Category: College History

Post Graduate Ceremony 2009 – Presentation of the Mace

As we celebrate yet another Post Graduate Ceremony (May 2013) I thought we would look back only a few years ago to 2009. This was the year that the Imperial College gained its own Mace and it was officially presented to the college during the ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall in May of that year. The mace is the generous gift the Goldsmiths’ Company, who have had a long association with the College. It was given to mark the designation of the College as a university in its own right and the award of a new charter by the Queen. The Goldsmiths’ Company commissioned Padgham and Putland of Kent to design and construct the mace. The mace weighs 7.1kg and is of silver and gilt. Its intricate workings incorporate the College crest and motto. The video is part of that May 2009 ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

Lord Kerr was still Chairman of the Governing Body at that time and he accepted the gift on behalf of Imperial College London.

Colin Grimshaw May 2013

Margaret Thatcher at Imperial College: 1985

In a previous entry you would have seen the video I made to celebrate the City and Guilds College Centenary in February 1985. As part of the week of events an exhibition was run entitled “Technology 2000”. It was opened by Margaret Thatcher -who was then Prime Minister- on 27 February 1985.

Professor Bruce Sayers was then Dean of City and Guilds and made the introduction. This version of the speech is the full version. The one already seen in the C&G centenary video is edited down to fit into a specific duration. Here then is the full, unedited version, from the original 1985 master tape.

Here is the link to the City and Guilds Celebration video on YouTube. Included in that video is the tour Mrs Thatcher took of the exhibition Technology 2000 and shows some of the people she met.

Colin Grimshaw April 2013

Sir Brian May – December 2010

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)

IC for Sale: 1969

IC for sale 45rpm discOnly recently I remembered that I had a copy of an old 45rpm disc. It was called IC for sale Vol 2. It was given to me by Richard Woodhead (one of our students, who died in 2021) around about 1972 so that’s over 40 years ago now. What I had forgotten was that it contained some unique sounds of Imperial College. It has great recordings of the three college unions C&G, RSM and RCS chants plus the Imperial chant Hey Vivo which I can’t recall the last time I heard it. The 45rpm disc -or any tape recording of it- do not exist in the main Imperial College Archive, so I’ll be putting a CD of it in there soon. I have found a review and reference to the original first pressing of the disc in the searchable newspaper PDF archive of FELIX May 1965. See page two at the top called ‘Gateway to Industry’.

Also, if you know Imperial from far enough back you will remember the City and Guilds building clock and bells (photo on the left). Or if not, you will know that the clock mechanism relocated to the Mechanical Engineering Building foyer (photo at bottom) some time after the original buildings were starting to be pulled down in the late 1950’s.

The bells were moved (photo on the right) way up on top of the building overlooking, what was, the green Dalby Court area. This is now where the Faculty Building is located. The bells would ring the quarters, half and so on and could be heard throughout most of the college area. I gather that regular mechanical & electrical  problems caused the demise of the chimes! But, these can once again be heard on the disc.

Sinclair GoodladAt the end of the disc on side two is Sinclair Goodlad well known at Imperial College for his ‘Speaking Technically’ courses. I think it’s best for me to quote directly from the disc itself to explain what you will hear. “Finally, a depthly epitaph to I.C. by Sinclair Goodlad of the Wireless Dept, aided by two W.C. echo chambers and the Mech Eng bell-ringers. Recorded ‘in situ’ at a late hour in Mooney’s, one can even hear the celebrated ‘Mooney Meatball’ beating time…” But the important thing are the bells, not heard for such a long time, they are at least captured here in all their glory! I hope you enjoy these flashbacks to Imperial past and what an archive joy it is that this record was made in the first place.

The clock mechanism in the Mech Eng Foyer

 

I hope you enjoyed listening to this recording, which I appreciate was a slight diversion from ‘video’, but worth making available here. It’s interesting the number of references there are to Victor Mooney, the then college catering manager who was featured in a previous post. If you have anything like this record in your collection at home, especially if it captures the sounds of Imperial past, then please do get in touch. If you appeared on the disc we’d also love to hear from you.

