The IET Archives has just completed the cataloguing of a recent donation called the ‘George William Edwards papers’, which contains significant information relating to the early history of television as George was a senior member of the GEC Research Laboratories’ television group from the 1930s onwards. The collection includes the GEC image below, which shows the pressure testing of a glass bulb as part of early cathode ray tube production.


George William Edwards (1909-1998)

George William Edwards (1909-1998) was educated at Mill Hill School, then Imperial College, London. He worked for GEC his entire working life from circa 1930 to 1972 and most of this time was spent at GEC Laboratories, Wembley. The laboratories were restructured into a research centre in 1961, called the Hirst Research Centre, where Edwards continued to work until his retirement in 1972.

Edwards worked on television research, microwave radar (during the war), communications research and later in his career he worked on semi-conductors. Around the time of his retirement in 1972 he was working on optical communication systems.

In Alan Hodgkin’s book, Chance and Design: Reminiscences of Science in Peace and War, Hodgkin remembers meeting G W Edwards in 1971 at an IEE centenary event. He hadn’t seen Edwards since the war when they worked together on microwave radar. Edwards then sent Hodgkin a copy of his wartime log book which detailed the early flight tests of airborne centimetric radar (AI) which covered some 170 flights made between March 1941 and Spring 1943. The log said that the flight trials were to see whether an experimental set, designed jointly by the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) and GEC, could pick up and intercept enemy aircraft or minelayers at a range greater than the height above ground. According to R W Burns’ Life and Times of A D Blumlein, the GEC AI research and development group comprised G C Marris, D C Espley, G W Edwards, R J Clayton and E C Cherry.

After WWII GEC set up a new laboratory in addition to Wembley called GEC Research Laboratories, Stanmore, later renamed GES Applied Electronics Laboratories, the nucleus of staff mainly from GEC’s Television Group. The leaders of the new laboratory were Espley, G W Edwards and R J Clayton (all from the Television Group). Espley was the first manager of Stanmore, with Edwards and Clayton each leading one of the first two major projects. Edwards then returned to Wembley in the mid-1950s [Edwards is mentioned extensively in Clayton and Algar’s book, The GEC Research Laboratories, 1919-1984 and in A Scientist’s War: The War Diary of Sir Clifford Paterson 1939-45 by the same authors].

The G. W. Edwards Collection of Papers

The collection comprises mainly technical notes, papers and literature related to the development of television from the 1930s to the 1950s. Three notable files include; Alexandra Palace BBC transmission data 1933 to 1951; visits to Berlin and Copenhagen radio and television exhibitions, 1939 and 1948; and television test patterns, 1946 to 1948.

Berlin Radio and Television Exhibition, August 1939


Edwards attended the Berlin Radio and Television Exhibition in August 1939, shortly before the start of World War II which began on 1 September 1939 with the German invasion of Poland. Edwards wrote an extensive report for GEC Research Laboratories on the technology he saw at the exhibition and the German companies that operated in the sector (report included in the collection). He also obtained a copy of the German company Fernseh AG’s 10-year anniversary publication (1929-1939) which included the above photograph. The photograph comes with the caption;

“The most intangible test for new technical equipment leaving the laboratory is rough operating practice. Always ready to serve television shows, the above two cameras have been working in the Berlin-Charlottenburg reception area for months.”

The Edwards’ exhibition file also included a photograph of GEC’s complete film transmitter at the GEC Research Laboratories – shown below. This photograph was used in the Espley and Edwards article that appeared in the Journal of the Television Society in March 1938.


Television Test Patterns, 1946 to 1948

The BBC’s television test card A first made its appearance in the late 1940s. However, both test card A and test card B were soon replaced by a new test card C, shown below. This was the first test card to resemble the ‘famous’ test card F, first broadcast in July 1967 featuring Carole Hersee and Bubbles the clown. This file of Edward’s papers concerns his and the GEC Research Laboratory’s work on the replacement of test card A by test card C on behalf of the BBC.


Some of the early test card mock-ups, drafts and drawings contained in the file are shown below.




Edwards’ file also contains some lovely images of BBC tuning signals. The earl BBC tuning signals, used from the 1930s, were broadcast before each programme and were used to give time for the television set to warm up and for the viewer to adjust the television controls to get a better picture. Tuning signals were not test cards as they were not intended to ‘test’ anything. Tuning signals continued to be used after the introduction of test cards and appeared up until the 1950s. Tuning signal examples from the file, including signals on film, are shown below;



The George William Edwards collection has been catalogued with an archive reference SC MSS 283 and is available to consult by appointment at the IET Archive Centre, Savoy Hill House, London.