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Page history last edited by Alan Hartley-Smith 2 months, 2 weeks ago





Posted by David Lewis - May 2016

Recollections of a Marconi installation engineer

Unexpected Benefits of  Education

Prior to joining Marconi I was advised against a career in Electronics by my elder cousin who said the Maths was too difficult!  As I was already an Electronics enthusiast I ignored his advice, but he was right!  I was saved in the final year of my HNC by a Maths lecturer, who was an engineer; and put it all in context as a toolkit for solving certain problems.  The worst of the maths was the stuff on Waveguide Transmission Theory, the waveguide labs made a little more sense.  Three phase motors were in the same category!


Years passed and in 1971 I found myself in Ireland; installing and commissioning PCM systems between Cork and Cobh.  The latter being on an island in Cork harbour where Atlantic steamers used to depart to America from. 


We were required to measure the attenuation of the cable sections prior to installing pulse regenerators, in manholes, at approximately one mile intervals along the route.  We measured the attenuation of the last half section to the exchange in Cobh and it was way out; around 30 dB instead of around 12dB! I walked the road from the last manhole to the exchange and could find nothing that seemed wrong.  We retired to the pub for lunch and after a couple of pints a strange thought came into my mind. 


I went to the old exchange, in the former P & O shipping office on the quay, and found an old fella who mended radios in slack times and cadged a 150 ohm resistor from him.  This was the characteristic impedance of the telephone cable.  I also got him to show me where the pair came up on the frame in the exchange and terminated it with the resistor.


We re-measured the cable section and it was much nearer the expected value.  We were installing the equipment in a brand new building across the square from the old exchange and apart from some lorry batteries and our kit, thats all that was there.  The connection to the new building had been made by teeing into the existing cable under the square, but the old cable was still in place to the original building.


What we were measuring was a transmission line to the new building with an open circuit stub attached; the continuation of the original pair to the old exchange!  We were measuring at 800Khz, the half bit rate of the PCM system at 1.536Mhz; in my wildest dreams I didn’t expect transmission line effects at this frequency on a telephone cable. They were the domain of the Waveguide “Plumbing” that I detested all those years before, but it really was the case!


I had the PTT dig up the square and cut off the offending pairs and everything was perfect!


Funny thing education!


Posted by Alan Hartley-Smith on behalf of Norman Whitehead - January 2020



Then and now



I was born in 1934 in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, and educated at Todmorden Grammar School from 1945 to 1952. In 1952 I was awarded a Royal Science Scholarship to study at Imperial College of Science and Technology, London. I took the Physics degree course from 1952 to 1954, and then transferred to the Electrical Engineering degree course for 1954 – 1955.


From 1955 to 1958 I worked in the Physics Department at Manchester University as a Research Assistant, helping to build a quarterscale test model of a proposed heavyion linear accelerator. For a thesis on the design of the 25MHz power drive for this accelerator I obtained an M.Sc degree.


In 1958 I joined Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company as a Telecommunications Installation Engineer. After a period working in the Development Laboratories at Writtle and Great Baddow for equipment familiarisation I joined a commissioning team working on US Air Force multichannel links in UK. My first overseas installation job, in 1959, was on a 4GHz TV link from Oslo to Karlstad, part of the Nordvision network linking the TV systems of Scandinavian countries.


When I returned to UK I was assigned to join a team working on the development of 900MHz tropospheric scatter equipment in Chelmsford at Guy’s Farm and New Street Building 46, 1959  1960. We installed this equipment in 1960 – 1961 for Cable & Wireless to provide a multichannel telephone link between Barbados and Trinidad. This was one of the first troposcatter links in commercial service, and immediately went into service with direct international operator dialling between the two islands, replacing temperamental HF links on which telephone calls had to be operatorcontrolled and booked in advance. As the excellent performance of the troposcatter link was quickly established, an upgrade to international subscriber dialling was soon introduced.


