I was living and working as service engineer with a dealer in Ramsgate since September 4th 1939 having started there as an assistant to help with charging the Accumulators used for battery radio receivers.
By 1953, I was repairing everything from clockwork gramophones, Irons, fires, kettles, vacuum cleaners, radios and t/v receivers, answering telephone calls, seeing and ordering spares from the commercial travellers whenever they called as well as building special equipment and making outside service calls.
I heard that the Rediffusion T/V network was due to expand after talking to a neighbour who worked there as a wireman. The idea of dealing solely with television appealed to me so, after discussing the matter with my wife, I made up my mind and called at the Westwood Headquarters to see if they had a vacancy for a television engineer. I was interviewed by the manager, Mr Boughton, and then shown into the control room to see how pictures from their, ‘two bay tilted wire aerial’, system compared to pictures from a standard aerial, I was very impressed and agreed to take the job he offered even though it meant that I would be £1 per week worse off.
After working my notice from my previous employer, I started to work at Westwood.
Ray Cook was in charge of the workshop and others there were, Derek Dodwell, Aubrey Mann and Don ?, a man who was later dismissed after taking a position at Rediffusion, Dover in charge of the workshop. There were two other men who worked shifts to attend to calls from customers and do any on-site repairs that were obvious, or to bring the faulty unit into the workshop if necessary.
Bill Bishop was foreman in charge of the network and there were two gangs of wiremen each working from their own lorry, Paddy King was in charge of one and Harry King, (not related as I first supposed) in charge of the other. There were a couple of chaps with a 15cwt van who sorted out problems on the various parts of the network, such as faulty ‘inserts’ after electric storms, or loose connections.
Other staff that were there were: Eric Parkins, Len Austen, Bill Foad and Chas Bunyan.
All these went to Regional Office with the G M when the office at Canterbury opened.
Ray Cook became a regional engineer and Bill Bishop became E I C.
In the workshop we were busy repairing terminal units, mainly of Philips construction, and converting customers own commercial t/v receivers for wired input.
This amounted to the fitting of an input transformer and two I.F transformers. The audio side was suppressed and each customer rented a Rediffusion Loudspeaker unit to receive the Rediffusion sound system.
Later 12inch Marconi terminal units were supplied and we had a problem in certain parts of Margate where the mains supply interfered with the ‘frame time base’. Mr Kinross came from London to see this for himself and after a short while we received and fitted modification kits to the Marconi Units.
In the meantime I was taking an interest in the relay repeater stations and equipment that were being constructed to carry the signals into Ramsgate and in particular into the Newington Estate. Our manager had chosen this area to be the first after flying over it and realising the potential number of houses that would need our service. Aerial reception this far from London was not good. We received repeater units built by Rediffusion Jersey where they also had a ‘Tilted Wire’ aerial installation. The E.I.C, Mr Vickers was able to build these repeaters using chassis made from copper sheet and to sell them on more cheaply that those obtainable from Rediffusion Research. I think that our General Manager objected to being told the equipment that he must use and the Jersey units were cheaper. Later I got the impression that he took a dim view of new branch managers that he had no choice in choosing. He much preferred to promote and use some of his old staff.
A number of other towns in the south-east had very poor reception conditions, Dover, Hastings, Ashford and Canterbury branches were started and as the demand for inserts grew and the ones supplied were proving unreliable, we were shown how to wind and construct these units. Those of us who were chosen to make them were given a demonstration by Eric Parkins and then supplied by kits of parts. A Mr Geof: Wheatley, who had a model shop at Cliftonville, supplied these parts having been the first to start making them by arrangement with Eric Parkins. We made these units in our homes in our own time often getting our wives to assist with the production. We received payment of so much per unit, for this work, what the research people at Coombe Lane referred to as the, ‘Thanet Cottage Industry’. Eventually Mr Wheatley opened a factory at Wingham and started a company, ‘Precision Electronic Assemblies’ to produce redesigned units that were encapsulated in resin. They were also designed to fit the new junction boxes and multi core cable.
Around this time I volunteered to go to Dover to sort out some problems that they were having both in the workshop and also on the network. The Dover office was a three story building in the town at Priory Road and it was undergoing some re-building of damaged structural work, caused by shell damage during the war. It was an old house and the workshop was one and a half floors up at the rear of the premises, not the easiest place to carry heavy console terminal units to. These were the Mark 1 units that came with either 14” or, 17”screens
The existing workshop staff consisted of Peter Hay, Albert Gill, Frank Hadlow, Ron Napier and Hughie Scott who was making up kiosk filter panels to combine the sound and vision onto the four outgoing cables, while recovering from a fall from a ladder when working as a wireman. Bert Goldsmith was the foreman wireman. There was a back log of faulty terminal units and customers own sets that all had problems beyond the scope of the existing staff, none of whom had a lot of experience with t/v servicing as reception in the area was very poor. There were also network problems due to poor workmanship and through not following the instructions on the work issue cards properly, such as wrong inserts being used or spur pads connected the wrong way round.
