Rediffusion was the trading name of a company, formed in 1928, to do exactly what its name suggests: to “broadcast again“. Initially, Rediffusion rebroadcast the BBC radio service via cable to customers in Hull who had difficulty tuning in to weak radio broadcasts.
From this humble start, the company soon branched out from both Hull and rebroadcast. They made, rented and sold radios. When television came along, they started manufacturing TV sets. Not just in the UK, they had operations overseas, too.
In 1954, Rediffusion joined forces with Associated Newspapers to form Associated-Rediffusion.
Associated-Rediffusion bid for and won the London weekday ITV broadcast franchise; they began broadcasting on 22 September 1955.
When they weren’t making television programmes, Rediffusion was busy offering a low-bandwidth cable TV and radio system. They connected homes with multiple twisted-pair cables. Each pair carried a single TV or radio channel. You could choose which TV or radio station to watch by turning a rotary switch, which was usually mounted on a wall or window frame near where the cable entered the house. Rediffusion was hugely successful and by 1963 had one million subscribers worldwide.
In the 1980s, a new generation of TV networks sprang up — we had satellite dishes! — and Rediffusion’s cable operations were left adrift in the backwash of new technology. Rediffusion sold its stock and its systems and ceased trading.
Rediffusion’s cables still live beneath our paving stones. They announce their presence in a manner similar to those Post Office Telephone covers that continue to exist, long after you ceased to be able to trouble the Post Office for a telephone. Should you happen to glance down while you walk, you’ll see the streets still loyally proclaiming the names of companies that are now only ghosts.