Patron Marconi Veterans' Association
Colin: Hello this is Colin Fletcher recording for the Marconi Veterans’ Association. It is the 17th of November 2021 and I’m with Peter Turrall. We are both in Peter’s home and we’re recording this via a PC
Can I just ask you to confirm your name for me please
Peter: My name is Peter Turrall
Colin: And can I ask your date of birth?
Peter: Yes, I was born on the 3rd of October 1930.
Colin: Okay, Peter if I can just ask you what was your first experience of Marconi?
Peter: My first experience of Marconi was through my Grandfather when he was an employee of the Company when it was based in Hall Street, Chelmsford. That was my very first experience and I've always been interested in what he told me about Cat’s Whisker sets and also the things that he was making in the Carpenter’s Shop in Hall Street.
Colin: Okay, and when did you first actually start working for Marconi?
Peter: I started work for Marconi on the 1st of January 1950, following 2 years National Service in the British Army. I applied for a job, which was announced as Installation Drawing Office staff and I was interviewed on the premises in New Street and started work the following week after the interview.
My first assignment was to go to the Drawing Office School, which was situated in Springfield in a very nice, new building, under the directorship of one called ’Lloyd’, affectionately known as ‘Blod’. He was very interesting character and for 6 months I had to learn the rules and rights of working in a Marconi type Drawing Office. I must admit it was quite different to what I had imagined because the intricacies of measurements and the style of drawing was quite different to what I had anticipated.
However, after 6 months I was allocated back to the factory in New Street where I was offered a position of Junior Draughtsman in the Installation Drawing Office.
I wondered why I wasn’t going through all these intricate details of the Drawing Office School where I was going to work. In the place where there wasn't so much of the intricacies but the outlines of different equipments and the installations which the Company were involved in. I was allocated to a Section under the directorship of one Section Leader called Neville Clayton.
He put me on to a Drawing Board and asked if I would draw various installations using tankers and cabinets which were part of an installation in oil fields in Bahrain for which the Company had obtained orders. Well, this went on for about a further 6 months. I was improving all the time learning about the various installations that the Company was getting involved in when I had a telephone call from the fourth floor of Marconi House, which was the occupancy of Broadcasting Division, saying that would I like to come up for an interview with a Mr Thomas Mayer, who was the Deputy Sales Manager of Broadcasting Division at that particular time. I said yes, but why does he want to interview me? When I arrived at Mr Mayer’s destination, he said I'm looking for a junior person to work with a Phil Berkeley who is one of our leading designers in various studios and other complexes of which the Company was involved in. I said well yes I'm interested but whereabouts have I got to work and he said on the fourth floor. Well after due consideration, I accepted this vacancy, went back to the Drawing Office and told them what was going to happen. They were a little bit disappointed that I'd said yes but never the less I started there the following week on the fourth floor under the direction of one called Dusty Miller, who happened to be the Contracts Director of Broadcasting Division. Dusty showed me the ins and outs of equipment which the Company were supplying, it was the early days of cameras which were being bought by various organizations including the BBC.
After a few weeks of getting to understand the equipment, I was sent away to Worcestershire to a place called Evesham at the BBC Engineering School and there I had to spend six months learning all about the operation of wireless and television equipment. It was very interesting, I certainly did an awful lot there and would have recommended it to other people when I came back from the School.
So having come back into New Street well equipped with learning about wireless equipment and television equipment, I was then allocated again in a sales job with one called Arthur Paton, who was the Sales Manager of Broadcasting Division at that particular time, and I was to be in his section to learn about sales, not only in this country, but overseas as well. My first job they gave me was to design, at the time ITV was about to be formed, a studio in Scotland. Well I had never been to Scotland at that particular time and I certainly didn't know much about the design of television studios, so I asked around various other people and they told me what was happening at that moment and would Phil Berkeley who was the Company's leading light on the design of studios and also other equipment would give me an insight.
So I was allocated back to his Section which happened to be on the roof of Marconi House above the fourth floor and there I spent a few days understanding what equipment installations were like. I applied for a travel warrant to fly to Scotland. I'd never been on an aeroplane before. Now I must admit I was most scared. However, arriving at London airport I met up with another guy who was also going to the same place as me and he was a member of Mole Richardson, the lighting people and they were arranging the lighting of the studio equipment.
