Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Yelfs and the History of Television

You might think this would be an article featuring all those Yelf's who have appeared in Big Brother or The Apprentice or even Ready Steady Cook!, but no this is much more worthy than all that (though such a list might be fun). This is a tantalizing snippet of information worthy of further investigation, either by myself or anyone out there who would like to pick this one up and run with it.

If you had to compile a list of the most influential developments of the 20th century I suspect television would be up there with the Contraceptive Pill, the Teenager and the Atom Bomb. It's quite heartening to discover then that a Yelf was involved on the cutting edge of at least one of these!

Jack Robert Yelf was born in Hitchin in 1884. The son of Edward George Yelf the 1891 census has the family living in Wiltshire but I'm not sure what line of business Edward was in nor much of the early life of his son. The first concrete records I have relate to Jack's service in the First World War and the Medal Rolls of Honour
YELF Jack Robert R.E./ Comm. & Staff - Lieut./Capt./Maj./Lt. Col. Victory Star, British War Medal/1914-1915 Star
It looks from this as though Jack was in the Royal Engineers and rose from a Lieutenant up to a Lieutenant-Colonel during the course of the war. It was this engineering background that seems to provide a key to Jack's interests, initially in radio and later with the embryonic science of television. At the moment I have no indication as to how these interests develop, but by 1926 he is championing the cause of the new medium. I found a 1926 reference to Jack in a booksellers catalogue
Experimental Wireless and the Wireless Engineer A Journal of Radio Research & Progress. 1926 Vol.3 Jan -Dec
Includes articles on Television, a paper by Mr J.L. Baird read by Lt. Col. J. Yelf before the Radio Society of Great Britain on Tuesday 26th October 1926.
However, at £85 the book was a little beyond my price range so I couldn't tell what it was he was explaining but as Mr Baird had just delivered the world's first public broadcast of a television image you could make a reasonable guess. Jack Yelf seems to have been an early proponent and champion of the new technology, despite the initial skepticism of the BBC.

In his book John Logie Baird: Television Pioneer the author R. W. Burns noted that Baird gave a talk to the British Association meeting at Leeds.
During the vote of thanks WGW Mitchell, a member of the BA, suggested that a ‘Television Society’ should be formed. This was seconded by Lt. Col. J.R. Yelf, another BA member and was supported by the chairman of the meeting, Dr Tierney. At a subsequent informal meeting the 45 signatories to the proposal became the founder members of the Television Society of Great Britain, set up ‘to form a common meeting ground for the assistance of the amateurs need for lectures and for professional research workers and others interested in the progress of television’….Lord Haldane of Cloan...agreed to become the society’s first president.
At the same meeting Lt. Col JR Yelf was elected as a member of the founding council and I have seen reference to a magazine article that has 'portraits' of some of these early members, including Jack. All I have to do now is to hunt it down!

The society became the Royal Society for Television in the 1960's and is still in existence today. I found it's website and it's good to see that they have an active archivist who might well be able to provide me with more background to their creation. Of course if anyone else has some knowledge of Jack apart from his pioneering promotion of television I'd be very grateful to hear it but now it looks like Yelfs and television will be an ongoing piece of research...

No comments: