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. Please click MORE to continue… (more…)
Buildings come (down) and buildings go (up), but, as you will have guessed from these blogs, archives live on. And in doing so, we are able to reach back in time to see and hear what happened at an event or ceremony, which marked the opening or closing of an Imperial College building. I’m going to split the buildings and centres blog content into several parts, with this being the first.
The first video however is not really an opening of a building as such, but rather a ‘renaming’ of one. The Physics Department was renamed the Blackett Laboratory in the honour of Lord Blackett (1897-1974) on 3 December 1975. The Prime Minister at the time, Harold Wilson, delivered the Blackett memorial lecture. This is the first recording of a Prime Minister in the archives; Edward (Ted) Heath, Margaret Thatcher and Gordon Brown were to follow. The recording is poor and was made by the department hosting the event. Originally recorded on half-inch open spool videotape, I have since transferred it to DVD for safe keeping. To continue please click on MORE… (more…)
In 1982 we made a video that was a co-production between the TV Studio and STOIC (Student Television Of Imperial College). The students had been keen to make a video about the life and workings of Silwood Park, the college’s field station near Ascot in Berkshire. Their resources were limited to allow this and it would have meant that the video would have been made in black and white. So, I offered to work with them to make something better and in colour. I’m glad we went down this route because now we have a unique record of life there in the early 1980’s. We’ll come onto talking about the video later on.
Silwood’s history is quite long and to help me out, here’s a snippet from the college’s page on “Silwood Park – Past and Present”….
“Imperial College acquired Silwood Park and Ashurst in 1947, as a Field Station to provide a site for research and teaching in those aspects of Biology not well suited for the main London campus. The Manor House is the original Silwood Park house, built in 1878, designed by Alfred Waterhouse, who also designed the Natural History Museum in London, South Kensington and Strangeway Prison. Silwood was requisitioned as a military hospital and convalescent home during WWII, so when the College took it over in 1947 it was surrounded by bleak, but useful, single-storey wards and offices. Some still survive; the present Refectory, Stores and Field Course laboratories are gems of the period. Presumably no-one in 1940 anticipated a working life of over sixty years for these ‘temporary’ edifices.”
To read the full story on Silwood Park click here.
The estate is some 250 acres in size. To help give you an overview of this, I’ve found some of the aerial shots of the campus taken in 2008. My colleague Martin Sayers went, with a camera crew, on a morning’s shoot around all of the college’s campuses. The pictures were actually shot in high definition using a gyro-stabilised camera, mounted in a twin-engine squirrel helicopter. The helicopter was flown from Redhill Aerodrome.
I recently discovered a batch of old 8mm cine films shot for various TV programmes made by STOIC. Back in the early days, we, and STOIC alike, had no means to shoot video outside of the TV Studio – other than using very long cables. To be able to show things outside, STOIC resorted to using 8mm movie film. This was cut and run into a programme with a sound commentary added live at the time. As time progressed, a small magnetic sound stripe was added to the film and this allowed a commentary to be synched directly to the film well in advance of the programme being recorded on videotape.
Touchstone weekend 1970
What I found was some film, shot in 1970 (click red icon above). This was from the very first STOIC news programme called “IC Newsreel” recorded on 17 February 1970 (shown the following day in the Junior Common Room). The item is about a Touchstone weekend that was held at Silwood Park. These came out of an idea by former Rector Roderic Hill and started in around March 1950. The weekends were run with the idea where “…students could discuss a range of topics (many of current interest) together with experts…”
If you can identify anyone in the film please let me know via the comments option at the bottom of this page. Ken McDowall (1909-1997) was appointed to run General Studies in 1952 and also to take over the Touchstone weekends and you can see him in the film, appearing to be providing some alcoholic relief to some of the students! There is an archive edition of Felix on KEN McDowall click here to take you to the pdf file.
You may have also spotted Silwood Park being used in the video “Translations: Engineering Design 2020AD” which is featured in the blog on Professor Bob Spence. We used the grounds and main house for most of the video. The sequence showing the dinner party was shot in the main entrance hall.
And so now on to that Silwood Park documentary we made in 1982. For those who know Silwood Park and the people who were there at the time this will, I hope, bring back some happy memories. You’ll see Professor Michael Way, then Director of Silwood, talking about the field station and what it does. Also featured are many people involved in research including Professor (then Dr) Graham Matthews who at the time was running the overseas spraying machinery centre. Dr Matthews demonstrates the electrostatic spraying ‘bozzel’ technique developed with ICI and when he operates it you’ll hear a click on the audio from the static charge.
