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.
There are a few previous blogs about Live-Net, two in 2013 and one in 2018. But I’ve not really talked about where the system eventually was able to link to. Towards the end of the networks life it had been extended (42Km) all the way down to Royal Holloway in Surrey and eventually a little further (6Km) down the road to the Imperial College field station at Silwood Park. You can click on the Live-Net map over on the right to view it bigger.
The reason for the extension to Silwood Park was primarily to enable the temporary installation of an ESA Satellite uplink station. The Olympus satellite was, by this time, (1989 launched) then operational. To cut a very long story short, the Silwood Park uplink enabled any of the connections within Live-Net to get TV pictures across Europe. In October 1990 we did just that, for a very technically complicated programme involving the French Association of Veterinary Surgeons Annual Conference being held in Poitiers, France. The link from France was provided by France Telecom. The feed was sent via normal ground connections to the London BT Post Office Tower. As you can see from the Live-Net map, we also had a feed to and from the BT Tower. That bit was easy…
Then came the complicated bit. They wanted London participation from various groups including the UK’s chief veterinary officer to allow a discussion on the then major topic of BSE, otherwise known then as Mad Cow Disease. So the concept was that the French feed would arrive at the Imperial College TV Studio mixer and that at the appropriate time our studio guests would take over and contribute. However, this is where it got complicated. They wanted a two-way discussion to happen, so my audio had to feed all the way back to France! It turned into a bit of a ‘Eurovision Song Contest’ in the end. But it still didn’t get any easier, because we had to have two-way simultaneous translation French to English and then English to French. For this a double sound booth with two translators was installed at the rear of the studio. We all wore earphones to hear what was being said. In France they would occasionally insert videos and graphics which was no problem for me. However, London wanted to do this too, so it got even more involved. We were never sure just when the French participants would want to link to us, so we were always poised to switch feeds and start the sound translations. The first video is when we were called upon to come into action.
Even more involved was that they wanted me to provided an edited version of my promotional video that I’d made about Live-Net and get a summarised commentary recorded in French and this is what you can see next.
Of course I had to expect potential problems and I didn’t take any chances in case something happened. And it did! The incoming vision feed from France Telecom/BT just disappeared during one of the London participation segments and I was left with a blank screen. But I did have a stand by caption ready for such a situation. Luckily the vision feed reappeared and we were back to normal again. My end result vision and sound feeds were sent back to Live-Net and thus onward down to Silwood Park and via the ESA uplink station to Europe (seen left) on the Olympus Satellite. I was also watching our feed coming back to me from the satellite so I could see if we were actually transmitting or not. And that was the other problem. You can’t just uplink to a satellite without a specified start and end time because there are other people wanting to do something similar. So we couldn’t start until the correct time, but equally we had to finish at the right time too. I don’t think our colleagues in France appreciated this because they didn’t realise that time was running out. I had a permanent open phone link with them and was updating them on timings. When the end was approaching I expected them to sum-up and run end credits, but nothing was happening. I ended up yelling at them to “run the end credits” and rather abruptly you’ll see their end video appear on screen and then run, taking them all by surprise, with various words in French about the loss of satellite time and goodbye. A few seconds later I saw our feed disappear from the Olympus satellite so we only just made it in time. THE most complicated event I have ever done, with me alone doing live vision and sound mixing along with inserting graphics, videotape and talking on the phone, whilst my colleague operated cameras and then broadcasting to the whole of Europe. Phew!
Well here we are in 2019 and the 10th year of the Video Archive Blog. The first real blog of the year is coming up next and that will be a bigger than usual read too.
I’m still finding interesting video gems to post and there are masses of new videotapes to be viewed and digitised during 2019. I just have to get to them and sort them out. Assisting me now is the original card index files started by STOIC the student TV service (right). Amazingly, their original archive has more ‘college’ events than the TV Studio’s own archive. STOIC covered just about anything and anywhere, to fill the news programmes. There are interviews with college personnel and administration that I never had the opportunity to record myself. They also captured and covered more college events than I did, so these are true archive gems.
