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A Career in Marconi

Page history last edited by Ian Gillis 2 years, 4 months ago

Roy Simons

A career in Marconi, by R. W. Simons
Technical Director of Marconi Radar Systems 1968-1985

In 1943 I was declared unfit for active service in the forces due to a recent serious illness whilst I was still at school. Being unfit meant that I was not eligible for an Engineering Cadetship, so I left school and applied for a job at Marconi’s as I was already an active builder of wireless equipment, a skill inherited from my father, who had been building receivers since the early 1920’s. He had at one time used a Marconi tuner and had latterly built a very early superhet.


I was interviewed at Marconi College by Mr. Ladner and John Lindsay Scott. I must have impressed them with my ability with the slide rule and confused them by describing a method of measuring the velocity of light with which neither of them was familiar. They sent me to Research at Baddow for a further interview with Mr. R. J. Kemp. He toured me round the huts in the field and I made a comment about polarization of aerials, which was lucky, as this was one aspect of the work of his section. He asked me to bring my own tools. I was offered the post of a Junior Technical Assistant at the salary of £100 p.a.


I joined the Company on Empire Day 1943. (May 24th) and found myself occupying a bench in Room 124 that had been vacated by the previous person having been called up. R. J. Kemp’s Section, known as Section K, was engaged in providing the Services with direction finding equipment, in particular a spaced-frame design, that by using phase cancellation was not subject to errors due to ground conductivity prevalent in amplitude null systems. Such as four pole Adcocks.


My first job on day one was to work with Fewings to increase the frequency range of an Adcock DF. This required me to wind a suitable inductance whilst Fewings was away on a site visit. I completed this the next morning and went to O’Neill, who was Kemp’s deputy, for further work. He said I was working too quickly.


At that time, all employees were either members of the Home Guard or the Works Fire Brigade. As O’Neill was the Chief Fireman, I was recruited as a fireman. For the rest of the war, I regularly spend the night in a decontamination building which was either very hot or very cold. Each night if one was able to sleep, the contactors on the water heater would wake one up with a bang. The only fire we had to put out was in one of the labs. where some ether had been spilt.


I was given the task of designing several receivers. One used only KTZ63 valves, the use of this one type reducing the required spares holding. Another was for very low frequency coverage, using a Bellini Tosi loop mounted inside a vehicle.


With the arrival of the V2 attack, there was a possibility that radio guidance was being used. I constructed a VHF DF using an elevated crossed dipole antenna and a CRT-based continuous monitoring display using a spinning goniometer. In the event this equipment was not required as radio guidance was not being used.


There were many other tasks, all carried out at speed, to produce results in a wartime environment. There was an attempt to reduce vertical pickup on the feeders from a horizontal aerial using radio transmission and also some work to improve a No.10 set, my first introduction to magnetrons and microwaves.


With the end of the war, the DF work was run down and Kemp announced quite suddenly that ‘We are going to do radar’. This was a requirement from the Marine Company for a shipborne navigation radar. The Marine Company did not have its own development staff and had traditionally used staff from MWT to develop Echo Sounders and marine DF’s under James Watt in New Street


The first equipment, Radiolocator 1, was closely based on the Canadian Type 972 or US Type 268. The display deflection was generated by passing an area-balanced waveform up the mast, to the aerial turning gear, where it was resolved in a synchro stator into three phase components and passed back to a matching stator fitted round the neck of the CRT. This was

a cumbersome system and was not really capable of use at short ranges. I was able to improve the performance somewhat by designing less lossy resolvers.

At this time, Roger Shipway, who prior to call up had been a lecturer at Marconi College, returned from his RAF service. He had been based at TRE Malvern and had worked on the latest electronic circuit technology. He brought this knowledge to Baddow and I worked with him in devising a completely new radar, using the new circuits, especially for the display system.


One problem with the new circuits was that there were no oscilloscopes in existence that were fast enough to be used as design tools. I designed a new high-speed oscilloscope which became widely used, not only in the laboratory but also in production.


