Sunday, December 5, 2021

Saw television!

‘Met John Logie Baird; a charming man - a shy, quietly-spoken Scot. He could serve as a model for the schoolboy’s picture of a shock-haired, modest, dreamy, absent-minded inventor. Nevertheless shrewd.’ This is from the diary of Sydney Moseley, a journalist and writer, who died seventy years ago today; but, he is not well-remembered other than for his association with Baird, and writing a biography of the inventor.

There is very little information about Moseley readily available on the internet. He was born in 1888, and became a journalist, working initially for the Daily Express. For some years he lived in Cairo, editing English-language newspapers and acting as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times and others. Back in Britain, he founded the Southend Times and also stood for election to Parliament as a member for Southend-on-Sea.

Moseley worked to promote the invention - a television broadcast system - of his friend John Logie Baird, and was instrumental in persuading the BBC to try it out. There is a little more about this on the BBC website.

Moseley authored many books during his life. Truth about the Dardanelles and With Kitchener in Cairo were published during the First World War. Books on London, about the criminal system, and making investments followed. Most well known, though, are his books on television, including Who’s Who in Broadcasting; Simple Guide to Television; and Television for the Intelligent Amateur. His best remembered work is probably the 1952 biography of his friend, John Baird, The Romance and Tragedy of the Pioneer of Television.

A little while before Moseley’s death - on 5 December 1961 - Max Parrish published The Private Diaries of Sydney Moseley in association with Moseley’s own publisher in Bournemouth, The Outspoken Press. Used copies are available at Abebooks. The diaries are said to be a ‘startlingly frank record of a poor, ambitious boy’s struggle to make good’. Here are a few extracts.

31 March 1911
‘(Fleet Street) And now, after a week of continuous work, I can rest awhile and write my thoughts. Ten minutes ago I hadn’t a penny in my pocket; now I have over £4! Watney offered me the ‘night news-editor’ job and I accepted - again on space! This means that anything I write through the night which is printed will be paid for. I can ‘order’ any stories from our correspondents in the provinces, too. I think he has a good opinion of me, and this has been strengthened by the report of Sir William Bull, who was ‘very pleased’ with what I did. As regards the work I am about to do, he added: ‘there are great possibilities’ in it, and I am of course going to make use of most of them. According to Watney’s description, it is a post I should love; but I must take care of my health. It is now 6:30pm and I have had nothing to eat since 8 this morning!’

12 April 1911
‘(The Old Victoria Park) I should really be in bed but here I am! Been too busy to write these notes; it seems as if I have made a really good start on the Evening Times. Given a chance at last I am seizing it with both hands. Despite my column stories I am none too confident. I’ve already has some experience of the vagaries of journalism, thank you! It is very easy to slip. Have ordered suit, overcoat and writing desk. The Census job fairly unnerved me. Had to go into terribly poor quarters of the East End slums. St Peter’s Road in Mile End, where I lived, was a paradise in comparison - with trees and a church at one end, and the Charrington brewery at the other! What terrible lives some people endure! I thought I had seen enough! Dead people . . . dying people . . . starving people. There was a beautiful slut sitting beside a coffin. Beneath her rags and dirt was a queen. . . Wrote an article on my experiences which will be published - I hope!

Today I put 10s down as ‘extra’ expenses, and it’s going to Watney for his OK. Careful my lad, careful!’

1 August 1928
‘Met John Logie Baird; a charming man - a shy, quietly-spoken Scot. He could serve as a model for the schoolboy’s picture of a shock-haired, modest, dreamy, absent-minded inventor. Nevertheless shrewd. We sat and chatted. He told me he is having a bad time with the scoffers and sceptics - including the BBC and part of the technical press - who are trying to ridicule and kill his invention of television at its inception. I told him that if he would let me see what he has actually achieved - well, he would have to risk me damning it - or praising it! If I were convinced - I would battle for him. We got on well together and I have arranged to test his remarkable claim.

(Later) Saw television! Baird’s partner, a tall good-looking but highly temperamental Irishman, Captain Oliver George Hutchinson, was nice but very nervous of chancing it with me. He was terribly anxious I should be impressed. Liked the pair of them, especially Baird, and decided to give my support. . . I think we really have what is called television. And so, once more into the fray!’

9 March 1956
‘(Bournemouth) Today is my 68th birthday - and it is time I finally closed my diaries! Would that it were possible to close my mind with equal emphasis. Thoughts, ideas, views continue to chase each other. . . How will it really end?

What comparisons can one make with the past? Were my times the ‘good old days’? Or were they, as our modern progressives call them, the ‘bad old days’? Well - where are we today? We have: penicillin; hydrogen bombs; radio; plastics; Teddy-boys; modern plumbing; Bikini suits; pheno-barbitone; television; cafetarias; automobiles for all; telephones for all; a broken sound-barrier; long-playing records; inflation; diesel engines; higher wages; guided missiles, and aspirin tablets which dissolve much more quickly than ever before. Are we any happier? - more secure? - really better off? One could write much on the subject, and the ensuing discussion would go on ‘far, far into the night’.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 5 December 2011.

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