This is an additional and brief entry to mark the recording of a video I made 30 years ago this very week. The video was “The Office of the Professional” made with, and for, Professor Bob Spence from Electrical Engineering. You’ll find this video and others in the section about Bob’s work, but I thought it worth repeating. I saw Bob recently and we both recalled the making of the video and how complicated it was. For example, the various TV screens seen running were in fact fed from different video players, so making these all run in sync was not easy. In fact, along with the recorder that was actually recording the video from the camera, we had 3 machines all needing to be run at the same time. This was early days for us and our colour camera (yes camera, as we had only one) which needed a lot of light to give good pictures.
The video was shot during this week in December 1980 and edited, after the Christmas holiday, in January 1981. Bill Buxton in his 2007 book Sketching User Experiences is quoted as saying, in reference to the video that this “is the first example of an envisionment video that I am aware of” and that it was “remarkable for its insights”. As I have already detailed in the previous full entry about Bob, the office desk that was constructed was faced in cardboard and green felt. One oversight was perhaps the telephones, we never attempted to change these to anything futuristic, so they look a bit odd now. The video also captures parts of the college long since changed and Alumni may remember: the main entrance, the steps and the original walkway going towards Electrical Engineering. These shots were taken on a dark and wet December afternoon back in 1980.
This is the first year of the Video Archive Blog (it started in December 2009), so, as we’re nearly in 2011 I thought we’d reach back 30 years to see what was going on at that time. In 1980 non-broadcast video was still considered a new and exciting thing and we’d just moved into colour operation too. Maybe it was the whole idea of creating your own colour TV programme (which you could do if you had the right equipment) that encouraged people? So, in 1981 I was asked by the Department of Mathematics to think of ways to promote the department. It was decided an approach should be taken to discuss Mathematics in general rather than the department alone.
Lynda White, then Admissions Tutor in Maths, lead the decisions over who should appear and what they might say. She also appears at the start of the video standing outside the maths department on Queens Gate – as can be seen in this promotional photo taken at the time. Also, you’ll hear her asking some of the questions to her academic colleagues during the video. I was interested to see that we referred to everyone, except Lynda White, as just Dr or Professor and never used their first names on the captions. These days it now seems strangely formal. The only time that students are actually seen is during the opening sequence and I also spot some shots taken from the 1979 promotional video for the Lyon Playfair Library (that will be a separate blog entry where you can see the whole video). Worth noting too is that in those early days the video camera was separate from the recorder, which can be seen on the pavement. Camcorders came much later on.
Here then is the video we made. Looking more than a little dated now after 30 years and I think I’d be asleep by now if I had to sit and watch it all the way through! I can’t believe we actually had a list of courses and options being read out as part of the video. We seemed to spend a lot of time not really talking about Imperial. We did have discussions again along similar lines of promo videos but decided that a different approach should be adopted. We did this by creating a series of some 20 videos in conjunction with the maths department and the London Mathematical Society (more on these coming soon, along with all the videos we made -some 18 of them-going online).
As we celebrate yet another Commemoration Day at the Royal Albert Hall I thought the time was right to bring you the few recordings we have from earlier years. At the end, I’ll mention technical challenges involved with the transfer of the first two recordings onto modern formats.
Although you’ll find this first recording elsewhere I’ll include it again for completeness.
The October Commemoration Day graduation ceremonies recall the visit made to the College by King George 6th and Queen Elizabeth in 1945, on the centenary of the foundation of the Royal College of Chemistry, Imperial College’s oldest forerunner. King George said: “You students here assembled – men and women who soon will be going out from the Imperial College to your work in the world – have not only an opportunity but also a responsibility greater than men of science have known before. To you, I say: Regard your knowledge and your skill always in the light of a trust for the benefit of humanity, and thereby ensure, so far as in you lies, that science may never be put to uses which offend the higher conscience of mankind.”
For those unfamiliar with King George 6th, he battled throughout his life with a nervous stammer and his attempts to overcome this during the speech are obvious with long pauses between sentences.
From 1945 we jump to 1952 and a recording that, so far, I have no idea exactly why it was made. It features Karl Compton who was a prominent American physicist and president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 1930 to 1948. In 1948 he resigned his post as President of MIT and was elected president of the MIT Corporation. He held that position until his death on June 22, 1954, some two years after this sound recording was made. Compton was awarded a fellowship in 1949 but was unable to attend, but in 1952 he was special visitor and collected it then. Interesting references are made to key players in college life at that time: Chairman, Viscount Falmouth; Rector, Sir Roderic Hill along with Sir Henry Tizard, Sir Richard Southwell and Sir George Thomson. There is only part of the introduction by Viscount Falmouth to Karl Compton on the original tape, so it will sound a bit truncated. At the end, Compton reads greetings to the Imperial community from the President and also the Chairman of MIT and the American national anthem is played. Could this be why it was recorded?
