In the first part of this look at Live-Net I showed the lead-up to the opening of the system with a visit by Princess Anne to the Science for Industry exhibition the previous year. But now, we’ll see what followed on from that. Once the demonstrations were over and the Science for Industry Exhibition closed, it was time to start using the system for real. Many tests and trials took place and slowly teaching started to make use of the system. You’ll see some of that teaching in the video at the end of this particular blog entry. Even though Princess Anne had already seen Live-Net in action it was always planned that she would officially declare it open at some point. This took place from Senate House in central London and linked out to all those sites currently connected. The photo shows the Royal Party along with Richard Beckwith looking at the monitors that showed the Live-Net sites (Imperial is in the centre). On the 28 May 1987 the system was buzzing with images going backwards and forwards to Senate House. BT were standing by as part of the demonstration and to ensure 100% connectivity! The person given the overall responsibility for the connection and use of Live-Net at Imperial College was Professor Ernie Freeman (1937-2022) then in Electrical Engineering.
Ernie handed over all of the technical tasks to me and that involved the planning of any ‘studio’, purchase of equipment and so on. Initially we simply used the TV Studio as this had cameras, sound and monitors. Later we produced a separate studio solely for Live-Net. As I had been involved from the very start, I was asked to participate in the opening ceremony and can be seen on the right hand side (all dressed up for the occasion) with a camera control box hidden behind some flowers! The background board was a left-over from the Science for Industry exhibition the previous year. There was one final royal visit to see Live-Net, but this time it was not Princess Anne.
The IEEE were meeting at Imperial College along with their President the Duke of Kent. Ernie Freeman was asked to show off Live-Net as it was an interesting and new use of fibre optics for university teaching. Once more we used the TV Studio for the event and Ernie Freeman is seen with the Duke of Kent in this off screen photo of the actual transmission. Of course there was interest not only in how it would be used for teaching and the styles being adopted for this in teaching habits, but also in the technology. This was left to me to explain (the best I could) and to show the BT equipment being used.
There was also great interest in the central switching system and computer control. This was achieved with a terminal connected directly to the BT equipment rack and then via the fibre optic cable to Senate House. That’s me talking to the Duke and explaining our equipment rack and how the images were switched around the network.
In 1990 I made a promotional video for Live-Net. We shot at most of the connections to show how staff and students used the system. We also interviewed people to see what they thought of the technology and its usefulness. In the same year, BT attempted a sales campaign for the system, quoting its ‘ease of use and flexibility’. I’ve scanned in the only remaining brochure that featured the system and if you click on the picture it will go full screen to enable it to be read. The suggested ‘control’ box was a faked prototype and never existed for real. The room full of participants was in Senate House (shown in the picture top left of the page). Live-Net eventually fell foul of the technology which was moving forward very rapidly. The system was analogue and BT was already changing into digital for most applications. The cost to convert Live-Net was considered too high for most of the participants of the system and Imperial College was one of the first to drop out. A slow decline followed and the Internet simply took its place.
Colin Grimshaw 2013