A very high-quality display was designed and built, using a rotating deflection coil driven by a synchro with auto-align, using a gear box designed by Bob Nightingale. This also allowed an M motor to be fitted, to introduce compass correction.


I also designed a new receiver with afc, to ensure accurate tuning of the system. This radar was the Radiolocator 2.


Radiolocator 1 was, in the meantime, fitted to one or other of the LMS ships that sailed each night between Heysham and Belfast. Fred Garrett, who had returned from a spell at the Admiralty, looked after this installation.


On one occasion, the Duke of Argyll was sailing out of Belfast Lough and the captain ignored the presence of a large echo shown on the display. The Argyll hit the stationary vessel amidships and it sank.


I was on the first sailing of the Duke of Argyll after had been repaired, with a new captain and the ship was fitted with the one and only Radiolocator 2 that was built. The radar worked very well and this equipment design was the prototype of the Radiolocators 3 & 4 which were further developed by James Watt's section for the Marine Company. These were fitted to a large number of ships over many years.


I used the same circuit design for the display for an Airfield Control Radar for Jersey airport.This radar used a back-to-back aerial system with removable polarisers. Again this equipment gave many years of useful service. I patented the system of superimposing a DF bearing line on the display.


My next task, because of my experience with fast displays, was to design a monitor for the prototype Type 984 radar for the Royal Navy, which was being designed at Broomfield by Radar Development Group. At the same time, in 1948, a study was in progress by both Broomfield and Baddow staff led by Dr. Eastwood, who had joined Baddow as Deputy Director of Research, to propose a refurbishment of the wartime radar chain. I was taken off the largely completed 984 monitor, to be the project manager of the new Fixed Coil Display System, for the project known as ROTOR for the Royal Air Force.


A large team of engineers was assembled under the leadership of Shipway, many of whom had returned from the services, to design all the underground equipment for radar stations with up to 24 displays and several surveillance radar heads. All facilities were to be available to all users, together with control of a number of height finder radars. It was all required to be designed, built and installed in a very short time scale.


After one of our engineers left the company, I assumed responsibility for all the radar office equipment, including supervision of the drawing office, the prototyping model shop and the production, which was sub-contracted to Plessey, who opened a new factory for this project. During this project I had almost daily contact with engineers from TRE Malvern on the design and with staff from the Ministry of Supply, on the production, most of which was built by Plessey, and the site installation progress. I had to attend some very difficult progress meetings with very senior MOS people, to explain our problems and the reasons for delays.


The first site was at Bawdsey. I made many visits during the installation, to ensure that the equipment installation was satisfactory. Despite the delay, the RAF was not ready to take the site over and the company was asked by Gp.Capt. Turl, at the handover meeting in December 1953, to arrange to look after the equipment for about a further six months.


Over a thousand Type 64 displays were built and installed, together with the associated radar office equipment for about 25 stations of various sizes and complexity. The display system was also installed in a few sites overseas. One that I visited in 1956 with Bruce Neale, to carry out a routine servicing, was at Metz, an RCAF station fitted with a Decca Type 80 radar head.


An unusual task, on which I was engaged, was on behalf of the RAF. We were requested to devise interception tactics for the new supersonic fighter the English Electric Lightning against a perceived threat of a near supersonic bomber that had just made a large manoeuvre immediately after the last radar return. Typically a data rate of 15 seconds. We were given all the data on engine performance under energy climb conditions. I visited English Electric Aviation at Warton where the aeroplane was under development and discussed the performance with the test pilots. Also visits to the Central Fighter Establishment at West Raynham to discuss tactics with operational pilots. In collaboration with the Theoretical Services laboratory, a set of profiles for fighter manoeuvre was created to give the most probable continued contact with the target.


I was successively promoted to Section Chief, Group Chief and Deputy Superintendent of the Display and Data Handling Laboratories. In the period up to 1965 I was responsible for all the engineering staff and their activities for several display and data handling contracts. Initially, we continued the development of the RAF system, with central monitors and a new large horizontal display, which received compliments from James Aikman the Company Production Controller, as it passed through production with negligible problems.


