In December 2010 former student Sir Brian May revisited Imperial College London as part of a BBC documentary programme retracing the early life of members of the group Queen. The documentary was called ‘Queen – Days of Our Lives‘ and was aired on BBC2 in May 2011. Brian May was Knighted in the New Years Honours list for 2023.
There does not appear to be much in the college about his time as a student, but I did find an interesting early reference to his involvement with Queen in the Felix archive. See the top of page 6 for a review of their album “Queen II” and note the reference: “…it is very unlikely that they’ll ever need to have connections with their previous vocations again.”
In the same article it referred to Queen’s Imperial concert in the previous term and I have found the advert for that event. I think 30p was reasonable admission to see what would become a World famous group!!!
But, in 2007 he became Dr Brian May after completing his PhD which had been left on hold since leaving Imperial to join Queen full time. Very appropriately in May 2008 he walked across the stage of the Royal Albert Hall as part of the college’s Postgraduate Awards Ceremony. A bow to the audience earned him a huge cheer.
During a short break in the BBC schedule he spoke about his time as a student at Imperial College in the early 1970’s. He’s seen here in Beit Quad, outside the Student Union Building on Prince Consort Road, two years ago today on 9 December 2010. And it was cold there at the time, but great to have met him.
Colin Grimshaw December 2012 (revised December 2022)
The first programme we made in colour was a guide to the Life Science Library. That was 33 years ago in August 1979 and colour was so new that we didn’t even have a colour logo caption at the start, in fact it’s our original black and white logo. Interestingly, the video is a great snapshot of what libraries looked like and how they operated at that time. Card indexes were still the norm with microfiche readers being a new addition. There is also mention of having a literature ‘computer search’ carried out at a cost of around £5, a cost which was probably considered high at that time and would have been carried out by a librarian for you. One of the great advantages of us moving into colour was the fact that we were able to edit. Until then it was possible, but difficult and in black and white too. The video required a lot of different shots, like close-ups of index cards, so editing was an essential part of the production, in fact, without editing this programme could not have been made.
Because we were going to cause some disruption in the library, where possible, we shot in the evening, or at least after 5pm. As you can see from the photo on the left, we also needed light..lots of it too. Our early colour camera was happy with external situations, but inside it required rather a lot of light to get good images. The library, at that time, was rather lower in light levels compared to today and there was no way we could cope without adding some extra lighting. Our biggest problem was finding mains sockets anywhere near the rows of book shelves. You tend not to need mains sockets when looking for books! Like most of our videos, we sometimes needed (and still do need) ‘rent a crowd’, so see if you can spot me appearing twice in the video. Also note a major change to the feel of the South Ken campus from when this was shot in 1979. See how empty it is soon after 6pm when the external footage was shot.
The video style is a bit 1970’s, mainly because that’s when it was made. I can’t recall under what circumstances the video was due to be seen, but I think it was designed to be viewed in the room that had been designated for watching videos. This was one of the small rooms called a Carrel around the edge of the library in which a monitor and video recorder had been installed. You’ll hear reference to these Carrels in the video. Listen out too for the mention of photocopies, there were only two in the whole library at that time. Now there are machines on every floor!
The presenter of the video is Mark Caldwell, an former STOIC chairman from the mid 1970’s. Mark is now based in Germany, working for the world radio division of Deutsche Welle. From time to time you can hear him presenting items like this one on the Planck and Herschel space telescopes.
In the summer of 1984 I was asked by Peter Burridge the Telecoms Manager, to make a special video to alert all members of Imperial College to the fact that we were about to put into service a new electronic telephone exchange. Until this time we had two systems running side by side: an internal automatic exchange and an external (BT) manually operated switchboard.
The original internal exchange, installed sometime around 1959, was located in the basement of the Royal School of Mines, whilst the external switchboard was installed in the Sherfield Building around 1969. This was probably to coincide with the opening of the building that year. For those only familiar with how things operate these days, the old system now seems very ancient. It required two telephones on a desk, internal and external. You called via the internal exchange with very old dial phones (in some cases), whilst to make an external call you picked up the receiver of the other phone and waited for the operator to answer.
You then had to request an ‘outside line’ and from there you could dial your call. All incoming calls to Imperial were answered by the operator and then put through to the extension in question. There were no connections between the two systems! So if a location only had an internal phone there was no way to contact them from outside of the college. The internal exchange catered for some 2,500 extensions whilst the external catered for 1,500 extensions.
The new system was deemed so “new” that training sessions were put into place at various locations around college. These were designed for either staff or students and some even took place in the Great Hall. It may seem odd, but at that time most secretaries, for example, were using normal electric golf-ball typewriters and few people had contact with computers unless they were academic. So, having to press button combination’s to achieve things like two way calling or call transfer had some people a bit stumped, thus the training sessions were arranged. As this concerned all of college there was great publicity and this can be seen from this mid-summer edition of the student newspaper Felix from 17 August 1984 (pages 4 & 5).
The colour stills of both the 1950’s exchange and switchboard are taken from the videotape I shot. So far, I’ve not located any other images of, what was, a major part of the daily unseen operation of Imperial College. I suspect that these sequences in the video may have been the first time that some people had seen any of these background services operating. I was also one of the first to experience the new system.
