Over the years, many film and TV companies have come to Imperial College. I recall regular visits to the South Kensington campus by BBC TV’s “Tomorrows World” and in some cases I watched them at work. But these visits have all disappeared with no record retained by the college. This is a great shame because these are part of the history of Imperial, its staff and more importantly its research.
But there is just one item that was retained in the archives. Although it doesn’t have any form of introduction titles, it was made, (I think) by the Central Office of Information in about 1969. I certainly remember the filming of the opening and closing sequence. If I am correct then this is one of several identical films shot in a series called “This week in Britain”. Identical because they were all made in several languages at the same time. And judging from the accent, this one was for Australia (ABC perhaps?). I certainly remember one of these visits to the lab of Eric Laithwaite where several women in different colourful outfits each did the same introduction, one after the other, but in their own language.
The film that we do have shows some interesting research being carried out around the college at that time. You’ll see the original Civil Engineering Hydraulics Lab; a brief example of Eric Laithwaite’s linear motor research; Alan Swanson demonstrating his artificial knee joint replacement; the wind tunnel in Aeronautics and finally Chemical Engineering’s Plutonium work. Were you in the Mechanical Engineering workshop when they filmed in there, if so you might spot yourself? The introduction and closing was shot on level 3 of Civil Engineering. And if you remember the college from the 1960’s you will also spot the distinct style of the signs on the old walkway.
Finally, I love the phrase used at the end where Imperial College is called “Science City”, a term I have never heard! Maybe we should start to use it?
The first programme we made in colour was a guide to the Life Science Library. That was 33 years ago in August 1979 and colour was so new that we didn’t even have a colour logo caption at the start, in fact it’s our original black and white logo. Interestingly, the video is a great snapshot of what libraries looked like and how they operated at that time. Card indexes were still the norm with microfiche readers being a new addition. There is also mention of having a literature ‘computer search’ carried out at a cost of around £5, a cost which was probably considered high at that time and would have been carried out by a librarian for you. One of the great advantages of us moving into colour was the fact that we were able to edit. Until then it was possible, but difficult and in black and white too. The video required a lot of different shots, like close-ups of index cards, so editing was an essential part of the production, in fact, without editing this programme could not have been made.
Because we were going to cause some disruption in the library, where possible, we shot in the evening, or at least after 5pm. As you can see from the photo on the left, we also needed light..lots of it too. Our early colour camera was happy with external situations, but inside it required rather a lot of light to get good images. The library, at that time, was rather lower in light levels compared to today and there was no way we could cope without adding some extra lighting. Our biggest problem was finding mains sockets anywhere near the rows of book shelves. You tend not to need mains sockets when looking for books! Like most of our videos, we sometimes needed (and still do need) ‘rent a crowd’, so see if you can spot me appearing twice in the video. Also note a major change to the feel of the South Ken campus from when this was shot in 1979. See how empty it is soon after 6pm when the external footage was shot.
The video style is a bit 1970’s, mainly because that’s when it was made. I can’t recall under what circumstances the video was due to be seen, but I think it was designed to be viewed in the room that had been designated for watching videos. This was one of the small rooms called a Carrel around the edge of the library in which a monitor and video recorder had been installed. You’ll hear reference to these Carrels in the video. Listen out too for the mention of photocopies, there were only two in the whole library at that time. Now there are machines on every floor!
The presenter of the video is Mark Caldwell, an former STOIC chairman from the mid 1970’s. Mark is now based in Germany, working for the world radio division of Deutsche Welle. From time to time you can hear him presenting items like this one on the Planck and Herschel space telescopes.
In the summer of 1984 I was asked by Peter Burridge the Telecoms Manager, to make a special video to alert all members of Imperial College to the fact that we were about to put into service a new electronic telephone exchange. Until this time we had two systems running side by side: an internal automatic exchange and an external (BT) manually operated switchboard.
The original internal exchange, installed sometime around 1959, was located in the basement of the Royal School of Mines, whilst the external switchboard was installed in the Sherfield Building around 1969. This was probably to coincide with the opening of the building that year. For those only familiar with how things operate these days, the old system now seems very ancient. It required two telephones on a desk, internal and external. You called via the internal exchange with very old dial phones (in some cases), whilst to make an external call you picked up the receiver of the other phone and waited for the operator to answer.
You then had to request an ‘outside line’ and from there you could dial your call. All incoming calls to Imperial were answered by the operator and then put through to the extension in question. There were no connections between the two systems! So if a location only had an internal phone there was no way to contact them from outside of the college. The internal exchange catered for some 2,500 extensions whilst the external catered for 1,500 extensions.
