I began work at Rediffusion in Leicester on October 1965 as a field TV Service Engineer. At that time the senior staff were: the Manager, Peter Digman, the Engineer in Charge John Poules, Doug Adams TV Supervisor, Bill Jackson IC Equipment, John Mallot IC Network Maintenance and Larry Wilson IC Wiremen. The TV service staff I remember were Martin Reece, John Harlow, Keith Bowne and Bill Kelley. The senior staff at Rediffusion (East Midland) Ltd., based in Nottingham were Chief Engineer R E Billham and General Manager Len Thurman, effectively known as “Little Len”. His car number was 1 RTV. Leicester Rediffusion service Ltd was a separate company with its own board of directors. It was managed by Rediffusion (East Midlands) Ltd. The local director was Mr T A G Jackson, known as TAG. I always seemed to draw the short straw whenever his mark 7 aerial set needed attention.
My time in the TV Servicing Department
My first eight weeks or so were training and getting to know the ropes, which meant I went out with an existing TV engineer. Early in 1966 I began to work shifts, which I did for about three years. The shifts were designed to give service from 9 AM to 10 PM, seven days a week. The shift system was in place when I arrived at Rediffusion and I joined with Martin Reece to make two on that shift. In practice customers who reported a fault after 4.00 PM rarely got a visit that evening. Generally customers who reported faults in the morning would be visited in the afternoon. Faults reported in the afternoon were dealt with in the evening and those who phoned in during the evening got a visit the next morning.
The shifts cycle was over three weeks as follows. Week 1 Monday and Tuesday 09.00 to 17.15, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 14.00 to 22.00, Saturday and Sunday off. Week two, Monday and Tuesday 14.00 to 22.00, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 09.00 to 17.15, Saturday 09.00 to 13.00, Sunday off. Week three, Monday and Tuesday 09.00 to 17.15, Wednesday off, Thursday and Friday 09.00 to 17.15, Saturday and Sunday 14.00 to 22.00.
In 1965 there were a variety of TVs in use. As Leicester was a fairly new branch we had virtually no TVs older than
the Mark 7, which was known as “The Sheerline” I understand it was given this name because, at the time, senior management did not believe there was a market for a slim line TV. Public demand proved them wrong and to meet this demand they remodelled the Mark 6 into a slim line cabinet. Hence the slight change of name to save face. Thus the mark 6 mutated into the mark 7 and made a TV which was unreliable and difficult to work on.
There were many of the newer Mark 8s which were still being installed in large numbers. These were well designed, very reliable for their day and very easy to work on. All the panels could be changed on site as could the line output transformer. The weakest point in these sets was the on/off switch and the connector which connected power etc to the time base panel.
The most difficult sets to work on at the time were PSAs (private subscriber adaption). These were privately owned aerial sets which had been modified to work on the wired vision system. Some of the sets were modified well some were dreadful. The reason for the latter was that the TV staff wishing to earn extra cash did the adaption for 7/6 (37½ P) after work.
To convert an aerial set to work on the network was not difficult. First an SF (system frequency) board was fitted into the TV. The valve heaters were connected in series with the TV heaters usually at the tube
base. The HT and earth were then connected to the SF board and finally the video output from the SF board was connected to the cathode of the CRT. That was the vision done. Then a transformer was fitted and connected to the speaker in the TV. A volume control was usually screwed in the back of the set. And that was it – job done.
A year or so later the Mark 10 known as the “ Blenheim” made is appearance. Like the Mark 8 the Mark 10, was well designed, very reliable and easy to work on. The main problem with these was the plastic 405 / 625 line change over switch, would break easily.
In 1965 there were two TV vans at Leicester, a 5 cwt number CJF 346B later known as Red Echo from the mobile radio call sign, and a 15 cwt Thames van CJF 984C known as Red Delta. During 1966 a second 5 cwt van arrived with the index number JTO 308D known as Red Juliet. I was a regular driver of this van until I transferred to the Equipment Department.
I first went to Poulton in December 1966 when I took the Television servicing C course. I caught the train from Leicester to Blackpool South, changing at Manchester. This was my first visit to Blackpool, which when I arrived, was like a ghost town. I found my way to “Mellourbourne” boarding house at 89 Lord Street and after booking in I met most of my fellow students. We then set off to see what entertainment could be found in a near deserted sea side town in mid winter. We went out for a drop of “pop” every night and we did manage to find some good places to be entertained and drink, the Gaiety Bar being the favourite. Then the word gay did not have the same meaning as it does today.
