• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Stop wasting time looking for files and revisions. Connect your Gmail, DriveDropbox, and Slack accounts and in less than 2 minutes, Dokkio will automatically organize all your file attachments. Learn more and claim your free account.

View
 

ALAN TURK

Page history last edited by Ian Gillis 3 years, 7 months ago

My Marconi Career

 

April 2017

 

I guess I can attribute my gaining a career with the Marconi organisation to my Dad. He had a wonderful book, ancient even during my childhood: Pears Cyclopedia. It contained a section on “Wireless”, part of which I elected to copy out as an exercise designed to improve my (truly terrible) handwriting. It described the basic operation of simple radio receivers, progressing from a crystal set to one with a valve amplifier, both of which my Dad later helped me to build. They worked, too! I have no idea whether the exercise improved my handwriting, but the resonant circuits that were described certainly resonated with me, to the extent that late in 1956, when attending a National Service medical and trade selection centre in Gloucester, I said I would like to do “something to do with radio”. After a relevant RAF aptitude test I was deemed to be suitable for training as a Radar Fitter, though for that I had to sign on for three years as a regular, rather than the two years of a National Serviceman. Could it be that a further incentive was the fact that regulars received twice the pay of National Servicemen? Surely not: shame on me for such a thought!

 

Following Basic Training (aka Square-Bashing) at RAF Wilmslow, I was sent to RAF Locking, near Weston-Super-Mare in Somerset, for nine months of intensive trade training, finally passing out at the end of 1957 as a Junior Technician, resplendent with anodised buttons, badges and buckles on my uniform (they didn’t need polishing!) and a single inverted chevron on each sleeve. I opted for a home posting rather than an overseas one, resulting in my being transported at the nation’s expense to RAF Borgentreich in Westphalia, Germany, which was considered to be indeed a home posting. From here I worked for two years on the technical site a few miles away, at Auenhausen, a small village with a cluster of Marconi Type 13 height-finding radars on a nearby hill, surrounding a huge Decca Type 80 surveillance radar. My training at Locking had equipped me well with a working understanding of both of these, so that I was immediately able to fit in with the work pattern.

 

 

 

 
 

Marconi Type 13 Height-Finder

Decca Type 80 Surveillance

 

 Towards the end of 1959 my thoughts turned to what I would do after demob. The natural thing seemed to me to be working for one of the organisations that had designed and manufactured the equipment on which I had worked, namely, Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company Limited and Decca Radar Limited. I duly wrote letters of enquiry to both; and received from both, letters with employment application forms. In due course, on a spell of home leave, I attended interviews with both, Marconi’s in Chelmsford, Essex and Decca in New Malden, Surrey.

 

After an exciting journey that included a ride on a trolley-bus (yes, really, it was shortly before London Transport finally pensioned them all off) I arrived at the Decca establishment in New Malden, Surrey, in good time for my interview. I explained my mission, but found to my surprise that I was not expected. Certain that I had arrived at the right time and on the right day, I insisted that I was there to explore the possibility of a job, and maybe a career, with that august organisation. Reluctantly, it seemed, around half an hour later someone was found to talk to me, after which I was sent on my way with a promise that I would be hearing from them in due course.

 

On another day I turned up at the front door of Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company in New Street, Chelmsford. Here I was definitely expected and was met by an obliging gent by the name of Jim Alexander, whose first priority was to find out what my journey had cost me and to reimburse me appropriately. This was an entirely different approach from what I had experienced at the previous interview, and I was very impressed and not a little surprised. Only later in life did I discover that this was normal practice. Jim then conducted me to a very noisy workshop, where a long table had been set up, attended by half-a-dozen or so men who proceeded to ask me a variety of questions about my experiences in the RAF, plus a few on technical matters. Among them was one about how to match the impedances between a 50-ohm RF source and a 75-ohm input to some other piece of electronic equipment. I understood the question, but it was a problem I had never had to face, so I was unsure how to reply. “Quite simple,” I was told. “Just insert a 25-ohm resistor in series at the 50-ohm end.” Looking back later, I realised that this was not usually considered a good solution, as no actual impedance matching was being taken into account. Nevertheless, I was offered a job in the Radar Transmitters Test department. In fact, I also received an offer from Decca, at a somewhat higher rate than Marconi’s would pay me, but I decided that the Marconi company was much better organised than Decca’s, so that was the decider.