We incorporated improved communication facilities and took account of the arrival of early digital semiconductor components and the progressive changes to the RAF operational requirements. This relationship with the RAF continued for many years with projects such as the 1958 Plan, (installed in 1960), Middle Airspace control, Plan Ahead and subsequently in 1961 became known as Linesman. This project continued until 1973 with a very large content of Marconi Radar display, software and data handling systems. Followed by the subsequent project UKADGE.

As a result of a Study contract received in 1957, the company was awarded a contract by the Royal Swedish AFB to provide the display and data handling equipment for two new large underground radar control centres. In Baddow we designed and then installed the very first digital systems in the world, which continued in operational use for over 25 years. This was the first use of a core store in an operational situation. I spent some time in Sweden at the first site, in charge of the commissioning and installation work.


One aspect of this contract was the need to further expand the circuit design team. We interviewed and recruited engineers from all parts of the company. Few of them had any experience of pulse circuitry and none of digital design. Special courses were set up at the Marconi College to bring these people up to speed. The project was named Fur Hat and the two sites were handed over in 1963 and 1966 respectively.


At the same time, as a by-product of this private venture development, we used almost identical designs for use by the RAF in the Passive Detection System. This system allowed the detection of aircraft in a heavily jammed environment.


In 1965, we in Research were approached by the MoD to carry out a study on a naval project which at that time was called Sea Cat successor. This was to be an anti-missile radar system capable of working in very difficult clutter conditions. In 1967, (after the company reorganisation below) a large team of my staff, under Bill Melville, took over the results of the study and developed the Sea Wolf radar system with both surveillance and tracking capability. This system was installed in many Royal Navy frigates. It has been the subject of further development for later ship fits.


Also in 1965, there was a major restructuring of the Marconi Company. All radar development and commercial activities were placed into a new Radar Division under John Sutherland. A number of new divisions were set up and needed to be staffed. As a result, many of the Display & Data Handling staff that we had recruited were moved to these new Divisions, such as Computer and Automation. This created a severe technical staff shortage in Radar Division, as the new division received a very large order from NATO in addition to its existing contracts.


I was appointed Technical Manager of Radar Division responsible for all development activities. The Radar Development Group engineers from the Broomfield site had already moved into Baddow. At this time, the Type 84 radar was completing its trials and being put into RAF service. This was the last high-power radar procurement by the UK for over 20 years

The management of Radar Division prior to 1965 had not set in hand any development to replace the equipments that were becoming outdated. John Sutherland, Nigel Ellis-Robinson and I held a number of meetings, some over lunch at The Running Mare in Galleywood and devised a proposal for a series of transportable radars to meet the perceived requirement that was emerging world wide.


This proposal was for what became known as the S600 series. It was announced in 1967 and a fully working system was shown at Farnborough the following year. The equipment was sold world-wide, but not in the UK, and received the Queen’s Award for Export achievement. The development proposal was never signed by the Marconi senior management as they thought it too risky. The system was subject to continuing development over its production life of over 10 years, in particular by the addition of enhanced signal processing as new semiconductor devices became available.


The change in my position inevitably reduced my ability to take a detailed interest in the many projects that were underway. I found it particularly difficult to relinquish my detailed involvement in the MOD work after 15 years responsibility.


Shortly afterwards, in 1966, English Electric took over Elliott Brothers. A firm that had been a competitor for radar systems for many years, especially those involving some datahandling. We had lost a few contracts to them on cost and I now had to complete these projects at their price.


We assumed control of the Elliott Air Space Control Division. This Division was effectively bankrupt. Malcolm Holladay and I spent much time at Borehamwood going through the accounts, which showed that they had been taking profit on a regular basis from fixed-price contracts for many years. The cumulative effect of this became critical when a contract for Libya ceased paying progress payments. We christened their accounting process as ‘worked-up turnover’.


I was subject to criticism by the MOD for my failure to deliver core storage from a supplier for the computers they had ordered from Elliott’s. Life is unfair! I gave the MOD a piece of my mind and they complained to Sir Robert Telford, who gave me his complete support. However we were protected to a large degree financially on the cancelled Libyan contract by ECGD.


