Recollections of BBC engineering from 1922 to 1997
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Designs Department - Description

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Reason for forming Designs Department (DD)
Written in 2004 by Gordon Parker, H.D.D. from 1980 to 1985

Prior to the setting up of Designs Dept any design work had been carried out by the BBC department working in that field, so sound studio equipment was designed by Studio Design and Installation Dept.  At that time there was only sound broadcasting.  A detailed account of the evolution of engineering activities in the BBC covering the period 1923 to 1947 is described in an article written by L.G,Smith.

The reason for setting up a department to undertake design work across the whole field of broadcasting was to try to bring some cohesion to the work, establish standards and produce the small quantities of the highly specialised equipment necessary for broadcasting.  The small quantities of equipment and the high specifications demanded for broadcasting did not appeal financially to the established equipment manufacturers who, during the war years, had become so used to the risk free cost plus basis of Government equipment development and manufacture for the Services.  The main manufacturers of broadcasting equipment were E.M.I, and Marconi and their efforts were directed at transmitters for television and studio equipment such as cameras rather than the smaller items found in broadcasting.

The creation of Designs Dept was not looked upon favourably by these firms as they felt that public money was being used to do work which should be theirs by right. However, time has proved that the decision to set up the department was correct since the development of equipment such as the electronic standards converter, the basic work on the colour systems and standards, Ceefax and sub-titles for the deaf would never have been possible without the close collaboration between engineering and programme personnel.

How DD was formed
Extracted from text written in 1973 by Dennis Haines of Technical Publications

BBC Designs Department was formed in May 1947 when parts of Lines Department and Station Design & Installation Department joined forces in Brock House near Broadcasting House, London.  Accommodation in Broadcasting House and Maida Vale was also used initially.  In addition, a Test Room and Model Shop were established nearby in Bentinck House.

Starting in 1953, DD gradually moved from Brock House to more spacious accommodation across the road in Western House.  This was needed to cope with increasing demand, caused mainly by requirements of the new Television Centre at Shepherds Bush, to be opened in 1960.  Television Group was one of the first to move and immediately began developing equipment needed for the Coronation in June 1953.

The Model Shop stayed in Bentinck House, but the rest of DD moved to Western House by 1959.  The removal was a slow process because the upper floors of Western House were occupied by other BBC departments and the ground floor was used as a car showroom.  Eventually DD occupied the whole of the building except part of the ground floor, which became the Recorded Sound Effects Library.

DDs initial objectives:

  1. Establishment of new design standards.
  2. Introduction of automation into the Sound Service.
  3. Development of the Television Service (which had recently re-opened following closure during the war of 1939-1945).

There was considerable scope for action because during the war years many control rooms and transmitters had been improvised and much of the equipment was obsolescent.  The Television Service was using pre-war equipment, so the service needed to be updated and extended.

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