After a short period in 1961 in UK supervising Marconi Radar Division’s installation of a radar link from Squire’s Gate to Manchester Ringway airport via a repeater at Winter Hill, I was sent to South Korea to oversee the installation and commissioning (by Korean engineers) of a multichannel troposcatter link from Mokpo to ChejuDo (1961 – 1962). On my return from Korea I was appointed Installation EngineerinCharge of the USAF High Wycombe to Ringstead system, the upgrade of the High Wycombe to Longfosse system and the transfer of equipment at Fylingdales and Garrowby Hill into permanent USAF buildings (1962 – 1963). The work at Fylingdales was carried out during the notorious winter of 1962 – 1963, and we were ‘snowedin’ on site several times. The alternative was to walk over the moors in deep snow to Goathland, the nearest railway station.


For the Barbados – Trinidad link, C&W had included a 3year maintenance / training contract. Unfortunately, the engineer originally assigned to Trinidad contracted a serious illness and had to return to UK. With six months of the contract still to run in 1963 I was asked to take over as Troposcatter Maintenance Engineer in Trinidad. The day after I arrived in Trinidad C&W were holding a farewell party for one of their engineers returning to UK, and at this party I first met the girl from Grenada who would eventually become my wife, Yvonne.


Delighted with the excellent performance of the Trinidad – Barbados troposcatter link, C&W awarded Marconi a contract to extend the system north to St. Lucia, Antigua and Tortola. In Tortola the troposcatter system would interface with a submarine telephone cable to Bermuda, with circuits on to US. The original Trinidad  Barbados link was to be expanded and upgraded. I was appointed Installation EngineerinCharge on this project, which was implemented over four years from 1964 – 1968. During this period I was also able to marry Yvonne, at New York City Hall in 1966, and father our daughter Nicola (Nicki), born in Barbados in 1967.


Yvonne and Nicki coped well with the frequent changes in location and interisland travel required to accompany me on this project, but now that I had a family, I acknowledged that installation work was no longer an appropriate occupation, and at the conclusion of the Caribbean project I transferred in Marconi Company to the Telecommunications Microwave Systems Department as a Senior Systems Engineer working on microwave system designs, site surveys and preparation of sales proposals, 1968  1969. Our son Nigel was born in Chelmsford in 1969.


In 1970 I was seconded as a Senior Systems Engineer to Booz Allen Applied Research in New Jersey to work on Project Mallard, a proposed fournation military integrated digital communications system. This project was intended to last three years, but collapsed after just one year, and I returned in 1971 to Marconi Microwave Systems Department. Fortunately this was the time when many North Sea oil and gas fields were being developed and the demand for troposcatter links to shore was escalating rapidly. From 1971 to 1976 I prepared system proposals for 15 offshore platform projects. In 1974 I was appointed Chief of Troposcatter Systems, and appeared as Expert Witness at the Public Enquiry into the siting of Phillips Petroleum’s onshore troposcatter terminal at Eston Nab, Teesside.


In 1976 I joined BP Engineering as a Telecommunications Engineer, working mostly on offshore platform projects. I was Lead Telecommunications Engineer on the Buchan, Magnus and Ula Projects. In 1985 I was appointed Manager, Offshore Engineering and Projects Group in BP Information Systems Services, and in 1990, following a reorganisation in BP Engineering, Senior Consultant – Telecommunications. I retired from BP Engineering in 1992 and set up a consultancy company, Whitel Ltd. Here I worked on projects for British Gas, BP Exploration (Algeria exploration, Baku – Tbilisi – Ceyhan oil- pipeline, South Caucasus gas pipeline), Phillips Petroleum, Aramco and the Dabhol Regas Project.


The projects with Whitel continued until I retired finally in 2010, and emigrated to Canada. Sadly Yvonne died of cancer in 2017, just over a year after we celebrated our Golden Wedding Anniversary. I am currently still living in Peterborough, Ontario.


