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Being fairy-stories told to the author as a young engineer
© Ray Cooper, 2005 (2nd revised edition, Jan 2006)


Historians are agreed that Oral Tradition is a tricky thing to handle. Stories get passed by word of mouth, and rarely lose any substance in the retelling - rather the contrary. Consider the Arthurian and Trojan legends - they were written down hundreds of years after they were supposed to have happened. Distortions are inevitable, and readers often have no way of distinguishing hard fact from pure embellishment.

The Oral Tradition holds a special place in the hearts of BBC transmitter engineers: just as their forebears did, they will gather at the end of a hard day, and warm themselves before the flickering embers of a dying transmitter with mug of cocoa in hand, ruminating on just where they went wrong. They also inevitably hearken back to disasters of an earlier time.

I know all this, since I was there, a young lad: keeping well back in the shadows, for I had little to contribute, but with my ears flapping frantically, and making copious mental notes.

All this came back to me last year, as I attended the funeral of K- a former workmate. It was quite a good funeral as these affairs go, and brought the opportunity to meet old-time colleagues that I hadn't seen in years. It also brought the realisation that many of the tales that I had learned had been from his mouth, and those of others since departed. I don't suppose that any of them had written any of this stuff down, so I felt that I had better do just that before either I forgot it all, or the old Gentleman with the scythe got me too.

Upon reviewing the material, it was evident that a lot of it was potentially too libellous to be recorded. On the other hand, there are some happenings that are just too good to miss, and so with the proviso that no names are going to be named herein, here they are.

All of the incidents relate to the years between 1949, when the new Television Station at Sutton Coldfield opened, and 1985, when 405-line television closed there for good. During those years many new services started, and those will be covered too.

I am afraid that in the following work, I may occasionally become rather discursive and wander off into side alleys to inspect related issues. Age does that to you, and I can only apologise in advance for this.

What I cannot apologize for is the prevalence of initialised abbreviations. This is an ancient BBC tradition, and the system would probably collapse without them. The best I can do is to explain them as I go along.

To set the scene, it is necessary to give a little factual description of how Sutton Coldfield was arranged in those far-off days of 1949, when the station came on the air for the first time and brought the curse of television upon the Midlands . A description of the station, and its inhabitants, in those days will be found in Appendix A. A little verbose perhaps, but read it anyway. Perhaps you had better do so now, and then you may be less likely to become terminally confused by what follows. It gives necessary background to the events here described. Although it will break up the time sequence somewhat, I'll start off by concentrating on the 405-line television story..

To begin at the beginning >

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