Newsletter 2009

Fantastic memories

Brian Morton

Reminiscing during a lunch break recently bought to mind Saudi, SAGEU and tropospheric scatter whilst working at Marconi’s in the ’70s. Pursuing this train of thought on the web led me eventually to the Marconi Veterans’ website. I’m not a Veteran, but encouraged by your editor to commit some reminiscences to email for a contribution to your newsletter, here are fond memories of a very enjoyable time.

I was a student apprentice with MCSL from 1971 until 1975, then stayed on until late 1977. The first four years were very formative, six months at University of Bradford alternating with six months at Marconi. Because I was ‘autumn entry’ and because Bradford squeezed in two courses into the academic year I first got to Chelmsford in February 1972.

Accommodation was at Springfield Green, I seem to remember a very large house full of crazy apprentices, generally with too much time on their hands. Because I arrived six weeks before the rest of my group I ended up in a hut, I think at Writtle, doing some odd jobs – one was cleaning a push-button display panel that had engraving for the text. The engraving had been filled with a black wax that melted if the light was lit – all over the operator’s fingers! Interestingly, around me was the early ‘Lincompex’, the fore-unner of modern 30 channel speech systems. Another group were playing with motherboards and daughter boards, discrete AND and NAND gates for the Myriad computer. Then the whole logic gate came on one chip from a Marconi semiconductor subsidiary. Heady days!

Once the rest of the group arrived it was an incredibly well structured practical course, complementing the academic side of Bradford. Courses included test equipment appreciation, soldering, machine shop practice and drawing skills, long before AutoCAD came along. I remember being given a 2-inch cube of metal and being told to make it a one inch cube – ie to the nearest thousandth of an inch and with perfect 90 degree corners.

The second industrial training period a year later introduced me to the Marconi Broadcast Division at Waterhouse Lane. I was helping to build outside broadcast vans, develop TV studio technology and was even allowed to press the button to autoregister the camera with all those motorised 10-turn potentiometers. Another three months were spent in other areas of the Marconi/Chelmsford area world, whether it be telecoms or radar or multiplexing

Back to Bradford for my third academic year. You always got the annual visit from Personnel (this was before they were called Human Resources). The interview went like this:

“What do you want to do for your third year with Marconi?”

“Well, I quite like systems as opposed to component technology.”

“Want to go to Saudi with the installation department?”

As a student I jumped at the chance. Spent a couple of weeks in Chelmsford waiting for a visa (and finding my baptism certificate) and spent 14 weeks (and my 21st birthday) on a documentation exercise for the SAGEU project. I managed to see pretty much all the installations, got involved in the tropo, muxing and radars as well as looking over the shoulder of the RSAF guys who were taking the systems over. Of course as the youngest I was always being tasked with climbing anything that needed a nav light changing, or mixing the concrete for an anchor for tensioning an HF cable.

Following graduation I then went back to Installation Division on the North Sea oil platforms, Beryl and Piper mainly. Once things were built and handed over to maintenance there followed 8 months in 1977 at a development workshop in an office block on the Baddow Road, getting bits sorted for Madley earth stations.

The thought of moving to a more business-orientated area of communications systems appealed (not that there was anything wrong with deserts, oil platforms and Hereford), so I jumped ship and moved to Cable and Wireless UK Services Ltd. From the excellent training I received from Marconi I have moved from comms to IT to Consultant Project Management.

My very best wishes to all Marconi ‘alumni’