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Directorate of Telecommunications
PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS
The British Grand Prix



Race Flag

I count myself very lucky to have been employed in the 1960's by the Directorate of Telecommunications (DTels) as a detached wireless technician at Wooton Hall, Northamptonshire. The work was always interesting and varied with no two working days being the same.

Being remote from the Stanton parent depot meant that the two technicians (there being no supervising Senior Technician), could plan and execute the work between us in what we considered to be the most efficient manner.

Even with all the variety that the job had to offer there was a unique event in the yearly calendar that really did add the icing to an already fine cake. This story relates to that event which was the British Grand Prix held at the Silverstone race circuit.

Several weeks before the date of the Grand Prix, we would ask the police to contact the Stanton Depot, Regional Wireless Engineer to request our participation and we would then follow this up with a list of the equipments required. In parallel, we would undertake a full routine maintenance programme of all the police control and Very High Frequency (VHF) hilltop site equipment so that the likelihood of the county wide main VHF channel failing during the event was much reduced.

The Towcester Divisional police station (which policed Silverstone) had its own Ultra High Frequency (UHF)  pocketfone scheme but its range did not extend far enough to cover the Grand Prix circuit.

The system configuration for the Grand Prix was a low band VHF link between Towcester Police Station and the Silverstone circuit and a small UHF scheme based at the race circuit itself. There was no interconnect facility between the VHF and UHF equipments although the UHF base equipment had talk through as standard. This localised arrangement operated under the umbrella of the county wide VHF channel. Buckinghamshire police also attended the Grand Prix to control traffic travelling along its roads but never during my time was there any shared control or requirement for interforce communications.

Having collected the equipment from Stanton a few days before the race ( two Pye F27AM VHF transceivers crystalled for single frequency simplex working, acting as a point to point link, one Pye F450 UHF  Base station, Pye PF1 personal radios with all the ancillaries and Clark pneumatic mast), it was always our practice to check the equipment in the outstation workshop even though we were confident that Stanton would only hand over serviceable items to us.

On the day of the race, which was usually held on a Saturday, we would arrive at Wooton Hall about five AM to load the equipment into the van. When the vehicle supplied to the detachment changed from a Morris Minor to a Ford Transit we naturally took advantage of the greater carrying capacity and took even more spares and test equipment.

Towcester Police station had a permanently installed dipole and a designated space in a small office for its link transceiver. All that was required was to install the transceiver, test it and leave it powered up. Having installed the Towcester end of the VHF link, we would then carry on to Silverstone and set up the rest of the equipment. Anyone who ever went to Silverstone races during the 1960's will appreciate the necessity of such an early start because the roads between Towcester, Silverstone and Brackley would start to become horribly congested from around Eight AM onwards and the police needed to have their communications up and running well before that time.

Initially we installed the Silverstone VHF transceiver and UHF base station in a small brick building located near to the main entrance which although supplied with mains power, always felt incredibly cold and damp. Later we were able to use the ex Home Defence control vehicle that had been allocated to Northamptonshire police that we fitted out  with multiple Pye W20/W15U, VHF/UHF repeaters. These equipments gave greater flexibility to the police and more than one operator position.

The Grand Prix started about two in the afternoon but there were minor races before that time. Never in all my life have I experienced such noise levels except once very many years later when I attended the Notting Hill Carnival.

By and large and from a work point of view, the day passed without incident except for the occasional failed PYE Pocketfone which we would replace with a spare unit if the problem went beyond a first line repair. We would spend our time in our van or in the police control room with an occasional visit to the track when the Grand Prix was underway. This we had to do singly as one of us was always in attendance at the police control.

The second peak in communication traffic occurred immediately after the Grand prix had ended when those wishing to miss the worst of the traffic left the circuit. This exodus always placed heavy demands on the equipment and the police operators. It was rare for departing spectators to avoid congestion because if the weather had been bad before the event then the entrances to the grassed car parks would be muddy and badly churned up adding to the nightmare of leaving the circuit.

On one occasion the police closely monitored all of the vehicles as they left the circuit and many drivers were pulled over and forced to explain to traffic officers why their tax disc was out of date or not displayed at all. One motorist was found with a beer mat where a tax disc should have been!

As a rule we would start to dismantle the equipment around Eight thirty in the evening and would arrive back at the detachment about Ten PM. The physical count of the equipments supplied to the Police would have been carried out at the Race circuit but the testing of the equipment prior to its return to Stanton would be carried out in the detachment during our first working day after the event.

I do not know what, if anything the police would have paid for the support of the Silverstone Grand Prix event. I suspect it would not have been very much. These events took place at a time in the Directorate's history when costs and charges did not truely reflect the real cost of  the service provided.

I have worked longer hours when required to provide cross county call out to the Leicestershire emergency services and Prison Service but there was something about the Silverstone event that made it very special and gave a particular feeling of a job well done. If I am brutally honest the overtime and subsistence we earnt was another source of satisfaction.

I believe that it was support for events like this and the day to day work that helped develop the close and mutually beneficial relationships between detachment staff and their hosting Police force that I certainly enjoyed during my time at Wooton Hall.

Acknowledgement: John Leary

page updated: 19/11/13

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