The new system was deemed so “new” that training sessions were put into place at various locations around college. These were designed for either staff or students and some even took place in the Great Hall. It may seem odd, but at that time most secretaries, for example, were using normal electric golf-ball typewriters and few people had contact with computers unless they were academic. So, having to press button combination’s to achieve things like two way calling or call transfer had some people a bit stumped, thus the training sessions were arranged. As this concerned all of college there was great publicity and this can be seen from this mid-summer edition of the student newspaper Felix from 17 August 1984 (pages 4 & 5).
The colour stills of both the 1950’s exchange and switchboard are taken from the videotape I shot. So far, I’ve not located any other images of, what was, a major part of the daily unseen operation of Imperial College. I suspect that these sequences in the video may have been the first time that some people had seen any of these background services operating. I was also one of the first to experience the new system.
A few weeks before operation began I was asked if I’d wait by my current internal phone at around 6pm one evening whilst it was manually switched from the old to the new system. I then received a call via the new exchange to test all functionality and quality of sound. The rest is now part of college history as we all take the new systems as part of normal daily college life. But is was just a little bit different when you picked up the external phone and knew the person on the switchboard and had a short conversation before saying…”can I have an outside line please?”.
One day, back in 1988, someone asked me the question “Could you do live TV from the top of the Queen’s Tower?”. Up to that point I can’t say I’d really thought about it much, but it was an interesting question nevertheless. But we’ll come back to that in a while.
Anyone who has visited the South Kensington campus would have seen the tower at some point. It’s some 287 feet tall and has some 324 steps up to the dome area. One of the main times the tower is noticed is when the bells are rung and these are as follows:
Queen’s Accession: 6 February
Queen’s Birthday: 21 April
Queen’s Coronation: 2 June
Duke of Edinburgh’s Birthday: 10 June
The Princess Royal’s Birthday: 15 August
Prince of Wales’ Birthday: 14 November
Queen’s Wedding Day: 20 November
and of course both PG Awards and Commemoration Days each year.
It was on 20 November 1997 that we recorded the bell ringers for the first time. This was to mark the Queen’s 50th wedding anniversary and a special ring was performed. Carrying cameras and recorders up the tower is not an easy tasks as the spiral staircase was never designed for this. But we made it and proceeded to capture the event. What no-one had bothered to tell us was that the tower does move a bit when the bells are being run. First one way and then the other depending on which set of bells are being run at the time. Sets of bells are hung in different ways; one set ‘left to right’ and the other set ‘top to bottom’. This therefore gives a strange effect of movement swaying one way, then the other. The combined result when all the bells are being run is a very odd circular motion. Although I’ve recorded the actual bells with hanging a mic in the bell chamber, I’ve never captured them on video…but someone else has! If you go to this YouTube video you’ll see the horrifying sight of the whole set of bells ringing below the camera lens. I can’t say that it looks very safe up there and the volume of sound must be rather high too.
Another great reason to remember the Queen’s Tower were the (now long gone) performances in May each year of the 1812 overture. These were accompanied by live explosions provided by DramSoc and the bells in the tower were rung. I’m not certain why this event stopped, maybe it was the British weather! Anyway, in May 1979 I recorded the event in colour, the same summer that we actually got our colour equipment.
And so, back to the start and that question about live TV from the top of the tower. Back in 1988 during preparations for one of the first Alumni weekends the idea came about to broadcast the weather one morning from the Queen’s Tower. Francis Wilson was, at the time, forecasting the weather for the BBC Breakfast programme. Because he’s an Alumni of Imperial he was asked if he would do it and of course he agreed.
We did weather from the tower twice and you’ll notice the reference to hearing the sound this time around. In fact we were some minutes away from the live link and someone managed to move the equipment providing the ‘line of sight’ link. You can see some photos I took at the time and two of these show the amount of equipment we had to carry up the tower. One is showing the equipment set up for controlling sound and vision and the other is showing the infra-red line of sight link from the tower down to the area now known as the “tower rooms”. One thing we were lucky to have was mains power and down in the bell ringing chamber, a telephone line.
The recording you’re now able to see of the event was made down on the ground floor where the TV monitors were located. I’m still amazed it actually worked and the quality was pretty good too. The infra-red link had to be lined up with a telescope that had a cross-hair to align with the receiver, also set up on a tripod down on the ground. All you then had to do was to feed video and audio into the unit and you were in business. The only problem, as we discovered, was not knowing IF those down below could actually see and hear anything once you had started the event.
My colleague at the time Chris Roberts is seen operating the camera whilst I was pressing the buttons, mixing sound and running-in the videotaped sequences we were given from our colleagues in Physics. It was good fun, the Alumni visiting seemed to enjoy it, but it was very hard work indeed….there are a lot of steps up to the top and I was a lot younger then too!
The day before the event we had already taken most of the equipment up the tower and tried out the link. Those down on the ground floor were somewhat surprised to see this caption on the TV screens. It was broadcast from the tower and was announcing the forthcoming live link the following morning.
