The above photograph can be found in our collection of Evershed & Vignoles Ltd (E&V) photographs and is one of six images under the title, “television components associated with Telstar”. Telstar is the name given to several communications satellites the first two of which were experimental. Telstar 1 was launched on a Thor-Delta rocket on 10 July 1962. It successfully relayed through space the first television pictures and telephone calls, and provided the first live transatlantic television feed. Telstar 2 launched on 7 May 1963. Both Telstar 1 and Telstar 2 are still orbiting the earth though they no longer function.
The first Telstar belonged to AT&T, and was part of a multi-national agreement between AT&T (USA), Bell Telephone Laboratories (USA), NASA (USA), GPO (UK) and the National PTT (France) to develop experimental satellite communications over the Atlantic. The American ground station, built by Bell Laboratories, was Andover Earth Station, in Andover, Maine, USA. The main British ground station was at Goonhilly Downs in Cornwall, England, and this was the location used by the BBC, which was the international coordinator for the project.
The six E&V photographs were taken at Goonhilly Downs, probably in 1962, although the photographs are undated. E&V developed many television components for the BBC, particularly related to cameras, which explains why E&V had these photographs showing BBC/E&V equipment at Goonhilly Downs. The photograph below shows an Evershed nameplate on the box directly under the camera.
Other images such as the two below show cameras in position and monitoring/control stations.
When it was launched from Cape Canaveral by NASA in July 1962, Telstar 1 was the first privately sponsored space launch. Due to its non-geosynchronous orbit, Telstar’s availability for transatlantic signals was limited to the 20 minutes in each 2½ hour orbit when the satellite passed over the Atlantic Ocean. Telstar 1 relayed its 1st and non-public television pictures, a flag outside Andover Earth Station, to Pleumeur-Bodou in France on 11 July 1962. Two weeks later on 23 July, it relayed the 1st public live transatlantic television signal. The first broadcast was shown in Europe by Eurovision and in North America by NBC, CBS, ABC and the CBC, and featured CBS’s Walter Cronkite and NBC’s Chet Huntley in New York, and the BBC’s Richard Dimbleby in Brussels. The 1st pictures were the Statue of Liberty in New York and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Telstar 1 eventually became a casualty of the Cold War arms race. The day before Telstar 1 launched, a US high-altitude nuclear bomb had energised the earth’s Van Allen Belt where Telstar 1 went into orbit. This huge increase in a radiation belt combined with subsequent high-altitude blasts, including a Soviet test in October, overwhelmed Telstar’s transistors. It went out of service in November 1962, after handling over 400 telephone, telegraph, facsimile and television transmissions. It was restarted in January 1963, but the additional radiation associated with its exposure to full sunlight caused another transistor failure which could not be repaired and Telstar 1 went out of service on 21 February 1965.
Evershed & Vignoles and the BBC
Evershed and Vignoles Ltd was founded in 1895 by Sydney Evershed (1858-1939) and Ernest Blacker Vignoles (1865-1948.) at Westbourne Park, London, when they bought out the Instruments Division of Easton and Goolden. After WWII E&V had over 1000 employees, when aircraft instruments were also made, and by the early 1960s the number of employees peaked at 1,870. In 1965 E&V became a part of the George Kent Group and in 1971 the company (and other members of the George Kent Group) became part of Thorn Electrical Industries. In 1986 Evershed and Vignoles was taken over by Avo Ltd which today is known as Megger Group Limited.
In addition to products made by E&V for the BBC to be used at Goonhilly, other products made for the BBC in the 1960s appear in the photographic collection such as television camera ‘tilt heads (servo-operated)’. The images below show a BBC servo-operated camera at the Alexandra Palace BBC News Studio (Studio B Gallery), and also the remote television camera controls in the BBC News Studio including the preset selection panel, monitors, and manual control unit designed by BBC engineers.
Lastly, the image below shows a caption scanner using an E&V pan and tilt head, prior to delivery to the BBC.
For anyone wishing to view the E&V ‘BBC’ photographs (archive reference NAEST 102/5/4/11) they can be viewed at the IET Archives, by appointment.