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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Fans take a selfie with Ed Miliband in Kempston, near Bedford, on Tuesday
election 2015
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds This i...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Guru Careers: Project Manager / Business Analyst

£40-50k + Benefits.: Guru Careers: A Project Manager / Business Analyst is nee...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power