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Oral-History:Arnold Beck

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== About Arnold Beck  ==
 
== About Arnold Beck  ==
  
Arnold Beck is a telecommunications engineer who was a research engineer at Hughes and STC and then taught electrical engineering at Cambridge University until his retirement. He received his degree from University College in London, and then went to work at Henry Hughes and Sons where he worked on various electronics projects and early [[Klystron|klystron]] research. During World War II, he joined the naval scientific service and worked at the H.H. Wills physics lab. After the war, he worked briefly at Hughes on various radar and high frequency projects; after several years, he went to STC to develop valves for the first high frequency communications links. Eventually he went to work at the engineering laboratory at Cambridge and became a professor of electrical engineering at Cambridge, focusing on electromagnetic theory and high frequency theory. He is currently retired.  
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<p>Arnold Beck is a telecommunications engineer who was a research engineer at Hughes and STC and then taught electrical engineering at Cambridge University until his retirement. He received his degree from University College in London, and then went to work at Henry Hughes and Sons where he worked on various electronics projects and early [[Klystron|klystron]] research. During World War II, he joined the naval scientific service and worked at the H.H. Wills physics lab. After the war, he worked briefly at Hughes on various radar and high frequency projects; after several years, he went to STC to develop valves for the first high frequency communications links. Eventually he went to work at the engineering laboratory at Cambridge and became a professor of electrical engineering at Cambridge, focusing on electromagnetic theory and high frequency theory. He is currently retired. </p>
  
The interview begins with Beck's early schooling in Cambridge and his education at University College in London. After describing the University's specialized program in telecommunications engineering, Beck discusses his work at Henry Hughes and Sons after his graduation and his work for the naval scientific service on reflex [[Klystron|klystrons]] during the war. He mentions the powerful influence Slater's electromagnetic theory had on wartime research in the U.K. He discusses information exchange within the U.K. during the war and then with the U.S., mentioning his visit to the U.S. to look at countermeasures developments there. He describes his dissatisfaction with Hughes and his move to Standard Telephones around 1947 to work on the first high frequency communications links. He outlines the circumstances that led to his taking a lectureship in Cambridge's engineering department, and discusses his experiences in Cambridge's engineering program and research he and his Ph.D. students did on gyrotron development. He briefly outlines which research centers he thinks are particularly outstanding in his field, and mentions his memberships in IEEE and IEE. The interview concludes with Beck's comments on the increasing complexity of electrotechnology over his lifetime, and the effect that this has had on experimentation; he asserts that he has always enjoyed the hands-on work involved in experimentation.  
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<p>The interview begins with Beck's early schooling in Cambridge and his education at University College in London. After describing the University's specialized program in telecommunications engineering, Beck discusses his work at Henry Hughes and Sons after his graduation and his work for the naval scientific service on reflex [[Klystron|klystrons]] during the war. He mentions the powerful influence Slater's electromagnetic theory had on wartime research in the U.K. He discusses information exchange within the U.K. during the war and then with the U.S., mentioning his visit to the U.S. to look at countermeasures developments there. He describes his dissatisfaction with Hughes and his move to Standard Telephones around 1947 to work on the first high frequency communications links. He outlines the circumstances that led to his taking a lectureship in Cambridge's engineering department, and discusses his experiences in Cambridge's engineering program and research he and his Ph.D. students did on gyrotron development. He briefly outlines which research centers he thinks are particularly outstanding in his field, and mentions his memberships in [[IEEE History|IEEE]] and IEE. The interview concludes with Beck's comments on the increasing complexity of electrotechnology over his lifetime, and the effect that this has had on experimentation; he asserts that he has always enjoyed the hands-on work involved in experimentation. </p>
 
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<br>  
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== About the Interview  ==
 
== About the Interview  ==
  
ARNOLD BECK: An Interview Conducted by William Aspray, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, March 24, 1994  
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<p>ARNOLD BECK: An Interview Conducted by William Aspray, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, March 24, 1994 </p>
 
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Interview #195 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
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<br>  
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<p>Interview #195 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. </p>
  
 
== Copyright Statement  ==
 
== Copyright Statement  ==
  
This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.  
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<p>This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center. </p>
  
Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, Rutgers — the State University, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.  
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<p>Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program,&nbsp;39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user. </p>
  
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:  
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<p>It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows: </p>
  
Arnold Back, an oral history conducted in 1994 by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.  
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<p>Arnold Back, an oral history conducted in 1994 by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA. </p>
 
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<br>  
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== Interview  ==
 
== Interview  ==
  
INTERVIEW: Arnold Beck<br>INTERVIEWER: William Aspray<br>DATE: March 24th 1994<br>PLACE: Unknown  
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<p>INTERVIEW: Arnold Beck </p>
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 +
<p>INTERVIEWER: William Aspray </p>
 +
 
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<p>DATE: March 24th 1994 </p>
 +
 
