Ron at the Beeb
BBC (before Birt Came)

by Ron Chown

Part 1:
Starting at the beginning.

I was born in Southwark in 1926. My father was a policeman and when I was 15 months old my father was transferred to Edgware and we moved to Burnt Oak, where the new Underground line had been extended from Golders Green. When I was nearly five my only brother was born and I then started at Woodcroft School. In 1938 I passed my Eleven Plus exams and went to Orange Hill Central Selective School, about 10 minutes walk from home and a year later I obtained a school boy's job in a shop which sold leather goods. In those days most people repaired their own shoes and we sold everything for this task. It was here that I learned how to talk to people, handle money and I even became a window dresser.

Whilst at school I joined the air force cadets, the ATC, and one of the things we did was to present a play, Ian Hay's `The House Master'. I was no good as an actor but very happy backstage and I played the sound effects and various musical items. One of our officers was a member of the BBC's recording department and he obtained an excellent version of a car crash, which was in the play. He showed me how to put the pickup in the right place and I became quite an expert.

Eventually as we were about to leave school he asked everybody in the ATC if they would like to join the BBC. I was now 16. Four of us applied and a month later I had an interview with Mr Radford at Aldenham House near Elstree. This was a large switching centre for Overseas Services and three weeks later I had joined the staff as an Engineer, YIT (Youth-in-Training) for 27s. 6d. plus 4s. 6d. cost of living bonus a week, with one other school leaver, Ian Andrews (we never heard about the other two).

The Engineer in Charge was a Mr Earl Radford and he gave us a tour of Aldenham House and told us what he expected from us. One of the many instructions he gave us was "Never swear or use bad language on BBC premises, you never know if a microphone is live and you could by accident go on the air." It was wonderful advice and to this day I never swear; there are plenty of ways to express your anger, try stamping your feet. My third shift was a night shift, but we did get paid extra and as it was August I enjoyed the walks around in the night. As it was a large programme switching centre we had to control a "secret" programme from a place known as "MB" to a transmitter at Aspidistra.
There were two networks at Aldenham known as Pink and Brown. Brown network was the older and transmitted the Arabic Service early in the morning at 04:00. During the night from about 23:00 we transmitted to South America in Portuguese, mainly to Brazil. The other network, Pink, was Spanish and also for Latin America. In all the time I was at Aldenham I never learnt a foreign language but I could understand them.

On night shift we had a couple of hours' break on one of the networks and we had been encouraged to use the studio equipment. The 'Teddy Bears' Picnic' by Henry Hall was the engineers' test record so there were always plenty of copies around. In one of the four studios there were six turntables and we tried to get as many as we could playing in sync in the three minutes the record lasted. We did it in the end but it took four of us to do it and most of our two hours off.

In January 1944 five of the YITs from Aldenham joined many more YITs from different parts of the Corporation for a couple of weeks schooling in the BBC studios at Maida Vale. After two weeks we went to Evesham where for the next 12 weeks we learnt the theoretical side of broadcasting. We travelled by GWR train from Paddington, the first time I had been away from home by myself for longer than a few days, and, as the train was full, we stood in the corridor. One of us had an old wind-up portable gramophone and we played a few records all the way to Evesham. I enjoyed Evesham and we could borrow bikes and we managed to tour around the area. It was war-time so many of the pubs had no beer but plenty of "home made" cider or perry and even now I prefer cider to beer, which was one things Evesham taught me! We took our final exam on a date I shall never forget 4-4-44 and we were asked where we would like to go when we had finished. The first was back to Aldenham, the second London and I wanted to put Scotland for the third but the rest of the Aldenham boys felt we should put Bedford, the nearest studio centre-just in case.

The five ex-Aldenham boys all passed, and we became TAs (Technical Assistants). As you may guess, we ended up in Bedford! It was handy for London on the train but it was 10 shillings return. Bedford was the home of the BBC Symphony Orchestra as well as the Religious Department who used the main church in the town centre for most of its broadcasts. Sir Adrian Boult was the BBC's conductor and I remember on one occasion after I had been home for a couple of days singing a piece of music I had heard and asked him to identify it for me.

"No Ron! Your singing needs serious attention," was the reply. He then went on to the platform and conducted Dvorak's 'New World'; I heard my 'tune' but dared not tell him. It was at one of these concerts I first saw a pianist really play, and I often wondered how they could move their fingers so fast. I had seen pianists from a distance but to see their fingers for the first time made a 17 year-old boy wonder (there was no TV during the war). Hearing the orchestra at a rehearsal was wonderful to me, especially when they had a new piece to play and I found out the 'noise' each instrument produced. Whilst there Yehudi Menuhin came over from America with a new piece of music, Bartok's Violin Concerto and rehearsals lasted three days. I still don't like it!
Wandering around Bedford on our bikes and visiting the various studios dotted around town was wonderful. Whilst there, the VI’s attack started on London during the Prom Season and the programmes suddenly moved from the Royal Albert Hall to Bedford and I had plenty of classical music to listen to from either the Corn Exchange, where the public was allowed in, or in the private performance at Bedford Boys School.

During the war the five minutes religious service was introduced and as gaps between programmes were not allowed, scripts and programme timings were very important. One morning the 'Five To Eight' prayers were transmitted and at the end the minister turned to the producer and said, "I hope I wasn't too long." But the sound engineer was slow and faded out after "I hope". However, the listener also heard before the fade, which ended "I'll see you all in Heaven", so the result was "I'll see you all in Heaven, I hope." No, it was not me!

One morning we were all called into the Control Room where the Engineer-in-Charge (EiC) told us that from then, we would have to listen to one of the Networks, day and night. We were a 24-hour manned station, and if we heard three bursts of tone the senior engineer on duty would have to open the safe and remove a sealed envelope and act upon the contents. There was plenty of talk in the papers about opening of the 'Second Front' and we guessed that the envelope had something to do with it. One of group of TAs (Sid Lotterby) took half-crown bets that the second front would be more than a week away. He lost £1 by about four hours.

During some of our off-duty periods several of us would be able to hire a canoe and paddle up and down the Ouse. We had great fun and used to hold races against each other or against the "other" shift. Once a week those off shift used to visit the Bedford Theatre, it was a regular booking and we usually managed to book the third row from the front on a Wednesday. I should imagine we had the matinee because it was cheaper.

Glenn Miller and his Orchestra came over after D-Day and the start of the Allied Expeditionary Forces Programme (AEFP). During our "off" time we would go to the Old Partners Hall in Bedford and listen to them and also see some of the American stars turn up. Bing Crosby came once and he offered his autograph but the only paper many of us had was a 10-shilling note. He willing signed the centre gap but somehow when we were "short" it got used at face value. Nobody sold the note with the "valuable" signature on it or nobody was interested in buying it. I had seen many of the visitors on the Cinema Screen but was amazed at the difference when I saw them for "real". Don't forget that I was only 17 at the time and the first time I had met famous people.
We Aldenham Boys knew about MB and one day we got hold of a local map and we looked for town, village, or anything with MB and eventually we found Milton Bryan. One day when we were all on late shift we went off on our bikes to Milton Bryan and found a large house with a guard on duty. We guessed that we had found our MB. I live near Milton Bryan now but at the time of writing I have not visited the area. During the war the Aspidistra transmitter would send messages to German troops from colleagues who unbeknown to them had just been captured by us. German radio was monitored and put through a recorder/playback machine; if an important message was given on German stations we could soon re-broadcast it with a 10 second delay and so listeners thought that MB was a German station and eventually a little British propaganda was added into the broadcasts. I have seen nothing written about MB and I often wonder what happened to Milton Bryan.

