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Early Electronic Television

Pye 817 from Ilkeston

The replacement CRT in our Pye 817 has an interesting story. The following is from Mick Dean, who sold us the tube:

The tube came from a set that was purchased in 1938 by my Dad's uncle Zeke, a resident of Ilkeston, Derbyshire, England. Zeke started out with a bicycle shop, and, in 1924, started selling radios out of the shop. At the peak, Zeke owned three radio and TV shops. Zeke retired and sold his last shop some considerable time before he passed away in the 80's. The shop remained a going concern until the 90's.

In 1938, Zeke bought a Pye 817. Ilkeston is about 100 miles from the Alexandra Palace transmitter in London, so television reception would have been very difficult and unreliable. It is possible that with a large antenna some sort of picture could have been received, but according to my Dad, the first pictures were not received until the late 40s, probably from the Sutton Coldfield transmitter that began broadcasting in 1949 and was only 40 miles from Ilkeston. My Dad remembers being there when Zeke received the first pictures. He says his Uncle Zeke built a large antenna after the war - not sure if right after or nearer 1949, but definitely after - and it was about 80 feet high and at the bottom of his garden. My Dad says it had two letter 'H' shaped aerials joined in the middle at the top of the mast, so it looked like a letter 'H' from all directions.

My Dad reckons the first recognizable picture he saw on the Pye TV was of actor Alistair Sim. He has found pictures of screen shots from one of Zeke's TV's but cannot verify whether they were from the 817, or from a later set that Zeke owned. He says the pictures are of Fred Emery (large actor who had roles in such films as Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines and The Italian Job), a performance of Romeo and Juliet and a soccer match.

It is interesting to speculate why Zeke bought the set. There were reports of TV reception from locations far from London, and  maybe he was hoping to be able to receive a picture from Alexandra Palace. Maybe he was hoping that a closer station would come on the air. Ilkeston folk weren't very affluent and made things last - tin baths in front of the fire and all that - I can even remember my Granddads tin bath in the outhouse in the 70's, and Grandma baked fresh bread in a coal fired oven, and one of my big life influences was the single car my Granddad owned, the 1935 Austin Seven Ruby that he bought in the mid fifties and owned till his passing in 1974 or '75.

Zeke's wife survived him by several years but she may have gone to live in senior citizens accommodation. The 817 was found in the attic of his house. For some reason that still escapes me, Zeke's son-in-law Harry (also no longer with us, unfortunately) scrapped the 817 TV and kept just the tube and the literature, and gave them to my Dad.