Obsession - A Life in Wireless

Gerald Wells 2002. British Vintage Wireless Association £6.

This is an autobiography full of fascinating local history. Gerald Wells gives his family history and describes the building of Rosendale Road, South Norwood where he lived all his life and set up his Vintage Wireless Museum. He describes all the shops that existed in the 1930’s in the Road at the time when he attended the local primary school and went on to Dulwich College Preparatory School in Alleyn Park. He saw the burning of the Crystal Palace and discusses how the fire might have started. He became obsessed with ‘things electrical’ and collected them from wherever he could – sometimes without the owners’ permission! He began at an early age to build wireless sets and went to a school that gave some valuable background in engineering and in repairing wireless sets. He gives a fascinating account of the wireless sets of the day, interspersed to references to the ‘hit’ tunes of the time.

Wells gives a knowledgeable account of how John Logie Baird first transmitted moving pictures in 1924, and how the BBC first transmitted his pictures in 1933. There followed between November 1936 and February 1937 alternative weeks of transmissions by Baird (on 240 lines) and Marconi EMI (on 405 lines) from Alexandra Palace with the eventual selection of the latter to go forward. Baird’s laboratory was of course at the Crystal Palace, and the fire happened when the test transmissions were in progress: he may therefore have been handicapped in promoting his discovery.

The British Vintage Wireless Association was set up in 1976 and Gerry Wells’ house grew into the Vintage Wireless Museum – he attracted publicity when he appeared in Esther Rantzen’s That’s Life programme in 1988.

His book is full of stories. He records how All Saints’ Church in Rosendale Road was burnt down, and how he was able subsequently to go down into the crypt with a fireman and retrieve the CD’s and the amplifier that he had built there for “Peter’s Dance Club”.

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