Recollections of BBC engineering from 1922 to 1997
The British Broadcasting Corporation
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Designs department


Memory Lane - an opportunity to remember colleagues who are no longer with us (contributions welcome)


Peter Tingey, John Shelley, Brian Bower, Gordon Parker



Peter Tingey   - 2009 (pictured in 2008)

Transcript of a short eulogy given by Martin Ellen at Peter Tingey's funeral:

"I would like to say a few words about Peter – the BBC engineer.

These days the hot topic in broadcast engineering is digital television, but about 45 years ago it was colour television and Peter played a significant role in developing the new colour television service from the BBC.

In fact he did more than that – he helped the Russians as well. He travelled with a BBC delegation to Moscow to demonstrate some new colour television technology.  This was in the middle of the Cold War and the initial meeting was quite tense, but the Russian engineers politely showed the BBC delegation around their studio facilities.  One of their prized possessions was a large colour monitor - in essence a professional television set.  It was one of three in the whole of the USSR, it was extremely expensive and unfortunately it didn’t work.  Peter immediately offered to mend it for them and, accompanied by looks of great consternation from both the British and Russian engineers, started to delve inside.  A short while later there was a very loud bang!  Consternation turned to panic for a moment, then smiles all round as the monitor came to life and displayed a perfectly good picture.  After that the British and Russian engineers were the best of friends.

That story was typical of Peter.  He was a very practical man with a lot of knowledge in his field of engineering.  But mending things was only a side-line.  He worked in the BBC’s Engineering Designs Department and designed many items of electronic equipment that were manufactured in quantity and used throughout the BBC to develop the radio and television services.  He had a particular talent for miniaturisation and, years before small televisions became generally available, one of his designs became know in many parts of the BBC as the “Tingey Tiny Telly”.

I met Peter in 1970 and was one of many youngsters who benefited from the fact that he was very good at explaining complex technology in an understandable way.

He was also very entertaining – never short of an amusing story.

So, on behalf of his broadcast engineering colleagues, I’d like to register our thanks for the privilege and enjoyment of working with a very special BBC engineer."


John Shelley 1924 - 2008 (pictured in 1950)


John Shelley died on 31st July after suffering a long period of illness.  He was aged 84.  John joined BBC Engineering's Lines Department from Post Office Telecoms towards the end of 1945.  In those days his other talents included conjuring at Departmental parties and playing the organ, having constructed his own electronic instrument, which was no mean task in those pre transistorised times.  In 1948 he became a founder member of the newly formed Engineering Designs Department, the organisation with which he was to serve for the remainder of his career.


In 1950 he moved into Neville Watson's Television Transmission Section, then located in Broadcasting House.  This was something of a hot-bed of young talent from which emerged engineers who were to reach the heights in both BBC and ITV.  Work here involved the design and construction of entirely new types of equipment which were needed to enable the rapid expansion of the TV service which was then taking place.  Among his earlier projects was the design of a transmission-quality TV receiver which was installed on many BBC stations to provide the video feed to their transmitters.


A somewhat unusual task was the production, in cooperation with Research Department, of apparatus which enabled film clips to be transmitted (with a couple of hours delay) over the first transatlantic telephony cable TAT 1.  This was in 1959, well before the advent of TV satellites, and gave John the opportunity for periods of work in the USA and Canada.  Trips abroad also resulted from his involvement in the work of committees of the European Broadcasting Union and of the International Telecommunications Union.


In the early sixties he was chosen to lead a Special Projects section tasked with looking to the future in terms of automating the operation of the BBC's transmission network, this subsequently leading to pioneering work on the introduction of computer techniques into many aspects of BBC engineering.


As a consequence of failing health John retired early, in 1980, allowing him several happy years with Daphne, who he had married in the mid-sixties, at their cottage in Wimborne.  They were able to see a bit more of the world and John became an early "Silver Surfer".


