Author: Colin Grimshaw

I’m Colin Grimshaw. Although I took early retirement at the start of 2011 I was asked to continue to run the Video Archive Blog and keep adding material on a regular basis. Now, working from home and occasionally from Imperial, I will have more time to recall the background details to the videos you will be seeing. Since the late 1960’s I’ve been recording all sorts of things related to Imperial College. This is in the form of magnetic tape, but more importantly videotape. Although the College Archives holds thousands of pieces of paper in the form of documents, books, journals, manuscripts, etc, its collection of sound and visual recordings (videotape and film) is surpassed by the videotape archive collection...

Queen’s Tower

One day, back in 1988, someone asked me the question “Could you do live TV from the top of the Queen’s Tower?”. Up to that point I can’t say I’d really thought about it much, but it was an interesting question nevertheless. But we’ll come back to that in a while.

Queen's Tower
The Queen’s Tower

Anyone who has visited the South Kensington campus would have seen the tower at some point. It’s some 287 feet tall and has some 324 steps up to the dome area. One of the main times the tower is noticed is when the bells are rung and these are as follows:

Queen’s Accession: 6 February
Queen’s Birthday: 21 April
Queen’s Coronation: 2 June
Duke of Edinburgh’s Birthday: 10 June
The Princess Royal’s Birthday: 15 August
Prince of Wales’ Birthday: 14 November
Queen’s Wedding Day: 20 November
and of course both PG Awards and Commemoration Days each year.

It was on 20 November 1997 that we recorded the bell ringers for the first time. This was to mark the Queen’s 50th wedding anniversary and a special ring was performed. Carrying cameras and recorders up the tower is not an easy tasks as the spiral staircase was never designed for this. But we made it and proceeded to capture the event. What no-one had bothered to tell us was that the tower does move a bit when the bells are being run. First one way and then the other depending on which set of bells are being run at the time. Sets of bells are hung in different ways; one set ‘left to right’ and the other set ‘top to bottom’. This therefore gives a strange effect of movement swaying one way, then the other. The combined result when all the bells are being run is a very odd circular motion. Although I’ve recorded the actual bells with hanging a mic in the bell chamber, I’ve never captured them on video…but someone else has! If you go to this YouTube video you’ll see the horrifying sight of the whole set of bells ringing below the camera lens. I can’t say that it looks very safe up there and the volume of sound must be rather high too.

Another great reason to remember the Queen’s Tower were the (now long gone) performances in May each year of the 1812 overture. These were accompanied by live explosions provided by DramSoc and the bells in the tower were rung. I’m not certain why this event stopped, maybe it was the British weather! Anyway, in May 1979 I recorded the event in colour, the same summer that we actually got our colour equipment.

And so, back to the start and that question about live TV from the top of the tower. Back in 1988 during preparations for one of the first Alumni weekends the idea came about to broadcast the weather one morning from the Queen’s Tower. Francis Wilson was, at the time, forecasting the weather for the BBC Breakfast programme. Because he’s an Alumni of Imperial he was asked if he would do it and of course he agreed.

 

Alumnus-Day-1988-txm-kit
Vision, Sound and Videotape equipment set-up in the tower

We did weather from the tower twice and you’ll notice the reference to hearing the sound this time around. In fact we were some minutes away from the live link and someone managed to move the equipment providing the ‘line of sight’ link. You can see some photos I took at the time and two of these show the amount of equipment we had to carry up the tower. One is showing the equipment set up for controlling sound and vision and the other is showing the infra-red line of sight link from the tower down to the area now known as the “tower rooms”. One thing we were lucky to have was mains power and down in the bell ringing chamber, a telephone line.

Alumus-Day-1988-InfraRed-downlink
Infra-Red downlink from tower to ground floor

 

 

The recording you’re now able to see of the event was made down on the ground floor where the TV monitors were located. I’m still amazed it actually worked and the quality was pretty good too. The infra-red link had to be lined up with a telescope that had a cross-hair to align with the receiver, also set up on a tripod down on the ground. All you then had to do was to feed video and audio into the unit and you were in business. The only problem, as we discovered, was not knowing IF those down below could actually see and hear anything once you had started the event.

Alumnus-Day-9-July-1988
Chris Roberts operating camera

 

My colleague at the time Chris Roberts is seen operating the camera whilst I was pressing the buttons, mixing sound and running-in the videotaped sequences we were given from our colleagues in Physics. It was good fun, the Alumni visiting seemed to enjoy it, but it was very hard work indeed….there are a lot of steps up to the top and I was a lot younger then too!