Finally, we have something visual in the form of a 16mm colour film shot in 1973. Robert W Sarnoff was President of RCA (Radio Corporation of America). He was the eldest son of broadcasting mogul Brig. Gen. David Sarnoff, he followed in his father’s professional footsteps throughout his career at NBC and RCA. The citation for Sarnoff indicates that he was the benefactor of the Imperial College Haldane Music Library. A year later in 1974 Sarnoff married Metropolitan Opera diva Anna Moffo, so maybe opera was his interest as well as being the music library benefactor? As I understand it, Sarnoff himself paid for large parts of the 1973 Commemoration Day ceremony to be filmed in colour and with sound. Lord Flowers was Rector at the time and is seen in this current extract. This is the earliest moving picture record the college has of one of its ceremonies and it’s thanks to Robert Sarnoff that this happened. One of the greatest achievements by RCA and Sarnoff in particular was the development and introduction of colour TV in the USA. He was the first person to be officially televised in colour at the dedication ceremony of NBC’s new Washington, D.C. facilities on May 22, 1958. For those interested, you can see an amazing videotape that has been rediscovered of this 1958 event. The program represents the earliest known colour recording discovered to date.
The first two sound recordings could have been lost for ever had we not transferred them onto modern formats. The 1945 recording of King George 6th is held on 78rpm shellac discs which are very delicate and will break if dropped. I had these transferred by the National Sound Archive a few years ago. Although, in theory it’s easy to copy these discs, using the correct pick-up weight and stylus is essential. Using a modern LP stylus will simply “bottom’ into the disc’s groove and produce more scratch and crackle then actual sound and can damage it too.
The second recording IS interesting. I discovered that the recording tape used paper as the backing, rather than a form of plastic and its manufacture probably dates from the 1940’s. The oxide was also very basic and looked more like gunpowder than anything you could record sound on! Transferring the tape was also a challenge as I had to run the tape very slowly because it was sticking to itself like a reel of sticky parcel tape. A lot of background noise will he heard and I’m still amazed I managed to get anything off of it anyway.
I hope you have enjoyed listening to our recordings of Commemoration Days from the past….unless YOU have something we don’t know about?
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 prerecorded 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.
The one big disadvantage with videotape is that it can be erased. All too often a recording is considered of no further use and the tape is either thrown away or erased and re-used. But back in the early 1960’s and 1970’s it was cost that was the concerning factor. I recall that the first open reels of Ampex one-inch tape that we used cost around £30 each at that time, something more like £300 in today’s money. So, there was a desire to save money and therefore reuse old tapes again. Recently, I remembered that I had some audio tapes that I’d made from the sound tracks of various programmes and that these programmes had long since been erased. So, I collected them all together and took out one of my faithful old reel-to-reel tape recorders sitting at home. What did I have and was there anything of interest? Well yes, very much so, it turns out. I had a few sound tracks of videos made with the student TV service STOIC for example. Always a good source of college history I listened to what the content was and to whether there might be a gem or two. On a live Christmas 1971 edition of their first news magazine programme TOPIC, I found interviews with Lord Penney (then Rector) about the recent 1971 NUS “Day of action”. This now takes the number of recordings we have of him from 4 to 5 and will be placed into the college archives. We’ll be seeing that programme, in ‘recreated’ form, in the next Seen and Gone number 2.
I also found a soundtrack to a series of programmes I made with Sinclair Goodlad. One of these programmes, which is a May 1972 interview with the very first student counsellor, still exists on the original one-inch videotape, although it has never been transferred to any modern format so at present we’re unable see it. The photo of Sinclair is from 1967 and was taken during one of his “20 minute talk” sessions he ran on Wednesday afternoons in Electrical Engineering. Behind him can be seen our very first videotape recorder, an enormous machine made by Philips and full of very hot valves.
A nice piece of timing in my discoveries was an interview with Lord and Lady Flowers. This was recorded after one of their famous Beer and Bangers parties held in their flat at 170 Queen’s Gate. On the 20th October 1976 James Sinclair from STOIC went along with the portable videorecorder kit to ask a few questions about why the event takes place. It’s a pity that no photos were taken at the time.
