Let's make no bones about it - we love the BBC. No other company has produced as much terrific content over the years. Now, in a bid to make us even more lovestruck, the BBC has put a whole bunch of old Tomorrow's World clips on the internet. If you're a geek who grew up in the UK, it's almost certain that Tomorrow's World played a huge part in your childhood (and maybe adulthood too). But we weren't expecting to discover that British boffins were ahead of the game when it came to mobile telecommunications.
In 1979 the Japanese launched the first city-wide mobile phone network, but earlier in the year Michael Rodd made several 'radio' phone calls on an experimental British designed system. It's pretty clear from the archive video that the BBC has just released that this is basically just a walkie-talkie which communicates with a traditional phone exchange. It even uses pulse dialling, which most people under 25 probably won't even remember.
Still, this was a working system that wasn't very different from the actual early days of analogue mobile telecoms - although the pulse dialling was ditched, and a more elegant solution was put in place for dealing with call termination. This is all stuff that seems hilarious in this demo - and we loved the use of the word "packets" to describe the error protection of the pulse dialling - these days, our packets carry a lot more than just a dialling pulse.
Of course, like most things to do with radio spectrum the Government of the day managed to ruin everything by refusing to release the required frequencies. Without such radio bandwidth, the system could do no more than stay a rather nifty experiment until permission was finally given in 1983 for Mercury, Vodafone and Cellnet to set up national wireless networks. By that time, the Japanese had already launched their network, making us all look very silly indeed.
There is plenty of other awesome stuff available to watch too. Highlights include Trevor Baylis talking about his clockwork radio, and in the same episode Howard Stableford discusses how keen Californians are on having electric cars. There are some amusing haircuts, but it's interesting to note that there's actual science in there too -- something that many critics claim is too rare on BBC TV these days.
If you'd like to remember a time when people on TV spoke the Queen's English, wore ties and generally weren't on TV for the fame, then you can check out a selection of clips from Tomorrow's World via the BBC website, although it will probably only work if you are watching from the UK. It's part of an ongoing project at the BBC to digitise its entire library of content - and might one day mean we can watch whole archive programmes and bathe in nostalgia.