Announcing the live TV transmission from the tower
Announcing the live TV transmission from the top of the tower


The day before the event we had already taken most of the equipment up the tower and tried out the link. Those down on the ground floor were somewhat surprised to see this caption on the TV screens. It was broadcast from the tower and was announcing the forthcoming live link the following morning.

 

Colin Grimshaw April 2010

Promotion: 1 – Imperial College

In one way or another, ever since we’ve had the use of video as a medium we have used it to promote things. You will have already seen in other posts the promotion of specific research projects or research groups and so on. But we’re going to start another series that shows how we’ve tried to promote the college as a whole. I’ll also mention that we’ll see how individual departments have tried this too, examples being: Chemistry, Civil Engineering and the Management School (now Business School), so watch out for those blog entries coming sometime soon.

To coincide with the 1985 centenary of the City and Guilds College an impressive exhibition was put on in the Junior Common Room in the Sherfield Building. Although this was primarily research work, schools were invited and special lectures and tours were held, Therefore, very large numbers of school children were going to visit the college  and there was, of course, huge possibilities for student recruitment. So, two promotional videos were (initially) commissioned to promote the college to school children and to potential postgraduates. This was also the first time that moving aerial footage was taken of both the South Kensington and Silwood campuses. The only unfortunate thing was that the footage was shot in January and we’d just had a downfall of snow, so the campuses don’t look too inviting!

The undergraduate promotion video was called “Studying for the Future” and shows all of the usual things to excite potential undergrads. Once again, the nice thing about this and the other videos, is the wonderful record of college life. Also, the campus as it then was, is recorded with the current students and staff going about their daily lives. I wonder how many alumni might actually spot themselves in some of the shots?

A second video was made at the same time. This was to show the research work and activies going on at Imperial and was entitled “Discovering the Future”. I hope you’ve spotted the trend with these titles of the videos all following a certain style with the “….the Future”? A large proportion of this second video was also seen in the video made for undergraduates. The theme used was of a ‘research file’ concept and when you see the video you’ll understand what I mean. And, can those former Blue Peter TV programme viewers spot Valerie Singleton doing the voiceover in this second video?

Next time I’ll show you a third video for those considering taking a masters degree. Can you guess what the title might be?

Colin Grimshaw March 2010

STOIC: Two

Coverage of Union election results live from the Great Hall
STOIC coverage of Union election results

Last time, we looked at the very start of STOIC with clips from things like: an early promotional video to join the club and Morphy Day on the tow path at Putney. Staying with that line of thought, this time we’re going to see an early example of coverage of a rag event, Election Results ‘live’ from the Great Hall and the days when students had a “Mooney” for lunch rather than an sandwich.

Firstly though, the idea for IC Radio started in 1974. In the days prior to the internet, to be able to hear radio, you needed a radio. For a radio to hear your broadcast you needed a transmitter (a legal one too). So, for IC Radio to operate it would need to be able to transmit.

By the time that IC Radio was about to open, there were ways to achieve this ‘within’ a building (as opposed to an actual transmitting aerial as such). As you will hear in the interview,  a ‘leaky feeder’ cable was the method used to enable broadcasts on the medium wave. Mark Caldwell (a former STOIC Chairman) and main presenter at the time, interviewed John Allen who became IC Radio Station Manager. This video is from 4 March 1976 and has a few glitches in its playback, but it’s not bad for 35 years of age.  John Allen has his own archive website with loads of old photos and sound clips, so you may wish to hop over and read more about it, click here.

Coverage of rag events was a regular and popular item within STOIC’s programme schedule. Whether it was: a simple collection; tiddlywinks down Oxford Street or, as we’re about to see, “Guilds Silly Sports” outside Harrods in Knightsbridge. This was always a good location for all involved, as it’s about 10 minutes from the South Ken campus. So, no one had to travel too far and this was important for STOIC when a rag took place on a Wednesday afternoon – the time in the week when STOIC’s news programme was recorded and edited. So, returning with the videotape to start editing was always the main thought for those waiting back in the studio. This is one of the earliest rags recorded back in 1979. Colin Palmer interviews those taking part and more importantly, those giving money…

Mark Caldwell a former STOIC Chairman in January 1975
Photo of Mark Calwell used in-vision in the early election days

Hustings, elections and the UGM, (where the results were announced) were also high on the STOIC list of events to be covered each year. When, in the early 70’s, parts of the college were linked by both video and audio cables an idea came to mind. Why not try and link from the great hall and report the UGM live via STOIC? When the idea was first suggested the technology was not quite in place to allow video as well as sound to be relayed back to the TV studio.