 

 

 

The front aspect of Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company in New Street, Chelmsford,

much as it was when I first arrived


 

Thus on 2nd February 1960 I found my way to the Radar Transmitters Test department in Building 21, under the watchful eye of Herbert Ecclestone, whom I came to respect greatly. After the essential preliminaries, he introduced me to Graham Elkington, who in turn introduced me to the gentle art of circuit-checking transmitter cabinets for the SR1000 (S-band) and SR1030 (L-band) radars. That was the day when I also met Ian Waller, who performed the invaluable duty of escorting me to the canteen at lunch-time, while regaling me with a joke about a blood-corpuscle in a horse. Odd how one remembers such irrelevancies.

 

Attendant on this was a need to have somewhere to live, which I found with lodgings in Beach’s Drive, about a mile and a half away, though I later moved to other lodgings in Hillside Grove and eventually to a rented flat in Upper Bridge Road. During this time, I regularly attended the Baptist Church in Market Road (later known as Victoria Road South), a significant place in my life as it was there that I met a beautiful lady, Margaret, who has been my wonderful wife since 1962, my constant companion and very best friend. Just let anyone say anything derogatory in my hearing about Essex girls!

 

 

Chelmsford’s Central Baptist Church (Formerly known as Market Road Baptist Church)


 

  From circuit-checking I moved on to testing sub-units, now at a bench in Building 22, steadily progressing to more and more complex items. At some point the whole section was transferred to Building 40, which comprised a large ground-floor area where completed transmitter-receivers could be tested, with a gallery above, along the north wall, where unit testing was done. At the west end there was a separate ground-floor area where smaller transmitters were tested, such as one that was destined for General Franco’s Spain (the S965?). This equipment was particularly interesting to me, as it was based on the old Type 7 radar that I had been trained on at Locking, complete with a high-power rhodium-plated tuneable 200 MHz lecher-bar oscillator, complete with two enormous triode valves. Above this area were two other rooms, reached by a staircase from the main floor. One of these was an office for the section-leader, Ron Taylor, who now held what had been Herbert Ecclestone’s position. I think “Eck”, as we knew him, may have retired by then. Next to Ron’s office was a room where waveguides were checked for an acceptable standing-wave ratio, or SWR. I clearly recall someone who was considered an expert in that field, stuffing L-band waveguide sections with wooden blocks and wedges, which he proceeded to bash with mighty blows from a large mallet, in order to remove the slightest wrinkle that could lead to an unacceptable SWR. It seemed crude, but it definitely worked.

 

During this time I was surrounded by a group of excellent test engineers, though I can now only recall a few of their names: as mentioned above, there were Graham Elkington and Ian Waller (pronounced “wawler”, not “woller”, as he always insisted); then others such as Jimmy Johnson (who sold me his ancient Morris Oxford, a remarkable car with a bench front seat, a column-change gear lever, an umbrella-handle handbrake lever and a two-litre side-valve engine that could manage 0-60 mph … eventually!); Dave Thompson; Eddie Wright; Bill Wright (no relation to Eddie); Robin Bandy; Bruce Lovelock; Ian Horan; Don Webb and a couple of Indians whose names were simplified to “Nat” and “Arun”. Nat was a cheerful fellow, who had a slight difficulty in pronouncing certain English words. In particular, he could never quite make the distinction between “ship” and “sheep”, however hard he tried. One day, however, he finally said “ship” correctly. “You’ve got it!” we told him, but he didn’t know how, and never managed it again. There were others, too, whose names are now lost in the mists of time, but all good colleagues and nice people to know.