 +
<p>PLACE: Unknown </p>
  
 
=== Background and Education  ===
 
=== Background and Education  ===
  
'''Aspray:'''  
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<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
Could you begin by telling me when you were born and what your parents did?  
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<p>Could you begin by telling me when you were born and what your parents did? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
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<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
I was born in a little village just outside Norwich, on August 7, 1916. My father was an officer in the regular army, and my mother had been various things. She was really a farmer's daughter, and she had nursed in Canada. She was my father's second wife; I had two older half-brothers. I was born in the middle of the war. My father was then serving in various places in England and later in Ireland during the troubles. As I've said, he was a regular officer and this was rather late in his life. When my father finally left the army he got a fairly senior job with the city council in Norwich. His job actually was what they call clerk of the market, which in Norwich at that time was rather a senior job because it was a great market. They had very large cattle markets, and vegetable, and fruit markets and so on... it was a full-time job. It also involved running a smallish farm. You know, Norwich farms tend to be very big. This was about 140 acres, which was fairly small. Anyway I was brought up just outside Norwich and went to a preparatory school there. When I was about thirteen I got a scholarship to Gresham School Holt, which was a school run by one of the old city companies, actually the Fishmongers Company. I went there and spent five moderately happy years there. It may be of slight interest to say that other pupils there were Auden and Benjamin Britten, the well- known composer, and — just to mention an important figure in Cambridge — Alan Hodgkin, who became FRS and a Nobel Prize winner. It was a school with a very firm scientific tradition, which was not all that common in those days. We had good laboratories, separate labs for biology and chemistry and that sort of thing. We were very well taught. I did all the usual things that we did in those days, took the school certificate exam and then I got a leaving scholarship and I went to University College, London.  
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<p>I was born in a little village just outside Norwich, on August 7, 1916. My father was an officer in the regular army, and my mother had been various things. She was really a farmer's daughter, and she had nursed in Canada. She was my father's second wife; I had two older half-brothers. I was born in the middle of the war. My father was then serving in various places in England and later in Ireland during the troubles. As I've said, he was a regular officer and this was rather late in his life. When my father finally left the army he got a fairly senior job with the city council in Norwich. His job actually was what they call clerk of the market, which in Norwich at that time was rather a senior job because it was a great market. They had very large cattle markets, and vegetable, and fruit markets and so on... it was a full-time job. It also involved running a smallish farm. You know, Norwich farms tend to be very big. This was about 140 acres, which was fairly small. Anyway I was brought up just outside Norwich and went to a preparatory school there. When I was about thirteen I got a scholarship to Gresham School Holt, which was a school run by one of the old city companies, actually the Fishmongers Company. I went there and spent five moderately happy years there. It may be of slight interest to say that other pupils there were Auden and Benjamin Britten, the well- known composer, and — just to mention an important figure in Cambridge — Alan Hodgkin, who became FRS and a [[Nobel Prize|Nobel Prize]] winner. It was a school with a very firm scientific tradition, which was not all that common in those days. We had good laboratories, separate labs for biology and chemistry and that sort of thing. We were very well taught. I did all the usual things that we did in those days, took the school certificate exam and then I got a leaving scholarship and I went to University College, London. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
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<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
How did you choose to go there?  
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<p>How did you choose to go there? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
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<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
For a reason which will appeal to you. At that time it was one of the few higher educational establishments which had a specialized course in telecommunication engineering, and I very much wanted to do that. I was extremely interested in wireless, as we called it in those days, and I used to spend a terrific amount of time making radio sets and that sort of thing, so that appealed to me very much. Another big reason was that after five years of boarding in a public school, I was fed up to the teeth with communal living. I don't think I could have stood three more years in College here at that time. In 1932-33, the colleges were still doing this awful thing of making the undergraduates come in at ten o'clock at night, and you had to wear gowns all the time — all sorts of stupid restrictions. From my point of view, the worst thing about Cambridge was that you had to take a terrible examination called Littlego, which involved Latin — and I was absolutely of no use at Latin; I'd done German all the while I was at school. I did try a sort of crash course in Latin; it was obviously a no go. Anyway, I did in fact go to UCL and I was very, very happy there. It was a lovely place to be for somebody like myself who had spent his life in the country. London in those days was a very nice city to live in and the college was a very jolly place. Just to give you an idea of the sort of difference: it had one enormous advantage from the point of view of young men. It had what was... still is... the Slade School of Modern Art, and there were a very large number of most attractive young women in the Slade School who wouldn't have been found in most places! The general atmosphere was very free and easy. I don't know if you know this, but UCL was founded as a counterblast to religious schools, and it had this great tradition of free thought. The founding fathers like Jeremy Bentham were still very much revered, so it was a very nice place to be, and a very nice part of London, too, to live and work in. So I enjoyed that very much, and I got a first class degree at the end of my time there.  
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<p>For a reason which will appeal to you. At that time it was one of the few higher educational establishments which had a specialized course in telecommunication engineering, and I very much wanted to do that. I was extremely interested in wireless, as we called it in those days, and I used to spend a terrific amount of time making radio sets and that sort of thing, so that appealed to me very much. Another big reason was that after five years of boarding in a public school, I was fed up to the teeth with communal living. I don't think I could have stood three more years in College here at that time. In 1932-33, the colleges were still doing this awful thing of making the undergraduates come in at ten o'clock at night, and you had to wear gowns all the time — all sorts of stupid restrictions. From my point of view, the worst thing about Cambridge was that you had to take a terrible examination called Littlego, which involved Latin — and I was absolutely of no use at Latin; I'd done German all the while I was at school. I did try a sort of crash course in Latin; it was obviously a no go. Anyway, I did in fact go to UCL and I was very, very happy there. It was a lovely place to be for somebody like myself who had spent his life in the country. London in those days was a very nice city to live in and the college was a very jolly place. Just to give you an idea of the sort of difference: it had one enormous advantage from the point of view of young men. It had what was... still is... the Slade School of Modern Art, and there were a very large number of most attractive young women in the Slade School who wouldn't have been found in most places! The general atmosphere was very free and easy. I don't know if you know this, but UCL was founded as a counterblast to religious schools, and it had this great tradition of free thought. The founding fathers like Jeremy Bentham were still very much revered, so it was a very nice place to be, and a very nice part of London, too, to live and work in. So I enjoyed that very much, and I got a first class degree at the end of my time there. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
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<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
What was the course of study like?  
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<p>What was the course of study like? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
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<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
It was a telecommunications course. We did conventional electrical engineering as well. In the middle of my time there we got a new professor, R.O. Kapp, who was really interested in power engineering and economics, but the person I worked closely with in my last phase there was H. Monteagel Barlow, of whom you may have heard. He contributed largely to hollow waveguides and things like that just after the war. He was very lively and then quite a young man, and he influenced me a lot. When I went up to UCL I'd already taken the first year engineering exam at London University, which you were allowed to do externally if you were suitably qualified, so I spent only two years over my degree. Then I stayed on and did a third year of fairly poor research. I undertook a problem on secondary electron emission, which was far beyond the capacity of the lab to cope with. It involved vacua and things like that, about which they didn't really know anything. They should never have let me do it, but it was also my fault; I was always headstrong. Anyway, I rather mucked that up, and at the end of that time I had to think about earning my living, because my family couldn't support me, or anything like that. I took a job with a well-known firm of navigational instrument makers, Henry Hughes and Sons.  
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<p>It was a telecommunications course. We did conventional electrical engineering as well. In the middle of my time there we got a new professor, R.O. Kapp, who was really interested in power engineering and economics, but the person I worked closely with in my last phase there was H. Monteagel Barlow, of whom you may have heard. He contributed largely to hollow [[Waveguides|waveguides]] and things like that just after the war. He was very lively and then quite a young man, and he influenced me a lot. When I went up to UCL I'd already taken the first year engineering exam at London University, which you were allowed to do externally if you were suitably qualified, so I spent only two years over my degree. Then I stayed on and did a third year of fairly poor research. I undertook a problem on secondary electron emission, which was far beyond the capacity of the lab to cope with. It involved vacua and things like that, about which they didn't really know anything. They should never have let me do it, but it was also my fault; I was always headstrong. Anyway, I rather mucked that up, and at the end of that time I had to think about earning my living, because my family couldn't support me, or anything like that. I took a job with a well-known firm of navigational instrument makers, Henry Hughes and Sons. </p>
  