 

 

ICU Election Results 1980

So, in year one, Mark Caldwell presented live segments in sound only, with a photo of him showing in vision! Year two was a lot better and technology allowed a full linking in vision and sound. So, five years on from the first attempt, here’s a clip from the UGM of 1980 with Paul Johnson presenting (click red icon above).

But…this is just a bit different again. Why? Well, because by now STOIC was running its own live programme AND also linking into IC Radio at the same time. You’ll see what I mean in this clip and you’ll hear me on the earphone cue system which was clearly too loud that day! The slight pause before Dave Fuller starts speaking is because they were waiting for a cue from IC Radio to confirm the link-up between the two networks, all rather complicated for those early days.

Finally, if you were a student in the 1960’s to 1980’s you may well remember going for a “Mooney” at lunchtime. What was this? Well the answer is simple. Victor Mooney (Died on December 27th 2012 aged 89) was college Catering Manager from 1953 to his retirement in 1985. He became part of college tradition and so did his food, hence the reference “Mooney”. It’s a bit like saying you’re using a Hoover I guess. Over the years he came in for some serious complaining by the students, but, as he always said, if he was given a serious budget he could provide a serious meal. Here he is from 1979 talking to STOIC regular Dave Ghani.

Colin Grimshaw March 2010

STOIC: One

For this entry I’m showcasing something that we’ll be visiting many times more. STOIC, the Student Television Of Imperial College was formed in 1969 and is still running today some 40 years later, in fact it’s their 40th Birthday this week. Because they were taking a student point-of-view on college life and were free to feature and record what they wanted, they have left us with a unique record of Imperial College that does not exist elsewhere.

20 Minute talks taking place in 1967
Electrical Engineering’s 20 minute talks taking place in 1967

STOIC’s origins are with the Electrical Engineering Department (who owned and ran the original TV Studio) in  January 1969, after being formed following a suggestion from Sinclair Goodlad. The initial idea was to help operate the cameras for the departments “20 minute talks” that ran each Wednesday afternoon (see photo from 1967). This would give them something positive to do and would also give them experience prior to the setting up of an official union club and by October 1969 this had happened. The first experimental news programme was recorded on 17 February 1970 and was called “IC Newsreel”. Now 40 years later, this programme still exists on videotape and an extract from that programme can be seen in the 10th anniversary recording at the end of this current blog entry. In it you’ll see Professor John Brown, then head of the electrical engineering department speaking about the death of Lord Jackson the Pro-Rector. John Brown being a relative of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Please click MORE to continue… (more…)

Buildings and Centres: One

Buildings come (down) and buildings go (up), but, as you will have guessed from these blogs, archives live on. And in doing so, we are able to reach back in time to see and hear what happened at an event or ceremony, which marked the opening or closing of an Imperial College building. I’m going to split the buildings and centres blog content into several parts, with this being the first.

The first video however is not really an opening of a building as such, but rather a ‘renaming’ of one. The Physics Department was renamed the Blackett Laboratory in the honour of Lord Blackett (1897-1974) on 3 December 1975. The Prime Minister at the time, Harold Wilson, delivered the Blackett memorial lecture. This is the first recording of a Prime Minister in the archives; Edward (Ted) Heath, Margaret Thatcher and Gordon Brown were to follow. The recording is poor and was made by the department hosting the event. Originally recorded on half-inch open spool videotape, I have since transferred it to DVD for safe keeping. To continue please click on MORE… (more…)

Silwood Park

silwood1In 1982 we made a video that was a co-production between the TV Studio and STOIC (Student Television Of Imperial College). The students had been keen to make a video about the life and workings of Silwood Park, the college’s field station near Ascot in Berkshire. Their resources were limited to allow this and it would have meant that the video would have been made in black and white. So, I offered to work with them to make something better and in colour. I’m glad we went down this route because now we have a unique record of life there in the early 1980’s. We’ll come onto talking about the video later on.

Silwood’s history is quite long and to help me out, here’s a snippet from the college’s page on “Silwood Park – Past and Present”….

