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Sir Robert Telford

Page history last edited by Alan Hartley-Smith 8 years, 4 months ago




From The Times April 10, 2008



Electronics wizard who rose through the ranks of the Marconi Company to become life president


Sir Robert Telford, was a technical wizard who oversaw the development of many products and innovations when Britain was at the cutting edge of technology, including radar, airborne missiles, television, TV cameras, satellites and defence systems.


He joined the Marconi Company Ltd as a £2.50-per-week management trainee in 1937 and rose, through the mergers with English Electric and General Electric under Lord Weinstock, to become life president, an honour only before granted to the brothers Bob and Guglielmo of the founding Marconi family.


Later in his career Telford liked to say that he had been in the electronics business since its early “radio” days. He clearly found himself at the heart of innovation from the start of his career. He was present at the Marconi offices in 1938 for the first ever testing of live sport transmission on television, made more even more memorable as it was the Test Match when Len Hutton made 364 for England against Australia.


Not all the experiments went so smoothly. He was at Cape Canaveral to witness Marconi launching its first satellite into orbit. Two hours later, he had to report that the craft had fallen out of orbit and was lost in space.


Robert Telford was born in 1915 in Liverpool, where he attended Quarry Bank School. As the slump hit Liverpool in 1929, his father lost his clerical job, and he and his mother who was a farmer’s daughter, decided to become farmers near Tamworth, Staffordshire, a difficult decision since farming was not prospering either in the 1930s. With the move, Telford transferred to Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School at Tamworth, where he shone and won a county scholarship to Christ’s College, Cambridge in 1934. There he studied civil engineering, played rugby and rowed for the college, and graduated with an MA.


After three years as a management trainee with Marconi, he was made manager of the Hackbridge Works. He then became managing director of Marconi in Brazil 1946-50.

In 1948 English Electric purchased the UK-based Marconi company. On his return to the UK Telford was made assistant to the general manager (1950-53), general works manager (1953-61) and served as general manager from 1961-65. After the purchase of English Electric by General Electric (GEC) in 1968, he became managing director of GEC-Marconi Electronics Co, retiring in 1984, and chairman of GEC Avionics, 1982-86. He was appointed CBE in 1967 and was knighted in 1978.


In spite of the takeovers Telford remained a Marconi man as, with its expansion, it grew into all areas of telecommunications, electronics and components. He was managing director of the Marconi Company from 1965-81, chairman from 1981-84 and appointed life president in 1984.


Telford’s other directorships included General Electric Company, DRI Holdings, Prelude Tube Investments and CTP Investments. He held office with a number of professional associations including the Electronic and Avionics Requirements Board, the Commonwealth Engineers Council and was president of the Electronic Engraving Association.


He also served in a number of advisory groups including the Research and Development Advisory Group to the European Community (1988-92) and the Council of Senior Advisors to the International Association of University Presidents.


He was made a Freeman of the City of London in 1984, and held honorary degrees from Salford, Hatfield, Cranfield, Bath, Aston, Bradford and Birmingham. He was awarded the Leonardo da Vinci Medal in 1992.


He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, four children by his first marriage and three by his second.


Sir Robert Telford CBE, life president of the Marconi Company, was born on October 1, 1915. He died on March 10, 2008, aged 92






Comments (2)

Ian Gillis said

at 5:39 pm on Feb 14, 2016

Page checked

Bernard de Neumann said

at 8:43 am on Aug 3, 2017

By complete chance, I once found myself sitting in the row behind Bob Telford, after he had been knighted, on a flight to Brussels. He was evidently travelling incognito as the stewardess was busily calling him Mr Telford, and me Sir!

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