Colin Grimshaw December 2012

Promotion: 3 – Chemistry 1981-1985

In “Promotion: 1” (March 2010), I mentioned the Civil Engineering and Chemistry Departments. In June 1981 I was asked to take on the task of making a promotional video for the Chemistry Department.

The Chemistry Building in March 2002

This was intended to promote all aspects of what the department did and to assist in the recruitment of new students. I also recall it being shown at Open Days which seemed obvious . Two members of the staff were appointed as ‘producers’ so most of the content and the wording of the voiceovers was decided for me. Looking back at the video over 30 years later it has too much in it. The history section seems unnecessary and there’s too much detail in the various elements featured. It runs for nearly 20 mins which is about two thirds too long in todays modern YouTube video world. Leave them wanting more is the theory, not wanting to leave the room as soon as the video has eventually finished! This was one of two videos made for the department, the second being made four years later in July 1985. It’s worth noting that both of these videos were made using our original colour camera. It needed massive amounts of light (as mentioned in the Library video) and suffered ‘smearing’ on highlights, the colour itself was none too brilliant either!

The second video was also far too long but did, thank goodness, have Professor Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson in it. He appeared because he was then head of department. Being a Nobel Prize winner it was considered important and prestigious to feature him. I said thank goodness because it has given us the only interview recorded with him whilst at Imperial, an archive gem. Like the first video in 1981 I had little control over the content. It seemed that almost everything including the kitchen sink appeared in the video. I truly ‘cringe’ when I watch it, especially the Kensington Gardens sequence! One of the few times I managed to get my way was on the intro sequence. I used so called ‘production music’ rather than music created by a family member as in the first video. The video does use, for the first time, electronic effects. The multi-picture sequence later on and during the opening where the image slides down were all very new at the time. Now, these are common place and all achievable on a computerised edit suite, but we had a dedicated box to do it that cost thousands of pounds.

The original Dalby Court in 1985

On an historical note, the first person you see talking is located in a lovely garden area…that’s where the ‘blue box’ Faculty Building is now standing! You’ll also see Princes Gardens, as it then was, in the summer of 1985. Between 1981 and 1993 I made around 10 teaching videos that were used on various ‘lab days’ to show the students how do undertake the experiments they had to do. It was considered more effective to show one correct version of an experiment, rather than several slightly different versions by several different people based around the labs. I’ll try and get some of these on line soon. Maybe you had to do one of these experiments whilst at Imperial?

Also, if you are featured in any of these videos do let us know. The two still photos were by my former colleague Neville Miles, who like me, helped to capture some of the history of Imperial College in the many photographs he took over the years.

Colin Grimshaw November 2012

Life Science Library 1979

Queens Tower steps “opening sequence”

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 also in black and white. 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 decent editing facilities this programme could not have been made.

Lots of lighting was needed for the camera

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.

Mark Caldwell when at DW in Germany

The presenter of the video was Mark Caldwell, a former STOIC chairman from the mid 1970’s. Mark is now living in Germany where he used to work for the world radio division of Deutsche Welle. From time to time I can could hear him presenting items live over the air and I thought how far we had come since his time with STOIC  at Imperial, only a few years before.

I’ve also noticed that, as this was the first video we made in colour, we still used the original TV Studio caption. This was the caption used up until this point, I hadn’t come up with a colour version at this time!

 

Colin Grimshaw October 2012

New College Phone System: 1984

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.

1950's Automatic Telephone Exchange
1950’s Automatic Telephone Exchange

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.

Sherfield Building Manual Switchboard
Sherfield Building Manual Switchboard

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.

statesman handset
The ‘new’ Statesman telephone 1984

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?”.

Colin Grimshaw November 2010

Events: St Mary’s Merger Ceremony 1988

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.

St Mary's campus
St Mary’s main entrance arch

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.

Colin Grimshaw September 2010

Creating this blog is a sticky business!