“Imperial College acquired Silwood Park and Ashurst in 1947, as a Field Station to provide a site for research and teaching in those aspects of Biology not well suited for the main London campus. The Manor House is the original Silwood Park house, built in 1878, designed by Alfred Waterhouse, who also designed the Natural History Museum in London, South Kensington and Strangeway Prison.  Silwood was requisitioned as a military hospital and convalescent home during WWII, so when the College took it over in 1947 it was surrounded by bleak, but useful, single-storey wards and offices.  Some still survive; the present Refectory, Stores and Field Course laboratories are gems of the period. Presumably no-one in 1940 anticipated a working life of over sixty years for these ‘temporary’ edifices.”

To read the full story on Silwood Park click here.

The estate is some 250 acres in size. To help give you an overview of this, I’ve found some of the aerial shots of the campus taken in 2008. My colleague Martin Sayers went, with a camera crew, on a morning’s shoot around all of the college’s campuses. The pictures were actually shot in high definition using a gyro-stabilised camera, mounted in a twin-engine squirrel helicopter.  The helicopter was flown from Redhill Aerodrome.

I recently discovered a batch of old 8mm cine films shot for various TV programmes made by STOIC. Back in the early days, we, and STOIC alike, had no means to shoot video outside of the TV Studio – other than using very long cables. To be able to show things outside, STOIC resorted to using 8mm movie film. This was cut and run into a programme with a sound commentary added live at the time. As time progressed, a small magnetic sound stripe was added to the film and this allowed a commentary to be synched directly to the film well in advance of the programme being recorded on videotape.

 

Touchstone weekend 1970

What I found was some film, shot in 1970 (click red icon above). This was from the very first STOIC news programme called “IC Newsreel” recorded on 17 February 1970 (shown the following day in the Junior Common Room).  The item is about a Touchstone weekend that was held at Silwood Park. These came out of an idea by former Rector Roderic Hill and started in around March 1950. The weekends were run with the idea where  “…students could discuss a range of topics (many of current interest) together with experts…”

If you can identify anyone in the film please let me know via the comments option at the bottom of this page. Ken McDowall (1909-1997) was appointed to run General Studies in 1952 and also to take over the Touchstone weekends and you can see him in the film, appearing to be providing some alcoholic relief to some of the students! There is an archive edition of Felix on KEN McDowall click here to take you to the pdf file.

Silwood Park house main entrance hall
Translations made at Silwood Park House

You may have also spotted Silwood Park being used in the video “Translations: Engineering Design 2020AD” which is featured in the blog on Professor Bob Spence. We used the grounds and main house for most of the video. The sequence showing the dinner party was shot in the main entrance hall.

Click anywhere here to take you to the blog on Bob Spence.

 

Outside the Reactor Centre
Outside the former Reactor Centre

 

And so now on to that Silwood Park documentary we made in 1982. For those who know Silwood Park and the people who were there at the time this will, I hope, bring back some happy memories. You’ll see Professor Michael Way, then Director of Silwood, talking about the field station and what it does. Also featured are many people involved in research including Professor (then Dr) Graham Matthews who at the time was running the overseas spraying machinery centre. Dr Matthews demonstrates the electrostatic spraying ‘bozzel’ technique developed with ICI and when he operates it you’ll hear a click on the audio from the static charge.

A sequence, shot out in the fields, shows the work being carried out on the ‘black bean aphid’.  At the Reactor Centre (above, right), Dr McMahan discusses the work and role of the University of London centre and we get a unique look inside the reactor whilst it’s operating. Professor (then Dr) Bob Sinden discusses his research work on Malaria. This interview is interesting because it was shot at Ashurst Lodge, sold six years later in 1988. The whole video is a snapshot of life and work at Silwood Park in the early 1980’s. The presenter and interview is Tracy Dudley (nee Poole) who was an active member and presenter with STOIC for many years. You will see more of her in other videos I’ll be featuring from STOIC’s archive that we now house.

Colin Grimshaw February 2010

City and Guilds College

Margaret Thatcher Opening Tech2000
Margaret Thatcher Opening Tech2000

My involvement with the City and Guilds College (C&G) started during its centenary year in 1985. A week of celebrations were held (26 February – 1 March) and as part of that the Junior Common Room was transformed into an impressive exhibition called Tech2000. The exhibition was officially opened by the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Can you spot the famous handbag in the photo?

