Hello again! It’s been what, three years since I last blogged for the National Science and Media Museum? How have you been? Your hair is looking nice these days!
I’ve not just been slacking off for three years, I promise. I’ve been working at our sister site, the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester. It’s been an incredible time, involving space suits, robot bees, and aliens, but now I’m back at the National Science and Media Museum to help look after and show off our amazing TV and broadcasting collections. I’m incredibly excited to see some of my favourite TV objects again, and thought I’d share a few of them with you here.
I’m going to start off with one of my favourite TV sets in the whole collection. This bizarre round design was made by Arthur Bracegirdle based on buildings he saw while visiting Italy in the early 1970s (if anyone knows which buildings look like this TV let us know!). However, it became popular due to people associating it with the 1969 Moon landing and the helmets worn by the Apollo astronauts. I just love this design because it really embraces the idea of TV as a piece of furniture which can have a presence beyond what is on the screen. I think modern TVs could learn a thing or two from this style icon.
The master of terror himself, Stookie Bill was one of the dummy heads used by TV pioneer John Logie Baird in his experiments with broadcasting images. Baird famously could not use real people as his models because the lights he was using were too hot, so poor Stookie was used instead. He was mocked up with face paint to give him as much contrast as possible to be picked up by the camera equipment used by Baird. This had the unintentional side-effect that Stookie Bill is now incredibly scary. I’ve had people on tours refuse to look at him, but he will always have a special place in my heart (and nightmares).
I was introduced to this object on my very first day working at the museum way back in 2015, and it immediately became one of my fond favourites. This model of Big Ben was used by the BBC for a while to finish off their broadcasts for the day. Why a model and not the real thing, you ask? Well imagine the cost and difficulty of getting a camera anywhere near enough to broadcast the Big Ben, never mind every day! A model proved to be much easier to manage.
However, my favourite fact about this object is that it is not a functioning clock and had to be set by the floor manager every time they would show it, as programmes could run long or end early. The manager would have to check around with other staff to make sure that they had the right time themselves before adjusting the clock. I find this whole story hilarious and love sharing it with people.
I couldn’t do a list of top TV objects without mentioning our resident Dalek. It’s always a hit with our visitors and shows the enduring popularity of Doctor Who and its iconic villains. We actually had an exhibition back in 2014 about the impact Doctor Who has had on popular culture and featured the personal collections of some of the show’s greatest fans. It’s great to be able to show off objects from pop culture like this.
Fun fact: if you hide behind the Dalek display case and play the iconic ‘Exterminate!’ clip on a phone you can make someone’s visit way more interesting/terrifying. Not that I’ve ever done that…
Beyond these classics I can’t wait to delve back into our collections and share more spectacular objects as I get stuck into my new role. Watch this space!