Eventually after about eight months at Bedford we all returned to Aldenham and I moved back home which saved having to send my washing home! A few new faces but little else had changed in the nine months we were away. New networks had been added in the European Services and hours extended on the old ones. We still caught the green BBC bus from opposite Edgware station or from the BBC Club in Stonegrove, when we were on night shift.

One early morning as dawn was coming up we had turned off the Control Room lights and looked out. We saw a thin amber pencil of light on the horizon and we guessed that we had seen a V2 launch and minutes later we saw it again, but this time we listened and two minutes from the start of the light we heard a dull thump. That evening one of the London papers mentioned how due to the correct light conditions many Londoners had seen a V2 launch. I was on shift on VE night and many of us had been to the Club and had a drink! We got the bus and went on duty, I went to the Latin American Spanish (Pink network) when the announcer to the Service said in Spanish "I have a piece of music, 'Hiawatha' and then in English, "Can a lady ride a bike, In the night, When she's tight, With a baby on the handlebars?" The announcer was later suspended for a couple of days but it was about the only English we heard that night. Next section is about Army so I'll start a new file.

Part 2:
Ron's Story from joining the Army until returning two years later.

In February 1946 staff who had served in the war services started to return to the BBC so some of us who had been in a 'Reserved Occupation' were called up for National Service. I did my last shift as a studio engineer and ended part of my life, as this was to be the last time I worked indoors. As I lived in London very near Hertfordshire I joined the Beds & Herts. Regiment but was stationed at Alexandria in Scotland, close to near Loch Lomond (later in the army my pay-book showed Alexandria so I informed readers that I was in Egypt when I got called up.)
We had to report at Glasgow station at 09:00 hrs and we had been given a rail warrant. I think four of us went up and for an extra 8s. 6d. we had a sleeper, so we went up in comfort, our last for some time. The barracks was an old factory and for the mattress we used to collect fresh straw every week. We were kitted out in army wear and sent our civilian clothes back home. The intake was either BBC engineers or Post Office engineers so we had plenty of banter between us. One of the main tasks was peeling potatoes or unloading one of the coal wagons that were supposed to supply the central heating, but somehow the cold didn't worry us too much.

One of the girls from Aldenham came from Kirkintilloch, not far from Alexandria, and one weekend she came up and invited two of us to join her with her parents for the weekend. We were due to be on duty but her father said, "Don't worry, I'll have a word with the CO; he is a friend of mine." So away we went and had a very enjoyable weekend, until we returned. This was my first visit to anywhere north of Bedford. The warrant officer wasn't too happy with our story, so we had to clean the floor of his room, with toothbrushes!

We didn't work too quickly but nobody could tell the difference between a wet floor and a scrubbed floor. We did make sure that the brushes looked well used! Six weeks after basic training we went to Catterick Camp to learn how to become an RM (Radio mechanic). It was good training but the same as we had had with the Corporation in Evesham although biased more towards army radios. When we had finished the course we had an exam to pass, including repair of army radios. We had been tipped off that the quickest way to repair was to run your hands over the set and find the freshly un-soldered joints. This was easy but we then had to work out how we found the fault.

I was home on leave from Catterick and ready for embarkation leave, when we were told that we would be going to Palestine. However, when we arrived at Thirsk for our tropical kit, we learnt that we were wanted in Germany instead, but I didn't mind. I was the only one from Aldenham who went to Germany and it was years before we all met again. From Hull we went to Cuxhaven and then to Bielefeld; I was posted to Hilden Barracks just outside Dusseldorf. One of the jobs I had was to install, operate and look after a mobile Public Address system. Four loudspeakers were mounted on the roof of a 15cwt truck and we also had a set of batteries to operate the unit. Today everything is battery-powered but we had batteries and a small converter, so that the equipment operated at mains voltage. If I was lucky, there was a small generator I could borrow. A driver and myself were used most weekends and at odd times during the week. I enjoyed it. In the workshops one of the corporals had an amateur transmitter and I still remember his call sign D2DC. I wonder where he is now.
Listening to the army radio, BFN (British Forces Network), I heard an appeal for engineers. It took me a long while to get an application accepted by my unit but eventually I went to Hamburg for an interview. I was not long back in Hilden before I received the news that "I was wanted" so up to Hamburg I went.

Here in the Music Hall I was soon put to work on OBs. I had spent about eight months on OBs in Bedford so I was used to the work and the equipment was almost the same as the BBC's, so with a driver (Frank Hall) off I went. I was only a corporal and Frank the driver was a private, but we soon discovered that, had we been sergeants, life would have been much easier. As a corporal and private whenever we stayed for the night, we had to supply our own bedding and getting a late meal was almost impossible. So it was a good idea that we suddenly became sergeants, at least when we were away from our own unit and clear of Army HQ. Everything was so much easier. Bedding was supplied and if we arrived late we could always get a very good meal, and we did manage to get a sergeant's liquor ration. It made both Frank and me happier and we got to know the "good stops".

The working routine was similar each week but we did have two OB units. Our main vehicle was a 3-ton Bedford, which was a mobile studio and had been up in the forward area as our troops had moved across France and into Germany BLA 1 and 2.    We had a magnetic tape machine and a couple of disc recorders on board but the disc recorders were never used because tape was so much easier to work with. We used to do a Theatre Orchestra programme on Fridays, similar to the BBC's 'Friday Night is Music Night'. Saturday we covered a football match and then a church service on Sunday morning and sometimes Sunday evening as well. If all three venues were close to each other we could stay in the one area and on Saturday evening we might record the band at the local dance club, or such place.

If the band was any good we would arrange a playback when we returned to Hamburg and then it was up to the others if the show was used or not. In those days the tape was on a flat bed with no sides to stop it unrolling. Oh yes I've dropped one and had to unwind a half hour's programme off the floor. Monday was a travel day and general tidy-up away from base. On Tuesdays a programme 'On Parade' was presented and Cliff Michelmore was the interviewer. This was a programme similar to 'Down Your Way', when Cliff interviewed important people or those with a story to tell, and at the end play a record 'by request' and they dare not change their mind. One of the sites we visited was the HQ of NAAFI in Bad Salzuflen and the big chief amongst others was interviewed at the NAAFI's clubhouse.    At the end of the programme we were invited to his house with some of his staff for a drink and something to eat.
One of his secretaries asked me if I could get a record request played on the radio, something by Frank Sinatra. No problem so long as it was not 'Two Way Family Favourites'... When I returned to Hamburg I explained the situation to the DJ, Derek Jones, and it was agreed to be played at the requested time and I had not given any sort of message. You can imagine my surprise listening to the radio in my room when Derek said: "I have a very special request from Ron, up here in Hamburg, to Joan Burnham in Bad Salzuflen with all his love. It's Frank Sinatra with 'The Girl That I Married'."