The next day we all went off to The Manor at Poulton. I was impressed with the place from the start. Students were, at that time, required to attend on Saturday morning until 12.00. There were only four students on my course and the only name I remember is Bill Brown who came from Nottingham. Our tutor was M. M. Loddington, who I believe also come from Nottingham and was known as “Jake”. The course consisted of both theory and practical fault finding and was of a very high standard. Morning and afternoon tea was provided on site. Lunch vouchers redeemable at one of two cafés in the centre of Poulton, about 10 minutes walk away, were issued to each student. Both cafes were very slow and most days one had to hurry back to avoid being late. The meals were good but the portions were a bit small.
One of my first major jobs was to install a TV in each of the 70 or so rooms at the Abbey Motor Hotel, which was on top of a multi story car park in the centre of Leicester. We had many hours of fun man-handling the TVs into the rooms. Once they were all at the Hotel we set about installing them. RIS provided a VHF/UHF aerial system and a LF staff paging system in the hotel.
The new Rowletts Hill Council Estate became the 2nd community service in the region. The council made it a condition of tenancy that no aerials were installed and the tenants would use the Rediffusion wired vision system. For those who did not want a wired TV an inverter was supplied and fitted without charge. Inverters changed the SF used on the wired vision system to VHF and later UHF which could then drive the aerial input of an aerial set. Most days there were at least one inverter to fit. The VHF inverters were difficult to fix as the six pairs in the “drop in” had to be disconnected from the switch and connected directly to the inverter. The sound then had to be connected to the speaker in the TV. The UHF inverters were much easier to fit. A bracket was fitted behind the switch on which the inverter was mounted. The output was connected to the aerial socket and the sound connected as before. Richard Neal, known as “Bunny” fitted many of the inverters and became known as “Bunverter”. In Bunny’s absence or if more than one inverter had to be fitted John Garwood, known as “Horace” got the job. The council then made St Matthew's Estate and later the St Mark’s Estate community services.
John Poules , who was at the time was EIC, moved into an apartment in one of the tower blocks at Rowletts Hill. To celebrate the completion of our first community service, John invited all of the staff involved to his flat for a drink. This was a great night during which I remember one incident clearly. John used a
company van to move himself into his new home. One of the wiremen asked him how he was able to use the company van to move house when company policy did not allow this. As he did so a silence fell on the proceedings and every one wondered what would happen next. What followed was the best piece of assertion I have ever seen. John looked the wireman in the eye, and with a grin on his face said “when one has a position one tends to abuse it.” The rest of the evening went off without further incident.
During 1966 or 1967 the vans were equipped with mobile radios to enable the drivers to communicate with the office. A Post Office land line allowed the control operator at the aerial site to communicate with the vehicles. Dysart Street became “Red Base” and the aerial site “Red Control”. The initial call signs were Alpha for Equipment. Bravo and Charlie for Network Maintenance. Delta and Echo for TV. Fox-trot, Golf, Hotel and India for the Wiring Dept. As the work grew, there were, when I left Rediffusion in 1973 21 vans equipped with mobile radio equipment. Originally the base station was established at Dysart Street and an aerial installed on the roof of a neighbouring building. As the centre of Leicester is low lying, communications with vehicles only a few miles away was difficult. To improve communications the base station was moved to the Saffron Lane Sub Station which was on higher ground. We installed a large telegraph pole and the fitted the aerial on top of it. The whole of the Equipment and most of the Wiring Department was involved in planting the pole. At one point I did not think that we would be able to get it up, but we did. Contact with the vans was much improved. By then we had diverted the programme line to go through Dysart Street and so we now used this to control the mobile radios saving the rent of Post Office line.
At about this time a Punch Card system was introduced to enable analysis to be carried out of faults and trends. All the TV staff was given a number to identify then. I was given six. As the Prisoner, on TV for the first time was also number six, I came in for some stick. This punch card system was extended to cover network faults, colour TV faults and finally equipment faults.
