Newsletter 2012

A royal visit to New Street, and the Christmas Special

Charles Boyton

While watching the recent celebrations for the Duke of Edinburgh’s 90th birthday on TV, I was reminded of the time he visited Marconi New Street. Marconi had just developed a large-screen colour projector. It was a fearsome device, using three projection tubes (RGB) running at 50kv EHT. These were focussed on to a screen approximately 6ft by 4ft. The development engineers had set up a demo for the Duke in part of the Test Department where I was working at the time.

So that the rest of the department could see what was going on, we installed a monitor in our area and a TV camera in the demo area with one of our lads manning it. The Duke duly arrived, with an entourage of managers and local press.

On our monitor screen, we saw the Duke take a quick look at the screen and then make a beeline towards the temporary partition behind which was the mass of wires and electronics which powered the display, to see how it worked! He had to be tactfully restrained by a manager, who explained it was rather unsafe due to the very high voltages employed!

Our view of the proceedings then became confused as the Duke disappeared and the camera panned rapidly to and fro. We discovered afterwards that there was supposed to be an opportunity for the press and the company photographer to take pictures, but the Duke had other ideas and had pushed our chap out of the way and was using our camera to take pictures of them.

Now writing in the run-up to Christmas 2011, I was reminded of another incident because of all the repeats and specially recorded shows we get on TV at Christmas time.

When I was working in TV Test in the late 1970s, I sometimes used to go out on service visits, and thereby hangs a tale. London Weekend Television operated a small continuity studio on behalf of the British Forces Network in Germany so the lads and lasses could watch their favourite shows. The studio had a Marconi Mk9 camera, and a Mk9 portable camera as standby.

Stan Moore from customer service came to see me with an urgent request to fix the portable camera. He said “I can’t understand it, the unions have banned the use of portable cameras. They say they will put the film crews out of work, but they want it put into use”. I went up the next day and found it had been switched on every day since being installed, but never used! I spent a while checking it over, and eventually found a faulty component in a board in the control unit. I knew that replacing it would necessitate re-testing the whole board, so made arrangements to take it back to New Street and get it repaired by the night shift.

As the next day was Friday I hoped to complete the repair early and get away before the rush. I returned the next day, fitted the board, expertly mended and adjusted by the lads on nights. I was relieved to find that the camera was now working fine, and just needed a bit of ‘tweaking’. I left it in the hands of the grateful technicians, and got ready to leave.

I was having a coffee in the canteen when someone came rushing in from the studio to say that the camera had suddenly lost one of its three colours! So back I went to do some more fault-finding. Fortunately it was an easy fault to find as the three colour amplifiers were all on one board. The faulty component turned out to be a rare type of diode, and most certainly would not be in their small stock of spares. I told them the bad news.

They urged me to stay on while they tried to locate a supplier for the diode, as they had to have the camera for the weekend. They dispatched a courier on a motorcycle to collect the precious spare. It was while we were waiting in the canteen for his return that the penny dropped! It wasn’t the company who required the camera, it was the technicians; the very people who had banned its use!

It had become the custom among the various ITV stations to make their own Christmas show. The technical staff made and recorded a short comedy show to be seen only by them, while the viewers were watching ‘Morecambe and Wise’ etc. They competed with the other stations for the prize for best show. Obviously it is difficult to make a show using only one camera! Fortunately this tale has a happy ending, as the part duly arrived, and the camera was working once again. Everyone was happy, except me, as I had to make my way home in the Friday rush hour.