My face was red and so was Joan's 300 miles away. I was forgiven but eventually, two years later, Frank's words became true when we got married.

I spent only one Christmas with BFN and that was at a Displaced Persons Camp, when we did an insert to the Christmas day tour of the world before the Queen's Speech on the BBC. I found it very upsetting but could do nothing about it but it was the sort of situation over many parts of Europe at the time.

I was demobbed as a corporal from BFN, having travelled over most of the British Zone and along their motorways including a temporary bridge, "Harry's Last". I returned to the BBC and started work in Broadcasting House. I had applied to go into television whilst still in the Army but so did many others. However the 1948 Olympic Games were about to start so I went to the Broadcasting Centre in the Palace of Arts at Wembley, a building that was part of the 1924 Exhibition. I had returned to my parents' home in Burnt Oak, so Wembley was better for me than Broadcasting House near Oxford Circus. As I had been on OBs in Germany and knew my way around the German Radio stations I was put onto the German Domestic Network. One day I recognised a voice from my BFN days and asked if he could connect me to the Military Network. Next day all the tests were quickly made and I was put through to "Joan" in Bad Salzuflen and when I greeted her I was told, "Everything OK here, how are you?... Goodbye." and the effort I had gone to in order to make a one-second call. It was only later that I discovered that she was taking dictation from her boss and it was also only later that she was able to learn what an effort that phone call had been.

After the Games I remained at the Palace of Arts and helped clear up the Broadcasting Centre. Most of the equipment had been bought by the Finnish Broadcasting Service, as they were responsible for the next Olympic games in four years time. Following the clear-up I went to Broadcasting House and was settling in when I was asked if I would like to join the Television Service from Alexandra Palace, a department I had been eager to join. At this stage of life I had never seen television but I felt that it had a great future and I wanted to be part of it.

I went to AP on a Monday morning with about twelve other engineers and had a 'pep' talk. At the end the Engineer in Charge said that they wanted a couple of us to join OBs. Five of us showed interest and one was selected straight away. It was left to us to toss a coin to see who was going to go, and I won. One of my lucky breaks in life being in the "Right Place at the Right Time", so off to the OB base I went. It was back to Wembley near the Palace of Arts in the Palace of Engineering. This huge empty building with a couple of vehicles and private cars, and in the centre was a roadman's tent with a large lamp shinning through and a bench down one side occupied by a couple of engineers, we assumed. So this was OBs but we had a very warm welcome and told that the OB units were out till the next day.

On the second day we joined the crew of the units and each became the general dogsbody on Scanners 1 or 2. My first OB was from Larkswood Pool in Finchley, where I got an insight on how an OB was put together. I helped the maintenance engineer by "getting this, holding that" and generally helping out. During the transmission I went into the scanner to see what was happening and during rehearsals I was allowed to operate the "Racks" whereby the engineer sat sideways and made continuous adjustments to the picture on monitors the end of the van. As the newest boy most of my work was done on a waveform monitor so didn't see much of the pictures, but I was in television. However the OB transmitter needed help and I joined that department.

A second transmitter had just been rebuilt after being used elsewhere during the war. Whenever the unit travelled, the OB transmitter would follow to get the picture back to AP. In the centre of London the Post Office had installed cables for TV so we were not needed. Whenever the transmitters were used for transmission two engineers had to be 'on site' so as 'the boy' I travelled about. This was all in the late 1940s and cars were few and far between, but I was an expert travelling about on public transport. Buses, trains or trams all ran to time and "No Bus" or "No Train" was not a valid excuse for being late and I don't think any of us ever were. I did get a lift sometimes but these were not on a regular basis and I have spent many hours waiting for my 'taxi' to turn up.

In the autumn of 1949 the new Midland television transmitter at Sutton Coldfield was due to open but the makers were having teething troubles, so T2 was sent to a farm site at Frankley Beech in Birmingham, then to Penn in Wolverhampton and finally to Meriden, just outside Coventry, to do some tests for the benefit of local TV installers. The site at Meriden was a horse riding stable and we managed to rent a bungalow on the site. By now the transmitter at Sutton could do some trade tests so we only worked part-time, so when we were free would managed to 'exercise' their horses. One called Asia was good, he knew where he was going and I always had to go where he wanted to; I was unable to control him. After my stint with T2 I returned to London and joined the third OB unit, which had just been formed. By then a Scanner was known as an MCR (Mobile Control Room) and I joined MCR 7, a home made unit with modified American Image Orthicon Cameras which were very much more sensitive and became the standard type of camera for the next 20 years.
On one occasion I went to Alexandra Palace to rig a camera on the balcony outside one of the studios, where a telescope had been rigged, and we looked at the moon for the first 'Sky at Night' but not known then. When I returned to our base and I was making out our expenses, the temptation was very great bearing in mind the schedule said "Moon OB".

Space Suit, from Moss Brothers.
Oxygen cylinders, from BOC
Taxi to Heliport, which was on the South Bank Helicopter to Rocket Station, via BBC Warrant Rocket to Moon, again BBC Warrant
One week' Space allowance, as agreed by Allowances Officer.

I made the total bill to £50 and stated that this equalled my advance so there was no change of money and signed it a hundred years forward and I was R J Hopeful-Chown. The cashier who checked the expenses was not amused and told me I was a 'time waster' but I was forgiven when the Monday morning pressure had gone.

Part 3:
Many more OBs

Over the years I have been to most OB sites. Ascot I first went to in 1949 and it was the site of my last OB before I retired in 1985. In 1949 the installation of the cables took about three days and the engineers moved in on the Sunday, two days before racing, which was only a four-day event - The Royal Ascot. I was an assistant with the OB transmitter with Bob Blackman and he arranged that I put all the bets on the Tote. We lashed out at a shilling each for every race and always backed the fourth favourite, so I spent time running between Car Park 3, outside the main gates, and the Tote. At the end of the week we had made a profit of 3d each, I never bet now except about once a year - I can't stand the effort. Once during racing at Ascot, Dennis Monger said to me could somebody put a bet on for him and as there was nobody free I acted as bookmaker. This should have been a dead cert for me as soon as Dennis added his money to a horse the extra weight made him a non-winner. Yes I lost!

When I became a senior EM in 1977 (Jubilee year) I became typecast as the 'Ascot man'. As such I was responsible for all the engineering at Ascot, but the staff in base were there to assist me if required. I had to know where all the wires and cables went and by which route and make sure that they were always working. It's very surprising that cables break for no apparent reason, they just get tired and say, "tough" and we have to repair or replace a length. When we changed to new equipment and the cameras cables were very different I had to arrange, with help from base, to have Ascot all rewired. It took sometime to work out a route, where joints should be, and try and plan for future changes. Easier said than done but in the end we all managed to agree and the new cables were installed.
Before I retired, a new camera and cameraman arrived and I was asked to give him some experience. We had a meeting at Ascot with a free day in between so we all went to Ascot and we showed him the route of the installation and some of the snags. It was not easy to get from the CMCR to all the camera positions and in an emergency I might be needed so, along with the producer, I used to were full Morning Dress complete with grey top hat. I made sure that my neighbours saw me go to work! This is something that I miss now I'm retired. I have been to The Royal as a guest since I've retired but it's not quite the same. If I went now I don't suppose that I would know anybody, we have all retired!   

