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Answer 109. John Logie Baird. He had just invented the world’s first successful television, but it was another three months before he was ready to show his work to the public.

On Tuesday, 26 January 1926, Baird invited 40 top scientists, including Nobel laureate Sir William Bragg, to witness the new miracle. In full evening dress, the scientists queued patiently in the street, taking turns to climb the stairs in groups of six to Baird’s tiny rooms at the top:

‘I could hear their footsteps echoing as they climbed, and their mutterings. Inside they had to find their way over a litter of cables and other equipment.

‘In one room was a large whirling disc, a most dangerous device, had they known it, liable to burst at any minute and hop round the room with showers of broken glass…

‘The whole assembly here were given an opportunity to be televised and I was certainly gratified by the interest and enthusiasm. The audience were for the most part men of vision and realised that in these tiny flickering images they were witnessing the birth of  a great industry.’


BairdMozartBaird demonstrated television in the house on the right in this picture. Three doors along (where the brown building now stands), a previous house on the left of the picture was rented by a family of foreign musicians in 1765.

The family had come to London to make  a name for themselves, but were enjoying only mixed success. They had staged several profitable concerts and had played for King George III, but ticket sales for other gigs had been distinctly sluggish. They had even had to play in pubs sometimes to make ends meet.

Early in May, they advertised another concert from Thrift Street (as Frith Street was then known). Star billing was given to their son, a child prodigy who played piano duets with his elder sister:

‘Mr ******, the father of the celebrated young musical Family, who have so justly raised the Admiration of the greatest Musicians of Europe, proposes to give the Public an Opportunity of hearing these young Prodigies perform both in public and private, by giving on the 13th of this month a Concert, which will be chiefly conducted by his son, a boy of Eight years of Age, with all the overtures of his own composition.

‘Tickets may be had at 5s each of Mr ******, at Mr Williamson’s in Thrift Street, Soho, where Ladies and Gentlemen will find the Family at home every day in the week from 12 till 2 o’clock, and have an opportunity of putting his talents to a more particular proof by giving him anything to play at sight, or any Music without a Bass which he will write upon the Spot without recurring to his Harpsichord.’

HISTORIC LONDON: X MARKS THE SPOT. Question 110. The boy who could do all that was certainly a musical genius. Who was he?

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