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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

An anomaly from the early days of TV

Here is a Fortean news clipping from about 60 years ago! 'Engineers and technicians of the BBC have been busy for days trying to solve the mystery of "the atmosphere which suddenly went haywire". They were called in on May 24. Through no fault of the Alexandra Palace staff there were odd noises and peculiar, smeary pictures on London television sets.'

This was from the early days of television, when (in Britain) there was only one channel, broadcasting for just a few hours a day. TV normally requires a direct line-of-sight to the transmitter, but in this case some anomalous atmospheric phenomenon meant that 'broadcasts from Copenhagen were coming here and getting mixed up with Alexandra Palace broadcasts.'

My copy of the news clipping is a black-and-white photographic print, which I found in a folder full of more conventional family photographs dating from the 1950s. Unfortunately the photo isn't annotated, and it's cropped exactly as shown here, so there aren’t many clues as to its date... but the reference to Alexandra Palace probably places it in the early 50s. The "Star" is not the Daily Star, but a London evening newspaper called The Star, which ceased publication in 1960.

Many years later, in December 1975 (by which time Britain had no less than three TV channels to choose from) Issue 13 of the Fortean Times (or rather The News, as it was called in those days) carried a similar report: 'In the weeks at the end of October and the beginning of November, TV viewers were confronted with a strange downward ripple (on all channels)... It seems that many sets in England were also picking up programmes from Sweden, Germany and Switzerland. The met men blame it on "strange weather conditions".'

These days, all you need to do to receive TV programmes meant for the continent is to point your satellite dish at 19.2°E instead of 28.2°E!

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