In 1949 we de-rigged everything after racing on the Friday, and then went into our base at Wembley on the Saturday to mend any faulty equipment and have a general clean and tidy up-and moved into Wimbledon for the Tennis on the Sunday. A day off? What was that? In those days we all travelled by public transport and it took longer than going by car but the service was very good. I had to use a couple of buses and trains but I was seldom late, everything ran to time and their were no delays, if my bus was due at 8:50 at 8:50 it would be there. Unlike today we took our own food to work and we lived on sandwiches or a salad with jelly and fruit. I used to leave home about 7:30 and sometimes it was past 10:00 before I got home. If we worked more than 176 hours in a 4-week period we 3shillings and 6pence an hour extra and we were pleased to get it.

It sometimes got so hot working on the MCRs that the heat melted the solder on the power supplies and even fans we borrowed failed to cool off the units. Some of the engineers wore shorts only, and the cameramen had to be careful on the amount of liquid they consumed at lunchtime, as there was nobody to take their place if they wanted a break. On the centre court we had two cameras side-by-side and only one on number one court. I remember one time when both cameras on centre court packed up, so the producer had to go to number one court, which meant leaving an exciting match and going to a dull one. The phones at Alexandra Palace suddenly became very busy.

We only had two units, and two studios working so Wimbledon only had a normal OB operation. It's a bit different today. My last Wimbledon visit was 1977, Jubilee Year, when three units were used because from then on I became the `Ascot man'. It was a good idea to be 'typecast' and as an EM I enjoyed being "TC". Soon after the start of BBC 2 we had Sunday Cricket, which was a cricket match that took place from about 2:00 on Sunday afternoon until 6:30 that evening. It had a good following because one-day cricket allowed a result at the end, and there was a 15-minute tea interval for both players and viewers. It was the Cavaliers versus a local first-class cricket club. At the beginning of the cricket year the possible sites were given to the EM and we then arranged a deal with a scaffolding company to erect the camera rostrum and the commentary huts around the country. Towards the end of the year when the competition was nearing the final we had to be careful where we went. It was no use having the cameras in one part of the country and the match hundreds of miles away. Still these little problems gave all the more fun to the job.

I had a couple of years of "Sunday Cricket" I did a spell of visiting horse racing sites but that didn't work because the local OB units had been there before, so it was pointless getting one person to try and do it all. I did do a couple of months covering about eight meetings but I got them mixed up in my mind and I think that was due to the fact that I knew all of the sites and it was almost a case of "same as before". It's only when you have many new sites that you can keep your mind fresh.

It was a good idea to have one man looking after a site, and besides Ascot I had the Wembley Arena and the Conference Centre as well as a partial interest in the Stadium. Sometimes two EMs were needed when the OB became very large and complicated so a second EM would appear a day or so before the OB. The FA Cup Final from the Stadium, Tennis from the Arena, and Snooker from the Conference Centre were some of the OBs where two EMs were needed. I also got involved with Windsor, the town, the Castle and Chapel. In the late 1960s it was considered that we should prepare Windsor town for coverage of a large royal event. The 'Royal producer' Anthony Craxton, Alan Roberts, Tommy Thomas and myself walked around and selected prominent camera positions, knowing the 'Royal' route. This involved putting ducts under the roads in order to get the cameras wired back to the main site by the Guard Room. We arranged all of this with the town council and eventually obtained their approval for the work. I don't think the ducts have ever been used I'm pleased to say.

In the early 1970s, while we were still using black and white, the Queen, so I understand, thought that State Visits should be at Windsor Castle rather Buckingham Palace in the centre of London. The Queen would greet her visitors in Home Park and then drive up to the Castle using the last half mile of the Long Walk. We had three cameras on Home Park and one down by the Station to cover the drive to the Castle. Once near the Castle we had a camera on the roof of Henry VIII's gateway. This camera then had to cover the Quadrangle and to do this a rostrum had to be built. After a couple of visits I asked the Castle Superintendent if we could have a permanent rostrum in place of the temporary one. He knew that before requesting permission from the Queen the rostrum would have to be built and a false wall to hide it. I knew that we could not get the money for a 'capital' project so I arranged with our contractors to get paid in two halves, the cost of two temporary installations. All was agreed and the ends were built in glass fibre. Eventually permission was granted and I could tell the producer what I had done. Another Ron Chown gamble that paid off.

We had to be very careful with the rigging and learn not to shout as we normally did. I counted the amount of cable we used and it was about 15 miles worth. However between our first rig and the next one six months later I was shown different ways of running the cables. At the same time technology had changed and we reduced the installation to about three miles. You can imagine how much quicker that was as well.

Eventually colour television came in and strangely, life became a bit easier. Valves had all gone and transistors had arrived now its easier still with chips. I got to know the police very well and as I liked to say "thank you" at BBC's expense of course, I bought large tins of coffee, put my name on it but let everyone know they could help themselves. The chief police officer was Chief Inspector Smith and as my father was an ex-Met policeman we had something in common. I was lucky because I could park my car in the Castle, by prior arrangement, I could always make up an excuse why I should be there and I always dropped off my visitors outside.

Every three years the Queen and royal family were televised during the Christmas morning service. We did it one year then three years later ITV covered the service, then it was our turn three years later. One Christmas we were preparing for the Christmas Morning OB and I knew that Alan Roberts, a fellow EM, was retiring and I thought that it would be a good idea to have a farewell in Windsor, at the Castle of course, because we had worked together there for many years. I spoke to the Superintendent to see if there was a room I could use. Yes, their Club at £75! By giving out invitations to the castle staff as well I got it for nothing.

Next problem was food and drink. I had invited the entire unit and then explained that their Christmas Lunch would be sandwiches the evening before. I then had a word with our Lighting Contractor and explained my "difficulty". Leave it to us, they told me! He had a wonderful farewell and he was surprised as to the site and various visitors who turned up. I had learnt from being an EM that by asking for anything you could usually get what you wanted, provided you did it with a smile, a trick I still use today.