During October 1967 I journeyed to Poulton for the second time. By 1967 transistors had replaced valves in portable radios and were now creeping into TV receivers and were to be extensively used in colour TVs. Most service staff did not understand transistors and so Rediffusion set up a week long course to put this right. This course was great and I came back understanding how a transistor worked. It was also a good time to be in Blackpool and this was the first I saw the Illuminations.
Colour TV was now round the corner and Rediffusion wanted to be a big player in the new market. I was selected to attend the Colour TV principles A course in March 1968 and I again packed my bag and set off to Poulton for the third time. This was as always a great course. I hardly had time to unpack my bag as I was sent to Poulton again in May to do the Colour TV servicing B Course. This was a super course which gave me the knowledge to pass the City and Guilds Colour TV Principles course with credit. I then settled down to get to grips with colour TV faults.
My time in the Equipment Department working on the Cable TV System
As duplication of BBC 1 and ITV on UHF in colour approached I transferred temporally to the Equipment Department to help up grade the primary network to carry the new programmes.
My first job in the Equipment Department was to help find a fault on the programme line as the A pair had become faulty between the Saffron Lane and Forest Road substations. The fault was caused by corrosion due to water seeping into a joint.
The amplifiers used for BBC 2 were already colour compatible and were to be reused. We decided to equip the kiosks in a third of the city with the ex BBC 2 valve amplifiers and the rest with the new transistor amplifiers. This meant fitting a rack to hold the amplifiers, removing a balun from the input coax cable and fitting the coax directly into the amplifier input. In cases where the input levels were too high an attenuator had to be fitted. It took about two hours to upgrade the main kiosks. The real problem
came with the feeder repeaters when the signal level was too high and again an attenuator had to be fitted. This was not a bad job if there was enough spare cable. If there was not we fitted what became known as
a humbug, which was a waterproof housing for the attenuators. During the summer of 1969 we up-graded the aerials at Western Park First we fitted a square half way up the aerial on which we installed six VHF/FM aerials. Then we installed four new UHF aerials ready for the duplication of BBC 1 and ITV in colour. We also fitted a long wire aerial in an attempt to improve reception of Radio One and Radio Luxemburg. I took several of the photographs on the website while this work was being done.
The network up-grade was finished six weeks or so before duplication was scheduled to start. As the network could only carry three vision channels all of the old 405 line sets had to be either modified to receive the new 625 service or changed. There were only two areas of the town where there were a significant number of 405 line receivers and that was St Mathews and St Marks Estates. It was decided to continue the 405 line services on these two estates. Luckily the kiosk serving St. Matthew's estate was only 100 yards from our workshop, and St Marks Estate was only about ¾ of a mile away. In these two places the following programmes were available: A - Radio Four, B - BBC 1 (405), C – BBC 2, D – ITV (405), E – BBC 1 (625 colour), F – ITV (625 colour), G – Radio Two, H – Radio One / Radio Leicester/ Radio Luxemburg. The sound was no problem although some work was needed in the kiosks to make this possible. To provide the vision signal on 405 lines we installed VHF aerials at Dysart Street and set up an aerial site in the equipment workshop. Two coax cables were installed to carry the vision signals from Dysart Street to the two kiosks which would carry the service. Again this service was ready a couple of weeks before it was needed. There were about 125, 405 line only TV receivers in use elsewhere on the network. It was decided to replace these with reconditioned wired TVs. This was largely carried out by the wiremen. To enable this to be completed we delayed changing to three colour channels for three weeks. In the last few weeks before the change over I was given the job of making sure that dual standard sets operating on inverters could work on 625 lines. The big day finally arrived and as expected the number of service calls increased significantly. All staff were working 14 hour days to cope with the rush. After about a week things began to return to normal and we all breathed a sigh of relief. What we had been working to achieve for so long had passed off without much trouble. This was not the case in Nottingham.
About a week after the switch over the outstanding service calls in Nottingham had reached over 5,000 and showed no signs of reducing. I went to work in Nottingham for three weeks to help bring the numbers down. I enjoyed this time as I got to know a number of the Nottingham staff and worked in a new city. This was good for me as to give me a full day on the rounds I travelled to Nottingham and back on overtime.
