Our President for 2014 was Mike Thornton. He was introduced by our Chairman Peter Turrall
Mr. Patron, Honoured Guest, Fellow Veterans.
It gives me great pleasure to introduce our President for 2014, Mr. Mike Thornton. Your year Mike as President is not an arduous one. You will be expected to attend, if requested, various meetings called by our Secretary Barry (usually one per week) Be present at any function in the City of Chelmsford when progressing the name of Marconi Veterans (several times per year) Attend some Funerals of Veterans. Give generously when asked to ensure the Marconi Veterans Association does not fall into the red, and to promote our Founders name especially with the City Council and the Essex Chronicle etc., etc., Do you still wish to be President?
Seriously Mike it is a great Honour to be President and I know you will carry out your duties to the best of your ability. Fellow Veterans, I feel sure many of you will know Mike, especially those who worked at Air Radio Group Basildon where in 1993 he became Managing Director. This is another instance where a Management Trainee of the old Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company has attained one of the highest positions possible after a long and varied career.
Mike started with the MWTCO in 1956 and held various posts including a secondment to Singapore where he ran an office for local staff. It was at this time when I first met Mike at a briefing session but since then our paths crossed at various times, particularly at Company exhibitions.
A worldwide traveller in his capacity as a Sales Manager, he travelled to far places including China and it was here he met our Patron Robbie Robertson.
I expect Mike will in his response tell you a lot about his experiences as a Marconi man so I will not disclose any more of his memories except to say he was as far as I know, the only person to fly to New York on a Boeing 707 arriving at 3-00pm in the afternoon and leaving at 10-00am next day. As they say a one night stand.
Mike plays Golf but I yet have the pleasure of playing either with him or against him. However, I understand in the past he has made the use of a Caddy. For the uninitiated in the game of Golf, a Caddy is the person who accompanies the Golfer round the Golf Course giving him various hints and tips on how to get the best out of the game. The following are some comments I have received from this Caddy.
Mike once stated.” I’d move Heaven and Earth to get round my Golf Course in less than 100.” The Caddy replied. “Try Heaven, you’ve already moved most of the earth.”
On another occasion Mike said to the Caddy.” Please stop checking your watch every time I hit the golf ball.” To which the Caddy replied .” Its not a watch it’s a Compass.” And one last comment, Mike asked the Caddy. “How do you like my game.” To which the Caddy replied. “Very good, but personally I prefer Golf.”
Mike I know you have had a varied career with our famous Company and it now gives me great pleasure to formally give you the honour of becoming President of our Marconi Veterans Association.
Fellow Veterans please rise and give a Toast and warm welcome to our President Mr. Mike Thornton.
To which Mike Thornton replied
Thank you Peter for your kind introduction, and also for your fine work over the years in continuing to keep the Marconi name and the efforts of its people in the forefront of the local and national media. It is good to see you with the Veterans again this year and hope that your health continues to improve.
I would like to also thank your Patron and committee for the honour of being asked to become your President for 2014. What a pleasure it is for me to meet again with so many colleagues from my years with Marconi’s. Although I have never joined the Association I have followed the reports and activities of the group through the regular and comprehensive publication of the web site. You have a wonderful example of the capabilities of the internet in maintaining the history and archives and your secretary and other contributors are to be congratulated on their dedication to the Association.
I am particularly pleased to see Robbie again, our paths crossed on a number of occasions during our careers, normally at exhibitions or as members of delegations in various parts of the world, he was always willing to listen to my moans and we put the Company to rights on a number of occasions. You get to know someone quite well when you share a hotel room in China for a few days.
In response to the Toast, nearly 40 years working for one company is a long time with so many memories both good and not so good. With so many good friends and colleagues, many of them here today, but some not, it can make it difficult to know where to start. I have been told however when to finish. Seven minutes and 30 seconds.
For whatever reason the Avionics capability of the Marconi Company has become detached from the history and close association we all enjoyed during the fifties and early Sixties.
I would like to use the few minutes left to try and explain why I think this may have occurred.
After trying numerous pre-war locations establishing the “wireless on aircraft ” principles, the main engineering and product support groups of Aeronautical Division were concentrated at Writtle using the original 2 MT Emma lock hut of 1922 fame plus other newer huts housing development and product support teams.
“A” Division management together with Contracts and commercial departments were housed in New Street and production was carried out at the Skating Rink. This configuration continued through the Fifties until the new buildings were completed at Basildon when the full Divisional team could be brought together as Airadio Division.