In one way or another, ever since we’ve had the use of video as a medium we have used it to promote things. You will have already seen in other posts the promotion of specific research projects or research groups and so on. But we’re going to start another series that shows how we’ve tried to promote the college as a whole. I’ll also mention that we’ll see how individual departments have tried this too, examples being: Chemistry, Civil Engineering and the Management School (now Business School), so watch out for those blog entries coming sometime soon.
To coincide with the 1985 centenary of the City and Guilds College an impressive exhibition was put on in the Junior Common Room in the Sherfield Building. Although this was primarily research work, schools were invited and special lectures and tours were held, Therefore, very large numbers of school children were going to visit the college and there was, of course, huge possibilities for student recruitment. So, two promotional videos were (initially) commissioned to promote the college to school children and to potential postgraduates. This was also the first time that moving aerial footage was taken of both the South Kensington and Silwood campuses. The only unfortunate thing was that the footage was shot in January and we’d just had a downfall of snow, so the campuses don’t look too inviting!
The undergraduate promotion video was called “Studying for the Future” and shows all of the usual things to excite potential undergrads. Once again, the nice thing about this and the other videos, is the wonderful record of college life. Also, the campus as it then was, is recorded with the current students and staff going about their daily lives. I wonder how many alumni might actually spot themselves in some of the shots?
A second video was made at the same time. This was to show the research work and activies going on at Imperial and was entitled “Discovering the Future”. I hope you’ve spotted the trend with these titles of the videos all following a certain style with the “….the Future”? A large proportion of this second video was also seen in the video made for undergraduates. The theme used was of a ‘research file’ concept and when you see the video you’ll understand what I mean. And, can those former Blue Peter TV programme viewers spot Valerie Singleton doing the voiceover in this second video?
Next time I’ll show you a third video for those considering taking a masters degree. Can you guess what the title might be?
Buildings come (down) and buildings go (up), but, as you will have guessed from these blogs, archives live on. And in doing so, we are able to reach back in time to see and hear what happened at an event or ceremony, which marked the opening or closing of an Imperial College building. I’m going to split the buildings and centres blog content into several parts, with this being the first.
The first video however is not really an opening of a building as such, but rather a ‘renaming’ of one. The Physics Department was renamed the Blackett Laboratory in the honour of Lord Blackett (1897-1974) on 3 December 1975. The Prime Minister at the time, Harold Wilson, delivered the Blackett memorial lecture. This is the first recording of a Prime Minister in the archives; Edward (Ted) Heath, Margaret Thatcher and Gordon Brown were to follow. The recording is poor and was made by the department hosting the event. Originally recorded on half-inch open spool videotape, I have since transferred it to DVD for safe keeping. To continue please click on MORE… (more…)
Southside Royal opening in the Upper Refectory 1963
For this first blog entry we’re going to focus on places and in this case, Southside. The Southside halls were opened on 8 October 1963 with a Royal ceremony with Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden in attendance. Due to the forward thinking of past members of staff the whole thing was audio recorded and then transferred to an acetate disc. Things like this are held in the main archive and recently I transferred it from the disc into a digital format. On the right is a photo of the process happening a few months ago.
Click the link above to listen to what was said and because this is audio only I’ve included some photos taken during the ceremony rather than leaving you with a blank screen. The whole thing runs for about 20 minutes and you can skip forward if you so wish.
In 2005 the lifetime of the Southside halls had come to an end and something new was required. So on 6 October 2005 Sir Richard Sykes, as Rector, held a ceremony to officially start the process of demolition.
A few days before, along with some colleagues, I walked around the building with a handheld video camera to capture some last moving images for the archive. If you remember the building, a few memories may come back when you watch it. Some people liked it, whilst some hated it. Me? I hated it! Never did get used to the ‘shuttered’ concrete design and I always got lost on those stair cases.
So, I suspect it gave great delight to Richard Sykes to sit in the cabin of the digger and start the whole process of demolition. As always, we captured the ceremony on video and just before it started I’d given some of the Princess Margaret opening ceremony photos to the Rector, so you’ll hear him refer to that in the video. I must admit that I’ve been to a lot of openings before, but never a closing, so this was interesting and also the first as such in the archive.
There then followed something that was also new to me, that is a “bottoming out ceremony” where you all celebrate the completion of the foundations. And as usual we were there to record the event…but with a difference! A competition had been run to find objects to place into a time-capsule to be planted within the building.
I glibly suggested a DVD of the most recent Albert Hall ceremony and another with the Princess Margaret opening and Richard Sykes closing events. It ended up being one of two selected ideas and you’ll see me being presented with a bottle of champagne by Richard Sykes (whilst wearing safety gloves and also trying to do sound, my colleague Martin Sayers took over the camera)
The final of the three events was the Topping Out ceremony held on 5 October 2006. This saw the end of works on the new Southside complex and the imminent demolition of Linstead, but that’s for another blog page where we have things like the Linstead Hall evening dinner. So if you remember those, then please come back for more soon.