Nostalgia: The telly my uncle built

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ALLAN Dodds is the author of Laughin’ on the ither side o’ ma face, an autobiographical account of Edinburgh through a child’s eyes. Here, he shares an extract.

Uncle Neil was an inventor, and his bachelor flat was crammed with gadgets, most of which he had designed and made himself. One day father proudly told me that Uncle Neil had built a television set and that he’d asked us round to watch it in the evening. I could scarcely contain my excitement because I had only just heard of television, and I bragged to my classmates at Heriot’s that my uncle had built a telly. Of course, no one believed me, but I promised that I would tell them next day what I had seen on it.

That evening, father and I walked along the road to Uncle Neil’s house. On arrival, he proudly showed us a construction made out of Dexion, an open metal framework housing masses of wires, valves and a small circular cathode ray tube.

Ensuring that we were sitting comfortably, he switched the apparatus on and explained that we had to wait for it to warm up. The valves began to glow promisingly and eventually the cathode ray tube emitted an eerie green light.

After a few minutes Uncle Neil switched it off, saying how pleased he was that it all worked. When I eventually plucked up sufficient courage to ask him where the picture was, he informed me that there was no television transmission yet in Scotland and that it would be another two years before we could watch programmes.

At school the following day my classmates were eager to quiz me about what I had watched on TV the night before. “The screen,” was my feeble reply, whereupon my legendary reputation for veracity sank irredeemably from that moment. Uncle Neil, however, lived to see his television set receive the first transmissions in 1952, but sadly he died shortly afterwards, his heart weakened by malaria.