 

Then came a big day when Ron decided that I was proficient enough to handle a project on my own (though with assistance from time to time). I was sent to the Great Baddow Research Laboratories to take on testing a prototype of the “Green Ginger” radar. This comprised two transmitter/receivers in a nine-ton trailer, S-band on one side, L-band on the other, while at the far end was a refrigeration system for freeze-drying the waveguide interiors.

 

Although my first acquaintance with this beast was a pre-production model, later on I was asked to go to a newly-acquired establishment at Widford, where production models were to be tested. Later, an almost-identical “Condor” came on the scene, but this project was suddenly cancelled in mid-test, so everyone involved had to record carefully exactly what point had been reached before the vehicles were taken away for long-term storage. I never knew what eventually became of them, but I strongly suspect they were scrapped.

 

At Widford I had a new boss, Philip Tibbenham, who was succeeded in due course by Gerry Watson. I acquired some new colleagues, too, most of whose names I no longer recall, though two names stick with me: Doug Brown and Peter Wilkinson.

Peter was learning to fly in his spare time, first in gliders then in powered aircraft. The latter greatly delighted him as they had, as he told me, “this thing that you pull and it goes ppppppprrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrpppp!”, and demonstrated the effect with an upward sweep of his hand! He too was a church-goer, so we had things in common. He told me how the BBC radio had broadcast “Songs of Praise” live from his church in Braintree, and was surprised to see that the announcer took his cue to start from a small transistor radio in the vestry, with no special high-tech system to synchronise things!

 

Peter also joined me on one occasion for a guided tour of the Bradwell nuclear power station, under the auspices of the IERE. We arrived on the first day that visitors were allowed to walk directly above the reactor, it having been decided that it would be safe to do so if we used special overshoes over our ordinary ones. Our guide was excellent, but greatly amused us by constantly referring to what he called the “fizzen” that was happening in the reactor. We listened very carefully, but failed to hear it!

 

All this time I was studying by evening classes and day-release at the Mid-Essex Technical College for my Ordinary National Certificate (ONC) and its Higher counterpart (HNC), complete with assorted endorsements, with a view to becoming a Graduate of the Institution of Electronic and Radio Engineers (GradIERE), which I later achieved with help from the company’s chief Personnel Manager, who was also a fully qualified Member (or more likely a Fellow) of that institution, Freddy Langridge.

 

But then a newer breed of radars started to appear, using new technologies that I only partially understood, and I began to feel uneasy. Following an abortive look at school teaching, to signal a possible complete change of career I took a Further-Education Teacher’s Certificate course, once again at the Mid-Essex Technical College, with a view to branching out into that field. At about the same time I applied to fill a post at the Marconi College as a technical instructor, but following what seemed to be a successful interview, I was given to understand that there had been an “agonising reappraisal” and that the vacancy no longer existed. There was, however, a possible opening in the company’s training department, where the Senior Training Officer, Charlie Rex, had a vacancy for a Training Methods Officer: would I be interested?

 

For the interview I took a sample of some work I had been doing on my FE Teacher’s course, which seemed to impress him sufficiently to offer me the post. It took the Personnel Department several months to organise the paperwork, but finally it was done, and I moved into the lower of two stacked portakabins near the New Street canteen. Here I acquired several friendly colleagues, who helped me acclimatise in the unfamiliar surroundings. Charlie’s office was in the upper portakabin, so every time I was called to see him I had to mount the narrow external staircase, often accompanied by his delightful secretary, Carol. This pleasant person was given to wearing the briefest of mini-skirts, as was the fashion of the time. Whenever we needed to mount the stairs, she always insisted that I go first, which was quite against my natural instincts! There would have been no such problem had she worn the other contemporary fashion, the maxi-skirt (or even a midi-skirt) but I fancy she would have looked a trifle ridiculous in such a garment, being of a very slight build.

 

Before long, Charlie arranged for me to go on a two-week-long Training Officers’ residential course at a hotel in Woodbridge, Suffolk. This was fairly intensive, and gave me an excellent background in such topics as task analysis, job analysis, writing training programmes etc.