In 1967, GEC merged with AEI (BTH and Metropolitan Vickers) and then in 1968 with English Electric. A new company Marconi Radar Systems was formed on 4th August 1969, to take responsibility for most of the radar activities of all these companies. I was appointed Technical and Quality Director of the company, responsible for all development work at both Chelmsford and Leicester. In this position my policy was to ensure that MRSL had a product range that met the needs of potential customers world-wide and not just the plans of the MOD in the UK. We continued to invest private venture funds in new developments in parallel with customer contracts at both Leicester and Chelmsford, subject to my approval.


The Leicester activities were in great difficulty, as just prior to the English Electric merger, Trafford Park had been closed in six weeks and all contracts transferred to Leicester New Parks and the factory at Blackbird Road. Needless to say only a limited number of the Manchester staff transferred, but the work had to be maintained. Peter Way was appointed General Manager of Leicester and it took over two years to unravel the backlog that this move caused.


We inherited the Types 85 and 82 radars for the RAF and the Type 40T2, a cut-down version that had been developed in Manchester and all of the precision missile tracking radars of AEI. Both the Type 85 and Type 82 were in service and performed as required, although Type 85 full power was never used. Five Type 40T2 had been sold to Saudi Arabia in 1967, as part of a radar system, where Marconi Radar was the display system supplier. (A contract we inherited back).


There were problems with the high power sliprings of the 40T2 in Saudi and I was appointed Technical Director AEI International, so that I could interface at the appropriate level with the Saudi Air Force, during my visit to investigate the situation. The problem with the sliprings was identified as being the result of a change of material from that used in the Type 85 for cost- cutting reasons. A decision that cost MRSL a considerable amount to put right.


One memorable aspect of the visit was the need to run to get out of the sun in the desert. Another was to avoid packs of dogs roaming the streets at night. The overall Saudi radar contract caused MRSL considerable problems over time, from roads to radars sited on the top of hills. The contract had been gained by AEI as a result of a large sum being given away during the final negotiations. Sir Arnold Weinstock directed that this money was shown as a loss in the MRSL accounts. However Marconi Radar came out of the Kingdom very well and received another very large contract for further ATC radars and dataprocessing as a sub- contractor to Lockheed.


Bill Melville of AEI, Peter Way’s predecessor at Leicester, was transferred to me at Chelmsford to manage the Sea Wolf contract and Max Stothard and Colin Latham moved to Leicester from Chelmsford.


Another problem we found at Leicester was that they had correctly received a contract for new experimental tracking radar for two MOD test sites. Quite suddenly, the MOD (N) decided that this radar should be put into production as the Type 909, and fitted to HMS Bristol. This was a system in very early development; there were no finished drawings, or a prototype, on which they might be proved. Production started without any of this back up and in fact there was never a prototype built. Although the 909 was installed in many ships, inevitably there were years of problems and many changes had to be made. There were numerous discussions and a formal investigation of the situation was carried out by David Kiely of MOD and myself. It was very difficult, as MOD did not wish to accept that they had placed an impossible task on the company.


There were many other activities at Leicester, such as fire control for main battle tanks (I had an exciting ride across parts of the Lulworth Cove trials site holding a live round between my legs), cathodic protection, degaussing systems, runway visual range and simulators. All these developments required me to make weekly visits to Leicester.


Data handling techniques and computing were rapidly advancing in understanding and speed. The FPPS contract for an extremely reliable system for controlling the Middle Air Space was installed at West Drayton. It used three Myriad computers in collaboration with each other and was not known to have ever had a failure.


Another system using MRSL computers was at Prestwick, the Scottish Air Traffic Control Centre.


The Chelmsford unit expanded and outgrew the space at Baddow. All the company was moved into the Crompton works at Writtle Road. A great deal of time was involved in making the space suitable accommodation for laboratories and offices.