John was an archetypal design engineer, full of innovative ideas which he was able carry through into useful hardware.  As a section head he encouraged younger designers to spread their wings whilst endeavouring to keep the management off their backs!  He was both liked and respected by his colleagues and was possessed of a great sense of humour which he used to brighten-up many a boring meeting, and to defuse potentially fraught situations.  John had the ability to get on well with people ranging from BBC drivers to Directors General.  He will be sadly missed by his many friends.

He is survived by Daphne, who provided loving care and comfort during his final difficult years.


Peter Rainger & David Savage



Brian Bower  1929 -2006

Brian was born in 1929 in Kingston upon Hull where his father taught Classics at Hymer’s College. Brian spent his school years at Hymers before going on to St John’s College Cambridge where he read Natural Sciences and Engineering. Then followed National Service as a Second Lieutenant in REME. After National Service Brian worked for a couple of years in industry before joining the BBC in the late 50’s where I first met him.

In those days the BBC was almost more of an engineering organisation than a programme making one. Television stretched the technology that was then available to the limit and it was touch and go whether an hour’s live drama would get to the end without the equipment breaking down, so engineers were much in demand. The industry was still in its infancy and the BBC had to design and make much of what was needed. On first joining the BBC Brian was recruited into the Designs Department where he applied his engineering skills to the development of equipment for television studios.

Those were exciting times. The transistor, which was to revolutionise developments in this field, had just been invented and colour television was just beginning to loom on the horizon. Brian had joined a pretty lively bunch of people. Despite his apparently rather taciturn manner Brian fitted in well. Behind the façade was a keen sense of humour with a mischievous streak and he was fond of the occasional practical joke. Perhaps the best known was The Little Gem Fuse Blower. This was a box with a pushbutton prominently mounted on top which was connected across the mains supply. If my memory serves me correctly there was a light which indicated when the device was on. Alongside the button was a label clearly stating Do Not Press. Of course everybody did as he undoubtedly knew they would.

At that time the Department was the centre of the BBC’s motoring club and Brian was an enthusiastic member, taking part in rallies and winning the occasional trophy. When it came to cars a Ford or a Morris Minor were not for Brian. It had to be something more interesting. He chose a Jowett Javelin, only 23,000 of which were ever made but which inspired extraordinary loyalty among its afficianados. I was fascinated to find that although it went out of production in 1953 a Google search the other day came up with 47,000 references. Brian retained his affection for the marque until the end and a book on the car was among his last reading.

In around 1960 Brian moved to another group in the Department which specialised in the design of radio frequency equipment such as receivers and transmitters. It sounds a fairly simple transition but believe me it wasn’t since the engineering techniques involved were in many ways very different. It is a measure of Brian’s skill as an engineer that he was able to make the change so effectively and go on to produce a catalogue of first rate designs in this field right up until his retirement in 1988.

It was in this new group that Brian met Margareta who joined as secretary to the head of the group and they married at St Saviour’s Luton in 1964. It was a rule in the BBC that husband and wife could not work in the same department so Margareta had to move away. This was a particular disappointment to me as I used to enjoy her impromptu Gilbert and Sullivan duets with her boss when I occupied an office next door.

Away from his work, but not very far away, was his involvement in amateur radio which had become a consuming interest from an early age and which continued throughout his life. He became a leading member of the BBC’s Amateur Radio Club and one of the most prominent hams in the country. His record of contacts in over 300 countries worldwide has seldom been surpassed and he continued to come on air 2 or 3 times a week until very recently. He had always been interested in the propagation of radio waves and had latterly been investigating the effects of sun spots and auroras.

I have spoken about his career and his interests, but what about Brian the man.

First and foremost he was rightly, and justifiably, proud of his family. In his professional life Brian was very much his own man. He weighed any instruction strictly on its merits and acted accordingly. Before he was married he managed to get hold of some tickets for Wimbledon. For some unexplained reason his then boss, who was a notoriously difficult man, forbade him to take Margareta. He rightly ignored this instruction and all would have been well if a BBC television camera which was broadcasting to the world had not zoomed in on two figures huddled together sheltering from the rain.