By now you’re thinking ‘why didn’t the TV Studio cover these things rather than the students?”. Well, the answer is simple, I wasn’t allowed to. We had a remit to charge for any work we did in the college TV studio, so unless someone was paying me, I couldn’t do the work! It’s sad to know that the only coverage of some important and unique college events are only on STOIC tapes. So, fortunately those tapes are now held safely and, as I mentioned previously, I also have access to the two-draw card index that I’m now slowly scanning into digital.
Scanning the cards is somewhat time consuming as there is no easy way to be able to autoscan them. I’m scanning them in batches of four on a flatbed scanner and creating continuous PDF files of each batch of A through to Z. I’ve got as far as “N” at this time! If you click on the photo that I took (left) you can see that even this particular card I’m holding shows an interesting 1980 interview with Prof Anderson about the UROP project. I seem to recall that it stood for Undergraduate Research OPportunities. There are no other such interviews, so this is also unique. How long before you’ll get to see it remains unknown, but keep watching as I go into year TEN…
Back in 2013 I wrote about some of the videos that we had made specifically for schools. One of those videos was Weather on the Move with Francis Wilson. You can read about, and see, that video from the link above. In making such videos you always shoot more material than you are going to use. However, in this case we shot something that we could not use because of a technical fault.
As part of the weather programme Francis Wilson wanted to interview TV’s legendary weather forecaster Jack Scott (1923-2008) We went to Jack’s home and as you will see, shot the interview very appropriately outside in his garden. All was well and that was it. However, when we tried to replay the video it was completely unstable on the colour lock. Most of the time it reverted to black and white. No matter what I tried, it would not playback in locked stable colour. So that part of the programme was dropped.
That was still the case until about a year ago when I decided to try again. With a brand new playback machine it locked and ran first time in full stable colour. I committed it to DVD for safety, but alas it was far too late to ever be used for the purpose we intended.
So, nearly 30 years later, here is Jack Scott in full colour talking to Francis Wilson.
Previously, I’ve mentioned the University of London’s Live-Net fibre optic cable system that once connected London’s Universities, from a central BT switching system at Senate House. Recently I’ve discovered the Thames Television news item that covered the official opening on 28 May 1987 and this can be seen below. During the opening event three sites were initially seen on screens in Senate House: Royal Holloway; Imperial and Queen Mary.
Strangely enough I don’t recall us taking any photos during this event and therefore this is the only record of the day. And if you look closely at the central screen with Imperial on it you’ll see me over on the right hand side. My academic colleague Prof Ernie Freeman (1937-2022) was sitting in the middle and played host for our site. The image on the right is an off-screen grab of that central screen’s video feed.
Closely linked to the Live-Net technology was Westminster Cable TV. This was also a BT technology and Live-Net borrowed and improved upon that domestic system. In fact it’s closely related to our current Broadband FTTC where optical fibre brings the internet to a local street cabinet and from there it arrives at your home via copper phone lines. In Live-Net’s case it arrived directly with us as a fibre feed termination.
So what is my connection with Westminster Cable TV? Well, because of the on-going BT involvement with both Live-Net and Westminster Cable TV I got to know everyone on both projects. I was approached to sound out how an experiment might be operated to utilise a unique option that existed for the cable TV customers. That was the ‘theoretical’ ability to run video FROM the customer backwards to the Westminster Cable TV hub. Indeed the local equipment in the TV Studio had those sockets on the box, but BT had never pursued the idea. It did work when we tried it, but the image quality at the other end was apparently dreadful and unusable. In September 1990 we’d already agreed to run an experimental computer training ‘at home’ series, that was sponsored by the Training Agency. Everyone was on board, but the ‘reverse line video feed’ technology had, by then, failed us. My BT research labs colleague stepped in and had the ability to order a direct point-to-point microwave link from the top of the Electrical Engineering Building and by using this, our studio feed hopped across Hyde Park to Westminster Cable TV in Paddington.