 

The job entailed visiting many GEC sites, to which group Marconi’s now belonged. Apart from New Street itself, all of these places seemed to have names starting with the letter B. So it was that I found myself in such places as Baddow, Billericay, Basildon, Birmingham, Blackbird Road (Leicester), Brown’s Lane laboratories (Portsmouth) and the next-door Broad Oak Works. This was all heady stuff, and I usually enjoyed the trips, normally by car. On one occasion, my colleague, Ernie Minney, accompanied me to Portsmouth, where we spent a few days preparing training programmes in various departments of both sites, finally delivering a short course in one of them.

 

Later, following the sad demise of one of Chelmsford’s major employers, Crompton Parkinson‘s electrical company, their premises in Writtle Road became vacant and were duly acquired by Marconi Radar, providing an enormous space for transmitters and associated equipment to be tested. Along with the main factory site, the related nearby social club premises were also brought under the Marconi Company’s wing, partly allocated to a drawing office and partly to the Training Department, including the secretarial training school and the Training Methods department. This proved to be an excellent move, being a much larger and lighter office space with plenty of room outside for parking cars. While there, I was roped in to delivering a clerical training course, part of the training programme followed by secretarial trainees. I’m not sure I handled this particularly well, but it was very good experience and I think was moderately successful from the trainees’ point of view.

 

The Portsmouth experience turned out to be a precursor to something that brought about a huge change in my circumstances. It came to light that the person who was Training Officer for the Portsmouth sites, both of which belonged to Marconi Space and Defence Systems, had been behaving in a very unprofessional manner, and was dismissed, though not before his secretary had to step in when he was found to be destroying many of the training records. A decision was then made to appoint two Training Officers, one for each establishment. For Broad Oak Works, a suitable person was recruited externally. Then one day, out of the blue, Charlie called me into his office and asked me whether I might be interested in the corresponding post at Brown’s Lane. If I accepted, we would have to move house to somewhere in the Portsmouth area, and our three children would need schools. I was interviewed by John Richard, the Brown’s Lane Personnel Officer, who startled me a little when he began by saying, “Well Alan, we’re very pleased that you are coming here to be our Training Officer.” How silly of me! I had thought he might ask me lots of tricky questions about my past experience in the training field, but I guess Charlie had already gone before me and convinced him.

 

So in May 1973 I was allocated one of the small offices that lined the front of the main building. With it came a promise of an assistant, sometime in the future. My wife and I did much house-hunting before settling on a four-bedroomed detached house in Waterlooville: we could not then have predicted that it would be our home for the next 27 years.

 

Some of my duties were similar to those I was already familiar with, but a major part that was new to me was the weighty matter of recruiting student apprentices. These people would be studying for electrical or mechanical engineering degrees at various universities, supported by Marconi bursaries, and working in various departments around the site to gain experience during the vacations. Jim Poole, who had gained experience of all this when Charlie had sent him to help at another establishment, came to get me started. Already there was a pile of applications, and Jim showed me how to assess them and to organise interviews and, for the successful applicants, training attachments.

 

Later on, I was able to obtain the services of Di Kitchen, the attractive young wife of a newly-recruited engineer, as my Training Assistant. She proved to be very capable, but had not been trained as a typist, and quickly became frustrated, eventually transferring to the Personnel Department, doing work to which she was better suited. In her place came Iris Goldstone, an older lady with whom I soon formed an excellent working relationship. She too was very capable and, crucially, was a very good typist.

 

John Richard moved on a little later, to be replaced by Alan Barrett, who came from Leicester to be Personnel Manager, a more senior person with greater experience of personnel matters. For some reason, he was persuaded by someone that I should not be occupying a front office, so I was moved to a portakabin beyond the back of the main building. I missed the lovely trees that I could see from the office window, but in fact I now had more space, so it was rather a mixed blessing.