 
=== Henry Hughes &amp; Sons  ===
 
=== Henry Hughes &amp; Sons  ===
  
'''Aspray:'''  
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<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
Was it difficult to get a job? This was still the Depression.  
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<p>Was it difficult to get a job? This was still the Depression. </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
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<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
Well, no, it wasn't difficult for young engineers. You see, we were just starting to rearm, and particularly in things like navigational instruments, people were beginning to get worried about radar and better direction finding systems, and it wasn't too difficult for people like myself. Unemployment, of course, was terrible, but not for young engineers. On the other hand, pay was pretty low, but also the cost of living was pretty low. An engineer with a first-class degree would get two or three hundred pounds a year and that sort of thing. I started with Hughes, who had made their reputation really by making supersonic echo sounders, which worked on magnetostriction. They sent out a pulse of about thirty kcs, received it and amplified it, and so on, and this was quite a big navigational thing. They were then finding their way into more sonar-like things, and when I went there I first started working just on the electronics, improving their amplifiers and things like that.  
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<p>Well, no, it wasn't difficult for young engineers. You see, we were just starting to rearm, and particularly in things like navigational instruments, people were beginning to get worried about radar and better direction finding systems, and it wasn't too difficult for people like myself. Unemployment, of course, was terrible, but not for young engineers. On the other hand, pay was pretty low, but also the cost of living was pretty low. An engineer with a first-class degree would get two or three hundred pounds a year and that sort of thing. I started with Hughes, who had made their reputation really by making supersonic echo sounders, which worked on magnetostriction. They sent out a pulse of about thirty kcs, received it and amplified it, and so on, and this was quite a big navigational thing. They were then finding their way into more sonar-like things, and when I went there I first started working just on the electronics, improving their amplifiers and things like that. </p>
  
The managing director was a very big character called Arthur Hughes, who was extremely irascible. He rather took to me and pushed me into thinking about radar. It was just about this time that William Hansen published the paper on [[Klystron|klystrons]]. Hughes was farsighted enough to allow me to build up a little vacuum lab, and try to duplicate that work, which I did. We made a sort of [concrete] klystron, which gave out enough power to light a little flashlight bulb. At any rate, that was all very interesting, and then of course the war came. Everyone had known for years that the war was coming. There was no doubt about that; anybody with half a brain knew. The sort of thing that gets written now just makes me angry. The whole of my generation of young people knew they were going to have to fight the Germans, no doubt about that, and when the war came, we all spent most of our lives just working. We went to a seven-day week, and we used to work nights. Then of course things got much worse after the fall of France, because we not only had to work nights, but we also had to form home guard units, or LDV units, and guard the factory. People like myself who had been in the OTC at school walked round with Lewis guns, looking like absolute idiots. I don't know what we would have done, had the Germans come. The next thing that happened was that there were very, very hair-raising air raids. This factory I worked in was on the outskirts of London, in Ilford, or Barkinside to be exact.  
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<p>The managing director was a very big character called Arthur Hughes, who was extremely irascible. He rather took to me and pushed me into thinking about radar. It was just about this time that William Hansen published the paper on [[Klystron|klystrons]]. Hughes was farsighted enough to allow me to build up a little vacuum lab, and try to duplicate that work, which I did. We made a sort of [concrete] klystron, which gave out enough power to light a little flashlight bulb. At any rate, that was all very interesting, and then of course the war came. Everyone had known for years that the war was coming. There was no doubt about that; anybody with half a brain knew. The sort of thing that gets written now just makes me angry. The whole of my generation of young people knew they were going to have to fight the Germans, no doubt about that, and when the war came, we all spent most of our lives just working. We went to a seven-day week, and we used to work nights. Then of course things got much worse after the fall of France, because we not only had to work nights, but we also had to form home guard units, or LDV units, and guard the factory. People like myself who had been in the OTC at school walked round with Lewis guns, looking like absolute idiots. I don't know what we would have done, had the Germans come. The next thing that happened was that there were very, very hair-raising air raids. This factory I worked in was on the outskirts of London, in Ilford, or Barkinside to be exact. </p>
  
 
=== World War II and Bristol University  ===
 
=== World War II and Bristol University  ===
  
'''Aspray:'''  
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<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
This was still for the same company, during the war?  
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<p>This was still for the same company, during the war? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
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<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
Yes. Then I was sent for to go and interview a chap in the admiralty called Brundreth, who was recruiting people for the naval scientific service and so on. They signed me up, and I was dispatched to Bristol. It must have been just after Christmas, 1941, and they'd had a hell of an air raid the night before. Temple Mead Station, which was the main Bristol station, was in the middle of a sea of flames, and that was all very splendid, a good introduction to a new life. I found myself in an admiralty outstation in the Royal Fort, which was the physics lab of Bristol University, called the H.H. Wills physics lab, where at that time Mott was the professor of physics, in charge of the place. We established in one of their big labs the group that built the early reflex klystrons, and we really perfected the technique of doing copper to glass seals, and that simple construction where you built the resonator through a big glass envelope. We also produced large numbers of these tubes and then transferred the design over to GEC and EMI. GEC mucked it, EMI improved it, and that occupied us for quite a lot of the time, trying to find out all about making reflex klystrons.  
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<p>Yes. Then I was sent for to go and interview a chap in the admiralty called Brundreth, who was recruiting people for the naval scientific service and so on. They signed me up, and I was dispatched to Bristol. It must have been just after Christmas, 1941, and they'd had a hell of an air raid the night before. Temple Mead Station, which was the main Bristol station, was in the middle of a sea of flames, and that was all very splendid, a good introduction to a new life. I found myself in an admiralty outstation in the Royal Fort, which was the physics lab of Bristol University, called the H.H. Wills physics lab, where at that time Mott was the professor of physics, in charge of the place. We established in one of their big labs the group that built the early reflex klystrons, and we really perfected the technique of doing copper to glass seals, and that simple construction where you built the resonator through a big glass envelope. We also produced large numbers of these tubes and then transferred the design over to GEC and EMI. GEC mucked it, EMI improved it, and that occupied us for quite a lot of the time, trying to find out all about making reflex klystrons. </p>
  