The chapel at Windsor is St George's, named after the patron saint of England, so when the quincentenary (500 years) was held I proudly wore a John Groom's rose and many people wondered why I wore a Red Rose. We had cameras outside the chapel and these had glass fibre hides so the rostra were not seen. I was walking around giving a final check, when an American visitor asked me what I was doing. He didn't see the camera so I explained how to save money there was a lot of glass fibre used and took him to another hide. I never had time to explain what the hides really did. I can imagine the friends of his being told, "Windsor Castle is only fibre glass."
Between the ceiling and the roof in most large buildings there is a void, and, to cover the Queen, three of us along went into the void along with the Clerk of Works to find holes to lower microphones He left us and went down to his office on the ground floor and told us the way down and pull the self-locking door behind us. This we did and down the spiral stairs we went, feeling our way in the dark, and when we got to the bottom the exit was locked! We were locked in the Tower, couldn't get out of the top and locked in the bottom. None of us had a screwdriver to undo the door, not one of us had a penknife that we were going to use, when we were suddenly rescued with apologising for the delay, he had got waylaid en-route. How do you explain that you were locked up in a church tower? I used the fact quite often when I used to give talks about my "Life at The BBC".

Over the years the cables between camera and the control van have changed and now gone a radio link can work as well. I have a small colour camera, and recorder, a camcorder that operates on small rechargeable batteries and will fit into a large pocket, which shows how much smaller things have got, and it's all automatic and those used by broadcasting organisations can be even smaller. Mine was out of date when I bought it new, technology is moving so fast it is almost impossible to be fully up to date.

On OBs we spent a lot of time away from home. As a member of a unit we only knew a maximum of six weeks if we were going somewhere and by the time we were able to make a booking, all our `contact' accommodation had been booked. When I was with the Roving Eye and part of a team of five, we took it in turns to book our next hotel. Today it's easy with plenty of hotels in most towns but in the 1950s it was difficult. We would go through the AA book and then try and contact the hotel. Over the years we have stayed in some funny places. Pubs were usually quite good and sometimes the five of us could all stay in the same place.

When we had to go and add our two cameras to the three operated by the Midland unit to be at the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral, our usual hostelries were fully booked. We hunted around Coventry and the only place we found was a transport `digs'. We had no choice, so in we went, five to a room. Each bed had a bit of string tied to another line over the bed. When you pulled the string you eventually connected to the light switch and out went the light. We were not the only residents but the dining room only had four chairs, so as soon as you had finished eating you vacated the seat for the next person. Only one toilet/bathroom but at least it did for the one night we spent there.

When I was working on RE (Roving Eye), we took turns to book accommodation and it was Stan Weston's turn in Edinburgh. When he was told 27/6 a night, he said it was too expensive - so we booked in for 25/-. When we got to the room, which we shared as we usually did, we couldn't find a washbasin. Oh dear, another into our little "Black Book". There were plenty of doors for built-in wardrobes and one we found that let us in to a large room in which we found full en-suite facilities and we had got it for 25/-. We never went back to Edinburgh again.
One of the jobs that we on the Roving Eye had was to assist in the Regions when they only had two cameras and wanted four. We went to Northern Ireland for a 'Top of the Form' and each time they won we would have to go back. We returned several times and in the end we had a key to a guest house and just phoned in our booking, given our room numbers and eventually met the landlady at breakfast next morning. This was before all the troubles.

Working on the RE with the West of England unit we had gone to the Beaulieu Jazz Festival to provide additional cameras. About 20 minutes before we were due on the air the whole area had a power failure and every thing went black/blank. Ah! The Eye had its own generator and a couple of the arc lamps had a generator.

Over the years I have been involved with many royal visits and as an EM I became involved with the planning of the event at a very early stage. One of these was the opening of the RAF Museum at Hendon. It was handy for me as I lived a couple of miles away and I had spent many happy days on the site when it was a real airfield. A couple of months before the opening I was at Farnborough, when a phone call asked if we could make an appeal on the air for "bits" of a Lancaster as Hendon were trying to rebuild one. Raymond Willing made an appeal and on the Monday morning Hendon was offered not only parts for the Lancaster but many more "bits" and memorabilia.

As the opening was a 'Royal' it was classed a Grade One, which meant that certain items were doubled, e.g. the standby power supply. We were due on the air at about 11:00 am and about 10:50 the supply began to drop to under 200 volts and was going down. We were struggling, so I said we will go on to standby generator and use the mains as "standby". It worked and we had no problems but until my bosses of that day read this they will never know how near we were to a breakdown.

In Jubilee year 1977 the Queen opened the celebrations by having a huge bonfire by the Copper Horse at the end of the long drive, three miles from Windsor Castle. It was a wet day, very wet; it rained all day and some of us wondered how the fire would go. No problem, with a few extra firelighters even the ground started steaming. There was a Guinness Tent nearby, where a "Jubilee" glass was given. I wonder if my half dozen will ever become valuable? After most people had gone home there was still a large crowd of 20 year-old people about. Although from all parts of the world they were singing some very British songs as well as the National Anthem, every 10 minutes. A very happy wet but warm crowd.
The Queen was going to Finningley, near Doncaster to present new Colours to the RAF in Jubilee year and I was involved from about November the previous year before the July presentation. Along with Dennis Monger, Duggie Hespe and Pam Guyler (Dennis's Assistant), we were invited to the first meeting. After dinner in the Officers Mess we all moved into a lecture hall-four BBC, about 30 RAF Officers and a couple of Ministry of Works officials. We four sat in the front and the meeting was being chaired by the Air Commodore. He explained all about the idea of the day and then looked at us and asked what we were going to do.

I expected Dennis Monger to answer but he just referred the problem to me. We had televised from the station before and we had discussed what we would like to do so it was not a great problem but I would liked to have notice of some of the questions. We were asked if the could install our cables early. No problem for us because Wimbledon was during the period in question. For the BBC it was going to be a large installation and we required to cross a disused runway where aircraft were due to park for the Royal party to inspect. I was at home when the installation was being done and in the evening I had a "feeling" that something was going wrong. No reason to suspect anything, no phone calls, no messages. but I felt that I should visit the site. I then rang around my colleagues and cancelled bookings, and next morning I went up to Finningley in time for opening of ducts for our cables, which were "full". The DoE representative on site asked me what I intended to do now. I looked at him and suggested, "Easy, dig up the runway and lay ducts as you promised."

In life, as on OBs, I have a motto: "Difficult Yes, Impossible No". Radio links could have been used but it was easier with cable. Four years later when we returned to the airfield for a Battle of Britain air display the new CO opened his file and asked "Is Ron Chown with you?" I had to admit who I was and when I requested the reason, he said: "This file says beware of Ron Chown, he might want to dig up a runway." Not this time, I informed him.

Part 4:
MCR7 and onward.

Scanners 1 and 2 were pre-war units and slowly other manufacturers entered the television camera field. Baird had started television but EMI and Marconi entered the field with their electronic system and they were the first in the world. They produced a new camera, the CPS Emitron, using new ideas. Pye had entered the field by modernising pre-war technology and produced some new cameras. Mobile Control Rooms (MCRs) gave way to Scanners, but the old name still persisted Pyes produced MCRs 3 and 6 whilst EMIs had 4 and 5. MCR 7 was an American design using a new pickup tube, the Image Orthicon, and this was the main type used until colour television arrived.
For the 1948 Olympic Games EMI had produced a new pick-up tube, the CPS and they produced MCR 4. It had very sensitive pick-up tubes compared with the pre-war Emitrons and was used to cover events held in the Wembley Pool, the swimming and boxing events. Later MCR 5 was produced, which was identical to MCR4 but was never used on OBs going instead to the "new" BBC Theatre for variety shows. OBs had the new type cameras first, then they went into studios after we had really tested them. MCR 3 came after the Games and the two pre-war Scanners were retired. MCR 3, a Pye-designed vehicle, used Photicons as a pick-up tube and this was in fact a modern version of the pre-war Emitron but much more compact. The old Emitron travelled from site to site in a spring-loaded carrying case and when the camera was rigged, the tube was installed on site complete with its scanning coils, which were moulded into the tube. A Super Emitron was more sensitive; only one was available between the two Scanners and had to be booked to travel to each OB. It was easy to knock these coils off, so the installations had to be handled with care. If the coils came off, you had an OBE (Order of the Broken Emitron)!

