By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Delhivision : Miracle Of London

In 1975, in my influential column in New Delhi's single evening English newspaper, I had written about the great satisfaction most of us in the capital of India had felt three years earlier when watching motion pictures of the Olympic Games flashed by the local TV station within 60 hours of their being played in Munich, quarter-way around the earth.
And in 1976, I had written even more effusively about the immense thrills we  were getting out of seeing the Montreal Games within 36 hours after the events actually took place on the opposite side of the world.

All of 12 years later, in 1984, when instant intercontinental television had just materialized in India, I wrote an effervescent essay which bubbled with the excitement of watching a live telecast of the legendary Wimbledon final at the same time as it was being played in London.

Leave alone fossilized survivors belonging to older generations  --  even to extremely active middle-aged persons like myself, it looked nothing short of a miracle!  But the marvelous phenomenon had no sensational impact on our children, who were simply taking it for granted.

Evening News, New Delhi
13 July 1984

Live from London

As the whole family sat down in front of the television set last Sunday evening to watch the Wimbledon men's final between John McEnroe  and Jimmy Connors, I couldn't help marvelling once again about the amazing technological progress this ancient world of ours is making in the 20th century.

It was announced that the program was being telecast live from London to more than 40 countries.  I could imagine millions of men, women and children all over the world gluing their eyes to their TV sets simultaneously, in the morning or afternoon, at midnight or midday, soon after sunset or before dawn.

And it just took my breath away!  Of course, this is a new sensation we are getting in India, but other people elsewhere in the world have been having a taste of it for quite some time now.

I remember that when Muhammad Ali fought George Foreman in Kinshasa in 1974, the encounter was shown live on TV in many countries, and I wished India had belonged to the club.

Now India too is getting in, and we are able to train our tellyscope on such events as the Wimbledon final at the very moment of their happening.

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In my small stock of old books is a volume called 'Twentieth Century Inventions', written by Chas E. Gibson , FRSE, and published in Great Britain in 1913 (Collins Press, London and Glasgow).

Talking about television, Mr. Gibson was quite  optimistic, but extremely cautious.  Here's what he had to say: 

"Many inventors have worked at the problem of seeing at a distance by means of electrical transmission.  The problem is not yet solved, but the solution has commenced, and it may be that before the end of the 20th century television will be a practical success....
"We have become familiar with the transmission of sound to a distance, which was considered an impossible thing only forty years ago....  it is true that the two problems, the reproduction of sound and the reproduction of vision, are not at all comparable, but there seems to be good hope for the ultimate  solution of television...."

But the world didn't have to wait for such a long time!  The first effective television pictures were demonstrated in 1925 by the Scotsman John Logie Baird (1888 - 1946), and the British Broadcasting Corporation started real television broadcasts in 1929. 
I don't know whether Mr. Gibson lived to see the second half of the 20th century.  If he did, perhaps he'd have been as lost in wonder in England as I am in India today!

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A few years ago I happened to stay in Glasgow for a while, and on a Sunday afternoon I went to a place called Helensburg on the Firth of Clyde, not far away from Glasgow.

Helensburg is where Baird was born, and in a well-kept park in this pretty Scottish town there's a life-size statue of the great inventor.

Taking photograph of the statue, I fell thinking about the fabulous newscasts which the BBC and the ITV (Independent Television) were making in Britain every night with satellite-transmitted motion pictures from all over the world.

Watching the Wimbledon final in my own living room in New Delhi last Sunday, I got into the same kind of mood and started thinking aloud about the accelerating technology of this century.

"Shshsh,,,, Papa!"  my sons Vimo and Vijay (aged 15/11) restrained me.  "Let's see the match, please!"

"Fantastic!  Fantastic!"  I insisted, "Live progran from London!  Aren't you thrilled, boys?"

"No, we aren't!" cried my children,  "Connors isn't fighting back!  This match is going to be over in three sets!"

"I am not talking about the game!"  I said.  "I am talking about the telecast!  It is coming live from London!  Isn't that exciting?"

"No. it isn't!"  said the space-age kids.  "Now, Papa, PLEASE! --  will you let us see the match?"

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