A few weeks before operation began I was asked if I’d wait by my current internal phone at around 6pm one evening whilst it was manually switched from the old to the new system. I then received a call via the new exchange to test all functionality and quality of sound. The rest is now part of college history as we all take the new systems as part of normal daily college life. But is was just a little bit different when you picked up the external phone and knew the person on the switchboard and had a short conversation before saying…”can I have an outside line please?”.
On the 19th October 1988 the beginning of the mergers with the medical schools started. This was the merger between Imperial College of Science and Technology and St Mary’s Hospital Medical School, located just north of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park at Paddington. The end result of the mergers was the formation of the Faculty of Medicine.
To my knowledge this is only the second time that the college’s Great Hall has played host to a royal event. The first of these was the opening of the building (then called College Block and subsequently Sherfield Building) and the hall itself by HM the Queen in 1969. The hall was packed as you would imagine and that didn’t leave all that much room for the two cameras and tripods we had proposed for the live recording. We were also limited in terms of man-power so my colleague Chris Roberts operated the main camera whilst I located the second camera next to where I had the vision mixer and recorders. This meant that I could not only cut between the cameras, but also operate the second camera to change the shots slightly. What I could not cope with was the fact than when people stood up, they almost blocked the shots from the camera next to me.
The ceremony starts with the fanfare “St Mary’s”. There are then several musical interludes during which you’ll see a very young Richard Dickins and these 22 years later I must apologise to Richard because we got the spelling of his name wrong on our end credits. But, it’s a wonderful record of music from the college symphony orchestra playing Walton’s ‘Crown Imperial’. Also the late Eric Brown conducts the college choir with music from Carmina Burana. And finally in terms of music you’ll hear the electronic organ that’s located within the hall. Princess Anne, (The Princess Royal) as Chancellor of the University of London presented the Chairman of the Governing Body (Sir Henry Fisher) with a specially bound copy of the Imperial College Act and its revised Charter. The Imperial College Rector at the time was Professor (later Sir) Eric Ash.
As always, I’ve had to tweak the image on the video to make it look at bit better. Technology has advanced a lot since this was recorded and the lighting levels required to get good images is a lot lower these days. The Great Hall have never been fantastic for shooting video unless extra light is thrown at the stage area and that then leaves the audience rather dark, whilst the wood panels around the hall make a very warm image when light bounces off it. The whole video is around 45 minutes in duration.
So now we come to the second Seen and Gone and this is when we get to see something interesting (and yes I do mean see). In December 1971 STOIC showed their Christmas edition of the then regular news programme Topic. I’ll try to recall the background to this programme if my memory serves me well!
Although by this time we had two videotape recorders in the studio, the programme was shown live to the JCR (Junior Common room), whilst the recorders were used to replay some inserts into the programme (maybe one did also record I can’t remember). At this time it was still not possible to easily record items outside of the studio so some cunning ideas came into use. To enable STOIC to capture external events an 8mm cine camera was used. The footage was then edited together and a simple background audio track of, for example, street noise, was created to play in the background. These inserts were then run into the live programme whilst one of the presenters did a voiceover. In later years a magnetic sound stripe was added to the film to allow sound to be pre-recorded in synch. Things didn’t always go to plan however, the splices in the film sometimes broke during projection or whilst being made ready to be shown. On one occasion a splice broke on the film that was going onto the take-up reel, the easiest thing to do at the time was to ignore it and therefore the film simply spooled directly onto the control room floor in a large pile. This edition of Topic was a good example of where things could and did go wrong. You’ll hear two situations where something happened and the presenter is called on the phone from the control and asked to ‘pad’ until it’s resolved. I thought it was fun if I left those in what you’ll be hearing.
Now, I have called this Seen and Gone, but that’s not strictly true in this case. When I found the audio recording I remembered several spools of 8mm film. These are the original films used to insert into the programmes until portable video became available. They have sat there for 40 years waiting to be seen again. However the videos which they appeared in have long gone. But, in this case I had the soundtrack! So, what you are about to see is the recreation of a lost programme from 40 years ago. I remembered too that I had some photos of STOIC setting up and using the studio at Christmas…..bingo, it was THE same programme I had on audio. So, I’ve been able to use them and the 8mm films to insert at the appropriate places. There does appear to be one film missing and you’ll only hear the commentary and background sound effects. I discovered photos of Lord Penney being interviewed and those too are from the same programme.
So, you’ll be hearing and/or seeing: Guilds Motor club A-Z rally; NUS day of action; Silly Football in Hyde Park; Morphy Day rowing, the London to Brighton vintage car rally and the Lord Mayor’s Show. An interview with Lord Penney (then Rector) was prerecorded and I used the three photos taken at the time of that. Former Union President Piers Corbyn is included and I found a photo taken of that as well. And there’s an added bonus too. Many of the 8mm films were shot with normal Kodak 8mm film stock, so for the first time ever these will be seen in colour. Other items were shot using black and white film. So here is my recreated Christmas Topic from December 1971 with mistakes and technical breakdowns left in.
