This article appeared in issue 6 of Line-Up, our newsletter.
The first opening of our Broadcast Engineering Museum was a roaring success. We opened on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 September for Heritage Open Days and had about 200 visitors in total. The oldest was 93; the youngest were under five. About half came from the village; the others were from as far afield as Plymouth, London and the Yorkshire Dales. We even had a visitor who lived in Singapore, but he was visiting a local family!
We had to do a great deal of work in order to have what was still a limited opening and there were some nervous moments, not least when our driver Sam developed Covid a few days beforehand. This meant that there was nobody to drive our Southern OB truck to Hemswell from our chairman Paul’s house about 20 miles away. That is, nobody until Roy Wood, who also shears Paul’s sheep, stepped into the breach.
Southern was not on its own. We also had our ex BBC radio car, badged as Radio Coventry, and an ITN links vehicle, brought by its owner Kev Dennis. This did not have any technical equipment in it, but really looked the part. This rugged vehicle may have been used on a windswept hilltop to provide communication for ITN.
Our building was the sergeants’ mess at RAF Hemswell. In our reception space there was a memorial to the sergeants who had been stationed here and never returned from operations. We listed the names of all 429. Local visitors in particular were moved to see this.
The inner foyer housed our tribute to the Queen, whose death had been announced on 8 September. We showed a Marconi MkII camera that had been at the Coronation in 1953, along with a 1949 TV on which we ran archive footage of the event.
Also in the space was a working Ikegami HK-355W camera. Children in particular were delighted to see themselves on TV. There was also a Marconi Marine satellite phone from the late 1980s.
We opened our Studio 3, which had previously been The Gunners Arms pub and is now our main museum display area. We transformed the bar into a Rovers Return set from the 1970s which matched our fine pub Axminster carpet! Clustered around were a selection of cameras, of types that were used to make Coronation Street from the 1950s onwards.
Other attractions in Studio 3 included a green screen or chromakey, allowing visitors to see themselves presenting the weather forecast.
We displayed a selection of other cameras, mostly on Vinten pedestals. In order to clear space, we inadvertently created two art installations, one an array of video, vector and waveform monitors, some of which worked, and the other a Great Wall of 19 inch rack- mount equipment, carefully stacked to avoid any accidents.
The other main area that was open was our telecine and videotape suite. This looked very smart, with new flooring – all we need now is to fix the carpet on the walls (we have it but didn’t have time to put it up). Getting the kit in was quite an undertaking. The largest piece was almost a ton of RCA TR-70B 2” quadruplex video recorder. After installing a dedicated power circuit we very nearly made it work for the occasion. We demonstrated one of a pair of Marconi MR-2B 1” C-format machines which were used in service from the late ‘70s through to the early ‘90s.
On the telecine side we demonstrated a Marconi B3410 line-array telecine which works a bit like the scanner you might have attached to your computer. We also showed a selection of film editing equipment, including a Steenbeck.
Studio 2 will become our community space (although one we can reclaim on special occasions). This is one of the nicest areas, with a high-quality wooden floor. It is one area where even the original paintwork looks decent! In there we placed a Panavision Gold II cine camera, which we are very lucky to have as the company never sold these, and usually crushed them at the end of life. We also had a massive Mole-Richardson microphone boom.
Visitors could also get a peek into Studio 1, which will eventually become our demonstration studio. In the medium term we will also use it as a home for some of our vintage OB trucks. This photo gave a sense of the challenge that lies ahead. We have fixed the leaks in the roof, stripped off the wet wallpaper, and the room is drying out, but there is a ruined parquet floor that is reminiscent of the Himalayas, or at least the Lincolnshire Wolds.
With a huge effort we cleared out our ‘red room’ which will become CAR (central apparatus room) with lots of equipment to support studio cameras, VTRs, telecines etc. For open days we displayed in there one of our most precious possessions – a CAT9 transmitter valve of a type that was used at the original Alexandra Palace transmitter in 1936.