In 1973 my responsibilities were increased. Appointed General Manager of the Chelmsford site with two major trading Systems Divisions, Home Business managed by I. F. Donaldson, Export Business managed by D. F. Candy. Also Support Division managed by I.T. Butler, and the Engineering Division managed by H. N. C. Ellis Robinson. Supplies division was managed by B. R. Carey. R. Sherwin was General Works manager with R. F. Bernhardt the Chelmsford works manager and W. I. M. Henderson at Gateshead. W.S.Melville the project manager of the GWS 25 (Sea Wolf) Project. Other senior staff were F.A. Robertson for Quality; T Murphy for Personnel, A. J. Adams Chief Accountant and the site was the responsibility of Establishments manager C. A. R. Mackley


There were many important contributors to the success of the Chelmsford unit, it is difficult to include everyone and many of them were appointed to managerial positions in the subsequent years. I mention from engineering, Bruce Neale, Jack Wild, Cyril Slade, and Eric Gildersleve. From the Home Division, Jim Court, Dennis Moyce, Ron Emery, Ian Whitlock, Arthur Young, and Derek Watkins. From Export Division, John Crispin, Leslie Pickard, Ralph Day, Ken Jinks, Fred Kime and Roger Woodcock. There were many more.


There was a continuing shortage of skilled staff. I was involved in a major recruitment exercise including attempts to get expatriates to return from the USA.


In addition I retained the post of Company Technical Director. The turnover at that time was about £60M. Subsequently Health and Safety Policy was added to my remit.


The overall control, as General Manager, of these tasks in Chelmsford as well as the continuing responsibility for the Leicester development was certainly a full time task, but I was well supported by the many excellent staff, who were all self motivated and able to manage their own areas.


In 1976 it was decided that the Leicester unit needed a closer relationship with Chelmsford. The Company was reorganised and eliminated the posts of General Managers, all control was placed in a new Divisional structure based in Chelmsford.


In the early 1970’s it had become clear that there was a market for long range 3D radar that was in some measure transportable. The operational need was to provide real-time height and azimuth information. Sir Robert Clayton, at that time the Technical Director of GEC, gave us his support to start this development, as he appreciated our confidence in the market. The Martello equipment was born; firstly as equipment with a large vertical aperture fed from a single twystron which was shown at Farnborough in 1978, but as customer requirements became clearer, a wider aperture giving improved azimuth resolution with frequency agility was essential. A transmitter system using semi conductors was developed and Martello was delivered to many customers starting in 1982, both at home and overseas, over many years.

As Technical Director, I continued with my responsibility for development at all our sites and additionally, for a number of years, assumed responsibility for all company production at Chelmsford, Leicester and Gateshead, where we opened a second site at Hebburn. I well remember being at one annual Foreman’s and Supervisors’ dinner and receiving an ovation, when I announced that we were keeping the Gateshead factory open.


In 1981 the MOD (N) cancelled, as a result of the John Nott Defence review, the Naval destroyer programme. This caused the 909 production contract and the associated development work to be substantially cut. I had the very difficult task of declaring some 600 development engineers at Leicester redundant. Ironically the Marconi proposals for a redesign of the 909 that had up to that time been strongly rejected by the MoD as inadequate, were then accepted, and put into subsequent designs. This cancellation followed many weeks of meetings with the MOD, when I was persuading the ministry that we had sufficient capacity at Blackbird Road to considerably increase production.


At the request of John Shrigley the Personnel Director of Marconi, I made several visits to some Marconi units that were in trouble with their contract implementation. One particularly important and difficult case was that at Borehamwood with the AEW project, where large changes in staff, combined with little communication between the many contributors, made useful progress almost impossible. These were long term problems and were recognised by the MOD who cancelled the contract.


From 1981 to 1986 I continued as Technical Director with the responsibility for development policy and the Radar Research Laboratory at Great Baddow, until I retired.


There is a more complete review of the MRSL products for which I was responsible, is in the paper that I wrote with John Sutherland called ‘ 40 years of Marconi Radar’ published in 1998. in the GEC Review Vol.13 No.3.


I represented the Company on many national committees with the MOD, CAA and the EEA.There were several EEA sub committees including ESASC, CARDEC, and the Aviation Division and for a period I was vice-Chairman of the Engineering Services Division. Another interesting activity was as a member of the Joint EEA/EEF Committee on Advanced Technology, Training and Education.