A sequence, shot out in the fields, shows the work being carried out on the ‘black bean aphid’. At the Reactor Centre (above, right), Dr McMahan discusses the work and role of the University of London centre and we get a unique look inside the reactor whilst it’s operating. Professor (then Dr) Bob Sinden discusses his research work on Malaria. This interview is interesting because it was shot at Ashurst Lodge, sold six years later in 1988. The whole video is a snapshot of life and work at Silwood Park in the early 1980’s. The presenter and interview is Tracy Dudley (nee Poole) who was an active member and presenter with STOIC for many years. You will see more of her in other videos I’ll be featuring from STOIC’s archive that we now house.
My involvement with the City and Guilds College (C&G) started during its centenary year in 1985. A week of celebrations were held (26 February – 1 March) and as part of that the Junior Common Room was transformed into an impressive exhibition called Tech2000. The exhibition was officially opened by the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Can you spot the famous handbag in the photo?
Besides making some 12 individual videos for various exhibits, an official video record of the week was also commissioned. This would capture the build-up, the opening and tour of the exhibits by the Prime Minister and the banquet held at the Guild Hall with the main speaker being HRH Prince Philip and this itself was not without its own problems. I was told in advance that we could not use too many lights when recording his speech because he didn’t like lights in his face.
The problem was the size of the Guild Hall and the area we were trying to cover. Illumination within the hall was to be mostly from the candles on the tables, but this was far too low for our camera. A compromise was reached and we used a 2kw floodlight that would only be switched on moments before any one of the speeches started. Although this sounded good, we were located high up on a balcony some distance away, so the end result was better, but not great. It was also such a vast increase in light levels (compared to the candles) that actually switching the light on caused most of the people to turn around and look up at us! Although I’d requested a feed from the sound system to plug into our video recorder, I had not actually spoken with the engineers operating it on the night. Everything turned out OK and we received a cable with audio from the hall sound system. We were intending to video record most things, but our tapes would only run for 20 minutes at a time, so tape changes were going to have to be made. I was concerned that from an archives point-of-view we should not lose any of the speeches. I asked the engineer if he had been asked to make a sound recording of the whole evening, only to discover that no one had thought to do so! This was corrected and the tapes now reside in the college archive.
Let me just mention Prof Bruce Sayers (1928-2008) who was Dean of City and Guilds at the time. In fact he was Dean during the period 1984-1988 and again from 1991-1993. It was during his last period in office that Bruce commissioned the first video to be made showcasing City and Guilds – that was in 1993 with a second following in 1994 and a final in 1998. The 1993 video was more of an historical look-back at City and Guilds, with the further two looking more at the research work within the departments making up C&G. So, back to the C&G centenary and the video that covers the events making up the week. Hopefully it gives a flavour of what was happening within C&G and is also a wonderful snapshot of Imperial College life in 1985.
“City and Guilds, a celebration” was made in 1993. It was, as the title suggests, a celebration of C&G from its earliest times, right up to the date of making the video. We found some interesting photographs and film to help illustrate a commentary recorded by Bruce Sayers himself. We had previously discovered the film of the old City and Guilds building (1960), so we looked for more visuals that C&G alumni might remember. We achieved this with some film shot in 1928 of both “Sports Day” and “Morphy Day”. At that time, Sports Day was clearly still being held at the Stamford Bridge ground of Chelsea Football Club (this apparently being the case until the 1930’s). The film shows a lot more of sports day than we had time for in the video and this is something that I’ll feature in more detail in a later blog. You will see a couple of shots of the Queen’s Tower from a distance. These were from a hotel long since demolished. Located near Gloucester Road tube station the Forum Hotel had a number of floors almost equal to the Queen’s Tower in height. A simple phone call gained us access to their roof area and the result was some splendid views of London and the Queen’s Tower. Going back briefly to the 1960 film of the old guilds building it’s worth mentioning that this was an amazing discovery that was made after Sir Owen Saunders died in 1993. The 16mm colour film was found in his office drawer and passed to the college archivist who in turn asked me to see what it was! We’ll show that complete colour film in a later blog.
One person mentioned in that video was Herbert Cecil Booth (City and Guilds 1893) who invented the process of cleaning fabrics by sucking air through them. More can be seen on him in Tim Hunkin’s TV programme “The Secret Life of the Vacuum Cleaner“.