We took live incoming phone questions too via the earpiece that was worn by Kevin Hamilton. I ran the pre-recorded opening sequence that included the Westminster Cable TV animation logo. The engineers at the other end had to switch a regular channel (A7) to accept my studio feed. Thus you’ll see my instructions on the countdown clock to remind them what to do and when. And yes, this might remind you of the 1977 STOIC News series that I also did live, using the ILEA cable TV system that fed all of the London Schools and Colleges.
Soon, I’ll go on to talk about the Olympus Satellite project, the Live-Net uplink ground station at Silwood Park and yes, you guessed it, more live TV from the TV Studio, but this time to Europe! So, yet more educational ‘firsts’ that have, so far, gone unmentioned (until now).
ICU Pub Board was always an odd name. But, as Paul Johnson from STOIC explains, it means Publications Board. John Firth had just been elected as Chairman when he spoke to Paul in the college TV Studio. Pub Board oversaw the finances for Felix, STOIC, IC Radio, ICU Handbook etc
I’m pleased that this is one of the first full-colour studio recordings from STOIC and that it has survived these nearly 40 years.
Today I’ve unearthed an unusual interview, it’s with Chris Sleap, who at the time of this interview in May 1979, was RSM Union President Elect. However, on further research I find that in FELIX dated October 1979 Chris Sleap had failed his exams. FELIX also states that papers will go back up for this (and other failed Union posts) shortly.
I’ve not been able to find out who did actually take on this roll, later that year. This then is a somewhat unique interview. Mark Foley was the interviewer in the college TV Studio. We’d still not gone fully into colour, so interviews were still in black and white.
Recently, whilst rearranging the shelves of archive videos I came across something I’d forgotten about. In 2002, Imperial had honoured Senior Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew (in recognition of his promotion of international trade and industry, and development of science and engineering study initiatives with the UK) by appointing him a Fellow of the College at the Commemoration Day held at the Royal Albert Hall.
Because this was a significant event, college had hired a company that occasionally provided a large video screen and cameras to help people see events in the Royal Albert Hall. We attended the event to get some background video shots and to also see what effect this new idea had on the ceremony. The previous night we had attended the first ever Commemoration Eve Dinner held at the Natural History Museum, where he gave the keynote address (seen left), we recorded and used that in full. College did not need his Commemoration Day speech recorded because we had the one from the previous day.
However, as this was the first time that cameras had been covering a Commemoration Day, I felt that this was unique enough to ask the company to make video recordings (right) of both morning and afternoon sessions. College had already indicated that they had no use for any of the footage, but, by being a ‘first’ I disagreed. So, both morning and afternoon events were recorded and promptly put into our archive collection and there they have sat for all of these 16 years.
Let’s see the first ever fully recorded Commemoration Day sessions from 23 October 2002 which are now available on line for the first time.
And yet more STOIC discoveries from 48 years ago. I was at Imperial yesterday and came across something I’d forgotten about and had really meant to do something about years ago. It’s another batch of 8mm films from the STOIC 1970-1972 “TOPIC” and “IC Newsreel” programmes era. A lot of it was shot on colour film stock, even though we only had black and white TV. All manner of things are there too! More of this once I can get them digitised.
And, just for a change, today I’m digitising two Betacam tapes that are now 16 years old. Commemoration Day 2002 was when Lee Kuan Yew was made a Fellow of Imperial College. The tapes I’m digitising are historic, as it was the first time a Commemoration Day had been recorded in its entirety and that was initially because of the special Fellowship being awarded. I have to say that they are all playing without errors – amazing!
What better way to start 2018 than with some music. 39 years ago, way back in 1979, the student TV service STOIC were recording their weekly college-wide news programme called News-Break. This particular programme from 31 October 1979 featured a college jazz group called SP3 and I have no idea where that name came from, but it must mean something, probably science related I suspect. Music was not new in the studio as we’d tried this type of thing before and again later on in the 1980’s, but then it was in colour.
Introduced by STOIC regular Dave Ghani it was also the end of the programme, so you’ll see a few end credits appearing including my name it seems. This all looks very amateur but it was all done with less than mobile cameras, in one take and with no rehearsal either.