I have recently rediscovered the first interview shot with a Rector in colour. It was recorded in December 1980 in the Sherfield Building office of Lord Flowers (1924-2010) who was Rector from 1973 to 1985.
The student TV (STOIC) had expressed an interest in interviewing him and I agreed to collaborate in the recording to enable it to be shot in colour. I thought at the time, that this would be good from an archive point-of-view. And 34 years later, my idea has just paid off! There are several other blog entries on Lord and Lady Flowers, but this one had escaped me until now. The interviewer is Mike Prosser, with an introduction made in the college’s former TV Studio. The interview was made as a ‘special’, within the normal weekly programme called News-Break. That programme was transmitted to all of the college halls across campus, as well as the union building. As in previous early colour videos featured within this blog, it will not be up to even the standards of a modern domestic camcorder, but at least we do have it. The previous colour interview with Lord Flowers was featured in my 2010 entry. That previous video was from 1984 and I had only just rediscovered it, so this 1980 video is adding to our collection. The last time I saw Lord Flowers was during a short visit to his house and we were sitting around his kitchen table having lunch with Lady Flowers.
Predating the 1993 Undergraduate and Postgraduate Videos, seen in a previous blog, Lady Clare Ash (the wife of former Rector Sir Eric Ash) made a one-off video called Snapshots.
It was made to showcase just some of the then current research taking place at Imperial. I seem to recall that Eric Ash was about to go on an overseas trip to several countries, including India and that this was made to accompany his presentations. You’ll notice the emphasis on past Imperial Nobel Prize winners at the start of the video and a rather slow list of Imperial’s Fellows of the Royal Society towards the end.
Several areas of research from around the college were featured. Two Nobel Prize winners included were the late Lord George Porter (1920-2002) and the late Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson (1921-1996), both are seen working in their respective labs. Bob Schroter (featured in a previous blog) talks about his work with Camels; Steve Ley, formerly from Chemistry, discusses pest control, whilst Howard Thomas from St Mary’s talks about Hepatitis Vaccine.
Towards the end, we featured some of the first ‘vox pops’ in one of our videos, where current students talk about their experiences and views of being at Imperial College. You will see the first aerial footage of Imperial used at the start of the video. This was provided to us by the (then) University of London Audio Visual Centre and was shot by them as part of a 16mm film they made for Channel Four Television. The video concludes with the former Rector himself, Sir Eric Ash, speaking direct to the audience with his views on where Imperial is today and what his vision is for Imperial tomorrow. This was shot in the old Rectors office up in the Sherfield Building.
20 years ago, in 1993, an attempt was made at the production of an ideally ongoing video prospectus, one for undergraduates and one for postgraduates.
Unusually for a student recruitment piece, these were conceived by the then Rector’s wife, Clare Ash and produced by her daughter Jenny (who was working in TV production) – effectively making two videos in parallel using a great number of the same shoots in both. Without more involvement from the departments and central services, the videos perhaps didn’t capture the imagination of academics or administrators.
Probably ahead of its time, the project didn’t have the required support from the offices handling recruitment and PR and it didn’t continue – but they do capture the spirit and feel of the College some twenty years ago.
If you look at this, see the graphics and say “What?”, then you’ll know my thoughts, both then and even now some twenty years on! There are great shots of the old language lab and Richard Dickins with the college orchestra, both of these showing the non science side of Imperial. Once more we have some (now) important archive shots of Prince’s Gardens and the old halls, especially Linstead Hall showing the famous evening meal (photo on right). This was the only time this was recorded and is special for that reason. We also featured IC Radio, STOIC and Felix in production for that weeks edition. And finally we have the first ever video shots of a Commemoration Day at the Royal Albert Hall.
In general this will look more or less the same as the undergraduate version, but includes some now unique shots of Lord George Porter working in his lab in the basement of the Beit Building (photo on left). We also ventured out to Silwood Park to show some research work going on there. At this time the Science Communication course had started and we almost featured ourselves by showing two of the students working at our editing suite (even though this was of course staged). Finally a great and short-lived hall is featured. Does anyone remember the Postgraduate only Montpelier Hall in Montpelier Street, almost within sight of Harrods? Well, that’s in here too towards the end of the video.
Its such a shame that neither of these videos were appreciated within the college because a massive amount of time and effort went into making them both. We used about 12 or more one-hour video cassettes for the ‘rushes’ and because they contain some very unique material such as George Porter I still have them today in our video archive. See what you think and let me know if you are seen appearing in either of them. Some years after we made them both, several boxes of unused and unrequired VHS tape copies of both of the videos were returned to me, they were all thrown in the bin!