 

At that time, all training in the electrical industry was required by law to meet certain standards, monitored by the Electrical Industry Training Board, or EITB, to whom we had to pay an annual levy that could be redeemed by claiming for adhering to the standards. Charlie came to visit me from Chelmsford every now and then to advise me and keep me on the right lines, but eventually we had an inspection by the EITB. This turned out not to be very auspicious, and I believed I was not getting the level of management support that I needed to do my job properly. As a result, our grant was much reduced, well below the amount of the levy. I decided that it was time to look at returning to a technical job, partly because of what had happened and partly because I felt that technical matters were advancing too fast for me to keep up with them at this distance.

 

I spoke to our Chief Engineer, Ron Turner, who thought I could become a Systems Engineer, with the result that I joined the Spacecraft Systems Group under John Spiller, and began drawing interconnect diagrams for the MAROTS spacecraft payload. After a while, I began to interact with Jim Henry, our departmental FORTRAN expert, whose job it was to generate computerised wiring lists for the wiremen to work to. I was interested and asked him to explain how it worked, so he lent me a book on the subject. I started to write some simple programs myself and gradually became proficient enough to produce some useful applications. Over time I went on to learn about assembly language and eventually discovered how to interpret machine code in octal and binary digits.

 

By now I was working under Barry Young with a team that included Jon Barrett, Dave “Fuzz” Hussey, Alan Mackey and others, who were producing real-time software for spacecraft payload testing. This eventually sometimes led to my being on call when the test engineers, who often worked evening and night-time shifts, ran into problems. On one occasion, my wife answered the phone to someone who announced himself to be Mike Yarwood, the name of a popular TV comedian at the time. She nearly hung up, thinking it was a “funny phone call”, but it was quite genuine, a request for me to go in to sort out a problem the shift-workers had encountered.

 

Barry decided to put me up for promotion to Senior Engineer, which entailed being grilled by a number of senior managers, including the head of our departmental group, a certain well-respected Rear-Admiral Anson, whom most of us referred to as the “Admirable”. Upon approval, I could now describe myself as a Senior Software Engineer, no longer a mere programmer.

 

Towards the end of the MAROTS project the company was visited by the Prime Minister, James Callaghan, who was taken on a tour of the laboratories, including the clean-room complex in which I worked. He suddenly appeared, surrounded by senior managers and others, right next to the DEC computer that I was operating. Instinctively I rose and offered my hand, which he took and enquired what we were doing. The company photographer spotted the handshake and grabbed the opportunity for a photo. Afterwards I enquired about the possibility of having a copy, and found I had to pay for it, but it was quite a moment and I wasn’t going to let the chance of a record of it passing me by.

 

 

 

My sole claim to fame – shaking hands with the Prime Minister


 

Around this time, Marconi Space and Defence Systems was split into three parts. What had been known as the Military Communications division had gone elsewhere, the Underwater Weapons division had become Marconi Underwater Systems Ltd and moved out to a purpose-built factory at Waterlooville, just across the Hambledon Road from my house: I tried to find out if I could use any inter-company transport as a means of getting to and from work, but unsurprisingly that wasn’t possible. What was left at Brown’s Lane became Marconi Space Systems Ltd (MSS). Some years later, a joint venture was started with Matra Espace of Toulouse, France, and the two eventually merged to become Matra-Marconi Space Ltd (MMS).

 

Some little while after finishing with MAROTS, I was asked to be in charge of a small new section, to be known as the Analysis Group, comprising a few programmers and software system designers. Among a number of fairly pedestrian tasks, we were finally assigned a significant package for the MOD, and given a suitable budget. I was delighted, and not a little relieved, when, after some months of hard work by my team, the project came to a successful conclusion, on time and (just) within budget.

 

My immediate superior at this time was initially John Spiller once again, then John Carter, who had been one of the most respected and capable senior design engineers since my arrival in Portsmouth. At first I was a little anxious to be under such an auspicious leader, but I found him to be very friendly and anxious to develop a good working relationship with his staff. I had occasion, a number of years afterwards, to recall what a good boss he had been for me.

