Recollections of BBC engineering from 1922 to 1997
The British Broadcasting Corporation
web site is:

Designs Department - Reminiscences

Return to List of Reminiscences

Notes on the BBC's 1964/5 demonstrations of NTSC in Moscow

By Peter Tingey

The first colour television from London to Moscow is described by David Savage and the event is also mentioned in Reminiscences of S N Watson and T Worswick.  The following notes provide some more detail.  They are based on my 1964/65 draft notes on the Moscow work at D.D. from which I produced "D.D.Records 1964/65" in 1973.

In November 1964 John Shelley, David Savage and Peter Tingey (from D.D.), with Ian MacDiarmid (from P.O.) flew to Moscow and set up a video line receiving station to demonstrate N.T.S.C. colour television to prominent Russian Engineers and Officials - by courtesy of the Russian Post Office.  Signals originated in Studio H at Lime Grove with routing via microwave links across Europe and Finland to Russia, finally terminating at the Moscow Television Centre.  John Shelley had developed a dynamic differential phase and gain correction system for long links carrying the N.T.S.C. system and it was used on this occasion.  Static correction to the receiver signal was also added and the resulting pictures were of good entertainment quality.  Neville Watson was in Moscow for the demonstration and he was pleased with the results. 

In January 1965 the same BBC team plus Mr. Cadzau again entered Moscow to assist the Russians in their assessment of the two prominent colour systems SECAM and NTSC.  The NTSC coding and transmitter monitoring was performed by BBC equipment, SECAM was coded and viewed on French equipment and signal sources were a Cintel Scanner and Philips (Plumbican) cameras.  British industry had lent NTSC receivers to the Russians for the occasion.

Comparison tests of the two colour systems were transmitted on channel 8 on the 15th, 16th, 18th and 19th of January 1965 to the satisfaction of the Russians.  The outcome was that SECAM was chosen in spite of the technical superiority of the NTSC system.  The Cintel Scanner was owned by the French who gave it to the Russians, but it had to be aligned by BBC engineers.

The Russian tape recording devices were incapable of replaying NTSC as well as SECAM, due mainly to insufficient high frequency performance.  During the comparison tests the Russians would suddenly insert an extra link of 1000 miles, via Dnepropetrovsk (500miles South of Moscow).  This was uncorrected in level and response so for a while SECAM came back better than NTSC, but after we corrected the link then NTSC was superior.  The SECAM receivers were continually failing and the television centre was full of sets being repaired.  The rapid switching of signals at 1 minute intervals during the comparison tests inevitably led to confusion at the vision signal source and sound source.  On many occasions the announcer was out of sequence with the pictures - at some viewing sites only one set, usually the NTSC set was working and sometimes more than a hundred people would be viewing one set and filling a questionnaire.

Friendships were struck up between the Russian and English Engineers and one contact remained eight years later.


'Your Leader Has Died' - another tale from Moscow 65.

It was in January that I and colleagues from Designs Department were in Moscow at the Television Centre assisting the Russian Engineers in their selection of a Colour Television System.  I had with me a small portable radio which covered the Medium and Long Wave bands and I found that in the evenings a BBC signal on the Medium Wave band came through quite clear.  At the Television Centre we soon fitted into a daily routine with the Russian staff.  However, one morning on arriving at the Centre all the British Personnel were guided into a large room and asked to line up on one side of the room, while the Russians formed up on the other side.  There was no explanation and we wondered what was to happen to us.  What had we done wrong?  A senior person came towards us and said that he had something important to say.  "Your Leader has died!"  Now we realised what the parade was for, but I had heard the previous evening that Sir Winston Churchill had died and I had told my colleagues.  I replied "We already know of his death for it was on the BBC news last night"

....."But you have a special Short Wave receiver?"

"No, Just a small domestic Medium/Long Wave receiver"

....."But how can you get the BBC here?"

"The evening skip signal comes in about 9pm for an hour or so, and any radio can pick it up"

This produced much conversation among the Russians, with waving of arms, as the action of the ionised layers was explained.  We quietly left the room to resume our normal activities.  The BBC signal could skip the 2500Km distance and be heard in Moscow by anyone with a domestic radio.  Had they never known this?

Return to List of Reminiscences