TV addicts reveal the joy of sets

By Fay Strang, July 23, 2009
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Jeffrey Borinsky and his 1936 TV, thought to be UK’s oldest working set

Jeffrey Borinsky and his 1936 TV, thought to be UK’s oldest working set

Two Jewish technophiles have emerged as the owners and sellers of some of the oldest working TV sets in Britain.

Michael Bennett-Levy, 62, who lives just outside Edinburgh, is selling 24 pre-war television sets at a Bonhams auction in Knightsbridge in September.

His devotion to “Early Technology”, the name of his company, has led to the amassing of a glut of objects which are also going in the sale: “mechanical music, early typewriters, microscopes, telescopes, magic lanterns, irons, diesel engines... it is almost limitless”.

Mr Bennett-Levy, author of two books on early television, says the TV sets “are less common than Stradivarius violins. There’s around 600 Stradivarius and about 500 pre-war televisions, and more than 20 of them are here.”

The sets have a variety of eccentric features, incorporating gramophones and radio sets, and with tiny screens.

A health scare followed by a decision to pursue the good life in France convinced Mr Bennett-Levy to liquidate his stock in the Bonhams sale, although he says Early Technology will continue in his new home.

He began collecting after taking over a record stall at an antiques market in Edinburgh’s St Stephen Street in the early 1970s.

The technology of early television was already in his blood. His grandfather was the renowned Jewish scientist Dr Leonard Levy, whose research into phosphors helped Britain lead the world in television, radar and x-ray technology in the early 20th century. “Every early TV set contained a Levy phospor,” says Mr Bennett-Levy.

Meanwhile, what is thought to be Britain’s oldest working TV set has been found in Finchley, north-west London, owned by Jewish TV enthusiast Jeffrey Borinsky.

The Marconiphone set was probably made in November 1936, the same month in which the BBC first broadcast TV pictures from Alexandra Palace.

Mr Borinsky, 52, a consultant engineer whose parents were members of Finchley Synagogue, bought the set 10 years ago.

He said: “I was delighted to find the TV, there are very few around. Most are either in museums or in private hands in America.”

His TV is likely to have screened landmark broadcasts such as King George’s coronation procession in 1937, the 1948 Olympic Games and the Queen’s coronation in 1953. Originally, it would have cost around 60 guineas (£65), which would have bought a small car in 1936.

Mr Borinsky has spent a substantial amount of money on the set and is still working to restore the TV, with its 12in screen, to its original condition.

It has only two controls — volume and vertical hold — and does not have a channel changer, because there was only one channel at the time — the BBC.

Mr Borinsky, who did an electronics degree at Imperial College, said: “I have been interested in electronics since I was a toddler.”

His parents bought their first TV in 1956 after he was born. Mr Borinsky has tracked down a similar model, and now owns six vintage TVs dating from 1936 to the 1960s, and a dozen or so others.

The set was discovered as a result of a competition run by Digital UK, the body overseeing the switch to digital television, which wanted to publicise the fact that any TV, however old, could be used to show digital channels.

    Last updated: 5:23pm, July 23 2009