Eileen Dunlop (b 1938), writer, nominated
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)
John Logie Baird (1888-1946)
In many ways, Thomas Carlyle represents a noble Scots way of life which is rapidly passing into history. Born in 1795 to humble Calvinist parents, he learned early the virtues of education and self-reliance; on the eve of his 14th birthday, he walked from Ecclefechan to Edinburgh University, to embark on a lifelong quest for learning and enlightenment. Through years of penury and uncongenial work as teacher and journalist, he wrestled with the great questions of faith, doubt, and morality; his loss of Christian belief was no mere shrugging off of an inconvenient restraint, but the beginning of a struggle to formulate a compensatory moral structure for a world which he and many contemporaries already regarded as post-Christian. Throughout his life, Carlyle was a student of literature, history, and philosophy. With a formidable intellect and great literary gifts, he became a prophetic and fearless critic of political systems and social ills.
Carlyle was proud of his Scottish roots and drew strength from them, but narrow nationalism would have been incomprehensible to him. He considered himself no less a Scot for spending 47 of his 86 years in London. He drew his greatest inspiration from European writers, but he wrote on Burns, Scott, and Edward Irving. In his highly individual, rhetorical style, we hear echoes of his plain Scottish voice.
George Eliot wrote famously that if all Carlyle's books were burned, it would be like cutting down an oak after its acorns had sown a forest. Carlyle's ideas stimulated the best minds among his contemporaries, and he was universally admired. Yet posterity has been unkind to him; his wife's highly personal account of their unhappy marriage has aroused feminist ire, and his reputation has suffered from the gross misappropriation by fascists of his insight that, in a godless world, people would worship a human hero-figure. Happily, scholarly appraisal of Carlyle is even now rehabilitating him. The next century must surely see this great Scot restored to his rightful place among the most passionate writers and most influential critics of all time.
John Logie Baird, inventor, was born in Helensburgh in 1888. At 13, with no formal scientific education, he had made a private telephone exchange for himself and his friends, and installed power-generated electric light in his parents' house. He began working on television when he was 15, and there is evidence that he experimented with a complete system while a student at technical college.
If Baird did not also invent
television, then who did? Certainly he invented and demonstrated in January 1926 to members of the Royal Institution the first system that worked. He made video recordings, and took television pictures by infra-red light, in the 1920s. He was the first to demonstrate colour television and stereoscopic television, and, in 1941, high-definition 3D television in colour
. In 1928 he beamed the first television pictures across the Atlantic, and then transmitted them to the ship bringing back the equipment. His televising of the Derby in 1931 was the first outside broadcast; the following year he showed the race on closed-circuit television. Large-screen colour television was shown to a theatre audience in 1938. Though in 1937 the BBC chose the electronic system of Marconi-EMI over his mechanical version, Baird had used electronic methods for his colour experiments, which were consistently far ahead of their time: he successfully demonstrated in 1944 the first fully electronic colour tube.
Baird was experimenting with radar in 1923, and patented his methods in 1926, nine years before Robert Watson-Watt's proposals for spotting enemy aircraft with radio beams. He made, and in 1926 patented, significant developments in fibre optics. In May 1939 he fitted out a French bomber to send pictures of the ground back to base, while video recording items of particular interest – the first live TV transmission from an aeroplane. Details of his secret war-time work on high-speed colour signalling and fax transmission by cable and radio waves are only now emerging.
Dogged by chronic ill health, Baird had largely to finance his own researches, in the face of opposition from the BBC, and of government gagging of technical details of his developments, which prevented his acceptance by the scientific establishment. At the outbreak of World War II the television industry shut down, and Baird's company went into liquidation. Throughout the blitz he kept up his experiments at his own expense. Virtually bed-ridden, he organised by phone his new company's large-screen live presentation of the Victory Parade at three centres in June 1946. He died a week later.
At 43, this son of the manse, who claimed to be so tone-deaf that he only recognised the tune of 'God Save the King' with difficulty, had wooed, and in a lightning courtship won, the beautiful, half-Jewish, half-Anglican 24-year-old concert pianist from South Africa, Margaret Albu. She survived him by 50 years.
Written with Anthony Kamm (1931-2011)