1940s television, resurrected

Andy Brown has been working on a project to re-create a 1940s TV using a set he found in a barn a few years ago, and a Raspberry Pi. The TV plays period programs from a USB hard drive (it can also stream content from the internet), and will be part of a display at Making the Best, the Brown family’s shop in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire. Video first from different stages in the project’s development, then some explanatory notes from Andy.

The Original Television Set – Probably built by Pye or Invicta, this 405-line, black and white television set was made between 1939 and 1947. The original tube is a Mullard MW22-7. This tube was used in a number of different television sets of the wartime era.  This particular set, was rescued from a barn in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire in 2004.

Original Condition – The television set itself was in remarkably good condition and has been retained, possibly for future restoration. Much of the veneer on the cabinet was peeling and the cabinet, overall, was beyond both economic repair and my veneering abilities.

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint – Annie Sloan Chalk Paint is ideal for painting wooden furniture. The paint is very easy to work with and it is not usually necessary to strip or prepare pieces before panting. With Annie’s range of paints and waxes, it is possible to create a wide range of finishes with the minimum of fuss.

My concept was to re-create a 1940’s-style ‘television’:

*By replacing the original CRT with a modern flat screen
*Use a Raspberry Pi computer in place of the original television receiver
*Re-produce a cabinet style, using Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, to compliment that of the original
*Use a light distressing technique to give the impression of ageing
*Producing a working unit, capable of playing period programmes from the internet and/or stored on a USB memory stick
*Produce a working internet ‘television’, mimicking the original set.

Thanks so much for sharing this, Andy – it’s looking great. Send me a note letting me know where your shop is so I can direct people here to it; my parents live quite near you, and I’d love to drop in too some time. (And maybe buy some paint.)



Chewy avatar

Wonderful originality, excellent, really excellent,

Andy Brown avatar

Thanks Chewy. Its great to get some positive feedback when you’ve tried to be a bit creative…

Shawn avatar

I agree. This is most excellent!

Andy Brown avatar

Thank you Shawn.

Clive Shaw avatar

Hmm, I really hope you have retained the original CRT and chassis… These are rare as rocking horse…. You could have sourced an original and run it through a standards convertor..

liz avatar

Watch the video. :)

Andy Brown avatar

ined for a future restoration, when I’m up to it (see my reply to reiuyi). If you think the Mullard tube is rare, you ought to see my mechanical Baird TV, or rather the parts of it that I have. That’s another restoration job I haven’t got around to! I also have a beautiful Marconi which is almost restored… and the most fantastic Watkins Johnson surveillance (radio) receiver which I rescued from China (I kid you not). Don’t think I’ll be sticking a Raspberry Pi in that one!

reiuyi avatar

As a very big fan of old and authentic electronics, I feel pain to see the original Mullard tube and the original speakers being replaced by a TFT screen with its onboard speakers

I hope the author will have some time in the future to have a look at the CRT tube to see if it still works. Back then, those things just didn’t stop working. I’m convinced it still works. The only thing that often failed was the underlying electronics (paper and oil capacitors going bad, broken tubes (that worked in place of transistors), potentiometers going bad, those sort of things)

A raspberry pi transmitting video and audio signals to a genuine 1940s-1950s television would be pure gold. Technology worth preserving!

Andy Brown avatar

Hi reiuyi, I agree. When I first got hold of the set I tried bringing it up on a variac, but there was no action – which was actually reassuring. At least the caps didn’t explode outright… Doing a full blown restoration is a little beyond my capabilities at present but I have retained the original set so maybe something for the future. Of course the big problem would be linking the output from a Pi to a 405-line CRT and what sort of picture you’d get if you managed it! But I must admit that I really like the idea – which has got me thinking about trying it with a later, perhaps early colour working set from say the late 60’s or 70’s. You can pick them up for next to nothing… So watch this space! I also love vintage electronics – especially radio & television. I have quite a good collection (mostly radio). I can manage a certain amount of electrical restoration but Ive learned (the hard way) not to play with valved TV’s/Radios unless you really know what you are doing… But rest assured, nothing radio or TV related gets destroyed or thrown away from my workshop….

reiuyi avatar

There are some game consoles that do exactly what you wish to do, though (converting composite to VHF/UHF video), so it’s not impossible.

