Newsletter 2009

Oh, I worked for Marconi. When were you there?

Garry Duguid

This is another of the backlog of items that Peter Turrall passed over to me when I took on the editorship. It’s from a letter that Garry Duguid sent to Bryan Everitt in November 2004, at the time of his retirement from ITFC Ltd (ITV Facilities Centre) after 18 years, where he was Director of Engineering and Technology. Ed.

I particularly enjoyed the latest newsletter, as it reminded me of several experiences I had in the early days of my career in electronics. I joined English Electric (Guided Weapons Division) at Stevenage in 1959 – but soon found that the armaments of the Cold War held little fascination. So after a year I transferred to MWT (as it was then) and was based at New Street, Chelmsford for a further three years. I worked in most of the Test Departments, starting off in Marine. I was initially engaged in final tests of Alert, Autokey, Oceanspan, and Graphette Echosounder. The following year I was transferred next door to Radar Test, but can’t remember any of the equipment names, then to Receiver Test to work on unit testing and ultimately final test of frequency synthesizers for military transmitter and receivers. This involved Admiralty Inspection Department (AID) tests and clearance certification. There were about a dozen test engineers in Final Test. They were all called ‘John’ – apart from me, and a lady engineer, Janet.

It was during this time (1962-3, I think) that I was seconded to Rivenhall with several other test engineers to work on army D11/D13 mobile communications vehicles, some of which I think were destined for the Middle East. It was in the middle of winter, and my abiding memory is of how cold it was, even with Marconi-issue duffle coats and wellies (we had to give them back at the end of the six months’ secondment, much to the disappointment of this impecunious apprentice). One Friday evening we had to rig a mobile aerial for the satisfaction of the AID Inspector. There was a terrific storm over the weekend, and we returned on Monday to find the installation in little bits on the ground outside the hanger where we had so proudly shown it off to the Inspector only days earlier. We never let on!

On my return to New Street I was put to work on a tropospheric propagation communications system for S Korea. With little knowledge of this sort of equipment and working at frequencies up in the gigahertz band, it was ‘learn as you go’. In those days there was no test equipment available off-the-shelf to service our needs, so most of it was home-made by the Research Labs at Baddow (the heart of the sweep generator was a variable capacitor whizzing round, powered by a small electric motor – most ingenious!).

It was around that time I worked on setting up a demo for the Duke of Edinburgh who was visiting. The equipment was ECM (Error Correction and Multiplex) for FSK teletype comms. The system comprised about half a dozen 19″ racks with a teletype at one end (for the Duke to type a greeting) and a similar teletype the other (to receive and type out the greeting) with a whole bunch of noise and distortion generators in between. The thing worked wonders (lots of flashing lights, etc) at decrypting the message in the presence of noise. But just in case it went wrong on the day, I had secretly wired a switch and direct connection between the two teletypes. Fortunately, I didn’t need to throw the switch.

Shortly after this I went to TV Test for six months (Arthur Fisher), to help bring a backlog of transistorised SPGs through to completion. This spurred my determination to get into TV. I was fortunate in getting a transfer to TV Systems in 1964. There I worked on the design and development of the Post Office Network Switcher at PO Tower London as well as Birmingham, Manchester and Carlisle; the colourisation of ATV Studios in Elstree and Birmingham; relay (and later) semiconductor matrices. It was at this time I secured my professional qualifications (C Eng, MERE, etc) working under the guiding lights of engineers such as Henry Mirzwinski, Ray Moore, Jack Brittain, Roger Fenton, and many others.

It was through this grounding that I easily found employment over the subsequent years in a variety of TV facilities companies. I rose through the ranks as Engineering Supervisor at EVR and Ewart Studios, to Chief Engineer of Rank Video, Research Recordings, St Johns Wood Studios, Air Studios, and eventually Director of Engineering at ITFC Ltd.

I owe so much to Marconi and the thorough training I received in such a wide range of electronics. But perhaps more, the comradeship I experienced, and that I met so many people in the industry over the years who, upon introduction, said “Oh, I worked for Marconi. When were you there?”