December 17th, 2014
This is the first in a series of interviews with leading academics from Imperial College London. The aim, is to gain an insight into the person and also the work that they are carrying out at the college. Our first interview is with Professor David Phillips who came to the Department of Chemistry at Imperial in 1989 from the Royal Institution. There, he was deputy to the Director, Lord George Porter; who prior to David, had also come to work at the college in 1987. At Imperial David held the Hoffmann Chair and his work studied the fluorescence in biological systems. He later became the head of the Department of Chemistry (1992-2002).
David is well known for his lively and entertaining lectures, normally ending with very loud bangs and flashes. You can see Chemical Christmas Crackers, one example, or a even Little Light Relief, both on our YouTube channel. In 1987 David jointly presented that years Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, entitled Crystals and Lasers.
For this interview, Professor Lord Robert Winston talks to David Phillips about his life and work.
The next video in this series will be Robert Winston talking to Professor Robert (Bob) Spence.
Colin Grimshaw December 2014
December 1st, 2014
After some effort, the final batch of videos we made in conjunction with the London Mathematical Society (LMS) have now gone live on the Imperial YouTube channel.
The final 6 videos now concludes the upload of all of the remaining LMS lectures in our video archive. The previous blog about the LMS videos explains all the details of how and why we recorded them, so going there will fill in all the gaps. As usual, it was the same old problem and story of oxide and goo shedding from the U-matic videotapes. I explained all of this in the blog about beating the goo, but it involves taking the cassettes apart (seen on the left with just the spools of tape showing) and heat treating them. Needless to say, this is a time consuming process taking at least a day before you can find out whether or not the tape will playback well enough to digitise. If not, then you start the process all over again! So a good few weeks went by before I could end the upload process.
Colin Grimshaw December 2014
November 3rd, 2014
I have recently rediscovered the first interview shot with a Rector in colour. It was recorded in December 1980 in the Sherfield Building office of Lord Flowers (1924-2010) who was Rector from 1973 to 1985.
The student TV (STOIC) had expressed an interest in interviewing him and I agreed to collaborate in the recording to enable it to be shot in colour. I thought at the time, that this would be good from an archive point-of-view. And 34 years later, my idea has just paid off! There are several other blog entries on Lord and Lady Flowers, but this one had escaped me until now. The interviewer is Mike Prosser, with an introduction made in the college’s former TV Studio. The interview was made as a ‘special’, within the normal weekly programme called News-Break. That programme was transmitted to all of the college halls across campus, as well as the union building. As in previous early colour videos featured within this blog, it will not be up to even the standards of a modern domestic camcorder, but at least we do have it. The previous colour interview with Lord Flowers was featured in my 2010 entry. That previous video was from 1984 and I had only just rediscovered it, so this 1980 video is adding to our collection. The last time I saw Lord Flowers was during a short visit to his house and we were sitting around his kitchen table having lunch with Lady Flowers.
Colin Grimshaw November 2014
September 15th, 2014
In 1997 Professor Bob Spence interviewed Dr Colin Vickery, a colleague of his from the Department of Electrical Engineering. The intention was to show the video during an Alumni event that Colin was unable to attend. I hope that maybe some of those same Alumni will watch that video once more.
Colin Vickery has very kindly sent me some words to put the video into context, so most of this is his hard work and not mine! And Bob Spence has provided me with the excellent photos that were taken at Bob’s 80th Birthday celebration in 2013, that I also attended.
Colin was, at the time of the interview, running a postgraduate section on microprocessor applications. Bob Spence and Colin Vickery had shared a flat during the time that they were doing PhDs under Roy Boothroyd who was Prof Colin Cherry’s Reader. Colin Vickery had come back from industry where he’d spent a couple of years with the Plessey company working in a small research unit in Romsey and was appointed as a lecturer for a period, working for Cherry/Boothroyd and was then invited to join Prof Bruce Sayers in his Engineering in Medicine section where he stayed for many more years. Prior to this, he’d travelled to Houston, USA, where he joined a summer school which was run for a mixture of Medical and Engineering people. There he learned basic physiology, while the medical people learned basic electrical engineering.
Eventually, Bruce Sayers became Head of Electrical Engineering and Colin was given a postgraduate section devoted to microprocessor applications, working alongside colleagues Dick Wilde and Bill Cutler who were both on his staff. After a year or two they were appointed as consultants on the government Mapcon scheme (Microprocessor application consultants) and did a variety of feasibility and implementation studies including small hydroelectric projects, such as Wookey Hole and Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. He joined with Prof Anderson in a project, for a firm in Horsham, de-boning bacon backs using robotics. It was exhibited in the exhibition at the college in 1985 (City and Guilds Tech2000) which Margaret Thatcher opened and then toured; telling them all that, ‘..she knew all about bacon’ (her Father was a grocer)!
In June 1998, a year after this interview, he suffered a stroke, but continued to work for the college part time until 2010 when he was 75 years old. This interview is a reminder of those times now long past and some of the people that made up the college in the 1950’s and onwards.
