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Directorate of Telecommunications
TVP - Memories of a New Entrant (1967-71)

Brian Hill

Gordon Wyatt's comments on Thames Valley and his problems with the notorious Goring Gap, as described in his Personal Recollections article, sent me back to thinking a little further and jogged my memory banks for 1967/71 and some early days when the formation of Thames Valley took place

Way back in July 1967 I joined Hannington Depot (RWE Andy Holdstock, CWT Don Cross) as a Temporary Wireless Technician straight from my Army service, a post at that time which offered me the princely sum of 1046 per annum.  I well remember my first task - it was trouble-shooting on a single channel Pye Vanguard T/R.  Well, I was up to that and  reasonably well informed with VHF so it did not take long to pin the problem on the Receiver transistorised audio board.  Reporting with a smug smile to my immediate mentor 'Jock' Milne, - a veritable Hannington institution - I pronounced my results.  "Aye Lad" he said, "carry on and fix it then!"  This component changing was totally alien to my previous techniques of board-swapping for aeroplanes and opened up a whole new aspect of maintenance that I had not practised for several years - the RAF style maintenance for aircraft did not encourage poking about in the innards! 

My immediate neighbour, fellow technician Stan Llewellyn (sadly deceased 1981) took pity on a fellow Welshman and helped me over the initial barriers.  We struck up a good working partnership to the extent that during the latter part of 1967 we ended up as a regular team running to and from Kidlington, the site of the then Oxfordshire County Police and designated as the new TVP HQ.  We spent many a day on the road starting from Kingsclere every morning virtually taking over maintenance of the proposed TVP area both in the majority of main station breakdowns and Station UHF sites.  One of the most frequent Depot dispatchers was Wilf Bridger (SWT), who had the most disconcerting habit of redirecting a team 'during flight'.  It was not uncommon to pick up a radio call in the van when en route from say Kingsclere  to Aylesbury and be asked to just 'drop in' to Abinger Hammer (in Surrey) or Ascot  'on the way'!  Fair to say, Wilf got the jobs done.

With April 1st 1968 committed and fast approaching as the date of the amalgamation of the Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire county forces, Stan and I were ready to monitor the first hours of our 'baby' which started around 1100 on the day.  I recall quite clearly that the initial transmissions of TVP were made using two console 354 units sitting on blanket covered tables with local microphones and using the front switches.  The one on the left table was for Oxfordshire (HA) and the one on the right was for Buckinghamshire (HB).  The Chief Inspector in charge (C/I Cooke) put an Oxford man on the right and a Bucks man on the left!  "Better get to know it now." he told them.  Thus began TVP.

Over the next few days the final detail on the main control room was completed by the Depot installation team on the ground floor, Sgt Mike Goodall TVP formed the remainder of the police comms section and Stan and I started work at Kidlington as the detachment technicians - fully fitted out with a Morris van, some items of test gear 'robbed' from the depot, our personal tools and a large box of brown envelopes for administrational support!  Moving house was postponed until later.
There were of course some teething troubles but nothing of major import or distinction apart from one:  The incoming system audio went down very low in the main control room and the operators had to stand and lean right over the desk to hear what was coming out of the new desk speakers.  It took a little time to solve that one but Stan and I were both adamant that it was absolutely nothing to do with the common practice at the time of the civilian lady operators fashion for wearing mini-skirts!  Operator headsets were introduced a little earlier than planned that year.

In general business was brisk as we sped about the counties and I shan't even think about the time we delivered a PETA speed meter back to a station and then got 'trapped' by it going home later that day - it was even the same policeman! (Most embarrassing - I didn't know a Morris van could go that fast.)

In January 1969 Mr Enoch Powell visited Oxford following an invitation to speak from the Oxford Union.  Then, as on a recent politically sensitive occasion in 2007, the visit was characterised by wide-spread  demonstrations and student unrest in the City Centre.  In fact, Stan and I were locked within Oxford City Police station complete with tool wallets, behind some 15' wooden doors for the best part of 20 hours, patching up broken GEC courier handsets that were appearing like a production line.  We were frantically hoping nothing would go wrong with the Oxford City equipment out at Boar's Hill  that would necessitate a foray through the besieged gates and across the city as we didn't have an armoured car at the time.  We eventually crept home about four o'clock in the morning.

Even the Investiture of HRH Prince Charles at Caernarfon in July 1969  touched on  us at Kidlington to a small degree.  The then Director of Tels (Mr Nicol), and one of the Chief Wireless Engineers  from Headquarters, Mr John  'Black Jack'  O'Connor planned to meet up at Kidlington Headquarters and proceed to Wales together for the event.  That meant two visits from two senior bodies, what you might call a 'Go' and 'Return' type situation, and the ripples spread accordingly.

The initial meet went well, Mr Nicol arriving in a very large green Ford Zephyr towing a caravan trailer, picked up Mr O'Connor and both gentlemen departed safely after complimenting us on our workshop.  We were required to stand by for the return visit in due course, probably in a few days.

The due time came - and went.  No sign of our beloved superiors until well into the evening there was a mighty crash as the Ford Zephyr and caravan ground to a halt outside.  Rushing outside to check for injuries and damage, we found all was well with the occupants.

