Category: Technology

An Electric Car at Imperial in 1972?

Yes, it’s hard to believe but there was research into electric cars at Imperial way back over 50 years ago. And this is once again a story for which the original videotape was long ago erased (assuming there was one). The programme was called La Jamais Contente.

What we do have are some precious photos that were taken at the time of some of the recordings on 20 June 1972. STOIC presenter Richard Woodhead is seen along with Electrical Engineering academic staff member and “EV” researcher John Prigmore (both far right with John Prigmore’s back to camera). The vehicle was a “bubble car” that was converted to electric operation. It really is so long ago that I can’t remember any of the details about the programme or indeed why it was made.

As usual I resorted to searching the FELIX newspaper online archive and found this item announcing the showing of the programme almost 5 months after the location recording took place.

The still photos are interesting because it has reminded me that we could not transport the Ampex video recorder. You can see the “Link” camera we had for such work outside of the studio and this had cabling from the roadway on level one up into the TV Studio on level three. That’s me with a series of cue cards and the countdown clock to ident the sequence being recorded. From looking at the countdown clock board, these were sequences shot as ‘inserts’ for the programme which was to have been edited.

Here’s Richard Woodhead with the car, he’s pretending to plug it in for recharging. Again, this was down on the level one roadway by Electrical Engineering. It’s very difficult to see, but the small sign stuck to the wall near his shoulder says “Electric Vehicle Charging Station”. How funny that 50 years later Imperial College really does now have charging stations for EV’s on the South Kensington campus!

The countdown board indicates that STOIC member Paul McCallum directed this, but sadly he’s not seen in any of these photos. However, in this reverse shot of Richard Woodhead and the electric car you can see my friend Tim Jeffes sitting between me (left) and the camera. It looks like he’s possibly writing on the cue card boards which were used for prompting of the script.

I had been trying to work out how we did the sound for these recordings and I’ve just spotted in this photo that Richard was wearing a radiomic that would have been received up by the TV Studio window on level three. I’m assuming that this was a sequence where we actually got to see the car working and that he was just stepping out of the car to record a piece to camera.

And finally a shot of the car (left photo) with John Prigmore inside. You can just see his white shirt over on the right of the car windscreen. I wonder whatever happened to YUC 998 after all of the research came to an end? From some research I found that John Prigmore died on 13 September 1984. It indicated that he worked at Imperial from 1947 to 1982 and that during is career he wrote several books although none on the subject we see here. And wouldn’t it have been great to still have these 1972 videotapes in an age where electric cars have now come into being?

And a sad note to end on. I’d reached the end of writing this article and remembered that I had previously had emails from Richard Woodhead. I thought he might be able to shed more light on this video. But I found to my shock that he had died back on 5 July 2021, so my memories of this are all we now have.

Colin Grimshaw February 2022

Prof Eric Laithwaite – uncut: 1983

I have previously made available the following two videos which I recorded for Professor Eric Laithwaite. Recently I was able to locate the original camera footage shot on each day, and of course, prior to being edited. I thought that after 40 years it was worth uploading this uncut footage.

There are two versions of the Gyro Wheel and several retakes & close-up’s of the Plate Levitator. The Gyro Wheel was recorded in the TV Studio and the Plate Levitator down in Eric Laithwaite’s lab on level one in Electrical Engineering. There will be a few start and stops, along with colour bars and black in-between. You’ll also hear me over the studio intercom and off-camera when down in the lab. As I have said before, he was very easy to work with and understood and appreciated how videos, films and TV programmes were made and also the requirements to reshoot sections or close-ups. In the TV studio you will also see Barry Owen his Research Assistant helping to spin the wheel up. And down in the lab, Eric Laithwaite will give him a few instructions during the lifting of the plate.