Colin Grimshaw September 2014
August 1st, 2014
Way back in 1986, Bruce Sayers, then Dean of City and Guilds College, asked me to make a video which would give a view and a voice as to how C&G was connecting with Industry. Ten final year C&G students were interviewed and their opinions sort on both industry and their future careers. The then president of the Imperial College Union, Christine Taig fronts the video. Peter Moore was then the Careers Advisor for Mechanical Engineering and had studied some of the reasons why graduates did not want to actually work in industry after leaving college. It ends by making the point that then, in 1986, 20-30% of C&G graduates ended up in non-techincal jobs.
As usual there are some nice 1980’s stock footage shots of the college. The sequences with Christine Taig were of course shot years before the many changes across campus that built the Faculty Building and lost the grass and trees area, then called Dalby Court. You’ll see the view across that area and with Mechanical Engineering clearly in total view and this is how it would have seen, when the area was first built and designed.
Colin Grimshaw August 2014
June 27th, 2014
Ten years ago this week, Her Majesty The Queen crossed the threshold of Imperial College’s newly-built main entrance and Tanaka Business School* on a blustery, bright 24 June 2004 and made history. Surrounded by cheering wellwishers, she passed through the doors of the gleaming landmark building and paused opposite the imposing image of a multi-coloured scan of a brain, representing the brainpower of the institution. As a Malcolm Arnold fanfare struck up, provided by the College’s chamber orchestra, The Queen, accompanied by His Royal Highness The Duke of York, joined rector, Sir Richard Sykes to meet and speak to Lord Foster, whose company, Foster and Partners, designed the building. A visit to a lecture theatre, led by Tanaka Business School principal, Professor David Begg, included a few words with students to discuss the mortgage industry, as well as a closer examination of research projects and spin-out ventures. The Queen, Visitor of Imperial College, who last came to the College in 1998 to open the Sir Alexander Fleming Building, signed the visitors’ book before receiving a bouquet from eight year old Alexander Tanaka.
* The building has subsequently been brought into line with the overall Imperial College branding and is now known as the Imperial College Business School.
There is no commentary on this video
Colin Grimshaw June 2014
June 1st, 2014
Professor Patrick Purcell (1929-2007) was described in his Times obituary as “Pioneer of computing and design“. As far as I know, this is the only interview made with Patrick, whom I got to know during his time as visiting professor of human computer interaction at Imperial College London. I had actually known him prior to that via LIVE-NET Video Conference from Northern Ireland linking through to Imperial.
Until his death, he worked along side Professor Bob Spence, who commented after Patrick’s death “…when I realised that Patrick Purcell was approaching retirement from his appointment in Northern Ireland I immediately suggested to the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering of Imperial that he be invited to be a Visiting Professor. A very selfish act, no doubt, but one I have never regretted…”
At my suggestion, this interview was recorded for an outside company called Lantec and was in the occasional series called Video Interface. Because of Patrick’s depth of knowledge of all things ‘digital’, this was the obvious first question posed to him at the start of the interview by Steve Bell. It was recorded in the Imperial College TV Studio in June 1995.
Colin Grimshaw June 2014
May 14th, 2014
This interview with Professor Jim (James) Ring (1927-2005) was recorded for the Imperial College Archives and this is the first time that it has been seen since it was made. Jim Ring was educated at the University of Manchester. He joined the staff there as a lecturer before moving to become Professor of Applied Physics at the University of Hull in 1962. He joined Imperial as Professor of Physics in 1967 and became Professor of Infra-Red Astronomy, having given his inaugural lecture in June 1968. As will become apparent from the interview, he was on the board of the Independent Broadcasting Authority for over 5 years. He also chaired the Imperial College Educational Technology Committee, which was how I got to know him. He featured a few times on the BBC Sky at Night as well as other BBC radio programmes. Ex Queen member Brian May completed most of his PhD in Astrophysics in Jim Ring’s group at Imperial College in 1970-74.
The interview was recorded in his office in the Physics Department and the interviewer was Grant Richmond. It was made in November 1980 and like all of these very old videotapes, it’s suffering slightly from its age. It was also shot using our (then) new colour equipment, which actually consisted of a single colour camera and portable u-matic recorder. It was not the world’s most amazing camera and needed a lot of light to get good pictures, which even then, looked ‘soft’. The photo above is a of me making the video at the college tin mine in April 1980 and is the same camera and recording equipment used for this interview.
Colin Grimshaw May 2014
May 1st, 2014
In 1925 this would have been considered hilarious I can only assume? But at least we do have this amazing British Pathe News film of some of our students from a time long ago and this now predates our own 1928 Sports Day film. The main titles are saying that the students had their ‘own’ Lord Mayor Show, so this would have been in November of that year. But why did they do this and why did Pathe News feel it was worthy enough to actually film it? This I suspect we may never know, although it’s possible someone somewhere might be able to tell us or work it out (there’s a possible clue later). The car, in one shot, has C&G painted on the front, although this is not that clear to see. It appears that this is the first version of Bo (Boanerges) which was a 1908 Rover purchased in 1920. It was replaced by the current car in 1933 (I have noticed that there are some variations on these various dates, depending on what you read). According to Hannah Gay’s book, in the previous year to this film (1924), C&G students had parked this car outside Number 10 Downing Street with an effigy of the then Prime Minister in it. So could THIS be why Pathe shot the film, because of the previous year’s prank and in the hope they might do something silly again to be captured on film?
