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Weyhill CCTV
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Weyhill Early Days

Directorate of Telecommunications
Weyhill CCTV Section

Alan Wood

When the CCTV section started to upgrade its equipment in about 1980, digital was slowly making headway within the industry.

The equipment offered to contract by manufacturers had to reflect the increasing demands required in surveillance techniques.

To this end, liaison between CCTV planning in Horseferry House, in conjunction with the Weyhill M.U. CCTV team, produced a document outlining the Home Office Directorate requirements regarding any new equipment offered to contracts during bidding processes.

This entailed the Weyhill CCTV section receiving samples of equipment from those companies offering their products, dismantling and inspecting for such items or performance that would not be acceptable to the Directorate laid down guidelines - this was interesting later for me as when I sat my SWT exam board, one of the questions was; how was the safety of CCTV monitors assessed by the manufacturers. This was called ‘the chain dangle test’ a chain was dangled at the rear of the monitor to see if it could in any way be pushed or lodged in the ventilation slots. When I explained this to the board, two CWT’ expressed their horror on such a Heath Robinson way of testing and said my answer was ‘inappropriate’. Luckily the third CWT had experience of such a test and put the matter straight, thank goodness, explaining it was the Industry Standard. The foregoing illustrates the specialist nature of the CCTV section and work, not appreciated by those who dealt mainly with Radio Schemes. At this period of time, when camera’s still had thermionic tubes as sensors, old style cameras were still in place at many Prison establishments. These were slowly being upgraded by newer types, one of the main suppliers was Link Electronics, located in Andover.

During the early period of CCTV, the camera tube was of the Videcon type, these unfortunately burnt an image on the face of the tube if left looking at the same scene for any length of time. The new cameras incorporated the Silicon Diode Array tube, developed by RCA in America after the disastrous images sent back by the camera with Videcon tubes from the first landing on the moon. The Silicon Diode tube opened great possibilities with its ability to resolve images in the 800 nanometer range (Black Infrared). Coupled with infrared lighting, surveillance could be achieved after dark without vast obtrusive floodlighting. Manufacturers were hard at work experimenting to increase the sensitivity of the cameras in low light conditions. This was an added advantage for covert surveillance in after dark hours where lighting could not be used.

This represented quite a workload on just three members of staff working in a section viewed as a Directorate ‘add-on’ but as prisons clamoured for more electronic surveillance it was realised that this could not continue.

First line maintenance was subsequently delegated to detachments, either on site or at the workshops. Second line maintenance was undertaken at depots where those facilities existed. Third line was at Weyhill and if the equipment could not be repaired, it was sent back to the manufacturers or suppliers. This fourth line maintenance was a rare occurrence and only used in extreme circumstances or where it would infringe guarantees not to do so.

With increasing use of digital electronics in the equipment supplied, cameras, monitors, remote pan & tilt control, recording and motion detecting it was an exciting but demanding time. The work load was always ‘the equipment is required yesterday’, so the decision was taken to send staff from the CCTV section at Weyhill M.U. to instruct staff on site how to service the equipment by replacing, where possible, panels rather than sending the whole item back to Weyhill M.U, thus reducing the time factor of equipment being down. This was required as more Prison establishments requested CCTV surveillance.

Another factor that influenced these decisions was that all companies obtaining contracts did not supply the same type of equipment, which entailed holding vast quantities of spares, which supply depots such as Bishops Cleeve could not supply, for one reason or another. One such item was the remote controlled zoom lenses used on cameras of the one inch variety. These used lenses of Fuji manufacture, supplied by Survey & General Instruments from Edenbridge in Kent. The problem with these lenses was lubrication of the gearing getting onto the optics, thus making the image un-sharp or distorted. The company agreed to allow Weyhill M.U. to service their lenses by providing a course, a set of specialist tools and lubricants for the sections staff to undertake this task.

As microelectronics became more widely adopted in equipment supplied and servicing to component level made way for changing panels where possible, the section was tasked, with the manufacturers/suppliers, to produce means whereby those panels could be serviced at Weyhill M.U. with ease and minimum of time involved. This sometimes involved producing test rigs, which were then used on a regular basis to diagnose and service the panels.

Another aspect that the section was involved in was to find and install replacement monitor tubes for supplied equipment that had reached the end of their production run and replacements had to be found to enable the equipment to continue working. This sometimes meant that modifications had to be produced and sent to depots for use in maintenance of such equipment they had responsibility for. However, the monitors more than often ended up at Weyhill M.U. for conversion.