 

In time, however, the need for the Analysis Group disappeared and the team was disbanded. I then came under Dave Lancashire, one of the senior engineers. For him I wrote a number of software applications in FORTRAN, chiefly connected with Synthetic Aperture Radar payloads. Dave and I became good friends, a friendship that continued even after I no longer worked for him. During this time the IERE was absorbed into the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE), of which I was now deemed to be an Associate Member. Under the guidance of another senior engineer, John Harvey, who was a Fellow of the IEE, I applied to become a Member, which would have accorded me Chartered Engineer status, but despite repeated appeals by myself and John, the IEE was implacable: I had no university degree, and despite the information published in the institution’s diary, which appeared to suggest otherwise, I was not suitably qualified.

 

One of the major projects gained by the company at that time involved working with the Dornier company in Friedrichshafen, Germany. A contract worker, who had been ill-advisedly sent there to liaise with our German colleagues, had evidently behaved in a rather unsatisfactory manner, resulting in soured relations. I was asked to accompany one of our senior engineers on an expedition to attempt to improve matters. We invited some of them for a meal (at Marconi’s expense) at the hotel we were using. To our relief, this went well.

 

Later, I went over again a number of times, making friends with a Dr Zahn and one of his staff, Axel, both very nice people, and with whom I participated in a series of progress meetings. This was a great experience. I enjoyed the travelling, which involved flying to Zurich and driving a hired car across the border to Friedrichshafen, via a car ferry on Lake Constance. On my final trip of this series, as the plane approached Zurich airport the pilot announced that the place was fogbound, but that the aircraft was equipped with the latest automatic landing system, so we should relax and wait while the plane lands itself! I have flown many times, and I have to say that this landing was the gentlest I ever experienced, hardly a bump, though it was distinctly odd to look out of the window and hardly to be able to discern the edge of the runway. The pilot immediately came back on the PA system to tell us excitedly in both English and German that it had been a fully automatic landing. He almost sounded like Kermit the frog! I wonder whether in fact it was his first such landing. There followed an “interesting” foggy journey, and a couple of days later another back to Zurich, while enjoying a favourite cassette of Switched-on Bach (Bach played on a synthesiser – amazing!). The airport was almost deserted because of the fog, but my flight took off safely and on time. Such are the joys of being a Marconi employee!

 

When the work for Dave Lancashire came to an end, I was allocated to Curt Slater, of whom I had heard reports that he was a difficult person to relate to. Nothing could have been further from the truth: we quickly established a relationship that worked very well, and I found myself back in the business of designing and creating application software for customers. I recall one such job particularly. I had to produce a spreadsheet, using a particular spreadsheet application on a PC. PCs were then in their infancy, so this was quite a challenge, entailing learning how to create a spreadsheet and to run it like a computer program. This I achieved with, I think, reasonable success, and the result was duly delivered to the customer. Much later, I received news that the customer was having difficulty in using it: some of it just didn’t work, despite its having worked perfectly for me. It turned out that, for some reason, the customer was not using the same spreadsheet software, but another one with a built-in emulator for the one I had used (and which had been specified to be used!). Curt and I recommended that the proper software be bought, and we heard no more about it!

 

Next I was given the task of sorting out a software package that had been written for a customer in BBC BASIC (yes, really!) and the corresponding assembly language, that was not working properly. After studying the requirements and the existing software, I started on the task of sorting out the associated problems and expanding the package for new tasks. This involved using a technique that I had already learned from writing for my own BBC Model B computer, known as “disk overlays”, which meant storing parts of the program on the relevant floppy disk, to be called into the machine’s limited memory as required and overwritten when other functions were needed. All this was done for another department, whose boss, Paul Cope, asked whether it would be possible to rewrite the whole thing for a PC, to which I replied that it would be a huge task, not to be attempted in a hurry. This was accepted, as time was of the essence, so when the equipment, of which the BBC computer was a fairly small part, was all integrated together, the computer was repositioned so that it was not readily seen, as it was by then thought to be something of a “dinosaur”.

