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The Vintage Guide To London | September 21, 2017

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Radio times - check out the The British Wireless and Television Museum

Vintage Guide writer and broadcaster Gemma King explores the wonders of The British Wireless and Television Museum in Crystal Palace.

I have always loved the medium of radio. As an awkward teenager I whiled away the hours exploring the frequency dial – giggling away to radio comedies on BBC4, tuning into French stations on long wave (I recall French accordion music accompanied by a high hissing interference), pirate stations sneakily pumping out heavy drum and base, and my personal favourite Virgin Radio’s ten minute test broadcasts prior to turning onto FM… the excitement I felt having discovered a station yet to be born and the anticipation knowing that soon, this frequency would be filled with live radio broadcasts are feelings I find hard to put into words (although, I admit, exceedingly nerdy!).

I did all I could to immerse myself in the medium, from making my own home radio programmes on a dual deck cassette player, to volunteering at my local hospital station… I still find it incredible that I have managed to achieve my goal and hold down a career on the airwaves. Yes the hours are long and unglamorous, yes it doesn’t compare with a city banker’s salary and yes, I complain, frequently, about this. But at the same time I realise how lucky I am, how many people as an adult can say they are doing what they dreamed of doing at 14?

Something that worries me though is the looming DAB switch over. Radio is being pared down, and the more I look the more, it seems that people take the medium for granted. To me, nothing else holds the immediacy and intimacy of radio. Television is hardly portable, and extremely hard to multi task along to (unless you’re ironing!) Where-as radio is a movable feast of information!

But enough of my swan song – onto something positive. There’s a Chap in South East London who’s preserving the past, salvaging pieces of media history so that the I-generation will be able to see how far things have come and can appreciate just how wonderful past technology was. His name is Gerald Wells and he runs The British Wireless and Television Museum.

Stood in the shadow of the Crystal Palace aerial, the museum contains approximately 1300 wireless receivers, copious display cabinets of components and wireless associated artifacts, a “mock up” of a period shop, a valve laboratory and fully functional wireless construction workshops.

Even the museum premises has a long, rich history encompassing radio. Alfred Rickard-Taylor (an early wireless enthusiast) lived there from 1908 to 1914 and broadcast early radio transmissions from the property. Then, in 1914 Mr. Frank Wells (Gerald’s father) purchased the house and Gerald was born there in 1929. From an early age he expressed an interest and fascination for anything electrical, resulting in a love for the wireless. By the time he was 7, Gerald had taken ownership of the bottom of the garden to undertake his experiments with sound and electricity, to the extent his mother commented: “If you don’t buck your ideas up and conform, you will still be mucking about at the bottom of the garden in fifty years time!”

All I can say is thank heavens Gerald paid no attention. This museum is a living tribute to not only the innovation of radio, but to one man’s life long passion.

If you’re planning a trip to South East London you really should swing by. Visits are appointment only, so¬† check the museum website for booking info. I also highly recommend purchasing Gerald’s book Obsession a narrative of his fascinating life , history of the area and some “wireless adventures”. I bought a copy yesterday and I’m half way through already!

Comments

  1. LOVELY Article! Gerry is a dear friend of mine and has helped me alot with my work in the past.

    Thank you for putting his wonderful museum back on the map. He trely is a living legend and needs all the appreciation he deserves.

    xJess.x

  2. florian senteur

    Good evening,
    I enjoyed the rooms with the fantastic radio’s for the first time.An
    amazing collection,and once having the opportunity,I certainly will visit this museum.
    And a museum with technical equipment,and parts,that’s the real thing!! As being Dutch I am a Philips fan,but also interested in the world’s foreign radio’s.In ALL of them!
    I had a question,….there’s a brand named LISSEN.Purported to be English.Searching for a model(193?)that might be of this brand,it’s a
    cathedral model.And I can never find some pictures of this sought item on the internet.So,I would be happy to get some links for further searching,YOU have some suggestions?
    Kindest regards,
    Florian Senteur
    Leeuwarden/Holland