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Just Another TA Recruit
by Gordon Williams

Reading the excellent book ‘On Air’ brought back vivid memories of my time with the BBC at Rampisham and Daventry during the early 1960s.

My fascination for wireless began at a very early age and after seeing the film ‘This is the BBC’ in 1959, it was my ambition to work for the BBC. This was made possible for me in 1962 with the BBC recruitment drive to replace retiring engineers (recruited during a big growth period of radio in the 1930s, and I suspect the loss on engineers to the ITV service). Technical Assistants (TAs) were recruited with either A-level GCEs or ONC whilst Grade C engineers were recruited from degree or HNC candidates. In 1962 I had my TA interview at The Langham and a few weeks later received an offer of employment (I still have the letter). On appointment I had a one-week Induction Course based at The Langham; this gave all new recruits the opportunity to see the BBC London establishments. Then I was off in my newly purchased Morris Minor to my first posting at the Rampisham short-wave transmitting station in Dorset. I was to report to Mr D Hamilton-Schaschke, the E-in-C.

My main memory of Rampisham was the big freeze in the winter of 1963. The night shift from Bridport failed to arrive due to snow and in the morning the roads were filled from hedge to hedge with 10-foot deep snow drifts. The snow bound staff quickly organised a 6-hour on and 6-hour off shift rota but had little food - alas the food stored in the basement for such an emergency had all gone rotten. It was about three days before they were relieved. I was one of the relief shift who caught a train (the first one through) from Bridport to Toller Pocorum, then we hiked up to the station. We carried food and toiletries and were there for another three days, again with a 6-hour shift rota. I remember Richard ‘Dicky’ Skyrme was my SME, other names were (?) Milligan, who taught us to play bridge, Johnny Francis, who took wonderful photos of iced-up feeders and arrays, ‘Batty’ Batstone, from Weymouth, who played the violin, others escape my memory. It would be interesting to read the station log for this period because at times we were about 50% down on transmissions and most of these at reduced power. Another character at Rampisham was Wells-Furby who I think had suffered somewhat during his wartime service with the RAF.

On reading ‘On Air’ I thought the authors had missed out a section on the 100W, ‘Group H’ transmitters but on re-reading I realise they had been covered. I remember when I was a Rampisham there was a land line to a Weymouth transmitter, which was just off the Dorchester Road near to a laundry. I didn’t visit it myself but there was a monthly routine of checking this Tx, polishing the cabinets and running it up on a dummy load. Years later I read an article in the Dorset Evening Echo where somebody had discovered this transmitter and nobody seemed to know who owned it or what was its purpose.

In the spring of 1963 I was off to Wood Norton for the TA course. With my background, having done similar courses whilst working for the Post Office Radio Section, I could help all the struggling newcomers to radio. I remember the sheer amount of original talent amongst all the other TV and radio production courses that were running in parallel with ours. The sound engineers had to run a whole day’s programme and I was able to play drums, with Robin Swain on piano, for a radio jazz interlude. Robin cut me a 78 of this which I still treasure.

In 1964 I transferred to Daventry, to be closer to my girlfriend in London. During this period we were married and received a £10 cheque signed by the DG, H C Greene. We then lived at Long Buckby next to a house where Stanley Unwin lived. Being young we felt that the Daventry BBC Club was too dull so Jim Chilton obtained permission for us to open up the cellar. We decorated it and my wife did ‘cave paintings’ on the walls. It was known as ‘Los Cuevos’ and we drank wine and danced to The Beatles.

During my Daventry time I attended the Grade C courses at Wood Norton.

After three years with the BBC the routine of station operations began to bore me, so in 1965 I reluctantly left for further study and R&D work with the MoD and NERC. There were other personal reasons relating to where a newly married couple should live. Although my time was short with the BBC there is something about having worked for the Corporation, a bit like an initiation into a brotherhood. Sometimes in company I still mention the fact that my engineering training was with the BBC and it never fails to impress people.

It’s now 2004 and I am at the age (61) where I often think of what happened to my old colleagues and in what directions their lives took. I know Reg Gay went to Skelton and recently retired as deputy E-in-C. Some of my flat mates were Mike Caines (remember Willoughby House?), Colin Taylor, Bob Finch and Brian Bennet. My wife and I used to baby sit for Mike and Daphne Benns (the child now in its 40s!). My wife also taught at the Abbey School in Daventry and also has thoughts about the children, most of names she remembers.

Now retired and living in France I drink good wine and listen to BBC World Service via satellite - the sound of ‘Lilliburlero’ never fails to bring back even more vivid memories.

Gordon Williams.

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