But you’re right, that’s way beyond the modern electronic engineer’s skills! (and certainly beyond hobbyist’s skills) Your idea of getting a 60s-70s television from a thrift shop or wherever will be more realistic and almost just as good. Ideally you’d get one that still has one of those really rounded tubes. In later times, CRT designers wanted the screen to be flatter and flatter until the point that CRT televisions were entirely flat just like TFT (which wasn’t until late 90s).

As for the sound.. Just use a low-pass to filter out everything above 3khz, and a high-pass to filter anything below like 200hz and it’ll sound old as can be XD. There are VST designers going insane over emulating the sound of the “good old days”, while all it takes is mono, a high-pass and a low-pass. Occasionally you see VST designers including stuff like noise generators (Twang from Kontakt loves this), click-and-pop and hiss, though those are mostly artefacts produced by preservation. That’s all they had back then anyway; a very limited transmission bandwidth. Their microphones weren’t per definition different from ours (people were just more prone to yell into the microphone, because dynamic compressors hadn’t been invented yet).

How the images looked like? TERRIBLE. You said “405-line” but analog TV could never fill those up. They’d be interlaced back in the day. Even modern CRT tvs at their best had a resolution no greater than 640×480 (not including computer monitors, those were on a whole different level). I think homebrew computing has to attribute its success more often to the improvement of CRT technology. If televisions didn’t get better so fast, the computer industry would NEVER have gotten as successful as it is today.

Clive Shaw avatar

We are talking about the UK though where the old standard was 405 lines interlaced until 625 lines arrived in the 1960’s. The pictures looked fine on the smaller screens of the time. certainly not terrible and perhaps sharper due to the lack of the shadow mask in B&W tubes.

Nothing modern will produce a 405 line signal, but there are 625 to 405 line converters such as the Domino, no longer produced, but an EBay search on such convertors usually brings up various options. So a Pi to a 405 tv via a standards convertor is certainly possible and EBay has plenty of working 405 line sets. A Bush tv22 would be great for this.

For whatever reason, European television manufacturers never really went for round tube tvs. Except for very early sets where they masked off the tube face to make it square.

AndrewS avatar

Glad to hear you’re planning to fit an old curvy CRT into it. IMHO the flatscreen is a bit too much of a giveaway ;-)

Jon avatar

It just *has* to be a Raspberry Pye. ;)

Andy Brown avatar

Yes I did think about calling it the Raspberry Pye. But I’m not certain that it was made by Pye and I thought it might be embarrassing calling it that and then have a Pye anorak telling me that it isn’t!!!

joe2act avatar


Robert avatar

Super Swellegant!

We have a museum of Radio and TV in town and years ago I surprised the owner by pointing and gushing, “I’ve never seen a Televisor in person before!” So, I envy you your Baird. :-)

Andy Brown avatar

Hi Robert – Ive posted some pictures of the disc television over on my facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/andy.mellettbrown.

Robert avatar

I’ll bet it looks sweet. I haven’t been on Facebook for a few years, now, so I’m not let in to see people’s photos.

But this *does* remind me that I’m overdue for a visit to the Radio & TV Museum, here in town! :-)

Mike avatar

I’d almost leave screen and sound as is – gives it a nice charm :d

Mark avatar

You need to include a manual UHF channel selector that makes a big ‘clunk’ sound and feel. The Pi needs to change the video as the channel is changed. Now make only three channels actually give a picture and a fourth that has so much snowy interference it is completely unwatchable and Now that takes me back to the good ‘ol days. :-)

Andy avatar

When this was made there was only one channel, so there wasn’t a channel change knob. And UHF wasn’t used till Much later

Andy avatar

But snow on the picture would be good. And sparkles as a motorbike went past. And a bit of ghosting, which came and went as the trees waved in the breeze.

Jim S avatar

This is really cool. I’ve been planning something similar but with radio, I’ve got something like 30,000 old radio shows on my hard drive. It would fun to build a time traveling radio to listen to them. Say make it tune chronologicaly, with “band switch” buttons locking it into modes like “calender”, “just this program”, or “news only”. I haven’t been able to bring myself to actually gut an old radio to get a case… ;-)

Matthew Jones avatar

Play this

Well here’s an exciting vision of the technological future! Mr Brown, a Boffin from Leighton Buzzard has been experimenting in his workshop to produce this modern marvel.
Showing newsreel footage and programs from the new British Broadcasting Corporations Television Service from Alexandra Palace, this little box of tricks will wow old and young alike.
Its modern stylish cabinet will fit nicely into the living room of tomorrow! The workings hidden from view, we are told, are the most sought after technology of the age.
We say Well done Mr Brown, you will be the talk of the town

