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Culture: Catching up on TV crimes; As a new generation of television detector vans hit the streets, Paul Groves looks back on more than 70 years of snooping.

Byline: Paul Groves

They are not exactly inconspicuous, yet they have done a remarkable job of keeping a close watch on us for decades. The television detector van stands out from the crowd, one of the reasons for its success. It is, in many ways, a necessary evil, clamping down on those who try and avoid paying for their television licences.

Last year in Birmingham alone, TV Licensing caught more than 8,600 evaders.

As a result of their role, the detector vans have very few genuine admirers. Yet they have represented groundbreaking technology since they first hit the British streets in 1926 and continue to represent what an innovative nation we are.

As the new generation of television detector vans hit the streets, it is time to recognise the technological advancements the vehicles have represented since the 1920s through to 2003.

The new vans use the most advanced technology available. For the first time the detector vans will use GPS satellite technology to track down targeted addresses.

The vans will enable TV Licensing to improve on the 1,200 evaders it currently catches every day around the UK.

So what is the new technology whirring away inside and how did it all start? Did you know, for example, that: the first detector van was launched in 1926. It was used primarily to detect pirate radio stations, and could only detect radio waves;

built by the BBC's own Research and Development Department in Kingswood Warren, the prototype for the van was developed in such secrecy that engineers working on specific detection methods worked in isolation;

the first television detector van was developed in 1952. The technology consisted of three horizontal loop aerials fixed to the roof of a van which received signals from TV sets and converted them into radio waves to give both audio and visual information;

the new van is the tenth model -there have been nine previous generations of detector vans launched in 1926, 1938, 1952, 1958, 1962, 1970, 1984, 1990, and 1998;

although the vans have been around since the 1950's, the principle technology used was unchanged until this latest version launched today, although the previous equipment was regularly improved in speed and accuracy;

the new van is the most sophisticated yet and can tell in as little as 20 seconds if a TV is in use;

once the use of a television is detected, the new equipment -which works from up to 60 metres away -can pinpoint the actual room that the television set is in;

for the first time, the detector vans will use GPS satellite technology to track down targeted addresses. This will enable TV Licensing to precisely target individual evader homes using up-tothe-minute information from its database of 28 million addresses. The GPS technology means that it will be able to locate unlicensed properties faster, and therefore considerably increase the number of properties the van can detect when it is in operation;

the campaign for the new vans is based on 'Now you see it -now you don't'. TV Licensing is now using removable branding to allow covert vans to target evaders;

7,500 components have been used to make up the ground-breaking technology in the new vans.


Clockwise from top right, drivers and their state of the art detector vans in 1926 -their job was to seek out pirate radio stations; a TV detector vehicle from 1938; the 1962 model was based on a Morris Oxford; a Commer van from 1970; the 2003 all-singing all-dancing detector van -the white VW Transporters have detachable magnetic TV Licensing symbols, helping them to blend in with the rest of the traffic
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 9, 2003
Previous Article:Culture: TV Choice.
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