John Logie Baird, television pioneer
Institution of Electrical Engineers 2000
ISBN 0 85296 797 7
Hardback pp 420
£55 (discount to IEE members)
When you receive a new book by Russell Burns you can rely on seeing the results of meticulous research and scholarship. In his third major book on the history of television he has succeeded again. Its publication was nicely timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Baird's first public demonstration of television.
Burns has written what must surely be the ultimate biography of Baird. He has comprehensively surveyed all aspects of Baird's life from family history to little known later work on high definition colour TV. We get a fine picture of Baird the man, Baird the inventor and details of his inventions. Other authors have claimed that Baird was involved in secret radar research during the war; Burns admits not being able to find any solid evidence of this. The author has had access to major archives and many private papers. The book undoubtedly benefits from his personal contact with Margaret Baird and surviving Baird employees, notably Ray Herbert. Unless new primary source material emerges I find it difficult to imagine anything that could be added.
The writing style is slightly academic but not oppressively so and the text is enlivened with numerous anecdotes and quotes from original sources. The book is amply illustrated with both drawings and photographs. There are comprehensive bibliographic and patent references.
A favourite reviewer's sport is nit picking. Burns is a formidable opponent. I have found just a very few typos and would claim that his list of "Portraits and commemorative events and activities" is incomplete. My London A-Z does not show the claimed "Baird Crescent" in Wembley but does reveal six roads with Baird in their name. While not all of these may relate to John Logie I am sure that Baird Avenue in Southall does.
The price may be a deterrent to many readers. I can only urge the IEE to look at pricing potentially popular books at more populist prices. Even at the price it is still essential reading for anyone with an interest in the life of one of Britain's most colourful inventors.
Jeffrey Borinsky MIEE CEng