UK Broadcast Transmission
Main indexMain GalleryFeaturesInfo
Send in your photosMailing listsFAQsContact
The LibraryTeletextMHPTBS



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

Appendix A (2): Meet the staff

When first opened, the staff provision seemed to be somewhat extravagant, certainly so for an operation that only broadcast a few hours of programmes a day on one service. This staffing remained virtually unchanged in numbers, despite the introduction of many more services and greatly increased service hours, until the cessation of shift-keeping at the end of 405-line broadcasts in the early 'eighties.

The basic unit was the 'shift'. This consisted of four bods:

  • A Senior Maintenance Engineer or SME. He was responsible for the shift, organised the maintenance, led faultfinding, generally called all the shots, and carried the can. In his spare time, if he had any, he dealt with the growing tide of technically related paperwork. Usually of a nervous disposition, he was quite often the first into the control room when the alarm bell rang.
  • A Shift Engineer (properly an SE, more usually known as 'the Grade C'). He was the bloke that got his hands dirty. He was the fellow prowling round the building looking for trouble to develop. He was usually the victim selected to go into any equipment cubicle from which smoke was emanating. In Doctor Johnson's words, a Drudge (though not always a harmless one).
  • Two Technical Assistants or TAs. These, the lowest forms of engineering life, were the foot soldiers. In those days, the transmitter control desk was permanently manned (it had to be - any notion of an automatic TV transmitter was but a distant dream in those days: everything was hand-cranked). So the two TAs split the shift between them on the control desk. When on the desk, there would be quality monitoring, fault and event logging (every defect, every program start time was logged in those days), the passing of service messages by telephone to other manned transmitters, maybe originating local trade test transmissions, and of course responding to the inevitable breakdowns. When not on the desk, they would be assisting with maintenance, repairs, modifications, projects, training books, and most important of all, making the tea. This was a very important activity, and being deficient in that department dimmed many a young TA's future prospects.

So, for two shifts (day and evening) you needed twelve engineers - days off, sick and holiday relief included. To administer these lads, you needed an administrative staff:

  • An Engineer-in-Charge (EiC). This lordly character was the ultimate can-carrier on site, responsible for staff, local finances, and all directly non-engineering matters. Despite the latter, he was also expected to be highly competent technically, with experience gained over a long period in a 'hands-on' post, since he was the final point of reference on-site for any technical queries that the shift felt unable to cope with.
  • An Assistant to the EiC (A/EiC) who was deemed capable of deputising for the EiC in cases of sickness, holiday relief, conferences in London etc. Apart from deputising, he had plenty on his plate since he was responsible for local procurement (lovely phrase) of stores and supplies.
  • An Administrative Assistant (AA), or office secretary to you. It was generally recognised that this was in fact the one really indispensable person on site. Quite often the AA had an assistant of her own, during busy periods.
  • A Cook. The site had its own canteen, serving full cooked lunches during the day shift. More than this: when I first joined, this sterling lady would not only rise at crack of dawn on Christmas Day to cook lunch for her own family, she would afterwards come onto site to cook another for the day-shift staff (and make sure there was something in the oven ready for the evening shift). There was no job-requirement for her to do this - she just did it out of the goodness of her heart. Bless her.
  • An Electrician, dealing with site electrics, and later on with those of outstations as well. Also responsible for the conduct of the mechanical workshop - lathes, drilling machines etc.
  • A (variable number of) labourers/cleaners/night watchmen, who usually rotated the various duties amongst themselves. Also dab hands with the mowing machines, keeping the grounds looking very tidy.
  • A couple (later sometimes more) of Riggers , responsible for mast work and other mechanical items.
  • Finally, due to the staff numbers involved, there was in the earlier days a Uniformed Chauffeur; responsible for driving the official station wagon that the site possessed and which was the reason for the presence of the Garage. This last provision must seem strange to modern eyes, but it must be remembered that in 1949 car ownership was far from universal (most of the staff members couldn't have afforded one at that time in any case). Evening shifts would end around midnight, when no public transport was available. Visiting officials would probably arrive by train, and would have to be collected from the station in appropriate style. The Chauffeur didn't last all that long (he must have been expensive to feed), though the need for transport services did. Eventually transport was handled by setting up a contract with a local taxi-firm, who would collect and deliver any staff member living within a five-mile radius of the station. Despite increasing car-ownership, this service continued more or less until the end of shift keeping when the 405-line service closed in the 'eighties.

Of shifts, there were two: the day shift, commencing at 08:00 and running to 16:30. The evening shift started at 16:15 (there was a short handover overlap with the day shift) and ended around midnight. Unnecessary running past 00:15 was keenly discouraged by the management, but hoped-for by the shift because Half-Night Shift payments would then come into force, a nice little earner for impecunious junior staff. Shifts were of course seven days a week, all year round: no public holidays (you couldn't count on getting one, though of course you would get 'days-off-in-lieu' to compensate), and no time off for good behaviour.

Appendix B >

mb21 by Mike Brown
Hosted by Astrohosts