Having looked, many times, at both films, I have managed to work out where it was shot. The sequences in the car seem to be just outside of Holy Trinity Church in Prince Consort Road. The modern photo gives a clue to the location in front of the door at the extreme right hand end of the church building (in this photo that’s on the left where it joins Beit please note). One shot shows the students pulling the car with a rope along Prince Consort Road, with faintly in the background the Royal College of Music and RSM behind that too. To the extreme right is where Aeronautics is now located and to the left would be Beit and then the Albert Hall.
There are two films in the Pathe News archive. The first is the edited and also titled version, while the other is listed as out-takes (unused material).
Colin Grimshaw May 2014
April 28th, 2014
Some while ago in 2010 I commented on the many problems facing people like me when trying to playback video archive material. The problem is that tape manufacturers never realised, in the mid 1970’s, that they had created formulations for magnetic tape that were going to cause problems in about 20 years time. Almost all of the video and some audio tapes held at Imperial are now suffering from what is called Sticky Shed Syndrome. It’s a great name for the Goo that comes off of the tapes when you try to play them. A report into this problem said “Somewhere between 20% and 80% of all U-Matic (video) tapes are showing obvious signs of decay or are giving the archives holding them cause for concern. U-Matic is widely considered by the major broadcast archives in Europe as the top priority format for video preservation. U-Matic transfers take between 1-2 hours of operator time per hour of programme material for tapes in good condition, rising to 5-10 hours per hour or more for difficult media.”
All of this is what I’m now experiencing with batches of U-Matic videotapes that I’m trying to get onto DVD and then after that, onto the Imperial YouTube channel. What happens, when you play a tape, is that you will very rapidly start to hear the typical screeching noise of the tape sticking to interior parts of the recorder and you’ll soon be taking the cover off of the recorder, as seen on the right. At this point the tape will almost certainly have come to a complete halt all on its own. The ‘binder’, which holds both the magnetic oxide and the back-coating onto the plastic, is slowly breaking down. It’s absorbed moisture over a period of time and has gone slightly sticky. This is primarily because the tapes were never stored in air conditioned locations. Ampex is one of the companies that had the problem with sticky tapes (most of our tapes are from Ampex). In 1993, they created a patent for overcoming these playback problems by heat-treating tapes and I have now resorted to this approach. For those engineers reading this, here’s the extract from what they patented: “…Polymers can react with water from atmospheric moisture to break the ester linkages contained in such polymeric chains and form lower molecular weight polymers, a process known as hydrolysis. When a sufficient number of such bonds have been hydrolyzed and broken, the binder becomes undesirably weakened due to degeneration of molecular weight. The breakdown compounds of this weakened binder migrate, can exude from the coating thus causing the tape to be sticky and to shed.“
Heat treating or Baking as it’s called, is now considered (and used throughout the World) as a method for overcoming playback problems when most other things have been tried and failed. So, this week I attempted this approach myself. You need a way of continuously heating the tapes to between 50-54oC and for several hours. Not wanting a lab oven here at home (where I’m slowly transferring the archive) I resorted to the other suggested method of using a digital controlled food dehydrator. Ebay to the rescue and installation complete (pic above) my first attempt was carefully monitored with an external temperature probe during the few hours that I heated the tapes for. I had partial success when running the first tape, but it needed a bit more treatment. I also discovered that the inside of the actual tape cassette has small plastic guides which were also getting goo on them. This was causing more problems than inside the actual tape machine. So, take the tapes apart (pic on right), clean the guides, heat them again, let them cool down and reassemble. Success with the first tape! It played back all the way through and was now onto DVD. The next tape was still causing problems and I soon discovered the typical screeching noise was now coming from inside the cassette rather than the playback machine. Looking at the cassette I could see that the interior plastic guides were once again coated with goo (pic on left). I put my finger on the guide and it stuck there like sticky tape! So, after taking the cassette apart for the third time and cleaning the guides it played OK. Interestingly I’ve not found any references to these guides inside the cassettes being part of the problem, it’s only references to inside the tape machine. Anyway, the last tape is now onto DVD. A saga indeed and very time consuming (two days for two tapes), but a great feeling of success when I beat the Goo. Baking is THE way it seems. All I have to do is now work my way through the other few hundred video tapes. Incidentally, these current tapes are all from our Maths series made with the London Mathematical Society (LMS) and are now on the YouTube channel in the LMS Playlist. The picture below is of the first successful replay after heat treatment of tape number one. It needed a touch of tender care with TBC adjustments for brightness, colour, sharpness and so on, but looks pretty good after 27 years of being on a cupboard shelf.
Colin Grimshaw April 2014