He was a well-equipped traveller and said to me don't worry about flying have a Guinness and you’ll feel fine when you get on the aeroplane. Well, I got onto the aeroplane, we took off and I was holding my stomach as I really felt queer and he came up with this bottle of Guinness. He said drink it and you’ll feel better. I must admit that after about half an hour's flight I did feel better and I had another one.
We eventually landed in Glasgow and I went to the Theatre Royal and met the people there. It was an empty place, but it was going to be the start of Scottish Television and I was to design a studio where all the control equipment could be housed and the cameras would be effectively on the stage.
Well I found a nice hotel. Went round the studio, did a bit of measuring up, came back to the hotel.
The next day I flew back to London Airport and home to Chelmsford and laid out the equipment design of this particular studio. That was my first job; my first flight in an aeroplane.
It wasn't long after that I was asked to go back to the BBC but this time for six months attachment to various organisations within the BBC. One of the first attachments I got was as the Camera Operator at the Lewisham train crash and that really was a gory situation because although I didn't come on air when the television pictures which were in black and white went out, I had had my Camera aimed at the various parts of the railway engine and the bodies which would be taken out. I had to be there for something like nine days until they recovered all the bodies from the crash. Then I went back to the BBC Headquarters in London and was allocated various activities. First of all I had to go to the studios in Lime Grove, where I saw television plays being rehearsed. Then I went to the sound studios in another part of London and listened to programmes being broadcast with big orchestras and then again I was allocated to things like football matches at Wembley where I had to be a Camera Operator on behalf of the BBC, but under the watchful eye of course of BBC cameramen.
One thing I did learn about was the heavy weight of Marconi equipment. In those days it was the Mark III camera, a big and bulky camera and when one had to lift it from the floor or the turf of Wembley right to the top of the stands at Wembley it was an enormous task and it took two or three of us to lift these heavy cameras. However, I went on several occasions to the football matches not only Wembley but other places where the BBC were in operation and to be quite honest, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. But after that I had to come back to Chelmsford and coming back after six months with the BBC, they thought that I was now fully qualified to go out and sell equipment. So they said to me we would like you to now undertake some overseas selling, in which case the first job I did was to go to Switzerland.
I took off from London Airport early one morning. My flight, which was to end up in Berne where I was to meet the Sales Director of the Company which Marconi employed to look after our affairs in Switzerland. This aeroplane was a Vickers Viscount and off we went to Switzerland in the very early morning. It was very dark and it was a little bit foggy. When we got almost over Geneva we realised that we couldn't see the ground, it was so foggy. The plane went round and round, eventually the pilot decided to make a landing however, he almost got onto the landing strip when suddenly the pilot upended the nose of the aircraft and flew back into the cloud. Apparently at that particular time he understood or realised that he could not land the aircraft. It was too dangerous. So we flew on to Zurich where a happy landing was made. Well I had to be in Berne and I had never anticipated going to Zurich, in fact my railway ticket from the airport was to go straight into Berne and I did not have a railway ticket to go from Zurich. However, after a lot of ‘umming and ahing’ and not speaking the language I did eventually get back into Berne.
I was supposed to meet the Sales Director of the Company which were looking after our affairs, but he realised that the plane had gone on to Zurich and very properly had come back to Berne to meet me. He took me off to the hotel. As this was my first real overseas visit I did not really understand what I had to take. I got all the Company papers and one or two bits and pieces. Some clothing, which I’d got, obviously a change of clothing. The Sales Director said I’ll take you round to your hotel you’ll stay there the night and I'll pick up in the morning. When we got to the hotel, I was absolutely astounded. it was called the ‘Schweizerhof’ hotel, and on the door of this hotel were two fully dressed flunkies. I thought what have I come to?
I was escorted to my room, which was a massive room with four poster beds and all wood surrounds and I thought my goodness me. Anyway to cut a long story short it was a big hotel.
I had hardly any clothes to wear, just the stuff that I travelled in and I was met next day by the Director of the firm and then taken around to the Swiss Programme and Television Department, where I was discussing with them their requirements for a Television Outside Broadcast Unit. Well after various lunches out and meeting the customer on several occasions I then flew back to England and prepared quotations for the design of the Television Outside Broadcast Unit. It meant I had to go back again to present the offer to the Swiss PTT, which was successful and I won my first order with a magnificent Four Camera Outside Broadcast Unit in black and white and that was the start of my real career in selling.
