Our President 2015

Basil FrancisThis year’s President is Basil Francis.  He was introduced by Chairman Veteran Peter Turrall who also proposed the toast to the President.

Peter Turrall

Mr President, honoured guest, fellow veterans. It is a real privilege to me to have the honour of introducing our President for 2015, Basil Francis.

Now before I go any further I thought it would be a good idea to find out a little more of the origins of the names Basil and Francis. The characteristic of the name Basil is defined as freedom loving, adventurous, adaptable, intellectual, easy going, progressive and sensible. I am sure in all respects these words apply to our Basil. The name Francis is quite universally known as a surname and as a Christian name; the current Pope as this so you see it is at the top of the spectrum, but when we join them together, Basil Francis, then wow!  The name really goes to the top as My World, Mr Universe and man-mountain.  As you can see from this picture – the name in there is Basil Francis.

I feel sure our Basil Francis has obtained all these products over the many years of his life and career. I think I have known Basil longer than anyone else present here today, In fact last January it was 64 years since I first met Basil and we have been close friends ever since. Basil was best man at my wedding in 1954 and I have played badminton and golf either with him or against him. But I never indulge in tennis for which he was very good. Fortunately, he never got involved in my favourite sports, football and cricket for which in the latter case he was absolutely hopeless.

We have attended many functions together, got up at unearthly hours to go fishing and in both our careers with Marconi worked very closely with me on the sales side,  Basil on the installation design side where he was excellent at the design of many outside broadcast vehicles for worldwide customers of the company.

There have been many times when in the course of company business I requested Basil to visit overseas customers to complete work which I had probably started during a sales visit.  Basil always co-operated with any request of this nature and it was due to his efficient efforts that our company received a number of repeat orders.

Chelmsford breed and born, Basil lived locally, married a Great Baddow lady and produced a son, Ian, who has taken on the chauffeuring of our honoured guest today. Thank you Ian.

Always helpful and willing to assist wherever possible Basil started life with the old MWT Co. as a draughtsman and rose to become manager of one of the most important units of the company. I know he is very proud that our Marconi veterans committee have bestowed on him the honour of being our President so I now ask you, fellow veterans, to be upstanding to drink a toast to Basil Francis as he takes up the position of Presidency of our illustrious Veterans Association.

The toast is the President, Basil Francis.

Basil Francis replies

Mr Chairman, honoured guest, fellow veterans I feel it always a great honour to be chosen as President of the Marconi Veterans Association and am very grateful to the veterans’ committee for bestowing on me the presidency.  I’m truly honoured to be your President for 2015.

I joined Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company Limited in winter 1939, the second World War had been declared and I had just left school with the ambition to be an architect. Meanwhile I obtained a mundane job at Crompton Parkinsons before the chance came up to join Marconis’.  What happened was that Marconis London Office of the IDD, the Industrial Design Division was evacuated to Great Baddow Research Laboratories and I heard that the Installation Design Division was looking for young engineers to learn the art of installations; I therefore applied to join this division and was accepted.  The chief of this department was a Miss Caswell and in charge of the drawing office was a Mr R C Crick  and his deputy was Mr W E Pannett and the mast and aerial design team was headed by Mr Ainsley and Mr Bolton.

After a few weeks at Great Baddow thwe whole division was relocated to the famous Goldfish Bowl – I think we all know where that is at New Street. I attended evening classes at the Mid Essex Technical College and studied for my ordinary and higher National Certificate in mechanical engineering and along with the help of senior draughtsmen I learnt the arts of the installation techniques.

In the early years as a draughtsman I was drawing up installation plans for the famous Marconi SWB8 and SWB11 transmitters and other modern equipment and whilst the war continued and new equipment was being developed I was informed the the Admiralty needed a draughtsman at the Haslemere, Surrey establishment and my surname had been put forward to be seconded to this department, however, I had already volunteered for aircrew in the Royal Air Force and was soon to be called up, therefore I was unable to take this drafting position, which I didn’t want anyway.

I spent five years in the RAF during which time I obtained my pilot’s wings before I reached the age of 18. I travelled the world with the RAF finally ending up in Burma.  I was flying many types of aircraft but mainly Catalina flying boats, Wellington bombers and finally Dakota transports. I was demobbed in 1946 and re-joined Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company. This meant I had to catch up with my qualifications by attending four evenings a week at Chelmsford Technical College where I obtained my Higher National Certificates and Ordinary National Certificates.

Messrs Crick and Pannett were still in charge of the drawing office and over a period of time some of the senior draughtsmen were retiring and together with colleague Joe Smith we were both made section leaders. Eventually Messrs Crick and Pannett retired, Joe was made chief of IDO and I was made his deputy and when Joe himself retired I took over the reins as chief of the department which at that time consisted of over seventy draughtsmen and tracers and I held that position until I retired in 1989.

