Newsletter 2009

Test equipment didn’t exist…!

Arthur Barton

I started at EMI Research Labs as an apprentice to AF Pearce, working five days and alternate Saturdays all day; there was a war on. Our group developed klystron valves, running stage 1 experiments on demountable rigs allowing electrode spacings to be optimized. The labs could not be missed, Marconi’s antenna was higher than the 5-floor block where the 405 line TV system was designed in 1936 for Alexandra Palace. This was the original Alexandra Palace tower prototype for the Marconi/EMI system. Postwar TV reopened in 1946. About that time I remember a Television Society lecture by V Cooper, the transmitter king pin.
In those times valves were made by Marconi Osram, sold to staff at a good discount, with other goodies from 78 rpm records to Marconi radios.

After 7 years I changed to electronics, leaving the Physics Lab for the Television Design Group at Thorn, Enfield. A good move but with little relevant experience. I was in at the deep end, Mr RF depending on his sideline, making radios for friends; valuable know-how. Dickie Norman and four engineers comprised the lab. I enjoyed the work but 18 months later, getting married, no affordable housing, I plunged. We moved to Cambridge (available flats) with an offer by PYE Ltd in the TV lab, regarded highly as a television company. Salary £8 weekly. Sixteen years later surplus capacity forced companies out, takeovers delayed the agony, the receivers lasted too long. As Dickie had seen, a time bomb fitted to receivers would keep demand high, providing owners were protected…

Later, at Basildon (from 1967 onwards) I met several engineers I knew at PYE Ltd.
Ken Seaton worked in PYE Labs (studio equipment), prewar he was a BBC television camera man; Brian Warren worked in PYE Labs on studio equipment; Earnie Holland was in PYE TV Labs, joining Marconi Baddow in 1952; and John Bryson, PYE TV Labs, joined Marconi Baddow, later transferring to Marconi EOSD Basildon.

The original Marconi prototype for the Alexandra Palace TV antenna stood in the back yard of EMI Research Labs in my time there. I read later that the apprentice in the antenna team in 1936 was invited back, 1980s, to supervise its dismantling.

When Thorns took over EMI they closed Research Block. When I asked about it, its future seemed doubtful. Soon after they demolished it, just a rat kept me company when I visited it. Home of 405 line TV, would have been a great museum. Stereophonic birthplace too. I had checked with Thorn before it was demolished, they would build a new labs building. Serves them right that Thorn Enfield is now a Morrisons supermarket.

Aged 40 I applied to Marconi for a job, not answering for a specific post in Jobs Vacant. A smaller fish in the pond, as Mike Howe suggested. The job offer was microwave linked and I requested design on modules rather than systems. No problem with that, many were required for military surveillance systems at Marconi Basildon. The company lived up to its reputation, there was always a guru to help with expertise on problems, including Baddow Research and Chelmsford. All links to the past, my last project at EMI was a reflection oscillator for the GPO, part of their link equipment. At Basildon, my HF transmission link borrowed from that TV experience.

I started when there was only one transmitter, at Alexandra Palace, which was double sideband. All subsequent transmitters were single sideband, which brought problems with phase response – all receiver tuning was done subjectively on the display. Test equipment didn’t exist!

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