The changes in the Company at that particular time meant that the person who had originally interviewed me, Tom Mayer, was now Managing Director of the Company and I was asked to be a member of his staff, but in a different capacity. Instead of being under a sales unit I was a to run a section of my own called Subsection ‘A’. It was to deal with all sales in the Far East and Australia. Well I had a small staff allocated to me of three people and I set about obtaining orders for the Company in the Far East and Australia which was quite successful. After about a year in that position, there was other changes to be made and I was allocated to be Deputy Sales Manager of Broadcast Division under the jurisdiction of one Arthur Paton who was the Sales Manager. That lasted for something like two or three years and I went back to Switzerland on more than a half a dozen occasions to get orders which were quite successful until, Arthur Paton himself decided that he wanted to do another job and he left the Company and I was promoted to his position as Sales Manager with the staff of something like twenty people. This carried on for about three or four years when there was another major reorganisation by the Company and I was allocated to be the Deputy Sales Manager of the whole of Broadcasting Division which was a big post but it also entailed me looking after a number of highly paid staff and new staff in the Export Department. So they renamed me as Export Sales Manager and my job was to mastermind about forty staff in the Company and to obtain orders which at that particular time was to be a hundred and twenty million pounds per year.
Well, it was an onerous task to take but one I took willingly, but I also had to find time to travel abroad to various installations and also to obtain sales myself. Some people in the Sales Department had to go out themselves and I allocated them various areas but I still had to mastermind the whole plan.
After about four years in that position, the Managing Director said to me that you’ve got two or three more major projects, which you've got to do. I'd like you to go and sort these out as soon as you can. The first one is the World Cup in Argentine. I want you to go to Buenos Aires and you can take off any day after you have got your travel warrants etc.
Well during that particular time of asking, a request came into me to be there within forty eight hours at Buenos Aires. The only way I could get there was to go on Concorde so having put the application in to fly with Concorde, it got to the Managing Director, who wanted me to go to the Argentine but decided it was wrong and that I shouldn’t be one of the Company's first employees to go on Concorde so he demoted me to another aircraft which took ages to get to Buenos Aires via Portugal, Brazil and all the way down with various changes. I eventually arrived forty eight hours later. But fortunately, the Company in the Argentine which was called Marconi's Electric Light Company managed to get an extension for me and so I was able to go to the Directorate and meet them and discuss their requirements. To cut a long story short, after five weeks there - and this was getting towards Christmas - I eventually was able to make a presentation to the Argentine authorities of all the equipment with great help from the people in the Argentine Office of Marconi.
However at the very last minute I found out that the offer by our competitors, the Germans, instead of offering a five year credit as we were offering, they had offered seven years with a moratorium. Having messaged back to England and asked my Managing Director if I could go to the extension of seven years I received a reply direct from Sir Arnold Weinstock, MD of GEC-Marconi, to state that under no circumstances was I to submit an offer which was more than five years. So I had to change back all the documentation rushed off to the Centre of Buenos Aires with one of the Directors of the Marconi Electric Light Company and submitted our offer. Having waited three more days to see what was going to happen, I was then told that although my price was a lot lower than the Germans, the Germans would be winning because of the best credit offer. So I flew back to England. I arrived in my home on the evening of the twenty fourth of December, much to the disgust of my wife for being home so late, and told the Managing Director by telephone that after six weeks in the Argentine I hadn’t got an order. However, that was probably one of the worst moments in my career.
One of the best moments was to go to Egypt, where I went on six visits to Egypt in the course of twelve weeks. The first one was to submit an offer for several television camera equipments to one studio then it went on for more studios on another visit then it went on to outside broadcast vehicles for another visit then finally the whole Egyptian broadcasting requirements for their television studios. And I had, as I say, six visits to Cairo in the course of twelve weeks, one of which of course was one day when I submitted an offer for Television Outside Broadcast Vehicles only for the Director of the division to say very sorry but there is going to be a three week delay so I went back to the airport got on the same plane as I came over to Cairo, back home.
To cut a long story short. Eventually after my last visit I was told that I had won all the orders for the complete television studios in Egypt, including all the outside broadcast vehicles and there was enough work there for the Company for the next two years and the orders were worth in excess of a hundred million pounds. Well we had celebrations in Egypt and, confirming the order with all the people who I had been dealing with during that time. I came back to Chelmsford, and the Factory were absolutely elated with what had happened. That was probably the pinnacle of my career with Marconi although of course there were other odds and ends happening. So after being twelve years in the job as Overseas Sales Director, the Managing Director said to me you're looking a bit tired you have done more than your three years allocation of travelling, you’ve done something like eight or nine years. I've now got a new job for you. You will now be the Company's Publicity Director. And your first job is on your desk in your new office which is on the fourth floor.