Besides making some 12 individual videos for various exhibits, an official video record of the week was also commissioned. This would capture the build-up, the opening and tour of the exhibits by the Prime Minister and the banquet held at the Guild Hall with the main speaker being HRH Prince Philip and this itself was not without its own problems. I was told in advance that we could not use too many lights when recording his speech because he didn’t like lights in his face.

Prince Philip at the Guild Hall
Prince Philip at the Guild Hall

The problem was the size of the Guild Hall and the area we were trying to cover. Illumination within the hall was to be mostly from the candles on the tables, but this was far too low for our camera. A compromise was reached and we used a 2kw floodlight that would only be switched on moments before any one of the speeches started. Although this sounded good, we were located high up on a balcony some distance away, so the end result was better, but not great. It was also such a vast increase in light levels (compared to the candles) that actually switching the light on caused most of the people to turn around and look up at us! Although I’d requested a feed from the sound system to plug into our video recorder, I had not actually spoken with the engineers operating it on the night. Everything turned out OK and we received a cable with audio from the hall sound system. We were intending to video record most things, but our tapes would only run for 20 minutes at a time, so tape changes were going to have to be made. I was concerned that from an archives point-of-view we should not lose any of the speeches. I asked the engineer if he had been asked to make a sound recording of the whole evening, only to discover that no one had thought to do so! This was corrected and the tapes now reside in the college archive.

Let me just mention Prof Bruce Sayers (1928-2008) who was Dean of City and Guilds at the time.  In fact he was Dean during the period 1984-1988 and again from 1991-1993. It was during his last period in office that Bruce commissioned the first video to be made showcasing City and Guilds – that was in 1993 with a second following in 1994 and a final in 1998.  The 1993 video was more of an historical look-back at City and Guilds, with the further two looking more at the research work within the departments making up C&G. So, back to the C&G centenary and the video that covers the events making up the week. Hopefully it gives a flavour of what was happening within C&G and is also a wonderful snapshot of Imperial College life in 1985.

“City and Guilds, a celebration” was made in 1993. It was, as the title suggests, a celebration of C&G from its earliest times, right up to the date of making the video. We found some interesting photographs and film to help illustrate a commentary recorded by Bruce Sayers himself. We had previously discovered the film of the old City and Guilds building (1960), so we looked for more visuals that C&G alumni might remember. We achieved this with some film shot in 1928 of both “Sports Day” and “Morphy Day”. At that time, Sports Day was clearly still being held at the Stamford Bridge ground of Chelsea Football Club (this apparently being the case until the 1930’s). The film shows a lot more of sports day than we had time for in the video and this is something that I’ll feature in more detail in a later blog. You will see a couple of shots of the Queen’s Tower from a distance. These were from a hotel long since demolished.  Located near Gloucester Road tube station the Forum Hotel had a number of floors almost equal to the Queen’s Tower in height. A simple phone call gained us access to their roof area and the result was some splendid views of London and the Queen’s Tower. Going back briefly to the 1960 film of the old guilds building it’s worth mentioning that this was an amazing discovery that was made after Sir Owen Saunders died in 1993. The 16mm colour film was found in his office drawer and passed to the college archivist who in turn asked me to see what it was! We’ll show that complete colour film in a later blog.

One person mentioned in that video was Herbert Cecil Booth (City and Guilds 1893) who invented the process of cleaning fabrics by sucking air through them. More can be seen on him in Tim Hunkin’s TV programme “The Secret Life of the Vacuum Cleaner“.

In 1994 we were asked to make a follow up which was to be called “City and Guilds College 1994 – an update”. This was very much a promotion for the research work being carried out within City and Guilds. It also included a section with Bob Schroter talking about the Old Centralian’s Trust fund, the charitable arm of the City & Guilds College Association.   To give a flavour of the departments featured, research work was shown from Civil Engineering; Aeronautics; Electrical Engineering; Chemical Engineering to name but a few. Having just celebrated 10 years of operation, the Centre for Composite Materials showed their work relating to the aircraft industry, whilst Bio Mechanics demonstrated the work being carried out on knee joints. Again, this video’s audience was industry and alumni, particularly those overseas. Unlike the previous video, we commissioned a professional voice-over which was read by former BBC ‘Tomorrow’s World’ presenter Michael Rodd.

The final video made with Bruce Sayers for City and Guilds was in February 1998 and was entitled “City and Guilds: the challenges of tomorrow”. It makes reference that this was now 12 years into C&G’s second century and the fact that many changes were going on within Imperial College. In fact this video is a nice record of the South Kensington campus just a few years before major rebuilding works would change its appearance with: the new main entrance and Business School on Exhibition Road; Dalby Court and the (then) new Faculty Building.

