Engineering Information Department - Reminiscences
I joined the BBC in May 1938 after an apprenticeship with a small electrical installation firm, in which I opened a small radio department specialising in one of the first all-mains radio sets, the KB "Pup" . Up to that time most enthusiasts made their own, and had the batteries charged at the local garage.
The change to the BBC provided exciting times for a raw country lad from Morecambe. Visits to Drury Lane, to Convent Garden, to many grand London Hotels and night clubs in the early morning hours. The war put a stop to all that when I became a Lieutenant in the Navy.
My Naval work was in the Anti-Submarine Warfare Establishment HMS Osprey, at Portland later transferring to HMS Nile, Alexandria where I gained a Mention in Dispatches in connection with the development of equipment for the detection and destruction of early Italian human torpedoes attacking our craft in Alexandria harbour.
A second Mention in dispatches was gained with development work in designing a remotely operated smoke screen used during the third occupation of Benghazi. Then I was allowed to come home via a year or so in Taranto, and Haifa, installing anti-submarine equipment. I then joined the A/S commissioning team in the Admiralty at Bath until I was discharged in 1945.
The BBC sent me to the largest SW transmitter site in the world at Skelton. Very exciting the first year, then rather dull. So I joined a small pool of Education Engineers to advise Local Education Authorities about obtaining good reception of school broadcasting, about which I had written a Ministry of Education Bulletin on "Obtaining Good Reception of School Broadcasts". I stayed in this role until the early 1960s.
Education Engineers were privileged staff in having a private BBC car in view of the large amount of travelling involved. I had an Austin 6, the one with wooden panels, which I was allowed to keep at home. During one or two slack periods we did TV reception checks for our main department. And would you believe it we used extending floor microphone stands as aerial masts!
Later we found, just down the road from our Kingswood Research base, a small Polish firm manufacturing a compact hydraulically driven mast which could be extended to 10m. One of these was installed in the A60 and was a great success.
We were already using a small Sony portable TV with a meter in the IF circuit to give some indication of field strength, but at that time John Fox was developing the "multi-path" receiver. This provided a useful indication of field strength, to back-up or confirm official readings, bearing in mind our work was to check the subjective quality of the transmissions compared to local radio-dealer assessment.
Later we used a specially modified Sony portable, after some discussion about the suitability of its red phosphors.
A colour demonstration vehicle (mentioned in this extract from "BBC Engineering"), gave demonstrations at some fifty locations and over five million people saw them between 1967 and 1971. I took part in this exercise, giving lectures and demonstrations about colour television.
About this time the question of "quadraphonic" trails arose, for which the land-rover was too noisy but during our further vehicle search we heard about the new Range Rover. Transport Department panicked. One remark being "the only noise those things make is air rushing into the petrol tank" (They had to meet the petrol costs !) Also the powerful vehicle was making journeys to the newly opening northern stations more practical.
We got in touch with Rover and were interested to know they were about to embark on Range Rover trials on the new and un-used Motorway link between the M1 and the M6. We were invited to join them. The trials were a great success with the result we bought Two Range Rovers - at £2,200 each.
Then started our second big argument with Transport Department who insisted that the vehicles were painted over their smart black and white livery to the BBC scheme of camouflage olive and grey. I refused on the grounds that the BBC livery was dangerous for vehicles working by the road side, whereas the black and white was ideal. We got the usual "over my dead body" and there was a resignation in transport dept. But we won. Furthermore the livery was adopted by Local Radio.
Later I borrowed the spectrum analyser from Crystal Palace which proved a wonderful aid at that time and this instrument became part of the standard equipment. The financial case for the Range Rover was based on a 20% increase in efficiency. The spectrum analysers raised this to 200%.
From about 1975 until I retired I was the Engineering Liaison Officer at Television Centre, in charge of organising and hosting visits from overseas broadcasting personnel.
I retired in 1978, but was called back to do the planning
and initial organizing for a 1000 person dinner at the Television Centre
for the Fellowship of Engineering, headed by the Duke of Windsor and for
which I received a letter of Congratulations from the Chairman of the BBC.
Thus ending my 40 Golden Years with BBC Engineering.