Today we have yet another untold story from Imperial’s past with an idea that started at the college and ended up on worldwide TV. Way back in 1975 Mark Caldwell, then Chairman of STOIC started an ambitious series of interviews with both film stars and TV celebrities. The first included American film director and actor Mel Brooks, British actor Malcolm McDowell and Australia’s very own Dame Edna Everage, otherwise known as Barry Humphries. The series ended up being called Film Talk. Coinciding with this were the services provided by the ULAVC, over the ILEA Channel 7 cable TV network – which I have covered previously.
I was the TV contact at Imperial and knew both the staff at the ULAVC centre in Bedford Square and the ILEA TV Centre in Battersea. Somehow or another I mentioned the idea of them showing some of these programmes over their network. The idea was accepted, so future recordings were made with both local viewing and remote viewing via ILEA in mind. We had progressed so well that a contact at Imperial College introduced us to yet another new idea. In Mechanical Engineering there was a computer-aided design system called CADMAC. It used a mini computer, storage-tube system and plotter as its basis for the generation of ‘animation’. For normal film animation at the time, cells made of plastic film were drawn on and filmed frame-by-frame by a normal film camera. The concept was to use the computer output to produce either cells or to output onto paper. These would then be captured onto film as usual. The difference here was the computing. Things could be manipulated on the screen by using a lightpen and objects merged and moved around. This could (at that time) not be run in full-motion playback, so it was therefore outputted onto film or paper.
A company was formed called Video Animation (later called Electronic Arts) and they were looking for ideas to showcase the possibilities of this new technology. We met them and they offered to make a short animation based on three photos that we would provide. These were inputted to their system by using a light-pen system to trace the image. It was then animated to produce an end result. So, the images were Mel Brooks, Malcolm McDowell and Barry Humphries as Dame Edna. The end result is not perfect. They could not, for some reason, cope with Dame Edna’s glasses or hat, and these are missing from the animation (see actual photo on left). It’s a very heavy contrast line drawing with no grey scale, but for us it was at least unique. They also created and added the title. The final product was given to us on 16mm film, the sound was added later. The film (seen on the right) was then played into any of the programmes via tele-cine. If we happened to be recording at the ILEA Battersea Studios, they had a tele-cine unit within the control room. For anyone who remembers the opening sequence to the worldwide TV series “The New Avengers” it was Video Animation who produced the opening title animation. It’s no coincidence that the Avengers TV series started the very next year in 1976. So, the experiment for Film Talk could well have been used to persuade the TV company to use animation in the opening titles. Our animation has some very close similarities to that of the New Avengers opening titles. See the bottom video for the Avengers animation sequence.
Back in 2016 I posted some stock footage of the South Kensington Campus that I had shot in 1992. Here’s an updated version of that with footage shot 21 years ago in 1998. The quality will be better because it was originated on broadcast quality Betacam tape. You will see some nice views of Princes Gardens with both of the original Southside and Linstead Halls. Maybe you might even see yourself in the JCR or on the original Exhibition Road entrance and walkway? I’ve added some captions to remind you of the names of certain places along with any new names that might have come about since 1998, an example being Dalby Court.
I hope this might bring back some memories for those who were at Imperial during this time period.
In 2005 the Industrial Design Engineering course (now called Innovation Design Engineering) held their interim show. Paul Ewing from Imperial’s Mechanical Engineering was then an IDE course tutor and he asked us to capture some of the activities during one of the evening shows. Paul acted as off-camera interviewer during the shoot at the Royal College of Art, right next door to Imperial College.
This course has now been running for over 35 years and here’s a flavour of what was happening 13 years ago…
This 24 year old video will bring back memories for those who can remember Imperial’s South Kensington campus before all of the rebuilding work and many changes began. Back in late summer 1992 I shot some stock footage around the campus for inclusion in videos we were currently making. This is just a small selection of campus views and I intend to find others, shot prior to this current video.
It’s 50 years since the official opening of the University of London Reactor Centre housed at Imperial’s Silwood Park campus. Silwood Park is located about 25 miles West of Central London, near the village of Sunninghill, Ascot, Berkshire. On 22nd June 1965 the official opening took place with the Principal of the University of London, along with the Imperial College’s Rector Sir Patrick Linstead, Pro Rector Sir Owen Saunders and Chairman Lord Sherfield. In 2011 the process application to decommission the ‘GEC 100kW Consort’ reactor was started and is being continued today. Sadly, although the archive has BBC Footage shot at the 1965 opening ceremony, it’s minus the sound track, so the on-screen presentation and interviews mean very little. That’s rather a disappointment as it captures a key part in the college’s history. The photo on the right is during construction. What I do have is a segment from the 1982 documentary that I made about Silwood Park and fortunately we shot a section about the reactor and its operation. Tracy Poole spoke with Dr McMahan a lecturer in Physics about the operation of the reactor centre. We shot inside the main reactor hall, control room and experiments lab. I’m so glad we did this because it will be the only archive material shot about the reactor before it eventually disappears for good. Because it’s a ‘pool type’ water cooled and water moderated reactor it’s possible to open the reactor up and seen inside the core (yes it’s true). Then you will see a bright blue glow caused by the Cherenkov radiation. The image on the left show this glow which I witnessed myself when I took the shots for the video whilst standing on top of the reactor. When we made this video the reactor centre was still relatively new and only 17 years old, now it’s celebrating 50 years! As indeed I do myself, later this year, with 50 years of working at (and since early retirement, occasionally with) Imperial College!