I'd like to remind you that none of us really knew anything about electromagnetic theory. Electromagnetic theory in terms of Maxwell's equations and so on just wasn't taught to more than a handful of people, and we had to pick it up as we went along. Just as a historical note: Slater's wonderful "Electromagnetic Theory" reached this country just about then, and it was a complete revelation that you could calculate so many things, and do so much with it. That to me is one of the great books of this century. I don't think it's really ever been properly acknowledged, how important an influence it had on thinking in the early days. I don't really know what happened to Slater in the long run.  
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<p>I'd like to remind you that none of us really knew anything about electromagnetic theory. Electromagnetic theory in terms of [[Maxwell's Equations|Maxwell's equations]] and so on just wasn't taught to more than a handful of people, and we had to pick it up as we went along. Just as a historical note: Slater's wonderful "Electromagnetic Theory" reached this country just about then, and it was a complete revelation that you could calculate so many things, and do so much with it. That to me is one of the great books of this century. I don't think it's really ever been properly acknowledged, how important an influence it had on thinking in the early days. I don't really know what happened to Slater in the long run. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
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<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
I don't know either.  
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<p>I don't know either. </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
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<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
At any rate, it was one of the great influences on my thinking. I gradually got to know a great deal about the techniques of valve construction. We had to do it all ourselves; we had to set up things like all the messy business of spraying cathodes and making heaters, and pumping and activating these things... we had to do it very much by learning on the job. Bristol University had a very skilled glassblower called John Burrow, who made great contributions to all that. The head of the section was R.W. Sutton, who'd had some experience making ordinary gridded valves with Esso before the war. He had a knowledge of actual valve factory construction methods, and so on. On the whole, we were trying to evolve new techniques, and in particular we worked very hard on things like electron gun design and trying to improve the focusing and performance of the reflex klystrons. As the war went on we gradually branched out into doing different things. For instance, we made lots of rather high-powered klystron oscillators, which were used in various forms of navigation. There was a system which involved dropping a transponder. Aircraft could then converge on it, and that needed a ten centimeter valve which produced about twenty to thirty watts of power. We worked on oscillators to cover a very wide frequency range, and we worked on a lot of valves intended for countermeasures work. For that you needed quite a lot of CW power, quite a lot of watts rather than milliwatts, which had to be frequency modulated and so on and so forth, all the usual sort of stuff.  
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<p>At any rate, it was one of the great influences on my thinking. I gradually got to know a great deal about the techniques of valve construction. We had to do it all ourselves; we had to set up things like all the messy business of spraying cathodes and making heaters, and pumping and activating these things... we had to do it very much by learning on the job. Bristol University had a very skilled glassblower called John Burrow, who made great contributions to all that. The head of the section was R.W. Sutton, who'd had some experience making ordinary gridded valves with Esso before the war. He had a knowledge of actual valve factory construction methods, and so on. On the whole, we were trying to evolve new techniques, and in particular we worked very hard on things like electron gun design and trying to improve the focusing and performance of the reflex klystrons. As the war went on we gradually branched out into doing different things. For instance, we made lots of rather high-powered klystron oscillators, which were used in various forms of navigation. There was a system which involved dropping a transponder. Aircraft could then converge on it, and that needed a ten centimeter valve which produced about twenty to thirty watts of power. We worked on oscillators to cover a very wide frequency range, and we worked on a lot of valves intended for countermeasures work. For that you needed quite a lot of CW power, quite a lot of watts rather than milliwatts, which had to be frequency modulated and so on and so forth, all the usual sort of stuff. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
Was Bristol the only place where this kind of work was going on?  
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<p>Was Bristol the only place where this kind of work was going on? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
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<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
Oh, by no means. There was a lot going on in admiralty establishments. The admiralty also supported a lot of people at Oxford, at the Clarendon Lab there. There was a very large and efficient group at EMI; there was another group at Standard Telephones and Cables who were very good mathematicians, but they chose to work on the Heil tube, which wasn't very effective really. They were a group of Cambridge mathematicians who'd been taken over by Standard Telephones before the war. They did a lot on the general theory. There was a bit of work done at BTH and Rugby. I don't want to be unfair to anybody; I'm trying to remember... the production was done by firms like Esso and Pye. As the technique got established it was transmitted. It had to be, because the number of devices needed was quite large, and it was a big industry by the end of the war.  
+
<p>Oh, by no means. There was a lot going on in admiralty establishments. The admiralty also supported a lot of people at Oxford, at the Clarendon Lab there. There was a very large and efficient group at EMI; there was another group at Standard Telephones and Cables who were very good mathematicians, but they chose to work on the Heil tube, which wasn't very effective really. They were a group of Cambridge mathematicians who'd been taken over by Standard Telephones before the war. They did a lot on the general theory. There was a bit of work done at BTH and Rugby. I don't want to be unfair to anybody; I'm trying to remember... the production was done by firms like Esso and Pye. As the technique got established it was transmitted. It had to be, because the number of devices needed was quite large, and it was a big industry by the end of the war. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
How were the specifications set for the work you needed to do at Bristol? Were they set by some outside group?  
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<p>How were the specifications set for the work you needed to do at Bristol? Were they set by some outside group? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
We would go first to TRE at Swanidge, and we would talk to the people who were actually developing radar sets. They would tell us what problems they were having and what they would like done. I remember very well going over there and being told by a chap called Skinner about the problems they were having with mixing devices, and coming back and trying to modify reflex klystrons by putting extra electrodes between the resonator and the reflectors to use that as a demodulator. That was the sort of thing that happened. There was a very close link between us and the people who were developing the actual radar sets. On the magnetron side, which we had nothing to do with, the same thing happened, the people who were making magnetrons were much influenced by the requirements of H2S and later H2X. There was very good liaison. I think it's fair to say that everybody exchanged information very freely and that there was a good relationship all around.  
+
<p>We would go first to TRE at Swanidge, and we would talk to the people who were actually developing radar sets. They would tell us what problems they were having and what they would like done. I remember very well going over there and being told by a chap called Skinner about the problems they were having with mixing devices, and coming back and trying to modify reflex klystrons by putting extra electrodes between the resonator and the reflectors to use that as a demodulator. That was the sort of thing that happened. There was a very close link between us and the people who were developing the actual radar sets. On the magnetron side, which we had nothing to do with, the same thing happened, the people who were making [[Cavity Magnetron|magnetrons]] were much influenced by the requirements of H2S and later H2X. There was very good liaison. I think it's fair to say that everybody exchanged information very freely and that there was a good relationship all around. </p>
  