In Leicester we used the TD 90 system. This made use of two different carrier frequencies around 5.9 MHz one being off-set by about 80 KHz, Almost from the outset there was patterning on the two channels using the same frequency which began at 17.00 every evening and lasted for about 1 ½ hours. We suspected this was caused by an HF (short wave) broadcasting station but we never identified the culprit. Eventually we decided to change to TD 80 which made use of two frequencies of about 5.9 MHz and one of 8.9 MHz. This change cured the problem.
In about 1970 George Kennerley went back to the TV Department and I became a permanent member of the Equipment Department.
In 1970 I journeyed north again to attend the Equipment Maintenance and Test course at Poulton. During this course I had a bout of Flu and was unable to attend for two days. It was no fun in bed all day in a Blackpool boarding house in mid winter with nothing to do.
The next big challenge was the miners strike, which brought about the three day week and rotating power cuts. Power cuts affected the network depending on where they were. If the aerial site was off, then the
whole City was off. If a kiosk near the head end was off so was a large part of the town. If a substation was off half the town lost sound. This meant that we had to do something to keep things going when the power was off. I was tasked to find a generator for the aerial site. This was not easy as every generator seemed to be sold or on hire. The only AC generator I eventually found was 110 V with a power output 2.5 KW. I recovered two of the isolating transformers in the benches of the TV workshop and connected the two primary windings in parallel and the two secondary in series. This provided a 220 Volt supply which was used to keep the aerial site going when the power went off. The new transistor amplifiers in the kiosks operated with a 24 volt supply. We obtained a large number of car batteries and put two in each of the kiosks on the main trunk route. Bill Jackson came up with the idea of using a relay to change to battery power when the mains failed. This idea was further developed when the battery was charged from the power supply when mains was present. Bill submitted this idea and received a cash award for it. It was later manufactured and called the AD 100 when included in the Engineering Manual. By about the third day of the miners strike we had the main trunk route powered by battery when the mains failed. There was little point in battery powering feeder repeaters or the last kiosks in the chain as when they lost power so did the houses round them. We kept the mobile radio system going by using two heavy duty batteries and an inverter to convert the 24 volts to 240 and then built a change over relay which would detect mains failure and automatically switch the power. We were then set up with the wired vision and mobile radio systems immune from power cuts.
1971 saw me venture to Poulton twice. First I attended the Wired Vision Principles A course and later in the year I attended a VHF systems and planning course. I went to Poulton for the last time in 1972 when I attended the Transistors for Equipment course. All of these courses were of the high standard I had come to expected.
An infrequent but serious problem was link cuts. This occurred when the VTR, HLL or programme line was dug up and severed. HLLs carried the sound from the substations to the kiosks, the VTR carried vision from the aerial site to the kiosks and the programme line carried sound from the aerial site to the substations. The closer this happened to the aerial site the greater proportion of the city was affected. When this happened it was all hands to the pump to get things repaired as quickly as possible. The link cuts I remember were: 1. Humbestone which happened about 16.30 and put half the city off. It was a dark cold winters night and raining heavely. This was great for electric shocks from the HLL which was 750 Volt peak audio. 2. Freemens Common, this happened about 12.30 and also severed the programme line putting Forest Road Substation off. 3. New Parks which only affected one kiosk but the break was about one metre below ground level in a trench which was about 10 meters deep. We repaired this by digging back on each side of the trench and making two joints and bridging the gap with additional cable. 4. About 200 meters of VTR, HLL and programme line was stolen from ducting over a railway viaduct. This happened during the night and next day this had to be replaced. 5. This was near Thurnby and I will describe it later.
Link diversions and new routs were also a frequent job. This happened when an existing route could not be used any longer and could be due to many things. We would install all of the new ducting and cables and the usually at about midnight when the TV stations had closed, assemble to do the diversion. Another similar job was to add a new or move a existing kiosk. We also fitted a number of transistor feeder repeaters.