For the very first time the City and Guilds Institute was mentioned and it’s connection with C&G explained. We went to their central London headquarters to get shots both outside and inside. Following on from this we shot at one of their lunches held each year at the college, which is attended by fellows of the C&G Institute and the Rector of Imperial. At the time of making the video the construction of the new Sir Alexander Fleming building was well into the completion stages and shots of both the initial building work and completed building were shown. Dame Julia Higgins, a former Dean of C&G, spoke about the many changes across the campus with the opening of the new SAF building and the intake of many new medical students.

The video ends by asking the question:  “What would City and Guilds look like in 2025 and would those who know it now, recognise it then?”

Colin Grimshaw – January 2010 updated June 2021


 

Places: Eastside

This is a special entry to coincide with the Restoration of Prince’s Gardens event on 15 January 2010. I should explain from the outset why we are now making references to Eastside rather than Linstead. This is because the new building is larger than before and is now made up of three halls: Linstead, Gabor and Wilkinson. In my first entry about Southside, I did make reference to things associated with Linstead Hall and in particular the hall dinner.  We will see a clip of one of those dinners in the video which is located later on this page. In 1993 we made a video for prospective undergraduates and some of that video was shot in Southside and Linstead halls, that’s the footage we’ll be seeing.

Linstead Hall 2004
Linstead Hall in 2004

The  evening dinner was special in college, because it happened in no other hall. History tells us that ‘Construction was funded by an anonymous benefactor in 1963 who stipulated that dining facilities must be available for male residents’. There was an extension to Linstead in 1980, however it was of a completely different design, as can be seen in the 2004 photo (newer on the left older on the right).

Linstead Hall foundations 1966
Linstead Hall foundations 1966

Construction of the hall dates from 1966, as can  be seen in this photo taken of the foundation work in August of that year. You will also spot Weeks Hall in the background of the second photo by Sydney Newbery, showing the building covered in scaffolding. This photo dates from March 1967. At the time of the opening, in 1968, the rebuilding work was considered to be complete, until the extension was added in 1980!

Linstead Hall in Scaffolding 1967
Linstead Hall in Scaffolding 1967

While looking through photos of Linstead Hall I found several of the interior that date from 2004. One of these shows the bar and interestingly I received an email the very same day from a former student Max Clark, who tells me he was in Linstead for two years. He said “…I was in Linstead for two years and on the hall committee both years including being Bar Chairman in’75 (I still have the tankard somewhere)…”

Linstead Hall bar 2004
Linstead Hall Bar 2004

I hope then, that this photo, from April 2004, will bring back some memories for him and others alike.  Before we move on to more recent events it’s worth also mentioning the gardens within the square. These have been restored to recapture the spirit of the original gardens but paths have been relocated. The railings to the North and South have also been restored.

Prince's Gardens in the 1990's
Prince’s Gardens in the 1990’s

Restored too is the urn, a centre piece of the gardens for many years. Here is a photo taken of the gardens in the 1990’s with the famous urn filled with Daffodils, this was obviously taken in the spring. And so now on to the video footage that we have available. I have mentioned the hall dinner and this first video (link below), is a compilation made for the event on 15 January 2010, gives a glimpse of what an evening dinner was like. Who knows, you might spot yourself sitting there back in 1993. Also within this compilation are highlights from the 2007 demolition ceremony, the 2008 topping out ceremony, the time-lapse of the new building and an interview with Steve Howe about the waste materials associated with the building work.

During the first term for the new Eastside Halls (Autumn 2009) we made a video (link below) to show what it was like to live there. In the video you will get an idea of modern hall life, see some the new facilities and get a feeling of the bright and modern interior. Some of you will also recall the old Southside Shop, this has come back to life in a new form within Eastside and you will see a shot of it in this video.

As always my thanks go to Anne Barrett of the college archives for locating the black and white photos of the original building work of Linstead Hall. The colour photos were by Neville Miles. And a final request. Anyone wishing to add to our collection of photos, videos or films of past college life can do so by simply adding a comment to this blog page and I will find the right person to contact you. Indeed you may simply wish to add your memories of hall life and you can do so below.