Below is the documentary extract about the reactor centre and also some lovely aerial helicopter footage we had shot, which shows the beautiful Silwood Park campus.
The second and final IC Newsreel was recorded on 2 March 1970. It was shown, like the first programme, at lunchtime the following day in the Junior Common Room in College Block (Sherfield). This final programme was a bit different and had a scoop too. Prior to the main recording, the Yugoslavian Prime Minister was visiting Imperial College and we were able to get the departure of him, his Police escort and his entourage. Andy Finney and Vivienne Taylor stood outside the mechanical engineering building to cover the event, even though this was not originally their intention for being there. Andy was on a very long-range radio microphone and we used the longest lens possible on the camera, which (along with a second camera) was located on the third floor of the electrical engineering building. Because we had no way of inserting the item into the actual forthcoming news programme, Andy had to pre-record the item as it was happening, and we ran the item before the main program started. Not the conventional way to make a news program, but at least it was new and it was unique for that time. The news item by Andy is then followed by what was called a ‘crash’ edit (stop recording then restart again) so there are a few wobbles on the screen before the main programme starts.
Included in the programme were interviews with the three main candidates for the election of IC Union President. The first ever recording of this type. Judith Walker won the election and became the first female in the role. She talks to Vivienne Taylor, also seen in IC Newsreel Number 1.
Just as we had ended the main recording and faded to black, the current Union President Piers Corbyn asked to be able to say a few words. So, following yet another crash edit, we faded back up and sort-of started again. The reason for these types of stops and start edits was because we only had one Ampex Videorecorder and that could not actually edit anyway.
Sadly no photos were taken at the time of these two news programme recordings, only the videotape survives, which is rare. The upper photo is of the TV studio in the late 1960’s and the lower, is just before the Philips Videorecorder, seen in the photo, was replaced by the Ampex, which was used to record the two IC Newsreels. The opening coverage of the Yugoslavian Prime Minister’s visit also gives the original view across Dolby Court, all the way from Electrical Engineering to Mechanical Engineering, a view now lost forever with the creation of the Faculty Building.
IC Newsreel paved the way for STOIC’s; TOPIC, Lunchbreak and then News-Break.
It was only recently that I was made aware of the fact that both Mechanical Engineering and Civil Engineering were created as separate departments 100 years ago. In 1907 the City and Guilds College had a department that combined both civil and mechanical engineering. W. E. (Ernest) Dalby was then Dean of the C&G College and Professor of Engineering. Following recommendations (made by the Wolfe Barry Committee), in 1913 Dalby’s department was split in two, when separate civil and mechanical engineering departments were created. Stephen Dixon was appointed to head the civil engineering department and W.E. Dalby remained Dean of the C&G and also head of mechanical engineering.
So that’s clearly a very good reason to see what we have in the video archives that shows, or relates to, both of these departments. Seen many times before we have the amazing 1960 colour film of the City and Guilds building on Exhibition Road. Shown in the film, during the demolition of the building, is the construction of the new Mechanical Engineering Department, of which we get a ‘tour’. This video is silent please note.
New to our YouTube channel is a video I have only just recently digitised. I made it in 1993 as a promotional video for Civil Engineering under the title of ‘Building your Future’. Many aspects of the department are featured and past students are seen talking about their jobs and careers outside of Imperial. You’ll also see a field trip we made to a central London construction site.
And finally a video (or more correctly film) with links to both departments. It’s the (c)1969 film ‘This week in Britain’. Those who remember Civil Engineering from that period will immediately spot where both the opening and closing sequences were shot on the main staircase. Watch out for the Civil Engineering hydraulics lab and the Mechanical Engineering workshops, plus more.
In 1981 the Centre for Robotics and Automation was formed by Professor Tom Husband and was located in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. 30 years ago, in 1984 we made a promotional video for the centre to showcase the activities and work being carried out. I can find little or nothing about the centre (or any photos) from college sources and assume it was closed some while after Tom Husband left Imperial College in 1990. Indeed, in Hannah Gay’s ‘History of Imperial College’ she comments that the move towards robotics didn’t work out as expected since the research attracted computer scientists rather than engineers. The only article I found on the centre is from an edition of the student newspaper Felix dated May 1985 (see pages 8&9). That centre is not to be confused with the current Centre for Robotic Surgery, which is something completely different.
The centre was located in the area of Mechanical Engineering that was on the corner that fronted onto both Exhibition Road and the entrance for cars (Imperial College Road). You can see people walking along the pavement and very close to the windows in the section that shows the Lansing robot working. The running of the robots was in fact a bit of a crowd-stopper at times, especially school kids on their way to and from the museums. It was one of the few showcases that Imperial ever had, maybe we need to bring one back again!
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?