Later on we had the same sort of relationship with the Americans. We had many visitors from the MIT Radiation Lab, and not so much from the American commercial world, but plenty of their governmental organizations. They too made a big contribution to the general knowledge. It was a most exciting time. You were spurred on. While I was working at Bristol we had the windows of all our labs blown out about three times, and there was a large number of raids, and living was hard, but it was an exciting time. I was enthralled by what I was doing. I liked it very much and was learning a great deal. Everything was really rather new, if you look at it sensibly... at the beginning of the war pulse techniques were absolutely in their infancy, and people just didn't think in terms of pulsing things, everything really before the war had been CW, and of course that meant there was a revolution in general technology. If you think back, the sort of instruments you had were primitive in the extreme. You had a limited supply of old primitive oscilloscopes that worked up to about a megahertz, and we developed the power measuring instruments and things like that as we went along. It was a period of enormously rapid development.  
+
<p>Later on we had the same sort of relationship with the Americans. We had many visitors from the [[MIT Rad Lab|MIT Radiation Lab]], and not so much from the American commercial world, but plenty of their governmental organizations. They too made a big contribution to the general knowledge. It was a most exciting time. You were spurred on. While I was working at Bristol we had the windows of all our labs blown out about three times, and there was a large number of raids, and living was hard, but it was an exciting time. I was enthralled by what I was doing. I liked it very much and was learning a great deal. Everything was really rather new, if you look at it sensibly... at the beginning of the war pulse techniques were absolutely in their infancy, and people just didn't think in terms of pulsing things, everything really before the war had been CW, and of course that meant there was a revolution in general technology. If you think back, the sort of instruments you had were primitive in the extreme. You had a limited supply of old primitive oscilloscopes that worked up to about a megahertz, and we developed the power measuring instruments and things like that as we went along. It was a period of enormously rapid development. </p>
  
 
=== Mission to U.S.  ===
 
=== Mission to U.S.  ===
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
 +
 
 +
<p>I got more and more involved with countermeasures, and I was sent over to the States in very early '45 — to look at countermeasures developments there. I went to a large number of the big contractors like Raytheon, the [[Bell Labs|Bell Labs]], Westinghouse, and so on. </p>
  
I got more and more involved with countermeasures, and I was sent over to the States in very early '45 — to look at countermeasures developments there. I went to a large number of the big contractors like Raytheon, the Bell Labs, Westinghouse, and so on.
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''
+
<p>Also to RRL? </p>
  
Also to RRL?
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
'''Beck:'''
+
<p>Oh yes, that was very interesting indeed. </p>
  
Oh yes, that was very interesting indeed.
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''
+
<p>Was your purpose for this trip just to learn what was going on in the United States, or did you have a more specific reason? </p>
  
Was your purpose for this trip just to learn what was going on in the United States, or did you have a more specific reason?
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
'''Beck:'''
+
<p>Specific things. Countermeasures was becoming very important before the invasion... I must have got that date completely wrong, because it was before the invasion that I went. The general program for out-foxing German [[Radar|radar]] was being developed very fast, so there was a great heat on countermeasures, and a lot of effort, which had been on straightforward radar, was diverted into that. I worked on lots of different things. I also worked on developing gas discharge, TR cells, and things like that for H2X. I met and developed a friendly relationship with [[John Pierce|John Pierce]] at the Bell Labs; I got on very well with him. I admired his work very much indeed — I think he's still alive, isn't he? </p>
  
Specific things. Countermeasures was becoming very important before the invasion... I must have got that date completely wrong, because it was before the invasion that I went. The general program for out-foxing German radar was being developed very fast, so there was a great heat on countermeasures, and a lot of effort, which had been on straightforward radar, was diverted into that. I worked on lots of different things. I also worked on developing gas discharge, TR cells, and things like that for H2X. I met and developed a friendly relationship with John Pierce at the Bell Labs; I got on very well with him. I admired his work very much indeed — I think he's still alive, isn't he?
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''
+
<p>Yes. I corresponded with him not long ago. </p>
  
Yes. I corresponded with him not long ago.
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
'''Beck:'''
+
<p>Well, he certainly is a great man. I don't know that he's ever received all the recognition he might have. </p>
  
Well, he certainly is a great man. I don't know that he's ever received all the recognition he might have.
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''
+
<p>Fine, there's plenty of opportunity to remove them. Did you get to know [[Frederick Terman|Terman]]? </p>
  
Fine, there's plenty of opportunity to remove them. Did you get to know Terman?
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
'''Beck:'''
+
<p><flashmp3>195_-_beck_-_clip_1.mp3</flashmp3></p>
  
No, I didn't. I was sort of trotted around the States by a young chap in the Office of Technical Development or something like that, whose name I now forget. He was a very pleasant chap, and I liked going round with him, but I was a bit lost in some respects. I think I did just say hello to Terman. I spent a lot of time at MIT and met a lot of nice people there, Rabbi and so on. The thing that impressed me about the States after what we'd been through was the enormous degree to which they had technical backup. We got along with a very small number of lab boys, and by God they were boys, young boys of sixteen or seventeen, who'd been shoved in to help. They hadn't much education and they had to learn on the job to do the things that needed doing around the lab, helping with the vacuum work and so on. They did it very well, but in MIT I was shocked to see teams of Ph.D.s doing the same sort of thing! That really did worry me a bit. I'm not being unkind. I can remember one specific thing. By the time all this happened they were trying frantically to develop 1.25 centimeter radar sets, which turned out actually to be a disaster. They were a group of I think five Ph.D.s who were adjusting the distance between the resonator and the reflector to try and find the optimum position. It was really very humble. It was not misguided work in any way; they were going to find an optimum probably, but it didn't seem worth the effort. Now, do you know the awful story of K-band radar?  
+
<p>No, I didn't. I was sort of trotted around the States by a young chap in the Office of Technical Development or something like that, whose name I now forget. He was a very pleasant chap, and I liked going round with him, but I was a bit lost in some respects. I think I did just say hello to Terman. I spent a lot of time at MIT and met a lot of nice people there, Rabbi and so on. The thing that impressed me about the States after what we'd been through was the enormous degree to which they had technical backup. We got along with a very small number of lab boys, and by God they were boys, young boys of sixteen or seventeen, who'd been shoved in to help. They hadn't much education and they had to learn on the job to do the things that needed doing around the lab, helping with the vacuum work and so on. They did it very well, but in MIT I was shocked to see teams of Ph.D.s doing the same sort of thing! That really did worry me a bit. I'm not being unkind. I can remember one specific thing. By the time all this happened they were trying frantically to develop 1.25 centimeter radar sets, which turned out actually to be a disaster. They were a group of I think five Ph.D.s who were adjusting the distance between the resonator and the reflector to try and find the optimum position. It was really very humble. It was not misguided work in any way; they were going to find an optimum probably, but it didn't seem worth the effort. Now, do you know the awful story of K-band radar? </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
The water absorption? I've heard about that.  
+
<p>The water absorption? I've heard about that. </p>
  
