Blog posts

Paul Williams-Drake’s 7 Cartoon: 1980

Starting on 26 January 1979 in edition 506 of Felix the student newspaper, was Drake’s 7. The cartoon strip was the creation of Physics student Paul Williams. The first part in the Drake’s 7 story is seen above. He won a competition for his efforts and also had the entire story reprinted in a stand-alone book available for 30p from the Felix office. He also created materials for the Phoenix magazine at Imperial.

Following his success in the competition he came into the TV Studio and chatted to STOIC’s Paul Johnson.

Colin Grimshaw February 2024

Archive on the move: 2024

I started the Imperial College Videotape Archive (not this Blog) way back in August 1979. This was when we had just moved over into colour, and also recording on the U-Matic videotape format. Since that time many hundreds of recordings, and therefore videotapes, have been collected into what is now the archive. This archive is not to be confused with the videotape archive of STOIC, these archives are not the same thing. Some early recordings can be seen in the photo over on the right, these are from early 1985 and includes the City & Guilds Centenary Week on 1089A.

When it all started it was the archive of the Imperial College TV Studio, that changed into Media Services and finally Communications, which was the custodian of the collection until this month. In the first week of 2024 the entire videotape archive was boxed-up and is now ready to be shipped off, and into the hands of the college’s main Archive. This is also where STOIC’s archive is also maintained having been saved from (unbelievably) being put into a skip.

It was not a quick job either; along with Martin Sayers, it took over 6 hours to carefully pack the tapes, make a note of which tapes are now in each box and also mark production numbers on the front of the boxes. This way we will know where to find any particular tape in the future. In the photo over on the right, we had only just started to sort out and then pack the videotapes which we had removed from the shelves. In box number 2 for example you can see production numbers 1027 (September 1981) to 1045. These are all in the U-Matic format but we moved, over time, to Betacam and then DVCam, but there are a few other formats mixed in.

So it’s finally goodbye to a large part of my life which is wrapped up in many different videotapes. Also, it’s a very large part of the life of Imperial College and its history. Captured on those videotapes are many things that I’ve featured in this blog: Linear Motors, Electrochromic Displays, the World’s First Calculator on a computer, the Centenary year of City & Guilds in 1985, the Imperial College Centenary in 2007, Rectors of Imperial College from Lord Penney onwards and many views of the campuses and departments that have changed forever. I also instigated the first ever recording of a Commemoration Day at the Royal Albert Hall. Following that, Martin and I recorded every Commemoration Day and Post Graduate Awards ceremony. These started to be made available on VHS tape, then DVD and finally put onto YouTube. Martin now carries this on with live YouTube steaming of the events.

Farewell, it’s been (and still is) nice rewinding you…

Colin Grimshaw January 2024

Prof. Eric Laithwaite’s Lab: c1973

While going through some of the 8mm films that STOIC shot, I found this. It was part of a reel of items that included the 1973 Pan Cake Race which I featured in a previous post. Therefore I am assuming that this footage was also shot in 1973. It’s various demonstrations taking place in the lab of Professor Eric Laithwaite, who has featured many times before (and will again, I’m sure). The demonstrations are by one of his research students, whose name currently escapes me.

Firstly, but of out focus, is his office door name plate from down on level one of Electrical Engineering. Interestingly, we see some of the copper windings being installed on a levitator (might even be the ‘magnetic river‘ under construction?). I don’t recall any other photos or film of this being carried out, so this is maybe unique. Then we see the levitation of an aluminium plate, which is followed by the model train which he used very regularly in presentations. Finally we see the research student talking to some other students, but I don’t recognise them as being from STOIC. I’m not sure that the models we see in the film were actually featured in the 1974 Christmas Lectures, which would have helped me date this footage. However, it is just possible that the motor having the windings added was in Christmas Lectures programme 5.

I’ve just reviewed that lecture number 5 (around 53min into the lecture) and I’m now very sure that this is indeed the motor we see being constructed in his lab. So a date of 1973 would seem to work.

