Total Pageviews

Tuesday, 2 May 2017


I was born in 1954 and from a very young age I devoured television, especially the westerns in that golden age. I loved the detective shows too in the 1960s and 1970s. I kept scrap books of my heroes. I had posters on my bedroom wall. I was besotted by TV and film stars. I didn't think of them as celebrities, although that is what they were. They were something else to me. They had talent and screen presence, well most of them did.

The modern celebrity thing really took off in the 1990s, and by celebrity I mean any Tom, Dick or Harriet could gurn into a camera and become an overnight sensation. Talent was entirely optional.

Sky TV emerged in 1989 and over the years has become a behemoth with hundreds of channels and options. It is still growing and filling the schedules with a real mixed bag of good, bad and ugly stuff.

The celebrity conveyor belt began, I suppose, with Big Brother in 1997. Unknowns became famous for being obnoxious. Supposedly famous names in celeb editions became a bit more famous, some unbearable, but almost all the participants became fodder for TV, radio and magazine exposure. Some have clung on to a bit of fame while others fizzled out when it was realised they were commercially redundant, talentless and boring.

On it went with I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here with some familiar names and nonentities mixing it in a sweaty copse. Pop Idol, The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent churned out even more celebrities and magazines like Hello and OK! scooped up the glamour and tittle-tattle. The red-top tabloids filled pages with gossip and scandal. If the celebrity explosion had not happened, today the red-tops would be about six pages.

So, we are drowning in shallow celebrities with the same old faces turning up regularly on TV. Some of them whine about the terrible pressures that fame has burdened them with. Others have launched cosmetic and perfume ranges, and yet more have self-proclaimed themselves as lifestyle gurus.

So, to the point of this blog post. Only recently I discovered the name of the inventor of the first TV remote control. His name was Eugene Polley, son of a Chicago bootlegger. Eugene joined Zenith Electronics as a stock boy but worked his way up to engineer. The story goes that his boss was concerned that the growing number of TV advertisements in the 1950s would stop people from watching the programmes. The boss asked a few bright sparks to come up with a way for viewers to mute and control the TV during the commercials. The first attempt at a remote was called Lazy Bones but it had to be attached with a clumsy cord. Then Eugune Polley invented the Flash-Matic, a cordless gadget that beamed a light at photo receivers in each of a TV's corners - one corner for on, one for off, one to change channels, etc.

It wasn't a perfect remote control by any means but it was the first unattached effort and a prototype for all the remote control advances we have seen over the years. It is said that 30,000 Flash-Matics were sold in its first year.

Without Eugene Polley, I would not now be in the masterful position of zapping the TV anytime a pointless celebrity pops up. That click of power is a joy to behold.

Polley is quoted as saying: "The flush toilet may have been the most civilised invention ever devised, but the remote control is the next most important."

Amen to that!

No comments:

Post a comment