The Centenary of the foundation of the College was celebrated on 9 July 2007 with a ceremony in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. The Queen and Duke also opened the College’s new Institute of Biomedical Engineering before taking part in an honorary graduation ceremony that saw the first ever Imperial degrees awarded to five distinguished figures, including His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh.
The ceremony followed the bestowal of a Royal Charter by Her Majesty The Queen that declares the College an independent university in its own right after its withdrawal from the University of London.
The visit cemented a long-standing relationship between the UK’s Royal Family and Imperial. The College stands on land purchased with the profits of Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition of 1851 in fulfilment of his vision for a centre of science and culture in South Kensington.
The event was recorded for posterity and at the same time relayed live via web links to all parts of Imperial College, whether on the South Kensington Campus or not. Three cameras covered the ceremony from different angles and I mixed the event live at the time. What you see here is the full unedited live coverage version and please note that unlike BBC broadcasts of such events, there is no added commentary. The ceremony took place in the College’s main entrance hall with special staging having been built for the occasion. Rector at the time was Sir Richard Sykes. The recording runs for just over 30 minutes.
If you are new to the blog or perhaps arrived via the Alumni web page, you might have missed some previous gems. If you go back further to earlier entries you will find some memories of Imperial College captured on videotape. One such recording is the only interview we have with Victor Mooney (Died on December 27th 2012 aged 89), college catering manager from 1953 to 1985.
He was a major figure in college life, especially with the student’s phrase “Going for a Mooney”, which meant going to the refectory for a meal of some kind. Do you remember the Upper and Lower Refectories in Southside? How about WAITRESS service in part of the Refectory in Sherfield? And also a time when the JCR eatery was still called the “Buttery”.
I have now managed to clean up the quality of the recording which was made in November 1979, just prior to us going into full colour. Here’s Victor Mooney, in the College TV Studio, talking to STOIC regular presenter Dave Ghani.
If you have any film or photos of the college eating places in use during the years before say 1970, then please get in touch. Please also add comments or memories of eating at Imperial.
In the summer of 1984 I was asked by Peter Burridge the Telecoms Manager, to make a special video to alert all members of Imperial College to the fact that we were about to put into service a new electronic telephone exchange. Until this time we had two systems running side by side: an internal automatic exchange and an external (BT) manually operated switchboard.
The original internal exchange, installed sometime around 1959, was located in the basement of the Royal School of Mines, whilst the external switchboard was installed in the Sherfield Building around 1969. This was probably to coincide with the opening of the building that year. For those only familiar with how things operate these days, the old system now seems very ancient. It required two telephones on a desk, internal and external. You called via the internal exchange with very old dial phones (in some cases), whilst to make an external call you picked up the receiver of the other phone and waited for the operator to answer.
You then had to request an ‘outside line’ and from there you could dial your call. All incoming calls to Imperial were answered by the operator and then put through to the extension in question. There were no connections between the two systems! So if a location only had an internal phone there was no way to contact them from outside of the college. The internal exchange catered for some 2,500 extensions whilst the external catered for 1,500 extensions.
The new system was deemed so “new” that training sessions were put into place at various locations around college. These were designed for either staff or students and some even took place in the Great Hall. It may seem odd, but at that time most secretaries, for example, were using normal electric golf-ball typewriters and few people had contact with computers unless they were academic. So, having to press button combination’s to achieve things like two way calling or call transfer had some people a bit stumped, thus the training sessions were arranged. As this concerned all of college there was great publicity and this can be seen from this mid-summer edition of the student newspaper Felix from 17 August 1984 (pages 4 & 5).
The colour stills of both the 1950’s exchange and switchboard are taken from the videotape I shot. So far, I’ve not located any other images of, what was, a major part of the daily unseen operation of Imperial College. I suspect that these sequences in the video may have been the first time that some people had seen any of these background services operating. I was also one of the first to experience the new system.
A few weeks before operation began I was asked if I’d wait by my current internal phone at around 6pm one evening whilst it was manually switched from the old to the new system. I then received a call via the new exchange to test all functionality and quality of sound. The rest is now part of college history as we all take the new systems as part of normal daily college life. But is was just a little bit different when you picked up the external phone and knew the person on the switchboard and had a short conversation before saying…”can I have an outside line please?”.
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.
Since the start of this archive blog people have asked me various things about the videotape collection. Questions range from: when did the collection start; how many tapes are there; and what formats of tape do you have. So, I thought that just for once I’d write an entry without an actual video in it. Some questions I’ve been asked are answered in the “about this video archive blog’, but I’ll go through them again anyway.
The earliest videotape (one inch ‘A’ format) dates from about June 1970 and is on our original videotape format made by the American company Ampex. This company invented the world’s first commercial videotape format back in the mid 1950’s (2 inch Quadruplex). So, our oldest tape was made only 15 years after the invention of videorecording itself. Sadly, playing these tapes back is slowly becoming a problem. Equipment is no longer accessible on campus to run some of the formats we have, but it is possible to use commercial facilities (at a cost). Recently, the earliest collection from the student TV service (STOIC) came under our access.
I’d forgotten just how many of the original one inch videotapes they still had. There are gems yet to be seen, dating from the early 1970’s through to about 1980, in fact their collection now has more one inch tapes than we do (many of ours are long gone). Anything of importance was transferred to another (the latest at the time) videotape format, but some items (mainly STOIC’s) remain, frozen in time, awaiting that day of playback once more when finances allows us to transfer them into a new digital format.
Playing these early tapes back has recently become a problem anyway. There is an effect called Sticky Shed Syndrome which means that the binder, which sticks the oxide onto the plastic tape, is breaking down. What appears to be happening is that the binder is taking in moisture and going sticky. It’s SO sticky in fact that when tapes are run, the oxide and binder come off the plastic tape and stick to all parts of the videorecorder that the tapes run past. After only a few moments of playback there will be a very loud screeching noise followed by the video head clogging and the machine grinding to a halt. If you put your finger onto the guides inside the machine it will be sticky and covered in tape oxide and a sticky goo.
In the recent blog entry called “seen and gone” I found some old audio recordings of the soundtracks of erased videotapes. These audio tapes also suffered the same problem of shedding oxide. When I started to play them the oxide came off the plastic, as you can seen in the photo. My fingers can be seen through the plastic tape. The one good thing was that whilst running the tapes through the recorder I was also copying it onto computer to then go onto disc.
These playback problems have happened because some tape manufacturers got various chemical mixing formulas wrong. It was only in the mid 90’s or so that the problem was fully appreciated. There is only one way around the problems of playback. The tapes, audio and video, have to be baked. That is, the tapes have to be heat treated at something like ±50 oC for a few hours or more. This draws the moisture out, allowing immediate playback to get the material onto another modern format. The temperature used is critical, too high and the ‘Curie point’ can be reached and the tapes automatically erased, or at least the magnetic properties will be lost and thus the recording data will be gone for ever. So there are problems and dangers anyway with this method of recovery!
We are therefore faced with a slight problem of playback, even with tapes still in use today like the U-matic system. Most of the tapes seen on the shelves in the top photo are of this format and many are causing playback problems. I’ll be experimenting with heat treatment soon to sample a few tapes for transfer. In most cases I’ll put these onto DVD, assuming they’ll play back okay after treatment. Today, we have many tapes formats as can be seen in this last photo. We’ve gone through: One inch open spool both low and high band; U-matic low and high band; Betacam and now DVCam. Also we’ve encountered half inch open spool, Philips cassette, VHS and so on. With some 700 tapes now being held in the collection, the question is how long will we be able to play back any of the many formats of videotapes that we have?