Recollections of BBC engineering from 1922 to 1997
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John Austin

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Kenneth John Austin

1926 – 2016

John was awarded an open county scholarship for outstanding performance and in 1944 went up to Kings College, Cambridge. This was initially a one year course which he completed in six months. He was sponsored by the RAF and subsequently qualified as a pilot. By this time, the war in Europe was winding down and John completed three years national service (1945 – 1948). He then returned to Cambridge to complete his degree and whilst at Cambridge in 1950 married Cora, his wife of 66 years.

John joined the BBC in London as a Cambridge Engineering graduate in 1951. He was part of a team in Designs Department which achieved distinction for many notable firsts in his early years namely, the first outside broadcasts from a plane, submarine and helicopter. He helped to provide innovative solutions to problems associated with transmissions from unstable platforms, synchronising video, stabilising cameras and eliminating noise and vibration.

A particular highlight of John’s career was the role he played in the live filming of the Queen’s Coronation in 1953. He worked on the synchronisation of video signals from the large number of cameras positioned around London to reduce the loss of video sync when cutting from one camera to another. This was the biggest and most ambitious outside broadcast the BBC had ever attempted and captured the attention of the world. John was understandably proud of the team’s achievement. In 1954 he became a Senior Engineer in Designs Department and in 1955 was involved with broadcasting from aircraft.

Another key project was John’s work on a distribution amplifier used to transfer signals from cameras in BBC Centre to locations around the building. This required a unique, bespoke amplifier design that provided very low distortion, high gain and low power consumption. John wrote Monograph No. 41 in 1962 which was circulated worldwide and a large number of these amplifiers were manufactured by the BBC for export.

In June 1967 John left Designs Department to join Equipment Department and he became Head of Technical Group at Avenue House, Chiswick.  Then on 21 Nov 1983 he became Head Of Equipment Department, responsible for approximately 500 members of staff.  He retired on 28 Feb 1985.

In his retirement, John played a key role in Level 9, the family’s successful computer games company in the early days of home computers. Even during his last illness, he retained a keen interest in the careers of his children and grandchildren. His interest in science, engineering and innovation continued throughout his lifetime.

John died aged 90 after a short illness on 24th November 2016 and is greatly missed by his widow, his daughter, 4 sons and 6 grandchildren. He will be remembered fondly as a gentleman and devoted family man, with a sharp mind and dry, endearing sense of humour.

This information was provided by his daughter Margaret Evans and his youngest son Mike Austin, in January 2018.