MCR 6 was delivered and the first time it was used, it was on the Boat Race and went straight to site. Some of the monitors didn't work and after much testing we found that they had been wired up 'mirror' fashion, so we had to rewire them. Oh for today's testing. One of Pye's other problems was soldering of joints and in the hurry many joints were unsoldered. To solve this problem every joint was inspected and had a red spot painted on them, next trouble was that the red spot held the joint together (somebody felt paint was better than solder).

My first Boat Race was in the spring of 1949 and by then I was attached to Radio Links. It was the first time that a camera had been put on a boat with a radio link connection to shore, and as London was the only TV station in the UK, we used the future frequency of Birmingham for the link. My job at the receiver end was to adjust the contrast knob on the receiver to give a steady output via an oscilloscope to the nearby MCR. In order to make sure that the central producer, Peter Dimmock, could talk to us all, the Sound transmitter from Alexandra Palace was used. Anybody at home who had left his or her set on could have received talkback. There was no other way of contacting everyone. For boat to shore communication we had a "Voice Operated Lamp", which was OK if the pathway was clear and it wasn't raining. For the next few years I managed to get on to the Boat for my "Spring Cruise", as it took us about four days rigging and testing. Considering the things we tried to do with the equipment that was available, we did very well.

The Boat Race was always hard work, rigging onto the boat and keeping the two generators full of fuel. The first year we had a small boat, the 'Consuta', but when we got two cameras we had a small cabin cruiser, the 'Everest'. I've had many happy hours up and down the Thames from Putney Bridge to Mortlake and I knew every landmark along the way. I always referred to my week on the Boat Race as my "Spring Cruise".
Later in the year I was sent to the Midlands, where with Gerald Beresford, T2 was used as a Test Transmitter for Sutton Coldfield, which was being delayed in its test transmissions. First we went on to a farm at Frankley Beeches and during our off-duty moments I used to help with the thrashing, in the days before combine harvesters. After a month we moved to Penn near Wolverhampton. We used rather a lot of power and the local electricity board had quite a problem give us a good Earth connection, installing sheets of copper. As it was a very dry summer they used large amounts of water as well. The Post Office had installed a temporary telephone, which also used the Earth connection. Yes! The connection to earth was better via the telephone so we managed to put the local exchange out of action-not my fault!

After a month we moved to Meriden and a horse stabling farm. We were lucky in that the owners had an empty bungalow and this was our home for the next month. By now Sutton Coldfield's transmitter was working, so we only had a couple of hours transmission a day. There was always a spare horse for us to use. One, by the name of Asia, knew we were new and he took us for the ride, which was always to the local shops, and there he got his 'extra rations'. I returned to London and transferred to a new, now third unit, MCR 7. This unit used American RCA Image Orthicon pick-up tubes, which were very sensitive compared to the ones we were using. The first OB was ice hockey from the Empress Hall, Earls Court, on 17th December 1949, the day that Sutton Coldfield doubled our coverage. No longer were we confined to the London Area.

In due course television was covering other parts of the UK. In those days the Postmaster General opened the new transmitter with a civic reception at the transmitter. I happened to be at the opening of Holme Moss, covering the north of England. To make sure that we opened spectacularly, we arranged to televise the switching on of the Blackpool Illuminations. We had a tram with "BBC Television Service" in lights on the front and it was here that I learnt how to drive a tram! Our receiver was at the top of Blackpool Tower and we had a free pass to most of the Blackpool entertainments. At the top of the Tower was a very early type of fruit or gambling machine and the engineers discovered that between 90 and 100 goes, the jackpot paid out. No, I was not the man who kept count but I did have the odd drink on the house. We were certainly made welcome.

While at the opening of the Wenvoe transmitter we could see a big storm on the other side of Channel and it was the night that Lynton and Lynmouth suffered in their disastrous storm. We knew nothing about the storm until we read it in the papers the next day. When I went to Northern Ireland to cover the opening of the Divis transmitter we also went to Dublin. We televised a boxing match and a theatre programme and I can't remember what the name of the show was. However our senior engineer, Jimmy Hartwright, contacted Guinness and asked if we could do a tour of the factory. We did, as VIPs, and lucky for us we had a free afternoon to be able to sleep it off. We did the evening theatre without a problem.
I have always liked flying and when I joined up for National Service, I tried the air force but it was just after the war had ended and there were plenty of spare recruits already. However if I had the chance to do a flying programme, I tried to join it. In the department of BBC OBs we did have a chance of doing things we liked, there was always someone who didn't want to do "that". We did several flying programmes but the most ambitious was a weekend from a Varsity bomber at Watton in Norfolk. It was a pilot/bomb aimer training station and the year was 1955, just before ITV started. Our Design department, who worked very closely with us, suggested to the production department that they could install a couple of cameras on an aircraft, Air Ministry agreeing. The Air Ministry were always pleased to show off their latest ideas, so co-operation was easy. A couple of engineers from designs department modified two of our cameras so that they could operate on aircraft power supplies.

I went along as the operator, maintenance engineer and booked into the Officers Mess. We were going to do several programmes over the weekend, from seeing other types of Aircraft in Service with the RAF to do a Blind Landing, with the pilot talked down to the runway. In the event we had very low cloud and if we had not been talked down, we would have had to land at another airfield. It was here that I suggested to the pilot that he could fly us to London, and I expected to land at Northolt and from there get the bus home. Instead we went to North Weald, and when the aircraft landed, in the middle of the runway out climbed four BBC engineers and were told, "The exit is over there, goodbye." The plane took off and the four of us started walking. We found our way out, waved to the Guard Room, and waited with our cases at the bus stop on the way to catch the underground. We would have been home hours quicker had we caught the train.

One of my early planned shows after I became an EM was parachute jumping from over Weston on the Green, near Oxford. We were booked to fly from Abingdon and use a Beverley with the rear doors off. We had a rehearsal on the Friday for Saturday's transmission. I suffer from a slight attack of vertigo at times but flying does not seem to worry me (some years later I heard that it was using your legs that caused the problem). I seemed to be getting a bit breathless and mentioned it to a colleague who seemed a "bit blue", and when I spoke to the pilot, he said: "Well, we are at 18,000 feet." We soon started to descend and gain our normal looks and breathe well again. None of us suffered any problems.
Somehow or other I seemed to become involved with most of the OB department's air shows, and we had a least two a year. An air show in the spring usually came from Biggin Hill ex-RAF station and in the autumn it was either the 'Battle of Britain', which was held at an RAF Station, or the SBAC Air Show at Farnborough. After I became an Engineering Manager I was almost typecast as the 'Air Show man'. This was both useful to the BBC and the organisers of the programmes and made contacts much easier. The producers were Dennis Monger and Duggie Hespe, and the commentator was Raymond Baxter, whom I had first met at BFN in Germany during 1947. As a "quad" we covered almost all the live OBs. During the year at least two 'air' programmes came to our screen and I was there.

