The 1950s and 1960s were exciting times for the booming British electronics industry, which produced a wide range of innovative products for the domestic market. From 1950 until the late 1960s there were many developments that greatly affected people’s lives, and led to our dependence on electronic forms of entertainment.

Some of the milestones were as follows:

In June 1950 the Decca Record Company launched the country’s first 33 rpm long playing record, and in 1952 EMI introduced seven inch 45 rpm singles. In September 1958 EMI launched stereo long playing records.

The high quality vinyl records led to an interest in sound reproduction, leading to a successful British hi-fi industry, and the introduction of VHF/FM radio in 1955.

In the early 1960s experiments in colour television were taking place, and in April 1964 625 line monochrome broadcasts began on BBC2. In the early part of 1967 the BBC began colour test broadcasts of some scheduled programmes, in readiness for the start of the regular service, which was launched in July 1967.

At this time Britain had a vast domestic electronics industry, ranging from the large manufacturers, through to the local TV repair and rental shop. Large numbers of skilled people worked in the industry, and there was a great demand for places on the electronics courses that were run in local technical colleges. Many people built their own equipment at home, ranging from televisions, to radios, hi-fi, and record players. In almost every town there was at least one electronics shop selling components, second-hand equipment, government surplus items, and electronic kits.

Many people designed their own radios, record players, and even televisions, and sometimes sent articles to the many popular electronics magazines, where they were published in a serial form that allowed almost anyone to build them. Electronics became a popular hobby, which led to much innovation, and development. One such innovator was Colin Mason who developed an early form of video disk.

Development of the disk

Colin Mason ran Rapid TV Services which was based at 49-51 Derry Street, Wolverhampton. He repaired televisions of all makes, and offered an electronic equipment design and manufacturing service. From the same premises he ran Midland Recording Studios (Wolverhampton) Limited where he made demonstration discs and master recordings of pop groups that were of a high enough standard to be accepted by many of the major record companies.

Colin lived with his wife Joyce at Finchfield Hill, Wolverhampton, and over a period of 18 months or so developed an early form of videodisk designed for use in a video jukebox.

Colin in his workshop.

Audio/visual jukeboxes had been around since the late 1930s. They used back projection from a 16mm or Super 8mm film projector onto a screen at the front. They never really caught on in this country, but were quite common in Europe and America.

By the early 1960s television transformed the way that we viewed our favourite stars thanks to such shows as Six-Five Special, Oh Boy, Ready Steady Go, Thank Your Lucky Stars, and Top of the Pops. The time was right for the introduction of a video jukebox, and Colin Mason began to develop a unique, and potentially popular product.

As already mentioned, electronics magazines were extremely popular with enthusiasts. During the early 1960s several articles appeared which described the working of a flying spot scanner, used by the BBC to electronically scan 16 or 35mm films for broadcast. The film was scanned by a focussed spot that moved across the face of a cathode ray tube.

It could well be that Colin Mason saw one of the articles, and realised that the system could be adapted for use with an optical disc.

How it worked

The videogram appears to have worked in the following manner. It is basically a flying spot scanner, with a fixed cathode ray tube, and moving optics.

The ten inch disc was made from a sandwich of transparent plastic material that included a layer cut from a piece of photographic film, which would have been suitably exposed in a recording machine, and processed in a dark room. It seems likely that the recording machine was almost identical to the player, except that the flying spot scanner tube would have been modulated by a series of pulses produced from the source video.

Each disk was produced to work with a specific seven inch, 33⅓ rpm vinyl record, which sat on top of the videogram in a depressed area, resting on three small anti-slip feet.

The video information was recorded on the outer part of the videogram, that sat above a transparent section of the turntable.

The seven inch disc was played in the conventional manner with a tone-arm holding a cartridge.

The arm was mechanically coupled to a lens which focussed the image from the flying spot scanner onto the top surface of the videogram, and a photomultiplier tube beneath the turntable, that converted the modulated light beam into an electrical signal.

A ten inch videogram.

A close-up view of the video information on the videogram above.

A later seven inch videogram.

During recording, the video information frequency modulated a 6 MHz carrier to a maximum deviation of plus or minus 4 MHz.

The resulting carrier was half-wave clipped, and clipped at the top to produce an approximate square wave, which triggered a monostable multivibrator.

This provided a train of pulses which were mixed with peak whites and peak blacks from the video source.

Although the aim was to produce a series of pulses, the grain size of the photographic emulsion led to a form of gradual density modulation, rather than discrete pulses.

A close-up view of the seven inch videogram.

A closer view of a 7 inch videogram showing the video information and the grooves. Courtesy of Graham Griffiths.

During playback the optical part of the videogram was scanned by the flying spot scanner tube, and tracked by the tone-arm, following the groove in the seven inch record, in a conventional manner. The signal from the photomultiplier was amplified, and fed to a standard video output socket.

Marketing and sales

Colin Mason had high hopes for his invention. He believed it could be a great export success, and hoped to receive about £3,000,000 annually from royalties. He applied for a patent in the names of himself, his wife, and Mr. J. D. Hoppett, and Mr. N. P. Stead, proprietors of Wolverhampton Radio and TV Supplies in Darlington Street.

He gave a demonstration to Decca, which must have gone well because he received telegrams from Sir Edward Lewis, who ran Decca, expressing interest in the videogram. Unfortunately for Colin, Decca developed their own capacitive system called 'Teldec'.

An article about Colin and his videogram appeared in Practical Television magazine, and so Colin must have had high expectations for the project. He also planned a postcard version of a video disk, and had the idea of developing a machine to show photographs on TV. Users would be able to insert their film negatives into the machine which would be connected to their television.

For some years Colin ran Telford Electronics in the shopping precinct at Anstice Square, Madeley, Telford, selling Decca TVs, records, and carrying out TV repairs. Although the business was initially successful, it eventually failed. He hoped that it would fund any future inventions. At the time he lived at Sutton Hill, Telford.

Unfortunately the videgram was not to be. None of the British manufacturers were interested, so he turned his attention to America, and eventually signed a contract in New York with Cinerama Inc. of Hollywood.

Cinerama however had no interest in jukeboxes, and were interested only in the technical side of the invention. They provided financial support for development work to bring the videogram up to an acceptable standard, and would have greatly profited from sales of the product, had it reached its full potential.

Colin and his prototype player. The image on the television screen is from the player.

Although there was at least one working prototype, there were still problems to be ironed-out, including insufficient resolution. Which is possibly why manufacturers showed little interest in the system.

Final developments

A number of improvements had been planned. Experiments were carried out with non-continuous tone emulsions, such as lith film to reduce video noise. Plans were also in hand to improve frame and line synchronisation by the inclusion of sync pulses that could be read by a photo transistor, to synchronise successive lines to within plus or minus one microsecond. Colin also developed a seven inch version of the videogram.

It seems likely that had a manufacturer shown sufficient interest, development work would have continued to produce a saleable product. But as no interest was shown, the project was eventually abandoned. We have to admire Colin for producing a new and innovative design, which under different circumstances might have revolutionised the British jukebox industry.

Another of Colin's inventions was an ash tray with a small cigarette holder in the centre. A lighted cigarette could be placed in the holder, where it would burn very slowly, and emit no noxious fumes. Again, no interest was shown in the product, but this was because of our modern attitude towards cigarettes, which are no longer fashionable.

Sadly Colin Mason died a few years ago at the age of 71.

I would like to thank Colin Mason's long time friend, Bob Aston for providing some of the information for this article, and also another of Colin's friends, Graham Griffiths who was also extremely helpful.

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