In 1994 we were asked to make a follow up which was to be called “City and Guilds College 1994 – an update”. This was very much a promotion for the research work being carried out within City and Guilds. It also included a section with Bob Schroter talking about the Old Centralian’s Trust fund, the charitable arm of the City & Guilds College Association. To give a flavour of the departments featured, research work was shown from Civil Engineering; Aeronautics; Electrical Engineering; Chemical Engineering to name but a few. Having just celebrated 10 years of operation, the Centre for Composite Materials showed their work relating to the aircraft industry, whilst Bio Mechanics demonstrated the work being carried out on knee joints. Again, this video’s audience was industry and alumni, particularly those overseas. Unlike the previous video, we commissioned a professional voice-over which was read by former BBC ‘Tomorrow’s World’ presenter Michael Rodd.
The final video made with Bruce Sayers for City and Guilds was in February 1998 and was entitled “City and Guilds: the challenges of tomorrow”. It makes reference that this was now 12 years into C&G’s second century and the fact that many changes were going on within Imperial College. In fact this video is a nice record of the South Kensington campus just a few years before major rebuilding works would change its appearance with: the new main entrance and Business School on Exhibition Road; Dalby Court and the (then) new Faculty Building.
For the very first time the City and Guilds Institute was mentioned and it’s connection with C&G explained. We went to their central London headquarters to get shots both outside and inside. Following on from this we shot at one of their lunches held each year at the college, which is attended by fellows of the C&G Institute and the Rector of Imperial. At the time of making the video the construction of the new Sir Alexander Fleming building was well into the completion stages and shots of both the initial building work and completed building were shown. Dame Julia Higgins, a former Dean of C&G, spoke about the many changes across the campus with the opening of the new SAF building and the intake of many new medical students.
The video ends by asking the question: “What would City and Guilds look like in 2025 and would those who know it now, recognise it then?”
This is a special entry to coincide with the Restoration of Prince’s Gardens event on 15 January 2010. I should explain from the outset why we are now making references to Eastside rather than Linstead. This is because the new building is larger than before and is now made up of three halls: Linstead, Gabor and Wilkinson. In my first entry about Southside, I did make reference to things associated with Linstead Hall and in particular the hall dinner. We will see a clip of one of those dinners in the video which is located later on this page. In 1993 we made a video for prospective undergraduates and some of that video was shot in Southside and Linstead halls, that’s the footage we’ll be seeing.
The evening dinner was special in college, because it happened in no other hall. History tells us that ‘Construction was funded by an anonymous benefactor in 1963 who stipulated that dining facilities must be available for male residents’. There was an extension to Linstead in 1980, however it was of a completely different design, as can be seen in the 2004 photo (newer on the left older on the right). CLICK MORE
Few people have used the idea of videotape better that Professor Bob (Robert) Spence. Bob joined the staff of Imperial in the 1960’s and is now Professor Emeritus in EEED. His field of work has ranged from engineering design to human-computer interaction and along the way is credited with the invention of the first ‘focus+context’ technique, the Bifocal Display (aka Fisheye lens). You’ll be seeing the Bifocal Display idea in a while.
My first encounter with Bob was way back in 1975 when we recorded a live demonstration of the computer language APL (A Programming Language (link above). This is the oldest surviving teaching videotape we have and was made without the ability to edit and in glorious black and white. However, it does feature a novelty at the time of the recording, that of split screen. This was shot in our TV studio ‘number one’ located then in the Electrical Engineering building.
In June 1979 Bob’s interests were in the area of electronic circuit design. With colleagues, he had devised MINNIE allowing a circuit designer to describe a circuit by drawing it on a screen. Using a ‘light pen’ to interact with the screen, circuits could be created and modified.
The most interesting artifacts (as Bob calls them) were the “on screen pocket calculator” (1973) and the “count-down clock” indicating the process time. The on-screen calculator is thought to be the first in the World and both these functions are now common place. Bob frequently reminds me of the fact that we were about to move into colour TV (1979) and how he halted the removal and replacement of the computer running MIINIE so we could shoot the video in colour. Here’s the end result from June 1979 (link above) and you can see the calculator at 5min 30secs into the video.
By 1980 the idea of ‘focus+content’ had been identified and a solution called the Bifocal Display created, well in mock-up form anyway. Bob wanted to create a video to show this and other concepts to a wider audience. Again, videotape was a solution to this. So, in the week we all finished for Christmas in 1980 we shot a video which is now credited as being the first ever ‘envisionment video’, “Office of the Professional”. For the time, this was a most complicated video to make. Although with converting into colour we had gained the ability to edit, this was like no other video we had made before. Scenarios in an office, external elements and multiple video screens -all showing content- only added to the overall complication.
