transmission from the Continent.

The communication transmitter-receivers, which are indispensable for maintaining communication between adjacent stations, were supplied by Mullard Electronic Products. They were frequency modulated and operated on 72 MHz. The sound signals were carried by Post Office lines from Calais to London. The success which attended this enterprise was in large measure due to the quite remarkable degree of help and co-operation which was received. In France, the civic authorities in Calais, and officials of the French PTT and of the French Television Service went out of their way to put at the BBC's disposal every facility that was needed. On this side of the Channel, the same can be said of the Post Office and the radio industry, on many members of which abnormal demands were made, often at short notice.