 
=== Postwar: Standard Telephones  ===
 
=== Postwar: Standard Telephones  ===
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
That was a bad one. I came back to England, of course, and went on with the admiralty up until the war ended. Then I went back to my old job with Henry Hughes. I changed my job there completely. I took charge of a department to make for them a three centimeter marine radar. There was a specification agreed by all the manufacturers in the Ministry of Transport or somebody. At any rate, it was a government-agreed specification. The firm quite rightly thought there was a good market for something like this. We got this radar out pretty quickly, and we were actually the first company to produce a postwar three centimeter radar in England. We put it on the ship that ran from Newcastle to Bergen, called the ''Venus'' — a good name for that sort of ship! That was fun too; that worked quite well. Anyway I didn't really like this sort of work.  
+
<p>That was a bad one. I came back to England, of course, and went on with the admiralty up until the war ended. Then I went back to my old job with Henry Hughes. I changed my job there completely. I took charge of a department to make for them a three centimeter marine radar. There was a specification agreed by all the manufacturers in the Ministry of Transport or somebody. At any rate, it was a government-agreed specification. The firm quite rightly thought there was a good market for something like this. We got this radar out pretty quickly, and we were actually the first company to produce a postwar three centimeter radar in England. We put it on the ship that ran from Newcastle to Bergen, called the ''Venus'' — a good name for that sort of ship! That was fun too; that worked quite well. Anyway I didn't really like this sort of work. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
And why was that?  
+
<p>And why was that? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
Well, I wanted to get back to the research on the ultra high frequencies and things, really. That was what interested me, always.  
+
<p>Well, I wanted to get back to the research on the ultra high frequencies and things, really. That was what interested me, always. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
Why had you chosen to go back to the company after the war was over?  
+
<p>Why had you chosen to go back to the company after the war was over? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
I didn't have much option, actually, I had been really on secondment to the admiralty. It was a terrible arrangement, one of which I won't go into the details of. All this meant that I got the worst of all possible financial worlds. I was meant to be paid by Hughes but they never kept my salary up commensurately with my status in the admiralty. It meant I was losing money. Anyway, when I went back I was able to negotiate quite a decent raise, at that time, so that was one reason. Anyhow, I didn't really have much option. But after a fairly short time, about two years, I joined Standard Telephones, who were just establishing a new central research lab, and wanted a valve division there. The old one, which had been located in a place called Ilminster in Somerset, by then had all dropped apart. All the mathematicians had gone back to Cambridge, and Standard Telephones was very interested in developing valves for the first high frequency communications links. They got a contract for the first television link, which was from Manchester to a place just outside Edinburgh called Kirn O'Shots and that was to be a 4000 Mhz link. In about 1947-1948 that was a fairly visionary sort of thing. STC wanted the valves developed for that, and we started work on that at Enfield. We got that going eventually, and that was quite an interesting project.  
+
<p>I didn't have much option, actually, I had been really on secondment to the admiralty. It was a terrible arrangement, one of which I won't go into the details of. All this meant that I got the worst of all possible financial worlds. I was meant to be paid by Hughes but they never kept my salary up commensurately with my status in the admiralty. It meant I was losing money. Anyway, when I went back I was able to negotiate quite a decent raise, at that time, so that was one reason. Anyhow, I didn't really have much option. But after a fairly short time, about two years, I joined Standard Telephones, who were just establishing a new central research lab, and wanted a valve division there. The old one, which had been located in a place called Ilminster in Somerset, by then had all dropped apart. All the mathematicians had gone back to Cambridge, and Standard Telephones was very interested in developing valves for the first high frequency communications links. They got a contract for the first television link, which was from Manchester to a place just outside Edinburgh called Kirn O'Shots and that was to be a 4000 Mhz link. In about 1947-1948 that was a fairly visionary sort of thing. STC wanted the valves developed for that, and we started work on that at Enfield. We got that going eventually, and that was quite an interesting project. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
What were the technical challenges there?  
+
<p>What were the technical challenges there? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
The technical challenge was to exploit FM techniques in that frequency range. I'm a bit hazy now about the numbers, so forgive me if I think a bit... it was basically a 4000 Mhz link, and I think the FM-ing called for a frequency spread of about sixty Mhz, or something like that, and with existing tubes that was rather difficult to do. The early klystrons only FM-ed over about one Mhz or something like that, a very small percentage of the center frequency. Really the technical problem was getting the FM going and getting that right. The technical person who more or less supervised this thing was A.T. Starr. He was quite well known in this country. He wrote a very large number of books on telecommunications, and worked for STC for many years. The other thing we did in the long run was a complete flop, I'm sorry to say. We did a lot of work on gas counting tubes. We did a lot of work on a ten-stage counting tube, which flopped. The technical reason why it flopped was interesting, and I don't think it's ever been solved. It was this problem of the concentration of the impurity of gasses around the cathodes of the electrodes which weren't on... long term, that was really rather a failure. Lyons, then a very large catering firm, sponsored the use of these things in computers. To be blunt, it was a flop. Flops like that really came out after very long life testing. If you have a glow discharge on the electrode, it gradually stews any impurities around into the surrounding atmosphere, and it really is a bugger to get it going.  
+
<p>The technical challenge was to exploit FM techniques in that frequency range. I'm a bit hazy now about the numbers, so forgive me if I think a bit... it was basically a 4000 Mhz link, and I think the FM-ing called for a frequency spread of about sixty Mhz, or something like that, and with existing tubes that was rather difficult to do. The early klystrons only FM-ed over about one Mhz or something like that, a very small percentage of the center frequency. Really the technical problem was getting the FM going and getting that right. The technical person who more or less supervised this thing was A.T. Starr. He was quite well known in this country. He wrote a very large number of books on telecommunications, and worked for STC for many years. The other thing we did in the long run was a complete flop, I'm sorry to say. We did a lot of work on gas counting tubes. We did a lot of work on a ten-stage counting tube, which flopped. The technical reason why it flopped was interesting, and I don't think it's ever been solved. It was this problem of the concentration of the impurity of gasses around the cathodes of the electrodes which weren't on... long term, that was really rather a failure. Lyons, then a very large catering firm, sponsored the use of these things in computers. To be blunt, it was a flop. Flops like that really came out after very long life testing. If you have a glow discharge on the electrode, it gradually stews any impurities around into the surrounding atmosphere, and it really is a bugger to get it going. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
Why was STC chosen to do this valve development for Lyons?  
+
<p>Why was STC chosen to do this valve development for Lyons? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
STC and Plessy, both telephone exchange companies, were naturally very interested in the all-electronic exchange, and it was thought for a long while that the gas tube would be the tool of the electronic exchange. STC was a very hardheaded business firm. If they could get work sponsored by somebody else they were very happy to do it. At that time they were really an American- managed firm, by a gentleman you may have heard of, Colonel Sostones Behn. Have you ever heard of him?  
+
<p>STC and Plessy, both telephone exchange companies, were naturally very interested in the all-electronic exchange, and it was thought for a long while that the gas tube would be the tool of the electronic exchange. STC was a very hardheaded business firm. If they could get work sponsored by somebody else they were very happy to do it. At that time they were really an American- managed firm, by a gentleman you may have heard of, Colonel Sostones Behn. Have you ever heard of him? </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
No.  
+
<p>No. </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
He was one of the great buccaneering figures in the American telecommunications industry.  
+
<p>He was one of the great buccaneering figures in the American telecommunications industry. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
I see.  
+
<p>I see. </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
They were fairly hardheaded about that, and that was quite reasonable for a while... this was a good approach.  
+
<p>They were fairly hardheaded about that, and that was quite reasonable for a while... this was a good approach. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
Why do you say that the Lyons' development was a failure?  
+
<p>Why do you say that the Lyons' development was a failure? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
Mainly because it wasn't reliable enough. I don't want to make excuses, but when development things like that started, people didn't really appreciate the standards of reliability that were required. Down the road here at Edsac they didn't appreciate the troubles they'd get with the cathode failures on lots of their double diodes. They had to start off with what they had, and these things show up after a long time. You see, the experience with really long-life thermionic devices was mostly with valves in telephone repeaters, repeater amplifiers, and the specification for those valves was really very, very low, I mean they had very low mutual conductances and so on. They could tolerate deterioration of the cathodes a very great deal, but once they started using lots and lots of diodes and pulse amplifications, they wouldn't tolerate the cathode deterioration. That was all another long-term thing, of course, wiped out by transistors, which I never worked on.  
+
<p>Mainly because it wasn't reliable enough. I don't want to make excuses, but when development things like that started, people didn't really appreciate the standards of reliability that were required. Down the road here at Edsac they didn't appreciate the troubles they'd get with the cathode failures on lots of their double diodes. They had to start off with what they had, and these things show up after a long time. You see, the experience with really long-life thermionic devices was mostly with valves in telephone repeaters, repeater amplifiers, and the specification for those valves was really very, very low, I mean they had very low mutual conductances and so on. They could tolerate deterioration of the cathodes a very great deal, but once they started using lots and lots of diodes and pulse amplifications, they wouldn't tolerate the cathode deterioration. That was all another long-term thing, of course, wiped out by transistors, which I never worked on. </p>
  