Colin Grimshaw  January 2010

Research and Innovation: Bob Spence

Bob Spence

Few people have used the idea of videotape better that Professor Bob (Robert) Spence. Bob joined the staff of Imperial in the 1960’s and is now Professor Emeritus in EEED. His field of work has ranged from engineering design to human-computer interaction and along the way is credited with the invention of the first ‘focus+context’ technique, the Bifocal Display (aka Fisheye lens). You’ll be seeing the Bifocal Display idea in a while.

 

My first encounter with Bob was way back in 1975 when we recorded a live demonstration of the computer language APL (A Programming Language (link above). This is the oldest surviving teaching videotape we have and was made without the ability to edit and in glorious black and white. However, it does feature a novelty at the time of the recording, that of split screen. This was shot in our TV studio ‘number one’ located then in the Electrical Engineering building.

In June 1979 Bob’s interests were in the area of electronic circuit design. With colleagues, he had devised MINNIE allowing a circuit designer to describe a circuit by drawing it on a screen. Using a ‘light pen’ to interact with the screen, circuits could be created and modified.

The most interesting artifacts (as Bob calls them) were the “on screen pocket calculator” (1973) and the “count-down clock” indicating the process time.  The on-screen calculator is thought to be the first in the World and both these functions are now common place. Bob frequently reminds me of the fact that we were about to move into colour TV (1979) and how he halted the removal and replacement of the computer running MIINIE so we could shoot the video in colour. Here’s the end result from June 1979 (link above) and you can see the calculator at 5min 30secs into the video.

By 1980 the idea of ‘focus+content’ had been identified and a solution called the Bifocal Display created, well in mock-up form anyway. Bob wanted to create a video to show this and other concepts to a wider audience. Again, videotape was a solution to this. So, in the week we all finished for Christmas in 1980 we shot a video which is now credited as being the first ever ‘envisionment video’, “Office of the Professional”. For the time, this was a most complicated video to make. Although with converting  into colour we had gained the ability to edit, this was like no other video we had made before. Scenarios in an office, external elements and multiple video screens -all showing content- only added to the overall complication.

The office desk was made mostly of cardboard and felt. The buttons seen being pressed were not bright enough to be seen by our early colour camera, so higher wattage bulbs were inserted. This made the buttons so hot you could hardly touch them, let alone press them! The variable ‘zoom’ control on the monitor did nothing and was made of cardboard.  The display on the screen was actually running from a videorecorder  and Bob had to synchronise his hand movements to the pre-recorded tape. In one scene we needed two screens showing information and therefore need two playback machines, plus the machine recording the output from the camera, so three video recorders were all running at the same time. In one sequence you’ll see ‘pointing’ at the wall and the phrase ‘here’ being used. Bob tells me that this concept is not too far away. Bill Buxton in his 2007 book ‘Sketching user experiences’ is quoted as saying, in reference to the video, “….is the first example of envisionment videos that I am aware of….” and “….remarkable for its insights…and two years before the launch of the Apple Macintosh.” And finally he says of the video “…I have a lot of respect for those who made it.” Bill Buxton’s book is prefaced by Bill Gates. Once again, a small piece of history is recorded in our archive. Oh and the standing joke between Bob and myself is that one or the other of use will have to say the magic word “here” during a conversation. Most of this is very obvious in the 1980 “Office of the Professional” (link above).

Not wanting to make a video any less complicated or involved than previous ones, Bob came up with a gem of an idea in 1994. “Translations” was once again an envisionment video (link above). It shows a dinner party taking place in the year 2020AD and hosted by an eminent engineer, for other engineers who describe, for the benefit of a journalist, how they practice design. The message was concerned with human-to-human communication facilitated by computer. The video took many weeks to shoot as there were several locations used: Silwood Park where the main dinner party took place; 170 Queens Gate in the Rectors flat and the TV Studio. One fascinating thing to look out for are the use of PIG’s, Personal Information Gatherers. See if the concept reminds you of Bluetooth devices, common place today. Also, during the dinner party the idea of a worktable, able to sense what you were doing was suggested. Microsoft has just demonstrated one! One final thing before you watch the video. For those who know me, try and spot where I re-voiced the sound for one of the people in the video, oh and I’m not saying ‘here’ either. Bob Spence plays the butler in the video “Translations: Engineering Design 2020AD”

Recording a sequence in "Translations"
Recording a sequence in “Translations”

My thanks go to Bob Spence for the many opportunities to make some great envisionment videos over the years. It seemed that the insights Bob had into the way we interact with machines, was well suited to video as way to show those ideas off and to communicate them to many other people.