Eventually I went on the stand-by rota. Bill Jackson said he would be available of I needed help during my first week. Stand by meant being available out of working hours in case things went wrong with the wired vision system or RIS installations. The week of stand by began at 5 PM on Friday evening. For standing by we got £3 a week which later rose to £5. We also got paid overtime at the rate which applied
when called plus a telephone provided by the company. My first week on stand by was warm and sunny. At about 19.00 I received a call from the aerial site telling me that there was no BBC 1 or BBC 2 vision at Thurnby Lodge. I, full of enthusiasm, sped off to investigate. I found the vision signal was leaving Colchester Road kiosk but not arriving at Thurnby. This looked like a link cut, but why were
only two vision signals and no sound affected? I asked Bill for his help. Bill quickly confirmed my findings and we set of looking for cut cables. The affected VTR/HLL ran along a disused railway line. We began to walk the rout as darkness began to fall. Eventually we found the problem – kids had come across the cables and had damaged two of the co-axe cables.
My time working for RIS
Not all of my work at this time was concerned with up-grading the wired vision system. I was also involved in installing and maintaining RIS installations. David Knowles was the RIS sales rep in 1969. David was succeed by Gordon Haydon, the TV supervisor, in 1971, I think.
These are the RIS installations, I can remember, which we serviced in 1969.
The public address system at Leicester City Football Club.
A room talkback and public address at the Royal Masonic Benelovent Institution.
Fire alarm and room talkback systems at the Belmont and Midland Hotels,
Public address systems at almost all of the Working Men’s Clubs in Leicester.
Public address and radio distribution systems at many factories in and around Leicester.
Talkback systems at 10 pin bowling allies at Leicester and Peterborough.
Radio distribution, room talkback and fire alarm at the Cathleen Rutland home for the blind.
Automatic telephone system and VHF TV system , Hermitage Hotel, Oadby
Clocking in clock in clocks at two factories.
Abbey Motor Hotel, VHF/UHF TV system, TV in all rooms and staff paging unit.
These RIS instillations were won and installed during my time in the Equipment Dept.
A TV and radio distribution system in Leicester Royal Infirmary.
Public address system at Leicester Stadium, at which the 1970 World Cycling Championship was held.
A room talkback, TV system and a TV in each room of the Leicester Clinic, a Nuffield Private Hospital.
TV and radio distribution and a TV in each room at the Leicester Forrest East Motel.
CCTV system at Carton Hayes Mental Hospital, Enderby.
TV and radio system and TV in each room Centre Hotel Leicester.
My first big RIS job was the extension to the Cathleen Rutland Home for the Blind. They had acquired a large house next door which had to be connected to their room talkback and radio system. All went well and I gained a lot of experience.
During 1971, I think, there was a fire at the Belmont Hotel during which, sadly two people lost their lives. When I went to the hotel I was pleased to see that on the fire alarm panel all the lights were on for the affected rooms. We were awarded the contract to re-wire the hotel after it was rebuilt.
One notable job was installing the CCTV system in the Carlton Hayes mental Hospital, which took about three days. We had to have a minder to deal with the in-mates while we carried out the instillation.
The Leicester Clinic instillation was full of problems. The room talkback units were all wired wrongly in the factory. We spent some time sorting the problem and then had to rewire every single unit which was great for our bank balance. The rest of the instillation then went well and they were really pleased.
We had a virtual monopoly of the PA systems in Working Men’s clubs. We were not the cheapest provider of this service but we were undoubtedly the best. This was because our systems all worked well and we provided an out of hours service when they failed.
My time on Reditune
During 1969 branches took over responsibility for the installation and maintenance of Reditune background music systems. This brought a new Morris 1000 van which was known as Red Tango and George Kennerley who transferred from the TV department. Many of the Reditune installations were in East Anglia and required a lot of travelling to service them. The wiring department would cable and install the speakers in new installations and we would then install the tape player and insure the whole system was working properly. As there was a vehicle shortage Reditune servicing the transport was often the EIC’s car which became known as the “grey van”. Often two service calls would take the best part of a day to complete due to the distance travelled.
The condition of the existing Reditune installations was not good and we undertook a campaign to improve their reliability. Once done each of the staff would usually get to work on Reditune about once a fought night. The work was interesting but repetitive. On one occasion I drove from Leicester to March about 120 miles round trip to clean a tape head.
Other aspects of my time working for Leicester Rediffusion
Each year the staffs treat was a Dinner Dance which, for the first three years of my service was held at the now demolished Bell Hotel. After the Bell, the Dinner Dance moved to the Abbey Motor Hotel, which was one of the first hotels in Leicester to have a TV in each room, supplied by Rediffusion of course.