When it came to people working for him he could seem slightly forbidding until one realised that he believed that people learned more if they found out for themselves than if they were given the answer straightaway. But as someone said to me, if you asked him in the right way he would be very generous with his assistance and would go out of his way to help you.

He was not one for making a great fuss but when he saw that something needed to be done he got on with it and you could be sure that it would be well done. The radio club benefited enormously in this way. He was also pretty unflappable. Before he was married he and two friends went on holiday to Spain in the Jowett Javelin. Shortly after crossing the Channel on the way out it was noticed that the oil pressure gauge was subsiding slowly but inexorably towards zero, accompanied by a noise from the engine which most people would describe as worrying. Apparently quite unperturbed, Brian drove on and they completed the journey to Spain, and back, without mishap.

When Margareta asked me to give this address I realised that I would have to call on many former colleagues for their memories of Brian. I have been much struck by the affection in which he was held. He was not perhaps the easiest man to get to know but when you did it was to recognise his true worth.

David Kitson


Gordon Parker 1925 - 2005


It is with great sadness that I record the death of Gordon Parker.  In my memory of him are many occasions when he made a great contribution to the Department and the BBC.  These memories have got dim with the passage of time because they stretch back to the early 1950's.  I can recall the ground breaking times when both he and I struggled with the problems of valve driven television equipment in the basement of broadcasting house, and later, in Western house.  He came from Cossor Radar and brought with an enthusiasm and skill that was of great value to the BBC.  As you will know he concentrated on studio equipment in his early years.  A key event in those years was the choice of the television colour System, PAL.  I can recall with some pride the contribution that many engineers made to the decision to recommend PAL.  New systems were discussed and experiments staged on a daily basis and Gordon played a great part in this.  It would be nice to hear more detail of this from others who were there.  This was not long after the revolution introduced by the transistor and the printed circuit and I am sure that many other significant events in those difficult days.


Of course Gordon rose through the ranks and eventually became Head of Department and under his guidance the Department flourished.  There were many other significant events his career; not least his relatively brief period as Head of Equipment Department.  My impression of his character was that of very capable engineer who had a refreshing no nonsense approach to life.  Nevertheless he was a good listener and the toughness of this approach was softened by an understanding of more human problems of his staff.  


The Pensioners Association were, no doubt, much helped by his efforts on the committee during his retirement years. I recall many events later in his life but there are many others who must have more memories.  It would be nice to read of them.  Perhaps the editor of this web page can be encouraged to set up a "Memory Lane" so we can exchange these memories.  We have all lost a great friend and colleague.  Needless to say his death is a great sadness to his wife Sheila and his family and I have expressed my sympathy.  I am sure all ex-Designs, and many others, will join me in offering our condolences.

Peter Rainger

I was very fortunate to have worked for Gordon in my early years with the BBC in Section 8, Designs Dept, Western House. Tom Worswick was Head of Section at that time, and he led a team of design engineers consisting of Gordon, Geoff Larkby, John Austin, Peter Denby and Bill Hawkins.  I can honestly say that in nearly 50 years in work, I have never met anyone who could match Gordon's boundless energy and drive.  I admired his abilities as a broadcast engineer (who remembers Gordon's Tech Mem on the PAL system?). Perhaps most of all, I remember him for his talents as a Manager.  He possessed that rare ability to motivate all who worked for him, and he kept in close contact with his staff.  Even in retirement, I believe that he was very active in support of the BBC Pensioners Association.  He will be sadly missed.
Derek Simmons

I was devastated by the news of Gordon Parker's death. I will never forget his boundless energy and that infectious laugh that rang round the corridors of Western House.  He taught me that work is there to be enjoyed and, when I left Designs, he imparted a gem of wisdom I never forgot:  "Make sure your employment is always near the money".  I never met anyone who was always so cheerful, lifting the spirit of all those around him.  He will be sadly missed.
Graham Roe