Colin Grimshaw January 2010

Research and Innovation: Eric Laithwaite

Eric Laithwaite
Eric Laithwaite

For this second blog we’re going to look at an inventor, innovator and communicator of science on TV and in the classroom. Eric Laithwaite (1921-1997) came to Imperial College in 1964 as Professor of Heavy Electrical Engineering.  His specialist work was on Linear Induction Motors. Prior to his arrival at Imperial, he had appeared on TV many times, so he was no novice to the whole process of making both TV programmes and, as was the case with ICI’s Millbank Films, science learning materials for schools. He made a whole series of films for ICI such as “Motors Big and Small”; “Shaping things to come” and “The Circle of Magnetism”.

He was also the first person to present  an entire Royal Institution Christmas Lecture series on TV, that was on BBC2 in 1966. Since that time every RI Christmas lecture has been televised. Once again though he made history by being the only person to present a Christmas lecture a second time and that happened in 1974. It was, however, not simply a repeat of the one in 1966!

Colin Grimshaw circled at the RI 1966
Colin Grimshaw (circled) in 1966

How do I know all this you may ask? Well, I’m biased because for a short period of time I worked with him and was present during the recordings of the 1966 Christmas lectures at the Royal Institution. If anyone still has his book from the series “The Engineer in Wonderland” you’ll see me in a photo on page 155.

By the time of the 1974 series “Engineer through the looking-glass” I had moved on to do video production. So I was surprised to receive a visit from Eric Laithwaite in the early summer of 1974. He wanted to chat about ideas for talking backwards. Programme number 3 was to be “Jam yesterday and jam tomorrow” and he wanted to see what we could come up with for the reversing of time and speech.

Christmas Lectures 1974/75
Colin Grimshaw with Eric Laithwaite RI Christmas Lectures 1974/75

I must have come up with a good idea because when he heard what I’d done with “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” (backwards of course) he said “Right I’d like you to present that during the lecture”.  My credit in his book of the series says “…Colin appeared ‘officially’ in the second lecture taking over part of the lecture in effect”.  Because of media interest in the advanced publicity for the 1974 series both myself and Eric Laithwaite were interviewed on BBC Radio about the speaking backwards idea. It was only recently that I had the opportunity to get hold of a DVD copy of the original videotape still held in the BBC archives. The quality is still amazingly good too.

Armed with all of this background knowledge, in 1980 I recorded an archival interview (link above) with him in his lab office in Electrical Engineering. Part of this interview was used in a special IEEE memorial lecture given by his colleague Barry Owen.

Eric Laithwaite’s work continued with linear motors of all types. The ‘Magnetic River” was a short video (link above) I shot for him in March 1984. It features his now familiar model of a levitated and propelled train by means of magnetic induction and was the very last video I made with him. A few years earlier this same linear motor had appeared in the James Bond film “The Spy who loved me”. It was another of “Q’s” gadgets that was demonstrated to Bond. I just happened to be going to Pinewood Studios and took the demo film to Eon Productions for them to decide whether  to use it or not in the production. They did use it and Eric Laithwaite’s technician Cliff Johnson was seen operating the Magnetic River in the actual Bond film. Buy the DVD of the film to see what I mean.

As well as its uses for tracked transport the ‘Mag River’ had other potential. In this 1980 example (link above) its use as a metal sorter, sorting out aluminium from other scrap materials, is being demonstrated. Materials were painted various colours to show what was being separated.

A video I shot with Eric Laithwaite in May 1983 (link above) was a demo for an American film company who were considering making the “Silver Surfer”. The idea was to levitate someone on a huge aluminium sheet. As you’ll see from this video, it was a rather daunting task and as far as I recall, never happened. All the humming is coming from the huge electromagnetic field coming from the coils.

His research in later years into Gyroscopes was, and still is, a topic of much discussion within the scientific community. Here, he demonstrates the principles of a gyro using a rather large and heavy wheel (link above). It’s spun up to speed with a normal household drill! We recorded this video in our TV Studio in May 1983  and needless to say, I stayed well back from both him and the wheel! It was always ‘fun’ working with Eric Laithwaite and I recall him sliding off a chair in the studio as he laughed so much when we tried speaking backwards into a taperecorder. He once said to me that when a job is no longer fun, it’s not worth continuing with it. The last time that I spoke with Eric Laithwaite was when he was telling me about the concept of a linear motor launcher for NASA rockets/vehicles, I never saw his again…

Colin Grimshaw December 2009