Since the start of this archive blog people have asked me various things about the videotape collection. Questions range from: when did the collection start; how many tapes are there; and what formats of tape do you have. So, I thought that just for once I’d write an entry without an actual video in it. Some questions I’ve been asked are answered in the “about this video archive blog’, but I’ll go through them again anyway.

Some of the 700+ tapes
Some of the 700+ tapes in the video archive

The earliest videotape (one inch ‘A’ format) dates from about June 1970 and is on our original videotape format made by the American company Ampex. This company invented the world’s first commercial videotape format back in the mid 1950’s (2 inch Quadruplex). So, our oldest tape was made only 15 years after the invention of videorecording itself. Sadly, playing these tapes back is slowly becoming a problem. Equipment is no longer accessible on campus to run some of the formats we have, but it is possible to use commercial facilities (at a cost). Recently, the earliest collection from the student TV service (STOIC) came under our access.

The Ampex one inch open spool 'A' format tape
Ampex ‘A’ format tapes have gone sticky

I’d forgotten just how many of the original one inch videotapes they still had. There are gems yet to be seen, dating from the early 1970’s through to about 1980, in fact their collection now has more one inch tapes than we do (many of ours are long gone). Anything of importance was transferred to another (the latest at the time) videotape format, but some items (mainly STOIC’s) remain, frozen in time, awaiting that day of playback once more when finances allows us to transfer them into a new digital format.

Playing these early tapes back has recently become a problem anyway. There is an effect called Sticky Shed Syndrome which means that the binder, which sticks the oxide onto the plastic tape, is breaking down. What appears to be happening is that the binder is taking in moisture and going sticky. It’s SO sticky in fact that when tapes are run, the oxide and binder come off the plastic tape and stick to all parts of the videorecorder that the tapes run past. After only a few moments of playback there will be a very loud screeching noise followed by the video head clogging and the machine grinding to a halt. If you put your finger onto the guides inside the machine it will be sticky and covered in tape oxide and a sticky goo.

Oxide is badly shedding from magnetic tapes
Oxide is shedding from magnetic tapes

In the recent blog entry called “seen and gone” I found some old audio recordings of the soundtracks of erased videotapes. These audio tapes also suffered the same problem of shedding oxide. When I started to play them the oxide came off the plastic, as you can seen in the photo. My fingers can be seen through the plastic tape. The one good thing was that whilst running the tapes through the recorder I was also copying it onto computer to then go onto disc.

The U-matic videotape format
The U-matic videotape format suffers too

These playback problems have happened because some tape manufacturers got various chemical mixing formulas wrong. It was only in the mid 90’s or so that the problem was fully appreciated. There is only one way around the problems of playback. The tapes, audio and video, have to be baked. That is, the tapes have to be heat treated at something like ±50 oC for a few hours or more. This draws the moisture out, allowing immediate playback to get the material onto another modern format. The temperature used is critical, too high and the ‘Curie point’ can be reached and the tapes automatically erased, or at least the magnetic properties will be lost and thus the recording data will be gone for ever. So there are problems and dangers anyway with this method of recovery!

The various tape formats we have to work with
The various tape formats we have to work with sitting on the edit suite desk

We are therefore faced with a slight problem of playback, even with tapes still in use today like the U-matic system. Most of the tapes seen on the shelves in the top photo are of this format and many are causing playback problems. I’ll be experimenting with heat treatment soon to sample a few tapes for transfer. In most cases I’ll put these onto DVD, assuming they’ll play back okay after treatment. Today, we have many tapes formats as can be seen in this last photo. We’ve gone through: One inch open spool both low and high band; U-matic low and high band; Betacam and now DVCam. Also we’ve encountered half inch open spool, Philips cassette, VHS and so on. With some 700 tapes now being held in the collection, the question is how long will we be able to play back any of the many formats of videotapes that we have?

Colin Grimshaw September 2010

Seen and Gone: Two

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.

Lord Penney interview in 1971

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.

Colin Grimshaw 2010