Felix is the student union newspaper with its first edition dating from December 1949. The editor at the time of this next interview was Clive Dewey. There is mention of a colour edition and I think he was the first editor to achieve this. I recall Clive doing some things with STOIC as did another former Felix editor Mike Williams. Again James Sinclair is the interviewer in this 7th October 1976 recording.
Next time you’ll get to hear, (or is that see?) the 1971 Christmas edition of Topic, with some special surprises after 40 years of being lost….
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…)
One area where the archives are sadly lacking in both audio and videos recordings is on the subject of Imperial’s Nobel Laureates. And, as always, my appeal is to anyone who may have something to boost our collection, in either audio/video/film and so one. This current entry will focus on those Nobel Prize winners for whom we have recordings.
In 1948 Dennis Gabor (1900-1979) joined Imperial College as Reader in Electron Physics, he was appointed FRS in 1956 and Professor of Applied Electron Physics in 1958, retiring from the Chair to become Professor Emeritus and Research Fellow in 1967. His experiments on holography began in the 1940’s and on the flat television tube in the 1950’s. The model for his flat TV tube is held by the college archives. I met him only once when he was in our TV Studio to watch a film. On leaving, he spoke to me about the Sony colour TV we had. He said “Ah you have a Sony colour television” to which my reply was along the lines that the Japanese were very clever with their technology. He put his hand on my shoulder and told me that the principle of its workings (the TV’s single electron gun cathode ray tube) was something that he had proposed and suggested, but for which funding could not be found at that time and that the idea went to Japan and was used in those Sony televisions.
For the Invention of Holography, Gabor was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1971. A few months later on 22 February 1972 Gabor repeated his Nobel lecture, but this time for a special audience at Imperial. For us we are fortunate that a sound recording was made of the event. It’s not amazing quality, but I’ve done what I can with the sound to help improve it and also slowed down the tape that was clearly running too fast when I played it back. It’s introduced by the Rector at the time Lord Penney and there’s a vote of thanks by a departmental colleague, Professor Colin Cherry. That itself is interesting as the only sound recording we currently have of Cherry speaking at Imperial ++. Even more interesting are the references by both Penney and Gabor to power cuts. This was because of the 1972 Miner’s Strike and the so called “three day week”. Imperial, like all other places was subject to limited mains power during the day and at specified times the entire campus would be plunged into darkness….even Nobel Prize winners!
In 1981 I made a promotional video for the department of chemistry. A section within the video included one of the current students talking to Professor Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson (1921-1996) in the office. At the time, Wilkinson was head of department. It’s a pity that this is such a general video and that we never recorded anything more in-depth with him. I’ve been able to go back to the original ‘rushes’ (that is the original videotape shot at the time) of this interview to improve quality slightly, but it was made 30 years ago on our original low-band U-matic colour recording system (a single-striped faced, vidicon tube camera).
The only other recording of him was made in February 1992. this was for a video called “Snapshots”. The video brought together some of the current research being carried out at Imperial and showcased it for, primarily, an external audience. This sequence however is very short indeed and is the only record we have of Geoffrey Wilkinson in his research lad. And, for what ever reason, I don’t seem to have the original rushes any more so can’t see if there was anything else recorded at the time.
Finally we take a look at Professor Lord George Porter (1920-2002). He became chairman of the Centre for Photomolecular Sciences (and Professor of Photochemistry) at Imperial in 1987. He received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1967. He was a former Director of the Royal Institution (1966-1985) and this was when I first met him. That was during the 1966 televising of the Christmas Lectures with Eric Laithwaite (see Laithwaite blog entry). This first recording is fun because we recorded it in his lab in the basement of the Beit Building. It’s full of lasers, for which I’m sure he should have been wearing safety glasses.
Lastly, a unique recording of Lord Porter. This was not actually a planned videotaped lecture as such. In August 1995 he was asked to give the 10th Lee Kuan Yew lecture in Singapore. As he was unable to attend in person it was suggested he gave the talk via a videoconference link. We re-arranaged our TV studio to allow it to link into our videoconference system. You may spot him looking down at a monitor which was showing him the audience in Singapore and at one point talking to Martin Sayers behind the camera to confirm timings. He was very easy to work with and like Eric Laithewaite skilled in presenting on TV and film.
Prior to the day, he telephoned me several times to discuss details. He had a habit (so I was told) of sitting in his garden in summer months and making calls on a cordless phone. However, he was always at the limit of range of the base unit and was barely audible, so the call was full of hiss and crackle. It was only by chance that I happened to put a videotape into a recorder to make a record of the event and I’m glad I did. So here is the lecture, given live to Singapore, on a very hot London day on 2 August 1995. And because it was so hot, we left the usually noisy air-con unit switched on and you may hear that in the background.