Colin Grimshaw January 2024

RCS Spanner & Bolt Raid 1976

Today we have an extract from one of the oldest recordings from STOIC’s news programme. On the 15th December 1976 Clive Lewis and James Sinclair were both presenting the Christmas edition of Lunchbreak. Who could want a better news story for Christmas than a mascotry raid. There was a front page splash about it in FELIX the following day, so STOIC seemed to have got the news, and also the interviews, pretty fast. Now, this was shot a few days before Christmas and I think the various constituent college union members should have been kept away from the balloons…as you’ll see! James Sinclair is attempting to hold things together though.

This is very much a deteriorating archive recording so please bear with it because it’s 47 years old and I had a major problem getting the tape to play back.

Colin Grimshaw December 2023


TV Safety Topics: 1982

Dr Gordon Hargreaves (1930-1989) was Imperial College’s first ever safety director. In conjunction with the training officer Dr Albert Courts we produced a pilot edition of Safety Topics for an on-going series. The safety unit then produced a newsletter called ‘safety topics’ and this was to be a video version of that publication. Many people got involved with the video including myself where you’ll see me demonstrating a range of fire extinguishers on what was Dalby Court. We had first aid, electrical safety, along with safety in offices.

Sadly none of this seemed to gel with people and we never did make a series. So, this is in fact a lovely record of some of those who were key figures in Imperial College in 1982. Gordon Hargreaves died very suddenly in 1989, at that time we had started making yet another safety video with him on the subject of Fume Cupboards. That video was obviously never completed. We must have been jinxed with making safety training videos.

Colin Grimshaw November 2023

Open Door – The Full Cost? 1982

In 1982 the Imperial College Students’ Union had the opportunity to make a TV programme in conjunction with the BBC’s Community Programme Unit. All services, facilities and camera crew were made available to them and for them to have full editorial control on the final film produced.

The clipping is from the Radio Times from April 1982. It outlines the content as ” In 1979 the Government introduced the idea of ‘ full cost’ fees for students from other countries who want to study in Britain. Now the overseas students are staying away in droves and it’s beginning to have serious effects, firstly on our higher education system, but just as importantly on Britain’s relationships with the rest of the world.” I never heard any feedback on the final programme and whether or not there was any government reaction to it.

In the programme were Lord Flowers then Rector, Prof Roger Perry, Professor James Whitelaw and Dr Adrian Evans along with a host of Post Graduate students. There are some, but only a few, shots of campus and undergrads as well as a sequence shot at Silwood Park. Strangely though, Union President Nick Morton, who was even credited in Radio Times, did not actually appear in the film! There was a front page mention of the film and the date of transmission in Felix dated March 19th 1982 (see above). I think that the announcement of the transmission date was so early, because this was the last-but-one edition of Felix before term ended for Easter. Sadly, I’ve never seen any photos of the production being shot or edited. I’m surprised that Felix didn’t take any whilst the film crew were on campus!

Colin Grimshaw October 2023

Prof Eric Laithwaite – Heretic: 1994

The BBC Heretic series in 1994 featured Professor Eric Laithwaite. It focused of course on his now infamous Gyroscope theories and demonstrations, one of which I recorded in the TV Studio in 1983. By 1994 he had retired from Imperial College and had been given lab space at the University of Sussex, close to where he lived after retiring from Imperial College. Interestingly, the Royal Institution let them recreate the controversial 1974 evening discourse, even though they apparently never published the paper and distanced themselves from the whole event.

Lots of archival material from his days at both he University of Manchester and in the lab at Imperial College. There’s also a tiny clip from a programme series called “The Engineer’s World” which was recorded in his lab. I’ve never seen that before and is dated on the BBC Genome Web page as 31 October 1971.

I’m sure that even now, there are lots of people with their own views on what he both came up with, and also suggested, could be achieved with Gyros! But if nothing else, he was fun to work with if you ever had the chance.