I stayed on at the company for some six months after that  to see the installation of the Voice of America 500kW transmitters in building 46.

The IDO was moved about into various areas of Marconi House before temporary accommodation was found behind Building 46 at New Street, it was a single story wooden hut and became a permanent accommodation, which temporary accommodations always do until finally room for a small department was found on the first floor of the canteen with the wavy roof.

The name of the department had been changed from installation drawing office to installation design office because of the nature of the work undertaken.  This department serviced all the main divisions of Marconi Communication Systems including broadcasting, communication transmitters, television studios, transmitters, space stations and outside broadcast television vehicles. These latter items became my forte. As the sound transmitter increased in power from 50kW through 250 kW to 500 kW this meant the department needed to liaise with both the designer and the customer to ensure that all aspects of the work were satisfactorily completed.

The equipment sold to the BBC for use in the UK meant that discussions had to take place not only with their engineers but also their architects where buildings were to be designed to house the Marconi equipment. A similar requirement also existed for many overseas customers and many times I have had to travel to different countries to carry out this work on behalf of the company.

As an aside, when a meeting took place at New Street with a customer present and Building 46 designers were available the norm was to make sure that tea and biscuits were available during a suitable break in the proceedings. Management later decreed that tea and biscuits supplied as a company perk was to be discontinued so Joe Smith as chief of the department at that time decided to purchase biscuits at his expense and obtain tea from the tea making machines dotted around the company. He then filled a tin with chocolate digestive biscuits and also included one or two plainer biscuits.  On one occasion when some engineering help was required from Building 46 one Ron Bradbrook, who is present here today, came along to the IDO to give his engineering advice. Ron incidentally loved chocolate biscuits but on this particular day during the tea break there was only one chocolate biscuit available and this was hidden right at the bottom of the tin and covered with the plainer biscuits. The drawings were laid out on the conference table and when Ron arrived and the biscuit tin on top of the drawings Ron opened the tin and was really upset that only plain biscuits were visible.  Expletives from Ron as to why there were no chocolate biscuits.  He got hold of the tin however and tipped it up and emptied the contents all over the drawings only to find the one chocolate biscuit which he grabbed and ate. He was at last satisfied and got on and helped solve a number of engineering problems.

As mentioned earlier, television outside broadcast vehicles became my responsibility and I designed the first BBC MCRs, mobile control rooms, they were numbered from  14,15,16 and 17, the first two were designated for use in London area and one in Manchester and one in Birmingham. Competitive quotations had to be obtained for the manufacture of the vehicle bodywork and these were eventually made by Marsh’s of Cambridge with ash wood framework before the outer skin was applied. For later orders and other customers alternative coachbuilders were used including Essex based Bonallacks of Basildon and RTS of Rayleigh; aluminium framing and skin were used for these later vehicles.  A little known fact is that all Marconi designed outside broadcast vehicles had ribbed side panelling which I discovered doing my flying training in the United States when I travelled on Greyhound coaches who used this rib design on their vehicles  This became the standard for all Marconi designed outside broadcast vehicles.

As I have been with Marconis for more than fifty years I thought, with your Chairman, it would be nice to remember some of those people who during this period really put our Company on the map and with many of whom I have had the privilege of working.  I hope these names stir memories for many of you. First, B N Maclarty one time Chief Engineer, Douggie Smee manager of Broadcast Division, Henry Luxon foreman in the manufacturing areas, Charlie Pashley, (these are all men who helped the Company along) another main manufacturing foreman, Ron Oddy chief draughtsman studio development, J B Miller chief of contracts Broadcasting, Howard Steele an excellent television design engineer, Phil Barclay designer of many studio projects including Rediffusion London when the new ITA went on the air in 1955, Patrick Donnelly manager of Central Division, Geoff Sturgeon chief of Valve Division, George Partington the very excellent chief engineer of Broadcast Division whose far sighted thoughts for the future restored the Company to being miles ahead of its competitors in the television studio field.  Others worth mentioning are David Speake who for many years was head of research at Great Baddow Laboratories, Bill Barbone of Space and Microwave Systems, Dr. Derek Griess who was a very able installation engineer for transmitting equipment both audio and TV, and not last of all I personally am very pleased to see Tom Mayer with us today, thank you Tom. (applause)

There were many more with whom I had dealings who were major contributors to the progress in the international filed for our Company, most  of these have long since passed away.

Well, I hope I’ve given you an insight, which is all it could be after 50 years, of my time with The Marconi Company with whom I am very proud to state I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of my 50 years with this organisation. Thank you very much.