The 10,000 Subscribers Party was held at the Bell Hotel. It was a great night and all of the senior staff came from Nottingham. Then we were promised a repeat when we reached 20,000. I do not know if this target was ever achieved as when I left the company there were about 17,500 subs.
The staff were all very friendly and we had a lot of social gatherings. These included fancy dress parties, ten pin bowling, and darts competitions and a pint at the end of the week. By doing these things we all got to know each other better.
One of the sadist events of my life occurred when Graham Lee, a good friend and colleague, was killed in an accident. Graham was a keen modeller and made an aircraft which was controlled by a cable. One evening while he was flying this aircraft it came into contact with an 8 KV overhead power line and he was electrocuted. To make matters worse Graham had been married for only a few months previously. All of the Rediffusion staff was present at his funeral.
The writing was on the wall for the HF wired wision system when in March 1964 a small ship with a large mast dropped anchor 4 miles of the Frinton, Essex coast and a few days later Radio Caroline was on the air. This small ship was to change the face of broadcasting in the UK forever. What, you may ask, has this to do with Rediffusion. Rediffusion was not allowed to carry the programmes of this or any other “pirate” radio station. After a very short time the “pirates had became very popular and picked up vast audiences. When I joined Rediffusion in 1965 there were four audio channels and two TV channels as follows: A, the Home Service. B, the Light Programme. C, the Third programme, D, continental selection during the day and Radio Luxemburg in the evening. E, BBC TV. F, ITV TV. Then there was no capacity problems. When the Government outlawed “pirate” radio in August 1967, Radio One, designed as a replacement, began broadcasting a month later. This proved no problem to Rediffusion as Radio One was carried on the D channel in the day and Radio Luxemburg in the evening. The first real problem came a few months later when Radio Leicester, the first of the BBC local radio stations began broadcasting. This meant the D channel now carried Radio One or Radio Leicester in the day. This was not a big problem as Radio Leicester and Radio One rebroadcast Radio Two for much of the day. The next capacity problem came with BBC2 TV, which was carried on the C channel. BBC 2 programmes did not start until 7 PM, and meant Radio Three could continue on the C channel until then. By now the cable TV system had reached its capacity and was carrying as many radio programmes as it could. It was
obvious that any increase in separate programming from the national or local radio networks or BBC 2 TV would cause problems. Add to this the availability of cheap transistor radio receivers which could receive the “pirate” stations, all the national and local networks as well as Radio Luxemburg and one can see the problem faced by cable radio. Although after my time at Rediffusion, the problem would have been made worse with the introduction of commercial radio and Channel 4 and 5 TV in the 70s. The future of cable TV was in fibre, which also carried telephones and the Internet.
More problems for wired vision reared their head because the cost of valves for the A126, 2.5 KW audio amplifiers began to rocket as UK manufacturers stopped making them. Electricity prices began to rise and the 2.5 KW audio amplifiers took a bit of power. These effects caused the cost of running an HF cable TV system to rise sharply. Unlike the days of VHF TV, the UHF TV service gave good reception in all parts of the city. The new solid state TVs were also proving very reliable. I felt it was only a matter of time before TV rental and cable TV in its present form would become a things of the past.
One day towards the end of 1972 I was talking to Paul Squires who told me that he had applied to the Post Office for employment and they had offered him a job in the Radio Service Department, which he did not want. I then phoned the Post Office and offered my services. I eventually got the job and left Rediffusion in April of 1973. After a year in the Radio Service Department I transferred to internal works where I stayed for six years. In 1980 I returned to the Radio Service Department and was involved with the enforcement of illegal CB. When BT was privatised in 1984 I went with the job to the Department of Trade and Industry and was promoted to Assistant District Manager. In 1988 I was further promoted to District Manager and took charge of the Teesside District. All was well until 1996 when my district office was closed and I was offered early retirement on terms I could not refuse. I then began work as a senior technician at Richmond School where I still work today. I hope to retire completely in August 2009.
LEICESTER REDIFFUSION SERVICE LTD.
Leicester LE1 2EQ Tel: 0533 21657
John Brigstock's Memoirs - Leicester Rediffusion 1965 - 1973