It’s not until you start to look at individual tapes in our archive that you realise how many different videos have, or could have, a link between them. In this latest blog I’ve found an example of that with two research videos made for the Electrical and Electronic Engineering Department ( Electrical Engineering Department as it was when these were made). We’ll also be seeing something of the actual department from the past. I should also point out that until 1976 were part of that department (a departmental facility) and as such located within the building. Our first location was on the 3rd floor moving to the main walkway level 2, where many of you may remember us.
In February 1981 Professor J.C Anderson (“Andy” Anderson 1922-2001) asked me to make a video showcasing the research in his Electrical Materials section within the department. I can’t recall the exact reason why we made the video, but am assuming it was to do with an open day, or similar, for Postgraduate research students, hence his references to getting PhD’s at the end of the video. The research going on at that time is shown and he makes reference to the work by Mino Green on Electrochromic Displays, but more on that in a moment.
Andy was very keen on the use of modern technologies for teaching, research and promotion and was the Chairman of the “Educational Technology Committee” (long since disbanded). It was his idea that I should be the only non-academic (although I was on the ‘academic related staff’) member of that committee to be able to update and advise on matters relating to the use of video within Imperial. He was not afraid to appear in front of the camera or, as in this case, record a voice-over as well. So here is the video we made with him: “Electrical Materials Research at Imperial College”
In the previous video, mention was made of the work by Professor Mino Green (then Dr) on Electrochromic Displays. This work was already being carried out at the time of the previous recording. In fact the first video on Electrochromic Displays was made a year earlier in April 1980. We made some 7 videos on the subject with the last being in March 1993. I gather that Professor Green’s work has now moved away from such devices, but the concept was interesting and novel. The video itself is an example of how to show large numbers of people the research work being carried out by a small dedicated group. Even as long ago as 1980 we were having copies made into the American NTSC TV system to enable research work to be showcased in the USA, Mino Green’s was an example of this. Here is the video from 1993 on “Electrochromic Displays and Windows”.
Mino is now Emeritus Professor of the Science of Electrical Devices. His current webpage desribes his work as “…The interplay of solid state physics and chemistry, particularly physical chemistry, has been an abiding interest. This has led through many areas, including semiconductor electrochemistry, chem- and physi-sorption on semiconductors, thermoelectric systems, solid state photo-and e-beam-decomposition, and transition metal oxide electrochromic systems. Now my main interests are in the larger end of nano-systems…”. In 1980 STOIC recorded an interview with Mino where he explains his area of research, you can see that video above.
Finally for this particular blog I’ve pulled something out of the archive from 1978 and you’ll see that in just a moment. It was a video made to showcase the whole department rather than a particular division or research project. Again, I can’t recall the exact reason why we were asked to make the video, but assume it was either an open day or event with alumni for example. Open day is more likely as the video is dated June 1978. It was a major task to make too, as editing was primitive on our old Ampex open spool one-inch tape machines. Nothing was automatic and edit points were marked with white (‘chinagraph’) wax pencils onto the tapes directly, spooled back and then run up to speed for editing. Recently I re-discovered a tape, made in 1974, where we are showing what the studio could do. So, before we see that 1978 video, here I am in our original TV Studio number 1, showing briefly the Ampex recorder in use, which I can assure you was as heavy as it looked!
At this time, we had no real means to record outside of the studio. One option though was to link from a location back to the studio by cable. And, because we were located in the Electrical Engineering, the whole building had video cables running from the ground, to top floors. We then had the ability to run from a location point on each main floor, down to the studio and potentially elsewhere. In the end, cables were available to and from many different buildings around the South Kensington campus. However, by this time we had already gained the ability to record outside of the studio having just moved into colour operation on the U-matic tape format. Portable battery operation was then made possible. The video that follows is an example of this.
So back then to the video I made for Electrical Engineering . The video did require a voice-over, but could I get anyone to volunteer to record it for me? Well the answer was no and being at a stage of needing to start the editing I had to do it myself. That aside, the video is a unique record of the department showing its teaching and facilities. I was asked to make specific reference to the fact that every lecture room was equipped with an ‘overhead projector’, how times have changed! The department also had its own glassblower, electronics servicing and draftsman. Here then is a snapshot (in black and white) of the department as it was in the early summer of 1978.
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…)