Back in 2010 I brought you the two videos that were made to coincide with the City and Guilds centenary in 1985, they were Studying for the Future and Discovering the Future. I had promised to bring you a third video made later in that year called Mastering the Future. Obviously, this video was intended to showcase and promote the idea of taking a masters degree at Imperial College.
Key figures from Industry were featured to give a sense of what was required from University students taking such masters degrees. One person appearing was Sir George Porter, later Lord Porter who was then President of the Royal Institution. Later he moved to Imperial College to continue his research work. By the time the video was made Eric Ash had become Rector, superseding Brian Flowers. One of the few recordings that we have of Professor Bruce Sayers, then head of computing and also dean of City and Guilds is part of this video. Once more there are some great views of ‘Imperial past’ featured such as: the original front entrance on Exhibition Road; Sports Centre and Gym; Libraries and the 1960’s Walkway with Bookshop.
The oldest videotape recording of one of our rectors of Imperial College is that of Lord Penney (1909-1991). Rector of the college from 1967 to 1973 he took the post over from Sir Owen Saunders who was acting rector from 1966 to 1967 after the death of Sir Patrick Linstead in 1966. Recorded in 1971 for showing to students via the fledgling Student Television of Imperial College (STOIC). I can’t remember whether or not this was part of one of the trial news programmes called IC Newsreel, or perhaps designed as as stand-alone programme, I think maybe the latter is more likely.
Our studio, if you could have called it that, was rather basic and sparse. As you’ll see in the video we had no background of any type at that time. The rare colour photo shows a slight improvement in 1974 when we managed to get some grey curtains! As this was well before the advent of the ‘tie-clip’ microphone, we used what were called neck-mics. A microphone on a thin cord that went around the neck and were very common at that time for PA system use. They did however provided much better sound than trying to use mics on stands or similar.
A former student of Imperial College, Lord Penney initially worked on the Manhattan Project during WW2 and was a flight observer of the dropping of the bomb on Nagasaki. Penney was asked in 1947 to head the team that ultimately produced Britain’s first nuclear test and in 1957 this was successfully carried out off of the Australian coast. He touches very briefly upon this during the interview, even though he was reluctant to discuss it in any great detail (he doesn’t actually mention the British nuclear test). You can watch the TV programme Equinox which includes an interview with Lady Penney. The interviewer for our video was Dave Willis, who I know very little about, other than he was a computer science postgrad student, but I don’t recall the years that he was at Imperial.
This is a newly restored version of the video that was shot originally on Ampex one-inch tape format. I’ve managed to clean, and brighten up, the image to a certain degree, but it is 42 years old. The original master tape now resides in the Imperial College Archives. On the link to the film of Operation Hurricane you’ll see Penney (on board a boat) turning around and using Binoculars to see the resulting explosion.
So far in writing these blog updates I have always had a wealth of information available to allow me to give some background to the making of the video. Usually I say something about the division or department for which the video was made. Twenty years ago in 1993 I was asked by the Imperial College Japan Office (based at South Kensington) to make a video to showcase the research work being undertaken in various departments at that time. An initial quick search by my colleague Anne Barrett from the college archives had revealed nothing! But, at the last minute Anne has saved the day with some background information she has managed to unearth. The Japan Office was established within Industrial Liaison in 1991 and was seen by Imperial College as “..a long-term commitment to fostering and strengthening its academic and contractual links with Japan”. Its main focus was to negotiate research contacts with Japan, but a fleeting reference in Hannah Gays history of Imperial says “…plans to open a Japan Office did not result in any serious Japanese investment in the college.” So, I can only assume that this is why it closed or more likely merged into another division. So, all I can do is to point out some of the interesting items featured and the research being undertaken when the video was made.
At the time, there was a great deal of activity relating to interdisciplinary research centres or IRC’s. The commentary points out that there were three government funded IRC’s at Imperial College, “..more than any other establishment in the country”. Great emphasis was made on the connections with: Hitachi; Nippon Steel; Fujitsu and Honda. Also, the locating of the Honda European Technology Centre on the college campus was pointed out. We then broke the video into various sections that you will see when you watch it. But these do include: Aerodynamics; Composite Materials; Semiconductor Design; Technology for Medicine and the worlds first Ecotron, opened at Silwood Park in 1991, only two years before I made the video. One other interesting item featured in the video is the ALICE computer -parallel graph reduction machine- produced in conjunction with ICL. The video starts with a brief history of the formation of Imperial College from its beginnings after the Great Exhibition held in Hyde Park in 1851.