The office desk was made mostly of cardboard and felt. The buttons seen being pressed were not bright enough to be seen by our early colour camera, so higher wattage bulbs were inserted. This made the buttons so hot you could hardly touch them, let alone press them! The variable ‘zoom’ control on the monitor did nothing and was made of cardboard. The display on the screen was actually running from a videorecorder and Bob had to synchronise his hand movements to the pre-recorded tape. In one scene we needed two screens showing information and therefore need two playback machines, plus the machine recording the output from the camera, so three video recorders were all running at the same time. In one sequence you’ll see ‘pointing’ at the wall and the phrase ‘here’ being used. Bob tells me that this concept is not too far away. Bill Buxton in his 2007 book ‘Sketching user experiences’ is quoted as saying, in reference to the video, “….is the first example of envisionment videos that I am aware of….” and “….remarkable for its insights…and two years before the launch of the Apple Macintosh.” And finally he says of the video “…I have a lot of respect for those who made it.” Bill Buxton’s book is prefaced by Bill Gates. Once again, a small piece of history is recorded in our archive. Oh and the standing joke between Bob and myself is that one or the other of use will have to say the magic word “here” during a conversation. Most of this is very obvious in the 1980 “Office of the Professional” (link above).
Not wanting to make a video any less complicated or involved than previous ones, Bob came up with a gem of an idea in 1994. “Translations” was once again an envisionment video (link above). It shows a dinner party taking place in the year 2020AD and hosted by an eminent engineer, for other engineers who describe, for the benefit of a journalist, how they practice design. The message was concerned with human-to-human communication facilitated by computer. The video took many weeks to shoot as there were several locations used: Silwood Park where the main dinner party took place; 170 Queens Gate in the Rectors flat and the TV Studio. One fascinating thing to look out for are the use of PIG’s, Personal Information Gatherers. See if the concept reminds you of Bluetooth devices, common place today. Also, during the dinner party the idea of a worktable, able to sense what you were doing was suggested. Microsoft has just demonstrated one! One final thing before you watch the video. For those who know me, try and spot where I re-voiced the sound for one of the people in the video, oh and I’m not saying ‘here’ either. Bob Spence plays the butler in the video “Translations: Engineering Design 2020AD”
My thanks go to Bob Spence for the many opportunities to make some great envisionment videos over the years. It seemed that the insights Bob had into the way we interact with machines, was well suited to video as way to show those ideas off and to communicate them to many other people.
For this second blog we’re going to look at an inventor, innovator and communicator of science on TV and in the classroom. Eric Laithwaite (1921-1997) came to Imperial College in 1964 as Professor of Heavy Electrical Engineering. His specialist work was on Linear Induction Motors. Prior to his arrival at Imperial, he had appeared on TV many times, so he was no novice to the whole process of making both TV programmes and, as was the case with ICI’s Millbank Films, science learning materials for schools. He made a whole series of films for ICI such as “Motors Big and Small”; “Shaping things to come” and “The Circle of Magnetism”.
He was also the first person to present an entire Royal Institution Christmas Lecture series on TV, that was on BBC2 in 1966. Since that time every RI Christmas lecture has been televised. Once again though he made history by being the only person to present a Christmas lecture a second time and that happened in 1974. It was, however, not simply a repeat of the one in 1966!
How do I know all this you may ask? Well, I’m biased because for a short period of time I worked with him and was present during the recordings of the 1966 Christmas lectures at the Royal Institution. If anyone still has his book from the series “The Engineer in Wonderland” you’ll see me in a photo on page 155.
By the time of the 1974 series “Engineer through the looking-glass” I had moved on to do video production. So I was surprised to receive a visit from Eric Laithwaite in the early summer of 1974. He wanted to chat about ideas for talking backwards. Programme number 3 was to be “Jam yesterday and jam tomorrow” and he wanted to see what we could come up with for the reversing of time and speech.
I must have come up with a good idea because when he heard what I’d done with “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” (backwards of course) he said “Right I’d like you to present that during the lecture”. My credit in his book of the series says “…Colin appeared ‘officially’ in the second lecture taking over part of the lecture in effect”. Because of media interest in the advanced publicity for the 1974 series both myself and Eric Laithwaite were interviewed on BBC Radio about the speaking backwards idea. It was only recently that I had the opportunity to get hold of a DVD copy of the original videotape still held in the BBC archives. The quality is still amazingly good too.