My first visit to Biggin Hill was on a unit to see some parachute jumping. The wind caught the jumpers and they landed everywhere except on the DZ (Drop Zone) but it made good television in the 1950s. Later an air display was held at Biggin Hill every spring and when we first started the main airfield was still occupied by the RAF. The Control Tower was a good place for our camera, so every year we had to get permission from the RAF to enter and use their area. Not a problem but it all took time and the COs, who changed every couple of years, always wanted to know what we were going to do and how we proposed to do it. As time went on and the RAF reduced in size, fewer problems occurred and we had a free run for a couple of years until the airfield was privatised, but even then we were still welcomed.

Farnborough was part of the Ministry of Defence when I first went there and security was very tight. Eventually when I became an EM, the BBC's Air Show EM, I planned and executed the bi-annual air show. It had been an annual event and I went along with a unit. The Sunday programme was about two hours long and showed the whole of the afternoon's flying display. If the aircraft went out of view the cameraman just followed his imagination of where it should be. We did a couple of half programmes around the exhibition halls on Wednesday and Thursday. These were live and we had to get the exhibitors to come to a central area. You can imagine the help that videotape made for us and later when we could have one or more mobile machines on site. We could go to the exhibitors at any time and not when we were on the air. Eventually all was recorded, edited, a commentary added and a package was sent from the site.

Even when we were not wanted to cover the display, we followed the flying in case of a mishap. News division in London recorded everything but wiped it if it wasn't wanted by them. Dennis Monger, Duggie Hespe, Raymond Baxter and myself usually stayed in the hotel just outside, the Queens. We were well known there and most of the visitors were from the airfield, meaning we were able to get "help" when we needed it. Cameras were all over the area, both in the airfield and outside, so I had a pass for the car and managed to park it by our Control Van. The crew of the unit tried to wind me up and once they got a Security Guard to ask for the owner of a car, saying they suspected a bomb underneath. Instead of getting out of the Control Van and getting worried, I just gave the guard the car key and said: "You sort it out." It was only later that I found that it was a"put-up" job.
On one occasion I was unable to get on to site for the first couple of days and when I did get there I was told how the first day everywhere had been flooded. I found this hard to believe until I saw dead fish from the nearby river all over the grass runway. In all the years of working on OBs I have only got wet, really wet, twice and once was at Farnborough.

One August Bank Holiday I went to plan an OB from Leuchars, near Dundee. I travelled on the night train sleeper and the RAF met us at the railway station, which allowed us to have a full day's work on the station. On my second and final visit I was asked if I could appear a day earlier. "Difficult yes, impossible no", so a day early, Simon Betts, the producers assistant (PA), and I appeared. For over an hour we were both briefed about what to do if we were in an aircraft, a Phantom twin engine jet. We were then taken to a simulator and I became the pilot and the PA was the navigator. No problem taking off and up we climbed to a bout 35,000 feet. All was quite orderly and the PA gave me a target to fly to. Easy. Then alarm bells sounded and I knew exactly what to do with one engine on fire, so I pressed certain buttons but I was not warned that when one failed the plane started to "fall over". It was then that a mini panic came on and I fought to level the plane. This was a simulator, therefore we didn't feel the full effect of all the bumps and changes of gravity, and when I called up ground control at 11,000 feet to ask how I had done, he replied: "You've done well except for one thing." When I asked what I had done wrong, I was informed: "You are upside down!"

No wonder the controls didn't do what I expected. We both got out the "aircraft" and I was shaking. I've never been a pilot or flown a plane but it took me about four hours before I calmed down. Whilst "flying" I really felt that I was flying and never thought that it wasn't real, but I was pleased to get down! We just walked out at 11,000 feet because some aircrew (real ones) wanted some practice. However if I'm on a plane and the pilot falls ill, I can always take over, right away, but never did I have to land the vehicle!

Visiting Farnborough every couple of years, the usual four booked into the Queen's Hotel outside the main gate. I tried to have kippers for breakfast once but was told, "Sorry Sir, we haven't any," so one day I bought some and was then told that I would have to eat outside. Luckily it was sunny but I never had kippers again, I suppose they didn't like the smell. One Saturday evening and our last for the next couple of years, we were having a final drink in the bar and it was at midnight I went to the reception and asked if they had an old hat. They did, so I went round collecting for the "Ron Chown Benevolent Fund". Some people knew me but several generous supporters didn't know me, much to my surprise, so the "Blind Box" did well that evening.
At the end of a day's work, by the time you returned to your hotel, had a clean up then a pre-dinner drink when we would all meet before an evening meal, most of the evening was gone so we usually finished up in a bar. As expected it was usually shop talk. On one occasion somebody who was a regular in the bar asked us who we were. I was the senior engineer and replied, "just a group at a convention." Someone else suggested that we were undertakers, another chipped in and said that we specialised in cremations and to cap this, it was suggested that we specialised in commercial travellers. He walked away. We seldom said who we were, it was more fun getting them to guess or continue wondering. It is quite surprising, over the years, who we worked for.

When we worked with the Services we sometimes stayed in the Officers Mess, which proved useful, as requirements would continue to be discussed. At Finningley the "BBC Quintet" were booked into the Mess and given a "Bar Number". During the Queen's Jubilee visit I asked the CO if we could use the room as an office. Our vehicles were parked in an area normally used for aircrew resting so as the airfield were not doing any training for a couple of weeks we moved in. It had a small kitchen as well as a rest room, so we all made ourselves "at home" and was useful for tea. The CO came one day and asked if he could use the phone (his phone) and permission was soon granted. He phoned his secretary to say, "If I'm wanted, I'm in Ron Chown's office," so I felt that I had arrived! On the Sunday morning after the Saturday's display we just had to join in with everyone on the station, including the CO, to walk the whole airfield and pick up all the rubbish, which included such small items as a safety pin.