Mr Ruck was the planning officer and there was a young chap, Peter Patten, who was around to learn all the aspects of running a branch. He later became G M of Rediffusion (Hong Kong), before returning to England.
I was offered a permanent post, becoming an unofficial E I C and we bought our first house there.
Many were the trails and problems.
The Manager, Mr Holbrook, was posted to Jamaica and a Mr Ellis came in. He was an ex Army officer and came to us after service with Rediffusion (Malta), via Associated Rediffusion Studios. I don’t think the G M thought much of him and he was replaced by a Mr Rowlands. He in turn was shunted off to Reditune and was replaced by Mr Burton, part time from his job of manager at Canterbury.
It was during Mr Holbrook’s time that a start was made on the network at Deal, (previously for sound only), to add television to it. An old derelict windmill at Ripple was purchased and much was done to make it habitable as a receiving station. Most of this work was handled by Region but I lost Albert Gill and Dave Smith, who had previously worked for a dealer in Dover before joining us. As both of these lads lived in Deal, it was only right that they should work there. The Officer in Charge of the Deal branch was Mr Gargett and he was eventually promoted to be manager of Dover/Deal.
On one occasion I collected a new radio receiver from Thanet and installed it at a school in Walmer that they had been unable to include under the cable system due to a way-leave problem. The old receiver had been condemned by one of the Thanet technicians who normally only did first line repairs. The new receiver performed no better than the original and indicated a very poor signal input. I realised from the down lead and previous experience, that aerial would be a ‘Skyrod’, a type of aerial that had a transformer sealed into its base with the down lead fully attached to it so there should be no joints anywhere. I went up onto the roof to see what could possibly be wrong and the fault was immediately obvious. Over many years the transformer at he base of the vertical aerial rod, had rusted completely away, leaving it hanging on the end of the down lead with no attachment to the aerial itself. I made a temporary repair by joining the two metal parts together and that restored the reception completely.
Our ‘Tilted Wire Aerials’, were erected on three, eighty foot wooden masts at the top of a hill at St: Radigunds and approachable only via a steep, rutted, narrow track cut into the hillside over many years. The first repeater in the chain was housed in a small brick kiosk built into the roadside bank at the foot of the hill. Not too long after I arrived, the mast head amplifier had to be changed and two maintenance wiremen were sent to disconnect it and lower it to the ground. We had a pair of ex army telephones connected between aerial site and our control room and we received a call to say that the man at the top of the mast had collapsed. Fortunately he had used his safety belt before attempting to remove the cover from the amplifier and he was just hanging there. I told somebody to call the fire brigade and went to find transport to get me to the site. There were no men or vehicles around but the managers car was there as he had gone somewhere with the foreman, I took his car and drove straight to the site and blasted the car straight up the narrow track, the first time that a light vehicle had been taken up there. Fortunately the wireman had recovered and was by then back on the ground. The firemen started to arrive having had to walk up the track as they could not drive their appliance up it. They examined and questioned him and decided that after the exertion of the climb and as he had not eaten a breakfast, he had simply fainted.
The little kiosk was not capable of housing two repeaters and was replaced by a standard size brick kiosk at the end of a cul-de-sac that was built into the hillside a little later. Some years after the new kiosk was built, somebody backed into it one afternoon knocking it completely over. As we could not leave the repeaters out in the open and unprotected overnight, we backed our oldest van as close as we could get it and, having drilled access holes in the floor of the van, we lengthened the cables and housed the repeaters in the locked van for the night and had the kiosk rebuilt the following day.
Memoirs of: Lez Miller EIC. Rediffusion South East Ltd (Thanet) from 1954 to 1975
© Rediffusion.info 2009
Relay House Westwood, Broadstairs, Kent, CT10 2PX
Tel: Thanet 61561
Page 1 of 3
Associated Companies in over 175 towns in Great Britain and in Barbados, Bermuda. Canada, Ceylon, Guyana,
Hong Kong, Jamaica, Malaya, Malta, Singapore, South Africa, Trinidad and West Africa etc.