Armed with all of this background knowledge, in 1980 I recorded an archival interview (link above) with him in his lab office in Electrical Engineering. Part of this interview was used in a special IEEE memorial lecture given by his colleague Barry Owen.
Eric Laithwaite’s work continued with linear motors of all types. The ‘Magnetic River” was a short video (link above) I shot for him in March 1984. It features his now familiar model of a levitated and propelled train by means of magnetic induction and was the very last video I made with him. A few years earlier this same linear motor had appeared in the James Bond film “The Spy who loved me”. It was another of “Q’s” gadgets that was demonstrated to Bond. I just happened to be going to Pinewood Studios and took the demo film to Eon Productions for them to decide whether to use it or not in the production. They did use it and Eric Laithwaite’s technician Cliff Johnson was seen operating the Magnetic River in the actual Bond film. Buy the DVD of the film to see what I mean.
As well as its uses for tracked transport the ‘Mag River’ had other potential. In this 1980 example (link above) its use as a metal sorter, sorting out aluminium from other scrap materials, is being demonstrated. Materials were painted various colours to show what was being separated.
A video I shot with Eric Laithwaite in May 1983 (link above) was a demo for an American film company who were considering making the “Silver Surfer”. The idea was to levitate someone on a huge aluminium sheet. As you’ll see from this video, it was a rather daunting task and as far as I recall, never happened. All the humming is coming from the huge electromagnetic field coming from the coils.
His research in later years into Gyroscopes was, and still is, a topic of much discussion within the scientific community. Here, he demonstrates the principles of a gyro using a rather large and heavy wheel (link above). It’s spun up to speed with a normal household drill! We recorded this video in our TV Studio in May 1983 and needless to say, I stayed well back from both him and the wheel! It was always ‘fun’ working with Eric Laithwaite and I recall him sliding off a chair in the studio as he laughed so much when we tried speaking backwards into a taperecorder. He once said to me that when a job is no longer fun, it’s not worth continuing with it. The last time that I spoke with Eric Laithwaite was when he was telling me about the concept of a linear motor launcher for NASA rockets/vehicles, I never saw his again…
Southside Royal opening in the Upper Refectory 1963
For this first blog entry we’re going to focus on places and in this case, Southside. The Southside halls were opened on 8 October 1963 with a Royal ceremony with Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden in attendance. Due to the forward thinking of past members of staff the whole thing was audio recorded and then transferred to an acetate disc. Things like this are held in the main archive and recently I transferred it from the disc into a digital format. On the right is a photo of the process happening a few months ago.
Click the link above to listen to what was said and because this is audio only I’ve included some photos taken during the ceremony rather than leaving you with a blank screen. The whole thing runs for about 20 minutes and you can skip forward if you so wish.
In 2005 the lifetime of the Southside halls had come to an end and something new was required. So on 6 October 2005 Sir Richard Sykes, as Rector, held a ceremony to officially start the process of demolition.
A few days before, along with some colleagues, I walked around the building with a handheld video camera to capture some last moving images for the archive. If you remember the building, a few memories may come back when you watch it. Some people liked it, whilst some hated it. Me? I hated it! Never did get used to the ‘shuttered’ concrete design and I always got lost on those stair cases.
So, I suspect it gave great delight to Richard Sykes to sit in the cabin of the digger and start the whole process of demolition. As always, we captured the ceremony on video and just before it started I’d given some of the Princess Margaret opening ceremony photos to the Rector, so you’ll hear him refer to that in the video. I must admit that I’ve been to a lot of openings before, but never a closing, so this was interesting and also the first as such in the archive.
There then followed something that was also new to me, that is a “bottoming out ceremony” where you all celebrate the completion of the foundations. And as usual we were there to record the event…but with a difference! A competition had been run to find objects to place into a time-capsule to be planted within the building.
I glibly suggested a DVD of the most recent Albert Hall ceremony and another with the Princess Margaret opening and Richard Sykes closing events. It ended up being one of two selected ideas and you’ll see me being presented with a bottle of champagne by Richard Sykes (whilst wearing safety gloves and also trying to do sound, my colleague Martin Sayers took over the camera)
The final of the three events was the Topping Out ceremony held on 5 October 2006. This saw the end of works on the new Southside complex and the imminent demolition of Linstead, but that’s for another blog page where we have things like the Linstead Hall evening dinner. So if you remember those, then please come back for more soon.