Brian Flowers (1924-2010) became Rector in succession to Lord Penney in 1973. Then Sir Brian, he quickly became popular and approachable with staff and students alike. The now famous ‘beer and bangers’ parties held by him and Lady Mary Flowers (1921-2016) were hosted in their flat at the Norman Shaw designed building at 170 Queens Gate. This gave many people the opportunity to meet both of them and in particular to gain access to one of the most wonderful buildings owned by Imperial College. Five years after he became Rector, I shot a video with the student TV service STOIC, this was the first time a video had been shot in 170 and in particular up in the Rector’s flat (a photo taken during this event is at the bottom of this entry with me in silhouette on the extreme left hand side). Please click on MORE to continue reading this post.(more…)
It’s funny how things happen by chance. This months entry is a bit like that. I thought it was about time I made use of some of the footage that we have of the college’s Tywarnhale mine in Cornwall, when I looked at the label on the tapes I noticed that it was 30 years ago this month, April 1980 that I went down to Cormwall. The mine and surrounding land (purchased in 1909/11 with extra land purchased in 1912) was sold by Imperial in about 2005. Here’s a BBC Cornwall web page about the sale dated 15th October 2005. As we couldn’t find any real photos of it in the college’s archives, the picture of the RSM sign is from one of the videotapes I shot. Here’s a brief history of the mine from the “Cornwall Calling” website. Please click on MORE to continue…(more…)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
For the first and second programmes the technology limited the students to 1/ recording only within the confines of the studio and 2/ recording in one go, that is, without any form of editing. Because of this, showing things outside of the studio was clearly not possible, but there was a simple solution by using 8mm home movie film. STOIC shot short items on film and edited them into a suitable order for use in the programme. The films were silent and frequently in black and white, although some do exist in colour (the videod programmes were black and white). Although a small collection of those 8mm films are still around, the news programmes that they were shot for have long since been erased. This was due to the fact that videotapes cost around £30 at that time. So, all these years later we are still able to see short film clips of events and that’s what we’re going to do now.
This is a film clip from the early 1970’s and may well be featured in one of the first two programmes still on tape. But here it is in its original 8mm film version as used in the programme. It’s a student union meeting being run by the union president Piers Corbyn and we’re lucky that Lord Penney, the Rector, was clearly addressing and answering questions from students. This 8mm cine film is interesting because, besides the videotape interview, this is the only other moving film record of Lord Penney at Imperial College. Remember this is silent and in black and white.
STOIC were well underway by the time of this next video from June 1971. It focuses on the fact that they were heavily involved with the camera operation for the student’s 20 minute talks in Electrical Engineering. A mock-up talk is given by a STOIC member, who was also in the department as a student. The video was made to get members to join in the October of that same year. It should be remembered that at this time almost no one would have had access to video cameras, let alone a videotape machine, so being in STOIC gave people that access. Some of the technology behind the scenes is shown to enthuse students to join. It’s all very basic and looks a bit faked, you’ll see some flashes between sections where the videotape machine was stopped and then restarted to allow sections to be recorded (no editing as such at that time). Tim Dye, the chairman, appears at the end of the video to encourage people to join. This was made nearly 40 years ago so quality is poor, but it’s amazing that it has survived to this day!
This next photo is interesting as it features the former Student’s Union President (1975-1977) Trevor Phillips being interviewed by Desmond King. This would have been for one of the weekly news programmes. Trevor went on to work (briefly) in TV himself with LWT, so perhaps these early outings were his first step towards that. Trevor will also feature in other videos in future posts on STOIC. He is (as of Feb 2010) chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. At this time, all main events were still studio bound, but things would soon change. 8mm cine film would soon be a thing of the past for their news programme coverage. Skipping forward some 8 years STOIC had bought their own portable videocamera recording system. This allowed them to go outside and record the type of events that students get involved with.
Morphy Day was one such event to be covered annually. Originally, on the day each year, just a cup was presented for rowing, but in later years on Morphy Day the towpath at Putney was also the scene for battles between supporters of the various teams. All sorts of waste food matter, flour and dead fish were hurled at each other. This was just too good an opportunity to miss and so we can now see Morphy Day from 1979, but we can’t smell it thank goodness. This event no longer happens and is therefore yet another unique record of college life and its traditions from years past.
Finally, to end this first look at STOIC we have a video made to celebrate the first ten years of its operation. Because students will come and go in a natural cycle of time I was the only person who knew the history and the people involved since 1969. Although the formation became official in 1969, the first 10 years were actually celebrated in February 1980, this was to coincide with the first programme being made in February 1970. In conjunction with the current membership we made a video that celebrated all that had happened since the beginning.
Indeed a lot has happened during the time, going from black and white into colour was an obvious improvement and being able to edit was a major leap forward. A party was organised and every STOIC chairman to date attended (above photo). Jumping forward some 30 years perhaps an updated version is now long overdue? I hope those who remember watching STOIC’s programmes, or those who were members, enjoyed this first look back into their archives. So it’s another Happy Birthday to STOIC, 40 years old this very month!