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What was the first play broadcast on UK television

01:00 Mon 31st Dec 2001 |

A.� The first publicly televised play in Britain was broadcast from John Logie Baird's studio in London's Long Acre. It was called 'The Man With a Flower in His Mouth' and was organised by the BBC. it was a fairly basic production; only one actor's face could be seen at a time because the performing area was so restricted.� Among those who appeared were Gracie Fields, George Robey, Stanley Holloway and Arthur Askey.

Q.� What was the year

A.� Scotsman Baird gave the world's first demonstration of true television in 1926, and three years later the BBC was persuaded to let Baird's company use its London transmitter. The first play was broadcast in 1930. In 1931 and 1931 Baird televised the Derby live.

Q.� How did television become more widely acceptable

A.� The BBC became more involved and installed Baird equipment in the newly-opened Broadcasting House in Portland Place from where they put on fashion shows, ballet and boxing. Public interest in television grew widely. In August 1936, Alexandra Palace was the setting for a public demonstration of television at the annual Radiolympia Exhibition. Transmissions alternated daily between Baird's system and that of his rival, Marconi-EMI. The BBC chose three hosts who became the first television personalities: Jasmine Bligh, Elizabeth Cowell and Leslie Mitchell. Cowell and Bligh were selected from 1,222 candidates, and all applicants had to be unmarried and not have red hair. The successful pair were entitled to a �25 per annum dress allowance whereas Mitchell was expected to provide his own clothes. Leslie Mitchell's famous opening words to herald the new age of television were: "Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to the magic of television".

Q.� What were the first programmes shown on television

A.� Test transmissions took place soon after the exhibition. These included the magazine programme 'Picture Page' where guests were introduced to viewers by Canadian actress Joan Miller via a mock telephone switchboard. The official opening of the service took place on October 2 1936, and featured speeches, newsreel and a variety perfromance from American comedy dancers Buck and Bubbles, Chinese jugglers, the Lai Founs, and a specially composed song, 'Television', sung by Adele Dixon. Among other programmes scheduled for that historic week was variety with Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyon, a display by Alsation dogs, excerpts from the West End play Marigold, an item on breeding silver foxes, a tap-dancing demonstration, a feature on prize chrysanthemums, and bus driver Mr L.A Stock describing the model he had made of Drake's ship, Golden Hind!. Television was limited to one hour in the afternoon and one hour in the evening, with nothing in Sundays. The opening ceremony was seen on a maximum of 400 sets - they cost up to �100, the cost of a small car then.

Despite Baird's enthusiasm, Marconi won the day, and it was the system the British public adopted. For Baird, much of his equipment was destroyed in the Crystal Palace fire at the end of November 1936.

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By Katharine MacColl

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