Colin Grimshaw September 2023

Felix Editor Election: 1975

Mark Caldwell filming at Elstree Studios in September 1975

Today we go back to 1975 and a fragment of college history captured in the archive of STOIC. Very few items remain from this time period because of the very high cost of videotape. Programmes were recorded over the following week with a new programme, so we’re lucky that this survives today. On the 26 February 1975 Mark Caldwell was presenting the weekly news programme Lunchbreak in which the candidates for the post of Felix editor came into the TV Studio. Clive Dewey and Paul Ekpenyong were standing and also attending was Mike Williams, the then current editor. From Felix 7 March 1975 the results were 440 for Clive Dewey and 527 for Paul Ekpenyong who was declared the next editor for 1975/1976.

At 7mins 20secs into the video you will also hear something very rare indeed. The college bells on the top of Mechanical Engineering chiming 6pm. We must have had the windows open in the studio which was then located on level 3 of Electrical Engineering facing where the bells were. So not only do we know the date, but also the time of this recording, that’s unique.

Colin Grimshaw August 2023

STOIC Videotape Archive: 1979

Recently I had an email from STOIC’s first full-time videotape archivist (1980-1981) Colin Jenkins. The email reminded me of the huge contribution that the card index has made to college history, through videotape recordings. Sadly this is a fact that college does not appreciate or make use of and hence why this blog is maintained to showcase this valuable resource.

Initially, and only for about ten videotapes, the indexing was started using the facilities of the college computer centre. Details were outputted on computer lined paper as can be seen in this photo. This printout then had to be cut and stuck inside the videotape box and also onto the actual videotape. I never was happy with this idea of sticking the printout onto the actual tapes in case they came off whilst inside the tape machine! The problem was that only the person who had created this computer account (and routine) could access the index. It soon became very clear that this was simply not possible to maintain as students came and went from college and their computer accounts were closed! A simple system was needed that could be accessed within the studio that didn’t require a computer centre account or terminal to be able to log on.

So, what could be more simple than the good old card index. Initially, using a single draw card index file, the new system was started by Colin Jenkins, simply known to us all as CJ. The new way of indexing and archiving was changed at the beginning of recordings being made on the U-matic tape system (Autumn term 1979). This itself is interesting because up until then videotapes were recorded over each week and therefore previous programmes were lost for ever. This was due to of the high cost of videotapes. U-matics were a lot cheaper to buy and an increased budget allowed STOIC to start keeping, and thus archiving, all programmes made. It also meant less potential wear on the tape machines when using the same tapes over and over again each week.

I have now completed a simple backup of the entire card index by scanning every card into a PDF file. It would be desirable to collate these into something like an Excel or Word file, but that isn’t really necessary for this use – keep it simple. Because the indexing was now maintained within the file system draws, a way was still needed to present data within the actual tape box (as in the original computer printout idea). I suggested that the programme running orders, that were used for each programme, be held within each tape box.

The programme running orders are now as valuable as the index in finding what was recorded onto the tape. Even last minute changes were written by hand and most of the basic information then added to either current or new index cards. The card index was never created to hold all of the information that can be found on the running orders. I’m pleased to say that even after CJ had left Imperial, the index continued. STOIC left the college TV studio after the end of term in 1986. From the index I can see that a few entries were made in 1987 but then things stopped. Therefore no record exists of programmes after that time and it will be a task to decipher content when running those tapes that exist from that period.

One final point is that some videotapes were kept prior to 1979. These video recordings were made on the Ampex Type A one-inch format and were also added to the card index. So technically we can go back to February 1970 when STOIC’s first news programme was made and the actual videotape was kept and added to the collection.

Colin Grimshaw July 2023

Tiddlywinks: 1982

The first Tiddlywinks covered by STOIC was back in 1979 and that happened most years. This 41 year old report from October 1982 was different because it took place on the Kings Road, Chelsea and not the usual Oxford Street. Apparently, various warnings from the police had put Oxford Street off limits this particular year. Although the card index doesn’t indicate it, I think that this was also the first time that Tiddlywinks was covered in colour.

Donal Quigley took the camera crew into the depth of Chelsea on what looks like a rather damp and gloomy day. There’s also a half page coverage (P3) of the event in FELIX.

Colin Grimshaw July 2024