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A look back at the foundation of the Rediffusion London Region based around activities in the early - 1970's.
Brook House Basildon Essex. The centre of the h.f. Community Service system for the town.
Rediffusion London Region Map
Rediffusion London Region's boundaries embraced Central London and the greater part of seven counties adjacent to it; for operational purposes the region was divided into four branches: Central London, Herts. and Beds., Basildon, and Oxon.and Berks. The region employed around 400 staff and served 101,000 network subscribers, split about equally between h,f.and v.h.f.,and some 42,000 television sets, of which about 23.000 were wired.
The Region's network business was one of great variety with six speculative h.f. networks of various sizes, two independent Community Service h.f. networks, considerable bulk and speculative C.A.T.V. business in blocks of flats and four independent v.h.f. Ccmmunity Service networks.
The Regional officers included Mr. F. C. Rowe, General Manager, Mr. A. S. Dunstan, Chief Engineer, and Mr. T. E. Loder,
Assistant tc the Chief Engineer.
1. Central London
The branch office was located in Camden Town, N.W.1. The Manager was Mr. B. P. Murphy and Mr. K. R. D. Parkinson was Engineer in Charge. The early history of Rediffusion London is that of the London Branch itself. Rediffusion‘s first move into the London area came in 1945 when it purchased a small business called Radio Furniture and Fittings Ltd., which operated audio systems and a few single programme C.A.T.V. systems in blocks of flats. It might be interesting to mention that this firm, as its name indicates, specialised in selling audio systems by incorporating the loud-speakers in rather handsome and expensive furniture (in wall cupboards, clocks, corner tables and even cocktail cabinets). When television broadcasting was resumed after the war in 1947, work recommenced on the speculative wiring of a number of blocks with C.A.T.V. systems and the company began renting and selling television sets. The v.h.f., communal aerial system business had always represented a major part of the London branch's activities.
The London Branch had the distinction of holding The Royal Warrant. This was granted in 1955 in respect of the audio installation at Clarence House, the residence of the Queen Mother.
Of particular note was Dolphin Square on the Thames Embankment which was a block of some 1,200 flats served on a bulk basis by a C.A.T.V.system. At one time, this was claimed to be the largest block ot flats in Europe. In the Central London area the branch had some 11,000 aerial sets on service in blocks of flats and houses.
In 1948. Rediffusion North London Ltd. was incorporated to purchase the small audio relay business of Broadcast Exchanges Ltd. No work regarding h.f. relay of television was done until 1954, when a small section of the North London network was converted for an experiment with an E.M.I. developed wired vision system. This made use of screened twin-pair cable, but the receivers did not incorporate any timebase equipment as the vision and timebase signals were distributed from the main station. Results were not very satisfactory and the system was superseded shortly afterwards by the conventional Rediffusion h.f. system, when most of the old audio network was converted to vision and the area covered was expanded. There were over 8,000 h.f. wired sets on the two-squad, one-quad North London network. Three 625 line vision and three sound programmes were distributed.
The White House Hotel, near to Regents Park and fed from the North London network, had some 600 wired vision receivers installed; it was probably the largest single unit in the country. In the years leading up to 1965, London developed a substantial business in hotels and other special installations. However, with the great expansion of the Region's activities, particularly in relation to Community service schemes during this period the business eventually became operated by Rediffusion Industrial Services Ltd.
A later development in the branch’s h.f. network was a Community Service proiect for the Crown Commissioners to serve some 650 houses at Cumberland Market, also near Regents Park. The 625 line television and radio programmes were provided from the existing network, while two 405 line television programmes were locally originated.
The London branch also operated an h.f. system in Chiswiok and West London, acquired from Rank in August 1968, with some 1000 wired
2. Herts. and Beds.
The Manager of the Herts. and Beds. Branch was Mr. H. S. Fagan and Mr. V. W. Ward was Engineer-Manager. The branch office was located in Stevenage. The branch started from the successful winning of both h.f. and v.h.f. Community Service projects in an area of fairly low signal strength and where the authorities wished to avoid outdoor aerials. In 1960, the first h.f, Community Service concession in the country was obtained from Luton Rural District Council and 1500 homes were wired in 2-squad, 1-quad at the Tithe Farm Estate, Houghton Regis. This became the Community Service showpiece, with Councils and Corporations from all over the country visiting it.