Planning at Horseferry House was under Fred Buxton, with the aid of Peter Wickson and others during the early 1980’s. Weyhill M.U. CCTV section were not involved in the planning of installations.  However, the staff were on more than one occasion requested to attend on site meetings to give a technical input. This could be on camera angles, de-mounting techniques or displays in the control room. At times it was apparent that planning an installation in an office environment was quite different when viewed from the practicalities of on site installation and servicing.  Where called upon the section managed to provide a practical assessment of a given situation.

In the early years, Weyhill Maintenance Unit did all the installation of such equipment; with only three members of staff this was quite a load. Not only did they have to install the equipment and instruct the Prison/Police staff on its use, but also had to involve the local Directorate staff on its maintenance and serviceability. This sometimes entailed producing service and spares manuals as the equipment supplied by the contractors were either non existent or not fit for purpose.

One of the projects that the section was involved in was with a Thermal Imaging camera for the Fire Service. As the CCTV section had never seen this type of equipment before let alone worked on one, this was quite a steep learning curve. This type had high speed reciprocating mirrors, cooled by liquid nitrogen (I think!); compare that to what is in use today. Thankfully, there was no further involvement in the project.

At this time, the section was involved in Infrared surveillance techniques for the Directorate, this resulted from the sensitivity of a new generation CCD cameras with IR capabilities. The bonus from this was smaller camera housings and less obtrusive IR lighting. Test were undertaken at Weyhill M.U. after dark hours to assess this area of surveillance.  As this was all in mono not colour, grass appeared as white, like snow, which was quite startling.

Another area involved in was recording. At first, recording machines were of the large reel to reel Sony Umatic type. The weight and size made them definitely non-portable, the second generation used a large cassette.  However, the industry was at the time making smaller appliances and this resulted in our first introduction of the VHS cassette machine.

As this new technology came along, the CCTV section was tasked to access, service and document the equipment and pass this knowledge onto staff at detachments and depots. The first machine was purchased from the Curry’s group as a portable recorder for video cameras; this was installed in the ‘Hooly Van’ as its power supply was 12 volts. During the reign of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister, the section was involved in this project; a mobile CCTV fitted Transit Van, designed and produced at the Home Office Experimental Establishment Sandridge, near Boreham Wood in Hertfordshire. These vans would be at football matches, looking for persistent troublemakers and hooligan activity which erupted at that time. Their actions would then be recorded for prosecution by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

In late 1980’s rumour was circulating the Directorate was to be privatised. The CCTV section was starting to be run down as outside contractors were not only now supplying the equipment directly to the end user but also installing it, so the workload went from maximum to only having a single SWT.  The sections involvement was progressively run down and work gradually transferred, with all spares and documentation passed on to Kippax M.U.

With this transfer complete the section was no longer responsible for repairs or maintenance, the input was solely in running training courses on CCTV maintenance at Home Office Training Establishment, located in the old RAF station at Brockley Hill Stanmore.  Each depot sent a technician for one weeks intensive training to make them self sufficient.

At the same time BS5750/ISO 2000 was introduced within the stores system, the section was involved in the documentation coupled with PAT (Portable Appliance Testing).  For this, on site training was undertaken at depot level for technicians to become familiar with the practices and principles before the issue of test equipment involved.

Following a short redundancy programme the CCTV section along with the rest of the functions carried out by Weyhill M.U. ceased to exist during 1992 resulting in establishment closure and the building/land subsequently sold on to a medical supplies company.

Names of those who, during my time, were an active part of the CCTV section at Weyhill.

Bill Whitcher
Roy Vaine
Wally Taylor
Mel Scarr
Roger Green.

Finally, as an aside:

Roy Vaine, Norman Tuffin (Maintenance Planning Group) and I had worked together as Television Engineers for a local firm in Andover and Whitchurch (Wiltshire & Rimmer Ltd).  It was strange to think that all three ended up working for the Directorate at Weyhill. Norman and I were mobile TV engineers based in Whitchurch, whilst Roy was the Andover workshop engineer. Both were great guys and friends. Sadly Norman is no longer with us but Roy is still alive and living in Andover.Acknowledgement: John Perry

page updated: 22/07/19

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