Hubert Schlafly: Inventor of the autocue who also helped originate pay-per-view television

Hubert Schlafly, an Emmy Award-winning engineer, was the co-inventor of the teleprompter, or autocue, and executed the first satellite transmission of a cable programme, both of which helped shape modern television. He also engineered the HBO satellite transmission of the "Thrilla in Manila" between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

He was widely regarded as a visionary, pioneer and first-rate collaborator in the field of telecommunications. His device revolutionised TV in the 1950s, letting actors, politicians, presenters and newsreaders read scripts while looking directly at the camera.

Born in St Louis, Missouri in 1919, Hubert "Hub" Schlafly was an only child. He graduated in 1941 from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in Electrical Engineering, then spent several years working for General Electric and the MIT Radiation Laboratory before joining 20th Century Fox in New York as Director of Television Research in 1947.

The invention of the teleprompter came about following a request by the actor Fred Barton Jr, who wanted a way to remember his lines and approached Irving Berlin Kahn, nephew of the composer Irving Berlin and vice-president of radio and television at 20th Century Fox. Kahn went to Schlafly, head of research. "I said it was a piece of cake," Schlafly later recalled. Fox, though, refused to invest in the device and so the three men founded the TelePrompTer Corporation, which later became a leading cable television network with franchises in more than 140 markets serving around 1.4 million customers. Schlafly was its president until 1972.

The TelePrompTer, a device with a motorised scroll bearing a printed script in half-inch font, made its debut in December 1950 on the CBS soap opera The First Hundred Years. In 1952, the former President Herbert Hoover became the first politician to use it when he delivered his keynote speech to the Republican National Convention in Chicago. However, as Hoover digressed and began to ad-lib, the teleprompter stopped scrolling. Then, in front of the entire nation, Hoover announced the tele-prompter's restart so he could continue. The secret was out and before long everyone in television wanted to use the new technology. Schlafly received more than 10,000 newspaper clippings from around the world following Hoover's use of the device. It has been employed by every US president since.

The autocue arrived in Britain in 1954 and was used for the first time that April by Peter Dimmock, who presented the BBC's Sportsview. It was then used on Ted Ray's television comedy series. The device, initially in a suitcase-like unit, evolved andwas replaced by glass panels, and eventually by computerised text scrolling across screens to the tempo of the speaker. Further refinements included a podium with concealed prompting devices, plumbing for drinking water and a platform to lift or lower a speaker.

The company branched out into cable television, and Schlafly developed the first pay-per-view system, allowing subscribers to order programmes delivered by coaxial cable. In June 1973 he oversaw the first satellite transmission of a cable programme from Washington to a convention of 3,000 cable operators in California. Following legal problems and the conviction of Kahn in 1971 for bribing government officials, Schlafly left the company.

In 1956, he foresaw the advent of computers, the internet and cell phones, following a request for his predictions for the world in 2001. "Systematic information storage will be in a form instantly available for response to remote inquiry," he said. "Communications will be highly refined, without the encumbrance of any wires to or between terminal devices. In fact, this advanced state of communications may substantially reduce our need for transportation."

Schlafly received many awards, including two Emmys (1992 and 1999) for his invention and for his contributions to cable television, and the Vanguard Award for Science and Technology from the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. In 2008, aged 88, he was inducted into the Cable Television Hall of Fame. At the induction ceremony, he revealed to the audience that it was the first time he had used a teleprompter to deliver a speech. He held 16 patents. He was also a generous supporter of many philanthropic causes.

Hubert Schlafly, engineer: born St Louis, Missouri 14 August 1919; married 1944 Leona (Lee) Martin (died 2003); died Stamford, Connecticut 20 April 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there