 
=== Cambridge and the Gyrotron  ===
 
=== Cambridge and the Gyrotron  ===
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
I've taken you away from your main story. I'll let you get back to it.  
+
<p>I've taken you away from your main story. I'll let you get back to it. </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
Anyhow, at STC we did a lot of work on these links, and we did a lot of work on gas tubes. We did a lot of work actually on the development of special types of thermionic cathodes, which interested me very much. That was all fine, but as these things happened, I got to a stage where two things upset me. We had to move from our lab on the outskirts of London to a new town in Harlow. I didn't want to do that because we had a very nice house in North London, which I didn't want to leave. Also I got to the point where it was quite clear that I was either going to have to manage a lot more things or else become a sort of backwater scientist. They started having these appointments where you got shoved up two floors into a comfortable office, and people were asked to consult you, and of course never did. Neither of these things appealed to me.  
+
<p>Anyhow, at STC we did a lot of work on these links, and we did a lot of work on gas tubes. We did a lot of work actually on the development of special types of thermionic cathodes, which interested me very much. That was all fine, but as these things happened, I got to a stage where two things upset me. We had to move from our lab on the outskirts of London to a new town in Harlow. I didn't want to do that because we had a very nice house in North London, which I didn't want to leave. Also I got to the point where it was quite clear that I was either going to have to manage a lot more things or else become a sort of backwater scientist. They started having these appointments where you got shoved up two floors into a comfortable office, and people were asked to consult you, and of course never did. Neither of these things appealed to me. </p>
  