How I became a Telecommunications Engineer

Like most schoolboys, I had little idea what it was that I wanted to be ‘when I grew up’; only that it should involve something scientific or mathematical. I was fortunate to have been educated at an excellent school in West Yorkshire, originally Todmorden Secondary School, which became Todmorden Grammar School in 1945. In its short period of existence, just 66 years, this small school with around 300 pupils produced two future Nobel Prize winners, one Physics (Sir John Cockcroft) and one Chemistry (Geoffrey Wilkinson).


As the time approached to submit applications for admission to Universities I was now tending towards studying for a Chemistry degree. I applied to St. John’s, Cambridge, Imperial College, London and Manchester University. The first entrance exams to come up were in Cambridge, where I spent a pleasant week living in rooms in St. John’s College, (the meals were fantastic), spoilt only by the requirement to do exams every day. Some time later the anticipated results letter arrived, advising that ‘in spite of a good mark in Chemistry’ I had not reached the overall standard required for admission to Cambridge.


So on to the Royal College of Science, Imperial College of Science and Technology, for another shot at a Chemistry degree course. This time the subsequent letter said that my overall entrance exam results were excellent, and that on this basis I would be awarded a Royal Science Scholarship, only the second given to a student from Todmorden Grammar School. However, in the Chemistry exam I had not reached the standard required for admission to the Chemistry course! If I wanted to go to Imperial College they would admit me to study Physics, Mathematics or Aeronautical Engineering, but not Chemistry!


This was the age of the beginning of the Nuclear Physics industries, so I decided to forget Chemistry, and opted for the Physics course. At Imperial College this took the form of two years studying general Physics, followed by the third year entirely devoted to Nuclear Physics. However, there was an escape route; at the end of the second year it was possible to transfer to the Mathematics Department or an Engineering Department. At this point, having gone off Nuclear Physics, and having spent an interesting two months as a vacation student at the BBC, I decided to transfer to Electrical Engineering.


Back in the Physics Department, Prof. Sam Devons had now been offered and accepted the job of Professor of Physics at Manchester University. He set about selecting a few people from Imperial College to take with him to Manchester, and offered a job as a Research Assistant to me. I can only assume that he thought that my Electrical Engineering ‘experience’ combined with the Physics degree would be useful for his main Manchester project, which was to build a heavyion linear accelerator. As I could easily commute daily from home in Todmorden to Manchester University I took up this offer, and worked there for three years, obtaining an M.Sc. degree along the way.


Towards the end of the three years at Manchester I was no nearer deciding what sort of future job to look for. Then one day a colleague pointed out a small advertisement (no more than two square inches in size) in the back of a ‘Wireless World’ magazine, saying that Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company was recruiting graduates to work as Installation Engineers. ‘This is the sort of job you should be applying for’, he said, ‘see the world at someone else’s expense’.


So I did apply, and was invited for an interview at New Street, where I was faced with a panel of about six people. They asked me very few questions, but explained that MWT was recruiting more graduate engineers for installation and commissioning work because of the increasing complexity of equipment, and to match the technical expertise of Customers’ Acceptance Engineers. They also advised that Installation Engineers reported directly to MWT’s Assistant EngineerinChief, Mr F C (Freddie) Lunnon, and could be assigned to installation projects anywhere in the Company, Broadcasting, TV, Radar or Telecommunications, etc. All went well and I was offered a job as an Installation Engineer (I think the starting salary was £700 p.a.), which I accepted, to start in October 1958.


Before I had even started at MWT another letter arrived, saying that Freddie Lunnon was retiring, and that consequently the Installation Department was being reorganised. Installation Engineers would now be assigned to specific Divisions. Given the choice I would probably have opted to join Broadcasting Division, but no choice was offered and I was assigned to Communications Division.


And that is how I became a Telecommunications Engineer, for the next 50 years. The result of a succession of events and decisions not always under my control, or in line with my plans, but which led in the end to a very enjoyable and satisfying career. So, in retrospect, I am quite happy with the way everything worked itself out!










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