 

About then, Matra-Marconi Space was awarded a contract for developing and building the payload for the SOHO spacecraft, which, at the time of writing, is still operational. I was brought in to help with creating test software for some of the on-board instruments. Some of my colleagues at that time were from Toulouse, and spoke English with varying degrees of fluency, but they were required to use English because it had been specified as the project language. Working with them was, to say the least, an interesting experience.

 

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, my engineering career was approaching its end. I became involved in a number of other tasks, eventually working for a lady whose name was Sheena, but whose surname has, like so many things, now left me. I had to write test software in a specialised assembly language for a new spacecraft payload. This turned out to be a rather unsatisfying business, on account of what was generally known as “requirements creep”, a process whereby the requirements for the software were constantly changing, and it was hard to keep up.

 

Then a day arrived in early 1996 when a senior manager called to deliver an announcement. We were instructed to take all the phones off the hooks before he said what he come to say, something that was being said in every department across the site simultaneously. We guessed it: redundancies. Margaret and I had for some years been discussing the possibility of my taking early retirement, but each time had come to the same conclusion: we couldn’t afford it. Earlier this year, however, we had decided that this was going to be the one, and that September would be the month. Voluntary redundancies were being asked for, so we agreed that I should apply.

 

I never completed my part of the current project, and handed it over to a colleague. A few months after leaving, I met Dave Yetton, another of my former colleagues, who informed me that the software was never used as intended, its function having been taken over by a different system. Then he dropped a bombshell: the Marconi setup had been taken over completely by BAE Systems (formerly British Aerospace) and the name Marconi had ceased to be used. The new name for the Portsmouth organisation was Astrium. For me this was terrible news. I could hardly believe that the name that had been with me for so long no longer existed as part of a company’s title. How could that possibly have happened? I was devastated, and just felt relieved to realise that it had not happened before I retired.

 

So that was that, then. My 36 years under the Marconi umbrella had ended. Or had they? We booked ourselves on a package tour, to celebrate. Just before starting out, I had a call from Paul Cope. There was a problem with the project involving the BBC computer, so would I kindly come in and sort it out? Well, I would, provided it was done properly as a consultancy, with suitable remuneration agreed in writing beforehand; but not just now, as I was about to go on a long holiday. I promised to phone for details after returning home, which I duly did. Ah, no need to come in after all. The problem had turned out to be hardware-related, and my software was performing beautifully. What a nice accolade to end my career on!

 

So am I now no longer a Marconi man? Not only am I no longer employed by a Marconi company, there no longer exists such an organisation and even my pension is paid by the BAE Systems 2000 Pension Plan.

 

Some would say, “Once a Marconi man, always a Marconi man,” and I feel that’s true for me. This account is based on what are, for the most part, vivid memories. The New Street factory has gone, but I can still walk around it, seeing in my mind’s eye the somewhat grubby buildings in some areas, contrasting with the brilliant white of the main building elsewhere. The canteen is still there, with its familiar smells and sounds. I can walk through the machine shop and be almost overcome by the deafening racket of the automatic lathes, churning out … well, I never knew exactly what, and I suppose I now never will. I can say much the same of the other sites where I have worked: Baddow, Billericay, Basildon, Portsmouth …

 

 

 

A very familiar view from the main yard at New Street.

The office-block windows were double-glazed, with the panes about a foot apart to reduce noise from the nearby railway.

 

 

Speaking of my pension, I read a while ago in my pension newsletter about an organisation of former Marconi employees, known as the Marconi Old Geezers Society: MOGS. I found I could join it and meet with other members at the Orange Tree pub in Lower Anchor Street in Chelmsford, any Friday I cared to do so. Living in Swindon now, that was easier said than done, but on occasional visits to Chelmsford it has been a pleasure to meet others, who, as it turns out, either never knew me or have forgotten me. But that’s fine. They are all in a similar position to mine: we are all officially Old Geezers together! I am truly a Marconi man still, and am assured of remaining so until the end of my days.

Alan Turk

 

 

 

Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.