| Hit or Miss: The
until 1960 remote controls on radios and TVs had been at best sporadic in
the UK - never lasting on any particular model more than one season.
The public had not accepted the idea, which was strange considering the convenience
that it offered. So you tell me, Hit or Miss?
Before world war II, Murphy introduced a radio with motor-driven tuning
and an optional remote control. It allowed station selection and
volume control. The connecting lead took the odd form of a six-inch
wide band, which would fit flush under a carpet and could also be stored
inside the radio. It could be withdrawn by pressing a button which
would wind up the cable when not in use. There was also a Philco
radio that used a remote control that could be used anywhere in the
house. Rather than a cable it used a sophisticated inductive system
to communicate to the radio. Both of these ideas failed as the price
of the option was so high (nearly as much as the radio itself).
One company tried to offer a general solution by use of a flexible
mechanical control using a rubber cap that fitted on the knobs of a
standard radio! This was never a success. There were continued
isolated tries at TV remote controls for volume, brightness, on/off and
channel selection but not one control that combined all of these
functions. Such controls were only attractive to the elderly, infirm
A new push was being seen in models with basic remote controls for
TVs. Channel switching remotes were always going to be very
expensive as it required the TV to have a motor tuning system (like the Ultra
Bermuda range). Brightness, volume and on/off controls were a
little less sophisticated. However, the on/off control was not as
simple as would first appear.
The On/Off Problem
It is easy to see how a cordless remote control could switch a TV off by
using a motor to switch off the set; but with no power how could it be
switched on? Corded systems had an advantage (see the Sobell remote
below) but it required a four-way cable system just to serve the mains
power to the switch. Because the remote control contained switches
at mains potential, precautions had to be taken to guard against damage
and (potential) electric shock. Further objections from
"housewives" about the trailing wires across the living room
meant that remote controls were limited to a niche market.
The industry adopted ultrasonic remote controls (and the associated
barking dog) as a cordless method of operation. Standby relay
systems accommodated the "switch-on" problem. With the
advent of LEDs in the late 1970's infrared remote controls finally made
the whole idea cheaper and more reliable.
An advert from October 1961
showing the Ferranti Model T 1061 (at 70 gns). This set was a
19" TV finished in French Grey and sapele design and featured the
new push-button Auto Tuner - selecting the channel of your choice
without fiddle and fuss. An Armchair Programme Control was an
optional extra for the "take-it-easy" viewer. The T 1061
was also designed to convert easily to 625-line transmission for the
expected third programme.
Ferranti Radio &
41-47 Old Street
This remote control from Sobell in 1960 fits comfortably in the hand,
the cable clearly visible on this photograph. The on/off switch is
located at the end, with the edgewise brightness control, then volume
control, behind it.
Available for as little as 2 gns, this remote carried mains voltage on
an eight-way cable.
This Murphy cordless
ultrasonic remote control was released in the autumn of 1961. It
was for use with their "Astra Range" 19-inch and 23-inch
televisions. The Astronaut (model V659XS) 19-inch was finished in
sapele and sycamore with motor-driven tuning. Priced at £60 10s
5d plus £22 8s 7d purchase tax. The Astraluxe console (V683XDS) was
finished in rosewood and satin silver trim and included an FM
radio. Priced at £101 2s 6d plus £37 9s 6d purchase tax.
This "Satellite" remote control, with one button for channel
change and one for sound muting, was available for an extra 3 gns. The
suffix "X" on the model numbers meant 625-line ready, whilst
the "S" denoted compatibility with the remote control.