 

Colin Grimshaw January 2023

Prof Eric Laithwaite – Local Heroes: 1999

In 1999 the BBC had a TV series called Local Heroes. It was presented by Adam Hart-Davis and featured various people who had made significant contributions to science etc. One programme featured Prof Eric Laithwaite. Filming took place in Eric Laithwaite’s original lab in Electrical Engineering. They needed various extras, so not surprisingly they contacted me. I provided the portrait photo (taken by my colleague Neville Miles); as well as giving them access to some film clips, and also pointing them towards other BBC materials that I knew about. One clip that I mentioned to them was the Noel Edmonds ‘Multi-Coloured Swap Shop’ clip. Having been involved with the 1974 RI Christmas Lectures I also made sure that they knew about those too. Not a bad piece, except they got his title incorrect. It should have been Professor of Heavy ELECTRICAL Engineering, they left electrical out!

The opening sequence is before the college main entrance changed completely, so that’s a flashback for those who remember it the way it once was.

Colin Grimshaw July 2022

Undergraduate Project: 1970

Something that seems to go unrecorded are the times when a student creates a project with an end result that then greatly benefits the college. In this example we need to go back to the summer term of 1970. A 3rd year student from Electrical Engineering undertook a project to create a simple video effects generator. This unit was able to make split screens, squares and so on. It became an essential tool within the TV Studio from the moment it was made until the day the studio was closed down. In the photo, the arrow indicates the unit installed in the first TV studio in January 1975. Recently I found some 8mm film that I shot showing the student with the unit that he made. We paid for the workshop to fabricate a case and you’ll see that in the film and following videos. In more recent times (in the second TV studio) we fitted it into the equipment rack and you’ll see that at the end.

There were many videos where we took advantage of being able to use split screens. Such an example is the APL video I made with Professor Bob Spence in 1975, you’ll see a clip from that. And, in the two clips showing the unit working, yes, it really is a very young version of me!

So, a worthwhile project that created something that lasted in use for 37 years and NEVER ever had a single fault.

Colin Grimshaw February 2021

Film Talk Animation: 1975

Today we have yet another untold story from Imperial’s past with an idea that started at the college and ended up on worldwide TV. Way back in 1975 Mark Caldwell, then Chairman of STOIC started an ambitious series of interviews with both film stars and TV celebrities. The first included American film director and actor Mel Brooks, British actor Malcolm McDowell and Australia’s very own Dame Edna Everage, otherwise known as Barry Humphries. The series ended up being called Film Talk. Coinciding with this were the services provided by the ULAVC, over the ILEA Channel 7 cable TV network – which I have covered previously.

I was the TV contact at Imperial and knew both the staff at the ULAVC centre in Bedford Square and the ILEA TV Centre in Battersea. Somehow or another I mentioned the idea of them showing some of these programmes over their network. The idea was accepted, so future recordings were made with both local viewing and remote viewing via ILEA in mind. We had progressed so well that a contact at Imperial College introduced us to yet another new idea. In Mechanical Engineering there was a computer-aided design system called CADMAC. It used a mini computer, storage-tube system and plotter as its basis for the generation of ‘animation’. For normal film animation at the time, cells made of plastic film were drawn on and filmed frame-by-frame by a normal film camera. The concept was to use the computer output to produce either cells or to output onto paper. These would then be captured onto film as usual. The difference here was the computing. Things could be manipulated on the screen by using a lightpen and objects merged and moved around. This could (at that time) not be run in full-motion playback, so it was therefore outputted onto film or paper.

A company was formed called Video Animation (later called Electronic Arts) and they were looking for ideas to showcase the possibilities of this new technology. We met them and they offered to make a short animation based on three photos that we would provide. These were inputted to their system by using a light-pen system to trace the image. It was then animated to produce an end result. So, the images were Mel Brooks, Malcolm McDowell and Barry Humphries as Dame Edna. The end result is not perfect. They could not, for some reason, cope with Dame Edna’s glasses or hat, and these are missing from the animation (see actual photo on left). It’s a very heavy contrast line drawing with no grey scale, but for us it was at least unique. They also created and added the title. The final product was given to us on 16mm film, the sound was added later. The film (seen on the right) was then played into any of the programmes via tele-cine. If we happened to be recording at the ILEA Battersea Studios, they had a tele-cine unit within the control room. For anyone who remembers the opening sequence to the worldwide TV series “The New Avengers” it was Video Animation who produced the opening title animation. It’s no coincidence that the Avengers TV series started the very next year in 1976. So, the experiment for Film Talk could well have been used to persuade the TV company to use animation in the opening titles. Our animation has some very close similarities to that of the New Avengers opening titles. See the bottom video for the Avengers animation sequence.

