This is a translation of the French story
By two elders who were part of the first technical crew of the Radio Télévision Belge: Maurice Broekaert & Jules Collier
The beginnings of television by the Institut National de Radiodiffusion (INR - NIR), in Belgium at least, can’t be considered a first in Europe, because television already officially existed in 819 lines in France, in 625 lines in the Netherlands, in 405 lines in the UK since 1936, and in Germany already in March 1935. With their modest daily 2-hour broadcasts, TV stations looked more like a little amateur club than the telecommunications network that it later became.
The first television crew in Belgium held the sacred fire, that is undeniable.
What could be more exiting, in fact, than being confronted with reality and knowing that, at the same instant as we put this reality into images in the studio, people – privileged ones, of course – would instantly see these images in their home.
The first production team was composed of volunteers from the world of broadcasting and theatre. A short training course and a theoretical exam justified one’s selection. But these first chosen ones were all animated by an enthusiasm typical of pioneers, they were convinced of having been invited to experience a unique event, an unprecedented opportunity to participate in a great adventure. The job was to be learned on the job, there obviously wasn’t a TV school in Belgium yet. Everything remained to be discovered yet, in the field of shooting, lighting, image mixing, not to forget the techniques of video frequency and high frequency specific to television. The difficulties encountered were very diverse, often unexpected, and the activities necessarily versatile.
Memorable, of all things, was the teamwork of all agents employed in all these disciplines particular to the new medium. There was excellent harmony: the production of a show was actually the result of a collective effort, a synthesis of the experience, initiative and attention to perfection of every single one. Television is not actually the work of one person but of an entire little world that is often anonymous. Simply read the credits of a production … that only shows a tiny fraction of the participants, in fact. A misinformed journalist had even had the presumptuousness to write: “when are they finally going to put down the name of the cleaning lady in the credits?” Solidarity and team spirit were very important in order to be able to perform work that required the commitment of all. In order to achieve an acceptable result, we often had to find compromises between the artistic perspective and the technical. The way to improving a production undoubtedly leads via learning from your mistakes! Nothing new under the sun, of course!
It certainly is thrilling to have a new job, but you must love it completely and in its entirety. To love what you do multiplies the opportunities and the means, it makes you inventive and stimulates creativity. What is characteristic of pioneers is giving without counting. This type of performance generates pride, and a certain joy of a job well done. To love what we do also stimulates the desire to learn and to persevere.
In 1953, television yet had to convince the authorities. Broadcasts continued to modestly be considered as experimental. Those participating were convinced that they were participating in a unique event, which stimulated the participants to provide an extraordinary performance. Overtime compensations were out of question at the time. Friday was a day to relax, like at the theatre, and the month of August was devoted to a period of maintenance for the electronic equipment. No broadcasts for the TV audience that month, the same as suspending theatre activities at the time.
What was specific to television was that everything was “live”: images were transmitted continuously from a studio equipped with 3 cameras running simultaneously, only one of them selected to go on the air. The “cross-fade” style was the ultimate electronic trick available. Programming therefore had to be prepared carefully, as any interruption on the air was prohibited. Video recording equipment was still woefully lacking. These first broadcasts were produced at studio 5, a former music studio on Place Flagey. One can hardly imagine that the first images of experimental Belgian television of the Institut National de Radiodiffusion (INR) were born in 1953! To be precise: the first closed-loop testing began in 1951, with technical means in full expansion, with cameras equipped with super-iconoscope image tubes that required lighting levels a hundred times higher than today. Hence the equipment was subsequently furnished with a little marvel of modern technology of the time, which the inventive genius of Vladimir Kosma Zworikin was to thank for: The Orthicon image tube from the RCA Corporation. It was a true electronic factory, occupying the space of a bottle of mineral water, which all TV cameras where equipped with until the announcer heralded “colour” at Boulevard Reyers (the Belgian television headquarters) on 31th December, 1971.
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