Alexandra Palace celebrates 75 years of broadcasting history

A north London icon has celebrated a landmark event 75 years after its studios were the first in the world to transmit high-definition television.

Alexandra Palace was the first centre on the planet to transmit television, on November 2, 1936.

This Saturday and Sunday (November 5 and 6) the studios in the Palace’s southeast wing, perched high up between Hornsey and Muswell Hill, will be open to the public to explore the history of TV and try out 1930s style food.

Until 1936 television had been an experiment, and the launch at Ally Pally heralded the beginning of TV as a regular, public service.

In the beginning just 400 people from a narrow range in London tuned-in, each having paid the equivalent of the price of a car for their television sets.

They could watch just one black and white programme for one hour per day, and programmes would focus on the exotic, such as penguins, or someone juggling.

John Thompson, curator of Alexandra Palace Television Group, said: “We had this fantastic technology, but didn’t know what to do with it. People were fascinated to see moving pictures in their own home, regardless of what they were of.

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“In the early days there were a lot of breakdowns and the service was pretty primitive.”

To account for regular glitches, a camera was set up on the balcony, fixed over Hornsey, ready to transit live pictures of the view in the event of an interruption.

During the Second World War the service was paused and instead the station sent out signals to confuse German bombers.

In the 1950s television expanded rapidly and the studios were outgrown, with Crystal Palace taking over as the London transmitter in 1956.

However the Alexandra Palace studios remained at the forefront of change, carrying out the first trials for colour television in 1955 and in 1964 launching the second ever channel, BBC2.

Mr Thompson said the rush to launch high definition television in the interwar years was a matter of national pride.

“There was competition with Germany, which was making rapid advances with television,” he said. “The British public refused to be left behind.

“It’s incredible that we have something of such world importance on our doorsteps, which deserves to be preserved.”

Currently the iconic studios house a small museum of objects, but campaigners are calling for the “scattered” relics of television history to be returned and for the station to be recognised as a UN World Heritage Site.

To book a place on a free studio tour call 020 8365 4321 or to find out more about anniversary events go to

For more information about the history of the Palace contact Bruce Castle Museum on 020 8808 8772.