There was considerable joint participation with the Essex Institute of Higher Education (now Anglia Ruskin University). As a Governor, I was Chairman of the Technology Advisory Panel. I was also a Governor of Chelmsford College of Further Education (now Chelmsford College) and Joint Chairman of the GEC/Essex Education Liaison Committee.


The Company encouraged staff to become registered as professional engineers, mostly with the IEE. I was for many years the IEE industrial representative and processed the applications for many people. I served on the Institutions’ Membership Committee for 11years and was Chairman for three. Also a member of Council, Qualifications Board and the Degree Accreditation Committee.


This experience enabled me to complete the work of Hugh Wassell (who had become Engineering Director of Marconi) He had for some years been proposing a revised university degree course that was more appropriate to graduates entering engineering firms. He had setup a study with Bath University, to develop this scheme and a similar arrangement was trialled at Portsmouth Polytechnic with the Business School under John Winterbottom.

When Hugh Wassell died, I was asked to carry his work forward. I became responsible for structuring the first four year integrated MEng degree courses in the UK at Bath, Bradford and Bangor universities and became an industrial member of the Policy and Advisory Boards that were established.


For a number of years the Marconi archives were held in a separate building at Baddow. With good access to these records I prepared and presented, in 1986, the IEE South East Centre Chairman’s Address, entitled Marconi the Father of Wireless. This I repeated numerous times to many types of audience. There is a paper in GEC Review Vol.11 No.11996 entitled Marconi and Early systems of Wireless communication which has similar content.


My 43 years with the Marconi Company were, except towards the very end when the management style changed, very happy and rewarding. There was always a challenge and all the staff pulled in the same direction. My 17 years as Technical Director of MRSL was the period when the company was expanding in both product range and business and for many years operated with negative capital employed. I trust I made some contribution to the success.


It has been said that I retired at the right time. Events have shown that to be absolutely correct, as the business diminished over the subsequent years and there was a very large number of redundancies from development and production. No new products were developed and then no factory in which to build them. I made some reference to these changes in my address to the Veterans Reunion, when I was proud to be elected President of the Marconi Veterans Association for 2007.


During my years in the company I did a certain amount of travelling, not of course as much as people in marketing or sales, but I was able to make visits to most of Europe and Scandinavia, the Middle East to Lebanon for meetings with representatives from Saudi Arabia, Beirut being about half way, to the Far East, to Malaysia at the time when the indigenous government was taking over from the Australian military administration left over from the war, and several trips to Canada and the USA. There was little or no time on these trips to see the countryside, but I did get exposed to the local culture and met many people that were very interesting and who lived a very different life style than that to which I and probably most of us are accustomed. An important and challenging aspect of all my visits was the prospect of unexpected questions, about which I had no prior notice and in many cases no real knowledge of the problem or how it should be resolved. This required some quick thinking!

Immediately after I left MRSL, I was retained by Derek Roberts, the Technical Director of GEC to carry out a one-year study of Systems Engineering on how it was implemented in many units of the company. I was once again based in Baddow. I visited a large number of GEC units with a wide variety of product ranges. Coming from MRSL, where systems engineering had always been pro-active, and leading to the development of new products, it was sad to find that in almost every other GEC unit, systems engineering was purely reactive and concentrated on current customer orders, with no plans to introduce new products and take a lead in the market place.


After retirement I lectured at Queen Mary College University of London on the Business of Engineering and later was appointed Visiting Professor at the University of Sussex in the Engineering Faculty.


As a member of the Engineering Council, I represented the Council for many years on the Chartered Engineer Panel of the Institute of Physics and also took part in the lengthy discussions with the Institute of Mathematics and IT Applications, to discover if the members of that institution could become Chartered Engineers.


Professor Roy W. Simons OBE, CEng, FIEE, CPhys, FInstP.

22 September 2008


Roy Simons

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Ian Gillis said

at 3:44 pm on Feb 10, 2016

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