Sorry Don’t know what came over me there, and why have I got leather patches on the elbows of my T shirt? And why am I smoking a pipe?

reiuyi avatar

Reading this made me smile

Mr Jones, we are very pleased to have you on the air tonight! Technological marvels from the future are with us on this very day.
The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together, as shall the invention of the raspberry pi. The very nature of the invention of the raspi cries out for the goodness in coders. It cries out for universal support of open-source software, for the unity of all operating systems. Even now my written words are reaching millions throughout the world — millions of despairing men, women and little children — victims of a system that makes big corporations rich and imprison innocent people in pure consumerism. To those who can hear me, I say — do not become only a consumer. The lack of creativity that is now upon us is but the passing of corporate greed — the bitterness of men who fear the way of technological progress. The hate of innovation will pass, and the current patent system shall die, and the creativity they took from the people will return to the people and so long as men do not make, liberty will never perish.

Consumers! Don’t give your privacy to corporations — men who make profits of you — enslave you — who regiment your lives — tell you what to like — what to think and what to feel! Who sell to you, corrupt you, treat you like economic risks, use you as cash cows. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural profit machines — a workforce of machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! Consumers are not machines! You are not cash cows! You are men! You have the love of humanity and creativity in your heart. You make! Only the unloved merely consume — the unloved and the unnatural!

Consumers! Don’t fight for privacy! Fight for creativity! You, the people have the power — the power to create. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make technology and knowledge free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure of making and creating.

Then, in the name of creativity, let us use our hands! Let us all unite! Let us fight for a sharing world, a decent world that will give men a chance to express creativity, that will give youth the future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, large corporations have risen to power, but they lie! They do not fulfil their promise; they never will. Corporations free their workforce, but they enslave the consumers! Now, let us fight to fulfil that promise! Let us fight to free the code, to do away with software patents, to do away with greed, with consumerism and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and technological progress will lead to all men’s happiness.

People! In the name of creativity, let us all unite!

AndrewS avatar

Heheh :) Reminds me of http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7pc_eLUo_Y

Or for something more relevant, see this http://www.britishpathe.com/video/raspberry-festival/

Kev avatar

I’m constantly amazed at the creativity that’s being revealed by the price and power of the Pi.

Jamie Skinner avatar

You do realise, You could keep it 100% original and restore it? By purchasing an Aurora Standards Converter.. Which converts the mdoern 625 lines to 405 you will have a 100% original 1950’s Television! Do not throw an LCD screen inside, A you will be replacing it every few years.. B The picture is awful… Cheerio’

reiuyi avatar

He’s looking into it right now. Don’t worry, he won’t keep the lcd screen inside there

For more info, read the comment section here

Andy Brown avatar

I do realise it, yes. However, as far as I can see, the Aurora Standards Converter is something like $240? Plus, restoration of the original receiver and tube would cost???? I think I’ll make do with my CCTV screen! ;o)

Steve avatar

Haven’t got a Pi yet, but I was already wondering whether it is possible to reprogram the composite video output to the old UK 405 line standard, all that would be needed then would be a system A (VHF/Positve video modulation) modulator to display an image on an old 405 line tv. It would depend on what information is eventually released on the graphics processor at a low level. It’s already been done on a PC under linux with an Nvidia graphics card by Kat Manton, here http://www.g1jbg.co.uk/fothtv.htm

Andy Brown avatar

Hi all,

Like i said before, i think, I have kept the original receiver and would love to re-fit it at some point and have the Pi displaying on that. However, people need to understand what would be involved in a full-resto of a 1947 receiver. It is beyond my expertise at this point and probably my pocket too! But maybe something for the future.

My objective with this project was to produce something that looks good (and it does) – it was done to demonstrate the paint I used on the cabinet, as much as the pi – as a bit of fun. It is not and was never intended to be a technical project or restoration.

In terms of the screen – it is a cheap, low res CCTV monitor but it’s quite sufficient for the job. I wanted to keep the cost of the whole thing down to Raspberry Pi proportions, by re-using old kit that I already had. The whole project, including the Pi itself has certainly cost me less than £50 which is pretty good.

I may well bring it to the raspberry jamboree event at the national computer museum on Sunday if anyone would like to see it? But like I said – it’s just a bit fun really.

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