Over the years, many film and TV companies have come to Imperial College. I recall regular visits to the South Kensington campus by BBC TV’s “Tomorrows World” and in some cases I watched them at work. But these visits have all disappeared with no record retained by the college. This is a great shame because these are part of the history of Imperial, its staff and more importantly its research.
But there is just one item that was retained in the archives. Although it doesn’t have any form of introduction titles, it was made, (I think) by the Central Office of Information in about 1969. I certainly remember the filming of the opening and closing sequence. If I am correct then this is one of several identical films shot in a series called “This week in Britain”. Identical because they were all made in several languages at the same time. And judging from the accent, this one was for Australia (ABC perhaps?). I certainly remember one of these visits to the lab of Eric Laithwaite where several women in different colourful outfits each did the same introduction, one after the other, but in their own language.
The film that we do have shows some interesting research being carried out around the college at that time. You’ll see the original Civil Engineering Hydraulics Lab; a brief example of Eric Laithwaite’s linear motor research; Alan Swanson demonstrating his artificial knee joint replacement; the wind tunnel in Aeronautics and finally Chemical Engineering’s Plutonium work. Were you in the Mechanical Engineering workshop when they filmed in there, if so you might spot yourself? The introduction and closing was shot on level 3 of Civil Engineering. And if you remember the college from the 1960’s you will also spot the distinct style of the signs on the old walkway.
Finally, I love the phrase used at the end where Imperial College is called “Science City”, a term I have never heard! Maybe we should start to use it?
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.
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.
In 1985 a proposal to install an experimental cable TV network between some of the schools of the University of London came to fruition. British Telecom had pioneered the use of fibre optics with the installation of Westminster Cable Television in London. The fibre cables linked to central street boxes that then fed into homes on coaxial cables (Switched Star Cable TV system). This enables users to select what they wanted and the resulting signal was then sent back to the street cabinet and then to the home.
Moving this technology one step further on, BT proposed a system where the fibre came direct to a cabinet located at some of the Universities in London (UCL, Imperial, Kings, QMW, RHBNC and the ULAVC at Senate House). The resulting system was called Live-Net and consisted of a bundle of fibres providing 4 in and 4 out channels at near broadcast quality. It had been decided to locate the central switch for the whole system at the University of London’s Audio Visual Centre located at Senate House. This would also act as an additional transmission point for establishments around that area, for example Birkbeck College.
The installation required the actual pulling of a cable containing these fibres through ducting in London streets to the various locations. I recall the day that the cable was brought into Imperial and then through building ‘risers’ up to the TV Studio which was then located in Electrical Engineering on Level 2. A rack then contained all of the electronics which linked to these cables. The initial major job for BT was the termination of these cables to provide a connection to the optical hub. We were aware that the central switch was already in operation and the link to the Audio Visual Centre established. Imperial was to be the first connection after this to coincide with the upcoming University of London “Science for Industry” Exhibition to be opened by Princess Anne, Chancellor of the University of London on 13th October 1986. If the Imperial link could not be established then the showing of Live-Net at that Exhibition would not take place. The short video extract below is all that remains of the first moving images sent through the fibre network a few months before the exhibition. Moments after the BT engineer terminated the fibre cable, images came through from Central London. Ray Bradley was then Chief Engineer at the Audio Visual Centre located at Senate House. In the video (seen here for the first time), he takes a phone call from me to confirm establishment of the connection by BT. We had no sound at first so we reverted to using the phone!
The installation was indeed completed and the first public showing of the system took place during the University of London’s Science for Industry exhibition held at Imperial College between 13th-17th October. During that week the TV Studio relayed images from the Live-Net system into the Junior Common Room where screens were setup to display the channels available. Princess Anne saw Live-Net for the first time on 13 October 1986. The video below has never been seen before and I have edited it into a sequence for this blog. I also shot footage of the exhibition and I’ll include that in another entry soon.
Participants were welcomed into the TV Studio to link and talk to remote locations within the University of London. The photo shows two things, firstly on the left the incoming image from the ULAVC at Senate House, (the Studio image is over on the right) and secondly I am sitting at a terminal connected to the central switch. I was able to switch the signals going to the exhibition and also ‘to and from’ Imperial in general – all of this using a BBC Micro Computer too!
There was another event to launch Live-Net that I’ve just remembered. This time BT gathered all of those connected with the project together and did it in style. We all met at the top of the BT Tower in London in, what was, the revolving restaurant. And I have this feeing at the back of my mind that this was the signing of the documents between the University of London and BT. If that was the case, then all of that preceded the installation of the actual equipment and cabling, but I simply can’t remember now! I don’t recall any photos being taken either, which is a shame.
In the second and final part we’ll look at the royal opening and a special visit by another member of the royal family!