It was apparent as we took out some of the luggage from the trailer, that the noise emanated from a tremendous cascade of empty bottles inside the caravan!   Mr O'Connor emerged from the car and stood wordless and stiffly to attention whilst Wilf brought up the Depot car to transport him home.  Mr Nicol exited the compound in fine style going the wrong way through the one-way entrance, complete with swinging trailer and another rousing crash, and departed to the South East with a glassy expression and no comment whatever.  After inspecting the walls of the building for trailer paint marks and the HQ front lawn for tyre marks, amazed that we found none, we then went home as well.

One of the features of working at Kidlington was the access arrangements to servicing the link equipment for the sites.  This installation of Pye U450 equipment was in a purpose built 'hut' placed on top of the flat roof at one end of the main building.  The aerial tower in use at that time was adjacent.  The link room could only be accessed via the female police cadet quarters, also on top of the main building where there were a number of young ladies under training. As you can imagine, this area was STRICTLY out of bounds to all male personnel and this was rigidly enforced by the lady police officer responsible for the girls. NO un-chaperoned visits were allowed by order of the Chief Constable.  Needless to say, there were many occasions (genuine I might add!) where  both Stan and I were needed in the link room, and we achieved the most sought after-status of being privileged to access through the quarters at any time with just a knock at the door and a warning shout of "Link Room!" whereupon we passed quietly through regardless of the state of the occupants without having to be cleared by the Queen Bee.  We even had our own key at one stage!  The girls themselves are all probably long retired by now, but they were great fun and looked upon us as friends and almost mascots.  That was where Stan, Stan, the radio man gained his nickname.   

We also had the usual problems with the local GPO (BT) man.  Called out on a Sunday to Oxford Fire HQ for a control breakdown,  it was traced to an open land line between HQ and Cowley base station.  When the BT man in turn was called it turned out that the land lines had been disconnected by them just outside the Fire HQ.  "Ah well" said the man "There was no ring tone and no-one was talking on it so we disconnected it and used it for something else!"  Typical!!

If the conversation in the local snug gets boring, just remind your drinking associates of the prisons you have been in.  It's guaranteed to a) open their eyes and b) change your circle of acquaintances  in short order.  I mean of course for maintenance visits.  TVP were well supplied with HM lodging houses with Oxford (now a proper  hotel I believe), Aylesbury, Reading and Grendon Underwood.  During those days it was usually popping along to tweak, adjust, coerce or generally beat up a Pye UHF base station.  You couldn't take the van in, so all the tools and possible testing kit was manhandled from the entrance to the radio room with an accompanying Prison Officer brandishing key on chain, locking and unlocking innumerable doors, gates and grills but unlikely to assist in any other way.  It usually took two trips to set yourself up, and they used to absolutely hate it when you wanted to go all the way back to the van for another item of kit!  This was in the days before the issue of  trolleys to carry kit on.
During this time Aylesbury detachment opened with a technician (Tom Chandler) and a mechanic (George Lacey) who took on the Eastern side, we acquired our first mechanic at Kidlington (Robbie Worth) for vehicle fitting and Terry Jeffery from Hannington was posted in as SWT.  At that stage I believe that there was also some type of detachment at Taplow, which was initially supported part time from the Depot.  Even then the Goring Gap was notorious for reception and the situation was not really alleviated until an additional police site was put in at Reading itself giving rise to the third Southern channel (HT).  The Berks & Reading Fire service (HD)  however, did not have access to this and their coverage in this area was always a matter for extreme harassment and innumerable journeys to Lockinge Down  and I think Britwell Salome site to fiddle about with power and patterns.  It seemed extremely difficult to make the customer understand that if you pinched a bit from here, you lost a bit from there!  There is no doubt that the scars laid upon me by the continued harassment from the Fire Comms Officer at that time and again when acting as a WARC planning officer for them in later years are still with me today!

Sometime during the late 60's, early 70's, the Force changed over the car radio units from modified 2 channel Pye Vanguards to the new solid state multichannel STC 681 to cope with the increase if force radio channels.  What a problem set!  At one stage we had 20 spares on the shelf and used about 18 every day.  Everyone became expert at changing the transmitter transistors without disconnecting any wires to the board even though it was necessary to unscrew the board to access their securing nuts.  Every day there would be a procession of cars with either faulty transmitters or faulty receivers where the BFY 51's had blown; sometimes both faults on the same sets.   It wasn't until the set was modified into a Mark II by sorting out the Rx audio stage and changing some Tx transistors that any sort of improvement was seen.  I believe that at that stage the Mark I sets were passed to the Fire Service!  By this time I think that Mervyn Neil had joined the team, as well as an additional mechanic (John Howkins). 

Eventually it was time to move on.  Terry moved to Weyhill as CWT, Stan requested a move and in 1971 I was promoted to SWT (in waiting - prospective salary 1643 p.a.).  Mike Long appeared from Shapwick as the new SWT for TVP.  As there was no detachment in Cardiff at the time I requested to go to Cwmbran as my father was seriously ill; Stan wanted to get near Pendine in Carmarthenshire for his aged Mum.  In the true detached manner reminiscent of many a military establishment, Stan got Cwmbran and I arrived at Carmarthen and I did not meet up with Stan again for some years, when we both were working at CCE Harrow.- but that's another story.

Brian Hill
10th December 2007Acknowledgement: Brian Hill

page updated: 22/07/19

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