One of our early problems when I worked on the RE (Roving Eye) was getting lunch. The RE usually worked away from the main unit, or away from any food supplies, but that didn't worry us as we "made do". When we were at a race meeting three of us would go shopping the previous evening and buy something for a good fry-up, which meant that we had plenty of beefburgers from the local butcher. At Cheltenham Races we were parked in the middle of the racecourse, and we left the cars just outside the rear entrance, which had a public footpath across the course. We had three vehicles and parked them in a triangle to give us some privacy for our tables etc. and cooking. We had a small electric stove and a frying pan, and all of us were excellent cooks (provided it was out of a frying pan).
When we were doing a programme of Jazz from Beaulieu we joined forces with our West of England colleagues and as they had no 'catering facilities' we provided these, including a few cans of beer. There was a gazebo in our parking area, which we turned into a 'canteen' and fed the West of England unit as well, for a small profit. The owners of the hotel we were staying at in Southampton knew what we were trying to do and helped out with supplies on a sale or return basis. We all had a good time, eating. We had an onboard generator but normally had an outside supply, so it was agreed that the kettle was plugged into our supply and whenever we wanted a cup of tea we just started up our generator. We had a group of rigger/drivers and when they heard the generator start up they knew "Ron wants his tea". We were a good team and all worked together but when we were not busy we enjoyed ourselves and had plenty of fun. It was while doing this programme that there was a general power failure in the area and suddenly everything went out. Luckily the two arc lamps had their own generator, so they supplied some light, while we on the 'Eye' pushed the button and instead of tea we supplied some basic facilities and in fact we televised the whole programme. The commentator had to stand outside the vehicle and look through the doorway to see the monitors. Those were the days.

Fawlty Towers had nothing to compare to some of the funny places we have stayed in over the years. When working at Biggin Hill we tried various hotels. If possible we might even make a booking 12 months in advance and about six weeks before, when we had the first site visit, we would confirm our previous booking. We did the correct thing when we went to a hotel in Westerham. Upon arrival we were told that the hotel was closing down. However, we were accepted for the three days but there would be no food. We could do our own if we liked. Fawlty Towers had nothing on cooking by 'committee' but at least we had some fun, and luckily a dishwasher was available. At another hotel, the George in Odiham, we had made an advance booking but when we arrived after work at about 6pm on the Sunday night we discovered that the hotel had just changed ownership and knew nothing of our booking (one B&B with evening meal). They found a meal for us and we did get some very good meals and had the rooms we expected. One evening the owner showed me six lobsters he had just bought so I booked them all for the rest of the party; luckily the other five liked lobster. We did in fact return to the same hotel a couple of years later and the management had changed again. It always surprises me that when a hotel changes hands, the bookings do not follow and sometimes we could be left without a bed, luckily it never happened to me.

In the late 1950s there were not the hotels that we could visit easily, as we can do today and we had digs. Some of the places we stayed at were mainly for commercial travellers, and dinner in the evening was about 5:30, when they would all disappear to the writing room to place their orders. Postal collection would be about 7:30, so there was a rush to make it. The Bray's Hotel in Lincoln was one of these places and although we only went once a year, we quite often met the same travellers.
We were in Lincoln for the races and we had to rove at the same speed as the horses along the road. As horses accelerated faster than our 'Eye', we had to watch the Race Starter very carefully and try and move before he gave the 'Off'. Usually we made it and kept up with the runners but sometimes we lost; luckily we had no bets on ourselves. For lunch we used to go to the Bridge Hotel, about five miles from the site. When we got there we found that our sound transmitter could not be received in Lincoln, although the pictures got through, so we had to televise the menu and take the orders. I think the hotel liked us going there and parking the vehicle outside and we were usually away before their 1 o'clock rush.

After the racing had ended on the Wednesday evening we had to drive across country to get ready for the Grand National races, the first being on Thursday afternoon, and this was in the days before motorways and the excellent roads that have been built since. Looking back we usually had snow as well but we always made our "cross-country" trip.

The final part.

I retired in 1985 after 42 years in broadcasting, of which 40 were with the BBC, two in the armed services of which one was with BFN, and the last 38 were with Television Outside Broadcasts. When I left, I bought myself a camcorder, a colour camera/recorder with playback all run on rechargeable batteries and easily carried about. What a change from when I first did an OB using pre-war equipment!

The camera needed two men to put into position and the pick-up tube that converted light to electrical pulses had to be handled with great care and was installed for each site we visited. Black and white or about 7 shades of grey, 405 lines, but we did make some very exciting programmes and had fun making them. Everything was live, no recordings in those days so mistakes were seen by everyone, a much the better way of working, although today Terry Wogan and Frank Muir would not been able to make programmes on the errors.

We tried and did all sorts of entertainment, such as visiting a private swimming pool and seeing a gala arranged for us by Dorothy Squires. No recording so when the swimmer's costume slipped from her shoulders as she left the water this was the first 'topless' on TV. In those days we soon cut away to another shot a wide angle of the swimming pool. The cameras were gradually replaced but with valves, breakdowns were fairly common and as the maintenance engineer I was kept busy with replacements.

Before I joined the BBC I was in the ATC (the air force cadets) at school and I enjoyed flying. But I was unable to join the RAF proper (they had plenty of National Service men) but I became 'typecast' for flying programmes. The first I remember was on the car ferry plane between Lydd and Beauvais and we flew a diesel generator to get our power. For the next airborne programme special power units were made and we used the aircraft's power supply. RAF Watton was the base in 1955 and we had a Varsity plane with one camera in the co-pilot's seat and another in the bomb aimer's position. Raymond Baxter, the commentator, whom I met in my BFN days, was allowed to select for transmission his own choice of picture and had to do the commentary at the same time. It had never happened before or after to my knowledge, since while we looked at other RAF planes and they formatted on us.
Raymond during his commentary said, quite truthfully, that the weather was getting misty so come back after the 15-minute News and see if we get down safely. My wife was expecting our daughter at the time so she was really worried and it wasn't until Raymond met her some time later and apologised the he came out of her bad books. We were both gardeners so whenever we met, winter or summer the greeting was always, "How are your Runner Beans?" Now we have both given up 'beans' it's a more conventional greeting.

Over the years the valve gave way to the transistor and then to the silicon chip. Each advancement meant that the equipment became lighter-a transistor was lighter than a valve and a chip lighter than a transistor and the pick-up device became smaller, and therefore lighter. Had it not been for the transistor and then the chip, our colour system would not be so robust as it is today. The Americans and Japanese have an inferior colour system because they had colour in the valve area. Even the chip has improved the quality of our colour service. The cameras are so much lighter and less liable to breakdown. When did you last have your TV or Video recorder repaired, except for one of the memory circuits? If it breaks down today the local dealer may suggest that you buy a new one because your old one has given you good service and technology has advanced with the service you get on your TV or Video has leapt forward. Ceefax/Teletext has grown so much that some of us can't live without them. My video recorders have not been fitted with PDC (programme delivery control) and they stop and start on my previous timings and not those controlled by the broadcasting organisations. Now digital has arrived and we have to think again, "what are we to do?"

When I had my first TV receiver in the middle fifties I was always getting up to adjust something. It was second-hand and cost me £40, and it received only one station on the 9-inch screen. Today it's switched on at beginning of the evening and remains on for most of the evening. Much of the time it is in a standby mode because I have a remote control and switch on and off or change channels without leaving my chair. I don't watch much television and strange as it may seem, BBC1 and 2 cover most of my needs.

It all seems a long time ago, 56 years, but I've had a wonderful life having had only one provider of my pay cheques, except a time when the Government needed my expert assistance.

Written by Ron Chown and transcribed by Mike Jordan. December 2006

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