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The first colour television from London to Moscow

by David Savage

This picture was taken during our first expedition to Moscow, early in the December of 1964, and it represents the first colour transmission from the UK to the Soviet Union.

Note the Venetian blind.

It was painted white on one side and black on the other, so that by pulling a string a practical "bump test" was applied to what was, for then, a very long terrestrial circuit.

At that time the UK was pushing a 625-line version of NTSC, and we were demonstrating the system with the added gimmick of a modified front porch burst controlling a corrector which was aimed at reducing the effects of differential gain and phase, which were perceived to be the Achilles Heel of NTSC when it came to long distance transmission.  This technique was a joint BBC Designs/BT Research (Dollis Hill) development, specifically John Shelley and lan MacDiarmid. They covered the P.R. side, Peter Tingey looked after the display side whilst I looked after the line terminal equipment side.  Also there at the same time was Bemie Rogers, representing BREMA.  Tony Stanley was responsible for the London end of the tests.

Experimental equipment in Moscow

The demonstration went very well, although some Soviet switching centre operator with a sense of humour, without telling anyone, suddenly introduced an extra 500 miles of ropy Russian SB links into the chain, which called for a rapid tweak of nearly every knob within sight.

In the next room to us at the TV Centre was a team of French engineers with bays of SECAM equipment, and they in turn did a Paris-Moscow transmission demo (pictured left).  What none of us was aware of at the time was that senior French and Soviet politicians had already done a deal for the USSR to adopt the SECAM system.  Ironically the Russian engineers had a prototype PAL coder and decoder (courtesy of Dr. Bruch?), but they had not even bothered to unwrap the brown paper packaging because that system was felt by them to be a complete non-starter.

Soon after Christmas, when it was really cold, we had to repeat the operation because there had been no official EBU observers the first time around.  This time the equipment was loaded into a Comet rather than a TU104, and Neville Watson came out for the demo itself, and he and I (as note taker) got to meet with a Deputy Prime Minister of the USSR.

Altogether an experience I would not have missed for anything.