Colin Grimshaw 1 January 2021


 

Review of the Year: 1979-1980

One of the extremely useful things about STOIC’s Review of the Year programmes is that they showcased some of the most important things happening in college. In this edition from 40 years ago in June 1980, David Ghani and Paul Johnson give us a glimpse of events as seen through the lens of STOIC’s camera crew. As you will see, a large amount was still in black and white. In fact, this edition of the Review of the Year is the first to be shot in colour and that was simply because it was recorded within the confines of the College TV Studio. And if you look carefully you might spot that even the studio sequences have been shot and edited together in film style, using our single colour camera.

Look out for Rag Week events, STOIC’s 10th Anniversary and one department potentially about to go broke!

Colin Grimshaw 6 June 2020

Interferon Pilot Plant: 1980

In the February 2019 blog, about Imperial Biotechnology Ltd, I included a Thames Television interview with Dr Trevor Langley. Through the current digitisation of the STOIC archives I now have something homegrown about the pilot plant. In May 1980 Tracy Poole (now Dudley) reported on the current work being undertaken and also interviewed Prof Brian Hartley, a former Head of Department in Biochemistry.  He was then overseeing the entire project.

The pilot plant was ultimately closed and dismantled in 1994 and was finally refurbished as the Flowers Building.

Colin Grimshaw February 2020

 

Prof Jim Ring – Hunt report 1982

In 1982 the then Home Secretary announced that an independent inquiry under the chairmanship of Lord Hunt was to consider the broadcasting aspects of the possible expansion of cable television in the UK.

It was announced that they had managed to secure the help of Lord Hunt of Tanworth, Sir Maurice Hodgson and Professor James (Jim) Ring to conduct this inquiry. They had a lot to do in a short time, but they had already started work and a copy of the consultative document which they issued on 7 April 1982 had been placed in the Library of the House of Commons. Jim Ring was Professor of Infra-Red astronomy in the Department of Physics and appeared regularly on TV programmes such as the Sky at Night.

I knew Jim Ring well, and had previously recorded an archive interview with him in 1980. On the 21 October 1982 he came into the TV Studio to chat to STOIC’s Lawrence Windley about the committees work and their report.

Colin Grimshaw January 2020

Constructionarium: 2006

In June 2006 The Duke of Edinburgh put on a hard hat and boots to watch students building their own versions of engineering landmarks.

The engineering students from Civil Engineering were taking part in Constructionarium, an annual event in which groups had just five days to tackle a challenging project, such as creating a seven metre high version of the world’s tallest vehicular bridge, the Millau viaduct in Southern France.

The event was designed to give students hands-on experience of engineering in a realistic environment. The projects took place on a two hectare section of a Norfolk site which is used for training specialist construction trade workers such as scaffolders and steeplejacks. The site, in Bircham Newton, was owned by the National Construction College.

Prince Philip visited on the students’ last day and saw the projects in their final stages. He was given a tour of the different projects underway, and watched as students pulled a replica oil rig to the middle of a lake and stabilised it. The TV Studio (by then called Media Services) was on hand to capture the event.

Colin Grimshaw April 2019

Imperial Biotechnology Ltd: 1982

In 1982 all the talk around campus was about the Fermentation Plant in the Bio-Chemistry building. The plant had been transferred to a private company to be called Imperial Biotechnology and employing its own members of technical staff. The plant was set up initially to satisfy the needs of Sir Ernst Chain in the 1960’s. There is excellent footage of the building and the plant in my previous blog where the Queen Mother opened the building.

This news item from the Thames Television News archive is a report from April 1982, it shows the Fermentation Plant and includes an interview with Dr Trevor Langley who was instrumental in the formation of the company.

 

Colin Grimshaw February 2019