With regard to the London Region in particular, the Houghton Regis system played no small part in the Company subsequently obtaining the
contracts for the Community Service projects at Basildon and Thamesmead. In 1965, the Houghton Regis network was commended with
a Civic Trust Award for its amenity value. Such was the success of the scheme that vision set density climbed to 85% and the company went on to obtain a further contract to extend the system to an additional 1000 homes to be built over the next three years. Here, the houses were be wired in 12-pair cable, although fed from the same head-end. Three 625 line television and three radio programmes were distributed with future plans to provide five television programmes on the new estate together with four radio channels.
The Herts. and Beds. branch had the largest v.h.f. Community Service complex in the country. In Stevenage New Town, 15,000 homes were
involved; a further 6,500 each in Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield, and 3,500 in Letchworth making a total of 31,500 homes. The distribution
over these networks was three 625 line and three 405 line television programmes and four radio programmes at f.m.
In 1964. the London Region obtained the contract for an h.f. Community Service project in Basildon New Town, and a branch was set up.
The Manager was Mr. C. T. Knowlson, previously the Engineer-in-Charge who supervised the installation of the system. With 16,350 homes
connected, the Basildon project was the largest h.f. Community Service scheme in the world, and it was expanding in line with the New Town
building development at the rate of 750 houses per annum. The initial contract with the Development Corporation was for some 12,000 existing houses.
Company personnel from the London branch were transferred for a crash wiring programme and, with the assistance of subcontractors, the work was completed in some 15 months. The existing homes were wired externally with 9-pair cable (diamond planned), but subsequent development was all underground with totally concealed wiring. The scheme proved so successful in the town that in 1967 the Urban District Council asked Rediffusion to extend the service to their tenants.
At Basildon, there was a 14-storey block of flats called Brook House, located in the town centre and dominating the town. Rediffusion were very fortunate in obtaining permission to erect their aerials on the roof of this block and the Corporation also made space available in the basement garage to build an equipment room. A special feature of Basildon was that the mains supply to all the distribution kiosks was provided over Rediffusion's own cables from Brook House, where there was a large standby power plant. Thus a mains failure in any part of the town did not affect the system.
Market penetration with wired sets had tended to be greater in the areas where homes were wired as they were built but, overall, some 57% of the householders in Basildon were using wired vision receivers supplied by Rediffusion and a number of other dealers in the town. The balance were provided with inverters free of charge. The branch also rented and sold aerial sets in Southern Essex. Basildon eventually superseded Houghton Regis as a showpiece for h.f. Community Services, and during the late 1960's it received visitors from all parts of Great Britain and many foreign countries.
By 1970 the Basildon Branch was running the Thamesmead project. Here, on the mudflats reclaimed from the River Thames near Woolwich, the Greater London Council built a new city within a city. Rediffusion London had a Community Service contract to provide an h.f. system to the first 9,000 dwellings. Incorporated in the Thamesmead project was to be all the latest developments of Rediffusion engineering. With 12-pair cable being used throughout, there was no anticipated problem with channel capacity. Two 405 and three 625 line television programmes and Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4 were being relayed at that time.
4. Oxon. and Berks.
The Oxfordshire and Berkshire branch was acquired in August 1968 as part of the deal with Top Rank Television. The branch office was situated in Reading with Manager Mr. C. W. H. South responsible for both Reading and Oxford. On the other hand the Engineer-in-Charge for both towns, Mr. B. Boswell, was based in Oxford; Mr. Boswell was previously with Rank.
The Rank Organisation relay networks were built and operated to Rediffusion specifications as there was a technical services agreement between the two Companies and the networks in this branch were wired in 9-pair cable.
The relay network in Cowley, Headingion and Oxford was originally a v.h.f. system converted to h.f. in 1958. There were some 3,000 sets on
service and at that time the wired operation enjoyed a commercial advantage in the area. BBC1, BBC.2 and ITA London 625 line and ITA
Midlands 405 line programmes were distributed, thus enabling subscribers connected to the network to receive three colour programmes,
whereas only BBC.2 in colour was available off-air until the local transmitter began colour broadcasts later in 1970.
The h.f. network in Reading had some 4,500 sets on service and was favourably placed as compared with off-air reception because four 625 line colour programmes (BBC1. BBC.2, ITA London and ITA Southern) were being relayed.
In addition to the two main networks at Oxford and Reading, the branch controlled two small satellite networks, one in Windsor and the other in Caversham Park Village.