Recollections of BBC engineering from 1922 to 1997
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Geoff Claxton

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Written by Roger Farmer, with contributions from Peter Full, Tony Gleave, Ray Jenkins and many other colleagues.

Geoff Claxton died on Sunday March 13th whilst attempting a forced landing near Swansea in the Jodel light ‘plane that he shared with a syndicate of other pilots. Originally from Norfolk, he transferred to BBC Wales from London in the 1960’s, first working in TV Operations. Soon afterwards he moved to Electronic Maintenance as a supervisor. He retired in 1997.

In his younger days Geoff was a keen motorcyclist. Tony Gleave says “'Geoff and I joined the BBC at the same time, in 1962/3 recruited for the expansion for BBC 2. Both Geoff and I were at ETD (Engineering Training Department), as it was known then, on courses, at the same time, and he and I travelled back and forth several weekends on his 500 twin BSA motorcycle.” I remember Geoff showing me a newspaper article and photograph of him on the motorcycle with his dog! I think that this was after he was taken to court for carrying the dog on the bike. He was let off, I think, when he showed that the dog was a willing passenger!

Geoff was highly regarded by engineering and operational colleagues as well as production staff and management. His skills were second to none and he freely shared his knowledge with everyone. Many engineering recruits in the 70’s through to the 90’s benefited from learning from the best. He was a brilliant engineer, immensely resourceful, quiet and unassuming, more interested in fixing the technical problem than worrying about BBC politics. Always determined to provide an excellent service, he was resolute in seeing problems through to a successful outcome. He was rarely defeated but on the odd occasion that he had to declare an item unfixable, you would hear the unforgettable phrase: “in the bin, squire”. He had a way of passing on his enthusiasm to his colleagues, which in itself was a lesson in motivation skills. Geoff had no need of modern “management techniques” to get the best out of people. His sense of humour and ‘appropriate’ banter often helped everyone through tricky moments. He would ‘politely’ intervene at times with a friendly “shift over fatty”!

Enthusiastic about getting things done, he was once seen running backwards down the stairs from TV Continuity to Broadway Maintenance and come crashing though the doors closely followed by a full filing cabinet. His habit of attempting to shift large loads without calling for help meant that he often strained his back. Not for Geoff ordinary medicine, he used to send out for horse liniment marked ‘for animal use only’.

Despite having had heart surgery before he joined the BBC, when we knew him he had a “cast iron” constitution. Ray Jenkins remembers Geoff eating raw steak in Cardiff Broadway workshop – he had cut off a slice with his penknife, having bought the steak from his favourite butcher in Rumney.

He was a maintenance supervisor in Broadway when colour first came to Wales. The poor air quality from the local steelworks caused a local phenomenon (known as Splott rot), which resulted in intermittent connections, not helped by the add-on modifications to the continuity vision mixer to make it work in colour. This meant that phase was critical and Geoff performed minor miracles between junctions to re-phase the mixer in double quick time. The problem was that he was impatient and used to pull 'U' links out of the jackfield and throw them over his shoulder. They would hit the wall behind him and slide to the floor. He used to tread on them and then complain that "these b*****s don't bloody well fit" when they wouldn't go back in the holes.

At home in Norfolk, Geoff and his brother bought a new electric cooker for his mother for Christmas. Anxious to get it working in time for lunch, he managed to short out the incoming mains supply. His pliers melted and the local area was deprived of electricity on Christmas morning as the fuse in the sub-station blew!

He was fearless, Tony Gleave remembers him testing a lighting circuit in his room at Wood Norton by sticking his thumb in the bayonet socket and looking for the small burn marks when he withdrew it. This told him of course that the circuit was live and the bulb was duff! Fortunately he had very dry skin, which seemed to give him ‘immunity’ to high voltage. He had no hesitation in pulling off the EHT cap on cathode ray tubes – he would have ‘small holes’ in his fingers due to the high voltage spikes arcing. Most people would be nervous about removing an EHT cap even after discharging the tube with a large insulated screwdriver – not Geoff. Once he and I went on to the flat roof of the tall building that was occupied by Cardiff Film Unit in Newport Road to look at the aerial system. Geoff trotted across the roof and jumped onto the parapet, commenting on the view. I nearly passed out. He said, “You worry too much”!

Often, Geoff would use his spare time to help others, but he was not averse to the occasional practical joke. Once, after repairing someone’s television, he decided, as a prank, to connect a length of fuse wire inside a packet of flash powder to the mains switch. The owner of the television was told to “be sure and check that Claxton had fixed it properly”. There was, I’m told, a spectacular explosion and cloud of smoke when it was switched on. Before joining the BBC he worked in a TV and Radio shop in Norwich. Whilst there he built a battery powered EHT generator that he concealed in his pocket, the output of which was fed via a wire down his sleeve to his hand. He would then approach one of the girls in the shop, and point at something on the TV chassis, a large blue spark would leave his finger, not hurting him in the least but frightening the girl stiff!”

Geoff was unflappable in a crisis; he would take control in times of stress and sort out the situation. In 1973 he and I were sent to give maintenance support to CMCR 1, which was being used for the first broadcast on the day of the Royal Wedding of Princess Anne. Things went wrong with the generator just before transmission and most of the fuses blew. The side door of the scanner opened and Geoff started throwing the vision control engineers out one by one until he had enough space to get at the fuses for the vision mixer. Geoff had saved that outside broadcast.

He held a pilot’s licence for over 50 years. Flying was a major part of his life and for most of the time that he was at the BBC Geoff was building his own ‘plane. Colleagues, especially those in mechanical workshops, became very familiar with aircraft components, all built by Geoff to an exceptionally high standard. He taught himself French so that he could follow the plans more easily. Alas, even in retirement, he never quite finished it, probably because he spent so much time helping others with their own projects.

There was standing room only at Coychurch Crematorium on March 25th when his many friends and colleagues from the BBC and the South Wales flying community gathered for the funeral. His friend, Mike Fry, read out the tributes.

We all have fond memories of Geoff, a unique, much admired, colleague and friend; it was a privilege to have known him. We send our condolences to his wife Edna and his brother Malcolm.