John Bower, President
Chairman Peter Turrall introduced our President for this year, John Bower, someone he has known for much of his employment with Marconi Communications, a career spanning 32 years from apprentice to manufacturing manager. Popular not only with colleagues but also with many other people he met during his work or whilst playing sport, particularly cricket: he was captain of the Marconi Cricket Club first eleven and a renowned bowler and last wicket batsman.
At work he could be relied on to satisfy orders within often very tight, at times seemingly impossible timescales. Peter used one quote to sum up the man - “The impossible is sometimes possible - leave it to me”.
In reply John outlined some of those 32 years, slipping in a few amusing anecdotes along the way. In 1955 he applied to Marconi's and successfully gained a craft apprenticeship as an instrument maker. He remembered on his first day being sent to Dawson's Test and asked by Tom Summers if he knew Ohm's Law. When he said he did he was told to await arrival of two electric trucks (the ones with the driver at the front). The trucks duly arrived carrying light bulbs, several hundred, so armed with sockets and switches from Tom Summers he set about his first job – testing the light bulbs.
Apprenticeship provided a rich fund of such stories. In Section 16, the Christmas shop draw, first prize a whole chicken - complete with feathers and innards! An ex-boxer Dusty Miller won the prize and after a lunchtime pint or two at the Wheatsheaf proceeded to pluck the chicken, feathers going everywhere encouraged by the compressed air guns they all had on their benches. Having plucked the chicken Dusty then decided to cook it over his bench-top Bunsen burner. At this point the works superintendent George Barratt arrived to tell them they could go home early it being Christmas Eve, but when he saw the feathers everywhere he insisted that every one be collected and put in the bins before they left. John never did find out if Dusty enjoyed the chicken!
As an apprentice he had his first brush with the new-fangled printed circuit boards. Then, coincident with being transferred from craft to technician apprentice, spells in the Projects Office under Dennis Cofflin, and Sub-Contracting Division working for Jack Brookes and Dick Carrol. This move led to his meeting the secretary with whom he will be celebrating a Diamond Wedding anniversary in 2020. Then, an entirely different environment, development in Building 46. One memorable moment from his final apprenticeship attachment in Receiver Test was on a night shift performance testing ECM Cable and Wireless. Whilst taking their midnight snack of baked beans on toast someone poked his head around the corner of the equipment and said “My, that smells good!” It was King Hussein of Jordan.
Following apprenticeship, Test Methods Engineering, then subsequently joining Ron Kitchen working in Advanced Testing Techniques, including auto-testing. His first management role was to run the Auto-Test section, then on to manage Widford, move Mobile Radio down from Coventry with manufacture at Beehive Lane and commercial at Marrable House.
Whilst involved with the studio manufacturing of a large number of OB vehicles he was asked to join Peter Turrall to meet a potential Middle Eastern customer wanting a Mk VIII OB van. Over lunch they discussed details of the requirement and were then asked for a ball-park estimate of the selling price When Peter told them “about £750.000” he was mortified to learn they had a budget of a million, so we’d left £250K on the table. After lunch, when being shown telecines in TV Test they asked how much two would cost. John’s reply was £250,000 of course. It was the only contract that bore his name and signature!
He joined Bill Barbone’s Space and Microwave division manufacturing equipment for amongst others Goonhilly Down and the Falklands, finishing his Marconi career after a final move to volume manufacture of the RC690 mobile during which he was head-hunted by Philips Radio Communication Systems at Cambridge. He said: “Whatever success I had was primarily due to the loyalty of all those who worked with me, and the apprenticeship and training I was so fortunate to receive, I would go so far as to say the best in the world.”
He finished by going back to the first time he entered the lecture room at SE Essex Tech when the student sitting next to him shook his hand and said “Hi, I’m Bert Smith”. The friendship has endured to this day and he was delighted that Bert Smith accepted the invitation to be his honoured guest.
Address by Honoured Guest Albert Smith (Bert)
Bert Smith has known John Bower for over sixty years. They first met at South East Technical College when embarking on an ONC electrical engineering course, John and most of the students coming from either Marconi, Plessey or the Post Office and following the light current route, whilst Bert and another fellow student chose the heavy current path. The uniting factor was that they were all aspiring engineers, and the two disciplines got on well together exchanging lots of good-humoured banter along the way. (“You electronics folk can do wonderful things, but without us and anywhere to put your plugs you couldn’t do a thing!”). He and our president have maintained their friendship to this day, he attending John’s wedding nearly 60 years ago whilst John, a year later, served as his Best Man.
After completing his HNC he joined a Liverpool-based building services company McGough and Vickers whose business was electrical installation contracts. He worked on projects on the M4 motorway, a coal mine in Rugeley, power stations, a teacher training college to mention a few, along the way being made the manager of their London office at the age of 28, later becoming Chairman and Managing Director of the company, from which he retired in 2001.
In his speech John Bower lamented the demise of apprenticeships, and the polytechnics of yesteryear becoming universities but Bert Smith didn’t fully agree, saying that with the new emphasis on STEM subjects successful efforts are being made to reintroduce apprenticeships, and that’s vital - if we want the outstanding engineers of the future they must be trained from the outset.
He closed by thanking the Reunion for the opportunity to speak to us on the day.
Following the speeches and a brief adjournment, the AGM commenced under Peter Turrall, his last duty as chairman. The minutes of the AGM held on 21 April 2018 and the financial statement for the year ended 31 December 2018 were approved. Peter then announced his retirement as chairman. After thanking the members for all the support they have given him over many years he handed over to Vice-Chairman Eric Peachey.
Following a spontaneous three cheers from the gathering for the service Peter has given, Eric Peachey announced that all management committee members were retiring but were submitting themselves for re-election for a further twelve months: they were duly re-elected en-bloc. To refill the vacancy on the committee resulting from Peter’s resignation he had nominated Brian Izzard. (This had been announced by Peter earlier in the afternoon’s proceedings, and Brian had given the gathering a very brief potted CV): this nomination was approved and the management committee elected him as chairman at its autumn meeting on 23 September 2019.
During Brian Izzard’s brief address, in anticipation of the association’s likely participation in the Centenary events of 2020, he appealed for anyone with project management skills who might like to assist to get in contact with our secretary Colin Fletcher or any one of the committee members. Similarly if any Veteran has any suggestions or comments to make on what the MVA should or should not do, please get in touch with Colin or any other committee member. He closed by saying, tongue in cheek, that he’d run an eye over the accounts and had been a little perturbed that there seemed to be no slot for chairman’s remuneration!