Today I’ve unearthed an unusual interview, it’s with Chris Sleap, who at the time of this interview in May 1979, was RSM Union President Elect. However, on further research I find that in FELIX dated October 1979 Chris Sleap had failed his exams. FELIX also states that papers will go back up for this (and other failed Union posts) shortly.
I’ve not been able to find out who did actually take on this roll, later that year. This then is a somewhat unique interview. Mark Foley was the interviewer in the college TV Studio. We’d still not gone fully into colour, so interviews were still in black and white.
In 1957 Imperial College was celebrating its 50 year half century. Many events took place that year, none of them were recorded visually and only some recorded onto audio tape or disc. One item that does survive is a presentation given by Dr S.W. Smith on the History of the Royal School of Mines up to that time. When I digitised the tape a few years ago I heard one or two things that stood out.
There is mention of attending a lecture in 1897 and the astonishing thing that he heard suggested. And on 13th March 1901 he was present at the RSM half-century celebrations, the formal dinner for which, was delayed due to the death of Queen Victoria. Fascinating to hear a college alumni talking about what was happening in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
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?”.
It’s funny how things happen by chance. This months entry is a bit like that. I thought it was about time I made use of some of the footage that we have of the college’s Tywarnhale mine in Cornwall, when I looked at the label on the tapes I noticed that it was 30 years ago this month, April 1980 that I went down to Cormwall. The mine and surrounding land (purchased in 1909/11 with extra land purchased in 1912) was sold by Imperial in about 2005. Here’s a BBC Cornwall web page about the sale dated 15th October 2005. As we couldn’t find any real photos of it in the college’s archives, the picture of the RSM sign is from one of the videotapes I shot. Here’s a brief history of the mine from the “Cornwall Calling” website. Please click on MORE to continue…(more…)