It is necessary at this stage to explain a little of the systems being developed for both the Military and Civil Markets. Two development teams were formed, at Writtle one concentrating on Doppler Navigation systems, still under security wraps in the early fifties, and the other on radio navigation and communication equipments. Both groups produced successful ranges of equipments which were widely installed on many of the UK aircraft both at home and overseas. The Writtle systems were among the first in the World to use transistors in the Aircraft environment, and were the basis of the radio guidance system for the worlds first Blind Landing Installations on the Trident and VC10 aircraft of BEA and BOAC.
To complement the introduction of these equipments into service the Systems Planning Group provided support to advise the aircraft manufacturers and assist in the testing of these new systems. It was one of the most exciting periods in the development of new Aircraft with the introduction of Jet engines capable of powering fast, high flying machines which all brought increased complications to the idea of “wireless on aircraft”. Every aeroplane had to look nice. No nasty bits of wire or other aerials to spoil the aerodynamic lines. The early Comet was a good example of that thinking, with all aerials recessed below the skin line and the tail energised for HF transmissions. These concepts changed as the reduced communication and navigation performances became apparent, and the effects of static at high altitude became known, and counteracted. Many test flights were undertaken during this period by both development and product support engineers to ensure that optimum performance was achieved.
Before most of these flights you signed a Blood Chit absolving everybody, in the case of an accident, offered a bone dome and Oxygen Mask, and confirmed you could use an ejection seat. I flew on over thirty different Military and Civil aircraft types checking performance of Communication and Navigation both in the UK and overseas, during this period.
Trusting and innocent young men on exciting missions.
Ray Walls on the Basildon table over there, however, will tell you, hitting an 11,000 volt overhead cable at 40 feet, with the rotor blade of a West land helicopter whilst testing a Doppler system can be just that little bit too exciting.
The whole team, including the D.O. and preproduction workshops were at last transferred from Writtle to Basildon where a purpose built facility was completed in 1960 and we had a new home with the capability of housing everybody.
Our management structure remained unchanged, with Dr O’Kane as divisional manager reporting to the MWT Managing Director. The vast majority of the management team and engineers had
Transferred from Writtle and we were all still Marconi men, using many of the MWT central facilities at Chelmsford.
This situation lasted until 1967 when English Electric bought Elliott Brothers who had a also had a well established Avionic business. GEC then stepped in a few months later and bought the new group including Marconi s from English Electric. Within two years, the avionics business now reported to the Elliott Bros, headquarters at Rochester. The name of the company, including Basildon activities, was now Marconi-Elliott Avionics
As far as our organisation was concerned we had a new MD, Wally Patterson and a regrouping of divisions to reflect the increased activity on the site. Three Electro-Optical divisions plus two Airadio. The day to day liaison between Basildon and New Street virtually disappeared over the next few years.
The defence market, however, was becoming increasingly under threat from overseas competition particularly in communications where the requirements to intemperate securely across NATO caused significant problems. For some time it was obvious that to meet that competition it was necessary for the total GEC-Marconi expertise to be concentrated on new technology, for both ground and airborne systems. But before this policy could be implemented GEC sold the Defence business to BAE systems, and the Basildon divisions were included in that sale.
The electro optical divisions were also by this time contracted to supply Thermal imaging systems to UK and US defence services and the total Basildon businesses was now almost wholly Defence oriented and the sale to BAE was probably a wise move, but of course I was never asked!!
As we know that business was then sold by BAE to Finmeccanica whose affiliate UK Company Selex ES now employ over 4000 people in the UK and whose headquarters in the UK, are based at Basildon. They fully acknowledge their success is related to their Marconi history, and the current press release includes the following
“Our Basildon site has manufactured state-of-the-art military guidance systems and civil aeronautics for world markets for over 50 years. We benefit from the wealth of knowledge that exists in a company with such a strong heritage in the local area”
Your fellow Marconi veterans on the Basildon tables to-day are proud to have helped to establish that heritage, and have asked me to suggest that if you have Grandchildren looking for an interesting and rewarding career in Avionics to call our original 1960 telephone number 01268 22822. They are still looking for graduates and apprentices
I am sure Signor Marconi understood the adage ” What goes around comes around ” and may even have approved of an Italian managed company, with British engineers providing the expertise.
Many thanks and may I wish you all Good Health, and continued success for the association.