Recollections of BBC engineering from 1922 to 1997
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Lifting the veil on Research Department at Bagley Croft

By Rex Boys

Thanks are also due to "L.G." Smith who forwarded the article for publication on this web site, as well as Prospero* which originally published the article in about 1973.
* Prospero is the newspaper for retired BBC staff.

Between June 1944 and January 1949, the Field-strength, Radio, Television and Recording Sections of BBC Research department occupied Bagley Croft at Hinksey, just outside Oxford.


At Wood Norton, the student accommodation was on the same site as Engineering Training Department but, as far as I know, Bagley Croft was the only BBC establishment where staff actually lived and worked in the same building.

It was quite a big house, set in its own grounds alongside the Abingdon Road at Hinksey Hill, just over two miles from the centre of Oxford.  As a wartime evacuation site, it led to the existence of four types of staff.  The more senior people took houses in the area.  The workshop and catering staff were mostly recruited locally and lived at home anyway.  The remainder lived in the hostel, some just staying from Monday to Friday and going home at weekends, leaving a nucleus of predominantly young and single folk who made the hostel their home.

The sleeping accommodation was mainly in dormitories which, by modem standards, were pretty cramped.  What would have been a double room was typically furnished with three double bunks, two wardrobes and a dressing table.  We practically needed a rota for getting dressed in the mornings!

On the ground floor was the lounge, dining room, kitchen areas, one laboratory and the General Office.  As well as bedrooms, the first floor accommodated two laboratories whilst a glazed balcony along the front of the house served as offices and drawing office.  Up a separate staircase at the top of the house was the girls' dormitory and a couple of single rooms occupied by the Head of Hostel and the maid (dear old Ellen who got so fed up with waiting for people to come down for Sunday breakfast that she took to bringing it up to our rooms).

Behind the house, a large wooden hut was used as another laboratory whilst the former stable area had been converted into a model shop.  Another half a dozen men had rooms and a small sitting room in the lodge by the main road at the bottom of the drive.

Transport into Oxford was by bus, bicycle or the station car but preferably not the latter.  It was an old Morris Oxford (or it might have been a Cowley; I never could remember which was which), number AXO 374 and driven in the most hair-raising fashion by an Arthur Askey lookalike named Pitts.

For those young enough to enjoy it, it was a really fun place; many of us were just out of the forces and accustomed to communal life.  We had our own punt on the river and there was Saturday night dancing at the Forum ballroom in Oxford.  Accounts Department, based at Woodeaton and Bletchingdon with a hostel at Bucknell Manor, always invited us over to their dances and we also had a team that played them at chess.  Throughout the snow and floods of early 1947 it was easy to live indefinitely without going over the doorstep.

That was the heyday of ex-government surplus and in the evenings the labs were alive with chaps making their own television sets from old radar equipment;  'home office' was our code name for this activity.  My set had a green screen with a picture the size of a postcard.  One engineer was mercilessly teased for spending several months courting a girl whose father owned a warehouse that had cornered the market for one scarce type of cathode ray tube.

At that time, Oxford did not have a television service but we had a 108' mast that picked up Alexandra Palace and the lounge boasted a set with a large (12"!) screen.  Girls were happy to be invited in for Sunday tea, purely for the novelty of seeing television.

Bagley was a great place for romance and a number of in-house weddings resulted.  To the local residents there was an air of mystery about the place; it was hidden in trees and the loudest noises the neighbours ever heard were from the parties.  One theory that leaked back to us was from a household who believed it was a home for mentally defectives who took in washing!