Having gone back to my new office wondering what I would find, it was a big envelope there which I undid and inside it was the invitation for me to run the Marconi Golf Tournament Hospitality at St Andrews in Scotland which is the British Open Golf Tournament. And there were tickets there for fifty people to be entertained for the four days of the tournament of which I was to be in charge.
Also as an addition to the job I was now allocated a Company car and there was the Company car ready to take me to Scotland with my wife. We were up there for a fortnight running the Golf tournament. I was joined by many people who flew in to the nearby airport to be entertained by me and my wife on the first day and then the Managing Director and other staff came for the other three days. Following that I came back to Chelmsford and I was then now appointed in charge of all press relations, advertising, etc. and that was really the pinnacle of my career until it came to the time when the Managing Director said to me well there has been a change of course in staff we are now going to be over taken by the Italians, people from Marconi Italiana are coming in to run the Company. Your services will be curtailed insofar as your sales and your publicity is concerned as other people will be coming. However, you'll be allocated the job as an Adviser to the Company and we hope that you will still remain with us and from that point onwards I was.
One of the surprises of it all was that the new Managing Director, an Italian, came to me one day and said that I hear that something is going to happen to you. It wasn't long before a letter arrived from London to announce that I'd been awarded an MBE, and that was on behalf of the Company for my services in overseas markets that I’d been awarded this award. Coming back to Chelmsford, the new Managing Director said to me well I think it's wonderful you’ve had this award you can now enjoy another three years extra for your retirement as an Adviser to the Company and that’s where I ended.
Colin: Very interesting. Shall we take a little pause there Peter?
Peter: Yes please.
Colin: Okay Peter and now after that long career you sort of got involved with the Marconi Veterans’ Association. Could you tell me how that happened?
Peter: Yes in the early days of the Veterans’ Association I had just about reached twenty five years which would be in 1975, when I was asked if I would become a member of the Veterans’ Committee by the then Chairman of that committee. Well this was something new to me and in between various events either travelling in the UK or travelling outside, I said yes. He said there are going to be something like four meetings a year where the main thing was to ensure that there was a Reunion of Veterans at sometime during the year which would either take place in the Marconi Canteen, or at other venues, and there would be a four course meal and entertainment afterwards, and all Veterans would be at that occasion. Well in those days the number of people who were Veterans were well in excess of two hundred and most of them wanted to be at a Veterans Reunion in the Canteen. There were Raffles and the dancing girls came on after the meal and that was very good for all Veterans. And that went on for a few years until of course naturally people faded away and died and the number of people dropped out and of course it was impossible to have a Veterans Reunion in the Canteen, so smaller venues were sought elsewhere.
However, after a number of people on the Veterans’ Committee decided that they no longer wanted to be members of that Committee or had retired I was asked if I would like to be Vice-Chairman of that Committee and I said yes I would. What did it entail? It meant helping out, writing to members; did I have any good connections? Yes I did etc. etc.. And eventually after about two years the Chairman decided he didn't want to be Chairman anymore and I was kicked upstairs to be Chairman. Well that lasted for something like eighteen years. As chairman I had to organise all these functions mainly of course was the annual Veterans’ Dinner, which was at various places. It took place at either Cromptons or it took place in the Marconi Canteen in the smaller area or it went out outside and eventually it went out to places where we accommodated something like a hundred fifty people mainly at the Marconi Club in Great Baddow.
Other things that happened on the Veterans’ Committee; we met four times a year. I had to design something which we could give to each member of the Veterans as they attended the Annual dinner and that was a Coaster, except for one year when the then Chairman decided that he wanted a to have a glass which was a very large glass which had engraving about what was happening at that particular time. But until about two years ago when I realised that time was getting on, I’d done almost twenty years as a Veterans’ Committee member I decided it was time for me to let somebody else, so two years ago I decided to retire and now I attend the Annual Dinner and now I've been kicked upstairs by the Veterans Committee as Patron an honour which I'm very appreciative for the support that I got from its Veterans. Thank you..
Colin: And I think there Peter thank you very much for being interviewed. I think you justly deserved Patron and MBE thank you very much indeed.
Peter: Thank you