mva title

new street bdg sm


Barry Powell
President 2020


It is inevitable that, after 40 years of working, one builds up a collection of experiences and stories (some of them best left untold!).  When I sat down to write my speech for 2020, I left quite a few out as I didn’t want to make you suffer too much. I have included some of these below under “sweepings from the cutting room floor” – at least you can turn the page when you’ve had enough.

My first encounter with our speaker was in the second year of my apprenticeship. Of all the lectures we had to attend, his were the ones I particularly looked forward to. He would often drift away from the subject with an anecdote or an observation which would lead to a group discussion, after which, you would suddenly realise that you had learned something relevant. At the time, the Mid Essex Tech had roller chalk boards and Professor Schnurr would often make a deliberate mistake which, if not spotted (and it usually wasn’t) would lead to the conclusion that Black = Next Tuesday or that the speed of light was 1s/9d (it was pre-decimal). Lo and behold, when he rolled up the board, the “mistake” hove into view and the correction was set as homework. Amazingly this was timed perfectly for the end of the lecture.

Departmental placements were varied and packed with characters. I was working late one evening in Computer Systems Division when a complete stranger wandered in. He bought me a coffee and sat chatting while we drank. I found out that this was Eric Atkins (Divisional Manager) and it was common practice for him to do this.  In Microwave research, I was working with Dr John Wallington (he was an Arsenal supporter – need I say more!). Another placement was with Frank Rider (a colleague of Jack Jollife) where I accompanied one of the engineers out to the old airfield at Great Saling to conduct experiments to assess the effect of rising ground on ILS signals. By far the most interesting was at GEC Semiconductors at Witham. Here, I was placed in the Quality department, investigating failed integrated circuits. At the time, microchips only had 10 pins and a handful of transistors (not the complex beasts we have today) all sandwiched between two ceramic plates which were glued together with glass. Investigation started with melting the glass with a blowtorch, taking the top ceramic plate off and moving away the blowtorch before it melted the insides and then examining the connections and testing the transistors to find the failure.

When I first joined Radar Field Services, I spent the first couple of years at UK test sites including a period of nights at Rivenhall where we were conducting 250 hour soak tests (continuous running) on a S600 Radar System. One night, I was taking readings in one of the cabins when I was asked, by a colleague, to come over to the office where I was confronted by an irate resident from the other side of the airfield demanding that we shut down the generators. As the generators were an integral part of the Radar System under test and the soak test was a contractual item, we could not do this. I must confess, I had some sympathy with him but these tests were a common practice and I had been warned that he may appear. Luckily, a security patrol turned up just then and politely reminded him that he was on private property and he should make his objections to the Company.

Abu Dhabi was an eye opener. We were each allocated an apartment in the Air Wing Officer’s Mess (Lounge, Bedroom & Bathroom) with meals being taken in the mess. But the biggest shock was I was allocated a servant. Having been brought up to make my own bed and keep my room tidy, on the second day I was told off by my servant because these were his jobs. There was a space on the room side of the air conditioner that served as a fridge so a visit to the (only) supermarket catered for cheese, biscuits, snacks and milk for tea/coffee. Every Friday was curry lunch day but our taste in curry was not the same as some of the other officers. The solution to this was a marvellous compromise whereby one of the tureens was labelled “English Curry”. To phone home, one had to drive to the Phone Company offices, give them the number you wanted to call and sit and wait for the call to be set up.

In PDS, I met the legendary Ron Hammond who instilled in me two truths. “The man who has never made a mistake has probably never made anything” and “when you do make a mistake, don’t try and hide it. Own up and most people will help you to sort it out.”

In the Sales area of Marconi Radar, I was working with Paul Baird (Assistant Manager to John Crispin) but had to liaise with most of the other departments involved in preparing a tender.

I remember one occasion where we finally finished a tender, wrapped it up and labelled it at around 3 a.m.  We then napped until the van arrived around 6 a.m. loaded it and set off to lodge the bid in London.

It was common for the technical section to be delivered to one office with the commercial part to another. My job was to leap out at Tower Bridge (they kindly stopped the van) walk across and hail a taxi to take me to the destination of my part. Once there, I had to phone in for permission to lodge only to find that someone had spotted a mistake so I had to open the package, make the correction and re-pack. All in a telephone kiosk!

On my return from 5 years in the wilderness (STC), I joined Computer Systems Division which was, later, absorbed into Mobile Radio Division and I drifted, all the time dealing with the costing and pricing of tenders, until I retired in 2008. Just before I retired, I was invited, with Chris, to Florence for an awards ceremony. This was a lavish affair with a gala dinner (I forget how many courses, 6? 7?) followed, the following day, by a lunch at the airbase beside Pisa Airport with airshow. I had previously had to visit what became a sister company (OTE owned by Finnmeccanica), in Florence, to understand the configuration of their equipment as we were using it for Mobile Radio systems that we were offering to various customers. I used to explore the city in the evening so, when I went back with Chris, I could show her all the sights – only trouble was that, on the only day we had to ourselves, it poured with rain.

As I penned the above, another story came to mind (one I would have included in my speech had I thought of it at the time).

Whilst I was in Abu Dhabi, they would hold periodic “Road Safety Weeks” where they would erect stands on the central reservation of the main dual carriageways. They would then place wrecks from recent accidents on them to make drivers think. Ironically, for that week, accidents actually increased as drivers attention was drawn to the wrecks.

All that remains is for me to say how much I enjoyed my day as President – even if it was a year and a bit late – and to thank everyone involved.