At just about that time I'd been working in conjunction with somebody in the Cambridge engineering lab on the design of the sealed-off vacuum tube for a cesium atomic clock. This was a project too that went down the drain eventually in favor of the later laser-type one, but for a while there was a lot of interest in producing a compact, sealed-off cesium atomic beam device that would act as an extremely accurate frequency standard. I was working with one of the lecturers here, a chap called Jim Yates, and a consultant on this project, which was funded by the RAF. Jim Yates got an enormous cancer and died, in about a fortnight. I wrote letters of condolence to various people and was rather surprised to get a letter back from Oakley, asking me if I'd like to apply for Yates' lectureship. That fit in rather well with my circumstances. We didn't want to move in London, but we didn't mind so much moving from London to Cambridge. My wife had lived here before the war and liked the town very much, and we knew a good deal about it. I applied for the lectureship, and surprise surprise, got it, so we came down here. My job at Enfield was taken over by Eric Ash, who's now the director of Imperial College.  
+
<p>At just about that time I'd been working in conjunction with somebody in the Cambridge engineering lab on the design of the sealed-off vacuum tube for a cesium atomic clock. This was a project too that went down the drain eventually in favor of the later laser-type one, but for a while there was a lot of interest in producing a compact, sealed-off cesium atomic beam device that would act as an extremely accurate frequency standard. I was working with one of the lecturers here, a chap called Jim Yates, and a consultant on this project, which was funded by the RAF. Jim Yates got an enormous cancer and died, in about a fortnight. I wrote letters of condolence to various people and was rather surprised to get a letter back from Oakley, asking me if I'd like to apply for Yates' lectureship. That fit in rather well with my circumstances. We didn't want to move in London, but we didn't mind so much moving from London to Cambridge. My wife had lived here before the war and liked the town very much, and we knew a good deal about it. I applied for the lectureship, and surprise surprise, got it, so we came down here. My job at Enfield was taken over by Eric Ash, who's now the director of Imperial College. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
He's just retired.  
+
<p>He's just retired. </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
Yes. We came down here, and I started working in the engineering lab, which I must say was hard to begin with, because I had an enormous amount of lecturing to do at the beginning.  
+
<p>Yes. We came down here, and I started working in the engineering lab, which I must say was hard to begin with, because I had an enormous amount of lecturing to do at the beginning. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
What did you lecture in?  
+
<p>What did you lecture in? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
[laughs] Practically everything! My important lectures were given to the final year students on electromagnetic theory and high frequency electronics. But I lectured other years on ordinary electron circuit theory and that sort of thing. In my first year we were very short handed, and I delivered eighty lectures, which was considered to be a heavy load. The other thing which I did find rather a shock, was going down from industrial backup in secretaries and typists and people to do the xeroxing, things like that, to the sort of support we had in the engineering labs, which was absolutely minute.  
+
<p>[laughs] Practically everything! My important lectures were given to the final year students on electromagnetic theory and high frequency electronics. But I lectured other years on ordinary electron circuit theory and that sort of thing. In my first year we were very short handed, and I delivered eighty lectures, which was considered to be a heavy load. The other thing which I did find rather a shock, was going down from industrial backup in secretaries and typists and people to do the xeroxing, things like that, to the sort of support we had in the engineering labs, which was absolutely minute. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
Was it also true of capital equipment?  
+
<p>Was it also true of capital equipment? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
Capital equipment was a problem, but I'd expected that, so it wasn't a shock. I knew I'd had to build things up, but I was used to that. After all, I'd done it at least twice before. At that time I started off PhD students of my own, and I and a student named Mayo evolved the idea of the gyrotron.  
+
<p>Capital equipment was a problem, but I'd expected that, so it wasn't a shock. I knew I'd had to build things up, but I was used to that. After all, I'd done it at least twice before. At that time I started off PhD students of my own, and I and a student named [[John S. Mayo|Mayo]] evolved the idea of the gyrotron. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
I don't know about the gyrotron.  
+
<p>I don't know about the gyrotron. </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
The gyrotron is now the principal source of really high frequency power, and it's largely used in priming the discharge of big tocmacs, like Jet, and things like that, and the Princeton and Cornell ones. You can generate hundreds of kilowatts with very reasonable efficiencies with a gyrotron, which involves pushing a spinning electron beam through an open resonator. If you adjust the rate of spin by adjusting the value of the magnetic field correctly, you can get a very powerful electromagnetic interaction, which will drive the resonator into oscillation and give you a very high-powered output. We worked out the theory and it seemed to be quite attractive. We got going very slowly because we had to build everything up. We got going on a demonstration of it, and rather to our surprise it worked.  
+
<p>The gyrotron is now the principal source of really high frequency power, and it's largely used in priming the discharge of big tocmacs, like Jet, and things like that, and the Princeton and Cornell ones. You can generate hundreds of kilowatts with very reasonable efficiencies with a gyrotron, which involves pushing a spinning electron beam through an open resonator. If you adjust the rate of spin by adjusting the value of the magnetic field correctly, you can get a very powerful electromagnetic interaction, which will drive the resonator into oscillation and give you a very high-powered output. We worked out the theory and it seemed to be quite attractive. We got going very slowly because we had to build everything up. We got going on a demonstration of it, and rather to our surprise it worked. </p>
  
But we made a silly blunder in our theory. We didn't allow for the effects of relativistic slowing down. We were using quite low voltages. Normally, with voltages below about 100 kV, you don't bother about relativity in ordinary klystrons, or anything like that, so we didn't bother about it. But it so happens that in the cyclotron resonance relativistic effects become important at much lower total energies. Well, funnily enough, this just puts a minus sign in the theory, so the interaction takes place at a slightly different magnetic field from the cyclotron resonance one. Otherwise it's almost identical, so that although the structure we invented worked perfectly well, or worked not too badly, our theory was later sneered at by Russians who came along and developed a proper relativistic theory. Although we invented the thing, they were the people who gave the first really correct theory. A number of my students did Ph.D.s on that. We ended up our work with a version working at about two mm.  
+
<p>But we made a silly blunder in our theory. We didn't allow for the effects of relativistic slowing down. We were using quite low voltages. Normally, with voltages below about 100 kV, you don't bother about relativity in ordinary klystrons, or anything like that, so we didn't bother about it. But it so happens that in the cyclotron resonance relativistic effects become important at much lower total energies. Well, funnily enough, this just puts a minus sign in the theory, so the interaction takes place at a slightly different magnetic field from the cyclotron resonance one. Otherwise it's almost identical, so that although the structure we invented worked perfectly well, or worked not too badly, our theory was later sneered at by Russians who came along and developed a proper relativistic theory. Although we invented the thing, they were the people who gave the first really correct theory. A number of my students did Ph.D.s on that. We ended up our work with a version working at about two mm. </p>
  
At that time there was an interest in long haul wave guide and it seemed that there would be an outlet for good tubes. The existing tubes for that sort of thing were pretty poor, although Bell did demonstrate a system working very well, it was obviously something that needed a shove. That was what started it off, but later on we were approached by people talking about the Tokamak problem, and injecting lots of power, and so we gradually worked over to that. We were held up always by, as you said, lack of facilities, but we did quite a lot of work. This is a book edited by a second generation Ph.D. student of mine that has just come out. Actually it came out about Christmastime.  
+
<p>At that time there was an interest in long haul wave guide and it seemed that there would be an outlet for good tubes. The existing tubes for that sort of thing were pretty poor, although Bell did demonstrate a system working very well, it was obviously something that needed a shove. That was what started it off, but later on we were approached by people talking about the Tokamak problem, and injecting lots of power, and so we gradually worked over to that. We were held up always by, as you said, lack of facilities, but we did quite a lot of work. This is a book edited by a second generation Ph.D. student of mine that has just come out. Actually it came out about Christmastime. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
Just to get it on tape, it's C.J. Edgecomb's ''Gyrotron Oscillators''.  
+
<p>Just to get it on tape, it's C.J. Edgecomb's ''Gyrotron Oscillators''. </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
That's right. That is a pretty complete story of where gyrotrons are now...  
+
<p>That's right. That is a pretty complete story of where gyrotrons are now... </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
And it looks like it has at least some introductory material about the origins of it.  
+
<p>And it looks like it has at least some introductory material about the origins of it. </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
Well, not much, actually. It's really a compendium of papers about how the things are standing, and what developments are being made.  
+
<p>Well, not much, actually. It's really a compendium of papers about how the things are standing, and what developments are being made. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
Okay.  
+
<p>Okay. </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
Mayo and I had the following students working on that... Mayo first. He built the first operational gyrotron. Edgecomb contributed a lot to the details of theory. Then Mills built the first really effective millimeter wave gyrotron, and then finally Nichols built the two millimeter one. Edgecomb then came back and worked on the high-powered one, so we did quite a lot of work, one way and another. All the while I directed many Ph.D.s onto cathodes and thermionic emissions in general. Just to complete the personal details, after about eighteen months I was promoted from lecturer to reader, and then in 1966 I was made a professor. We were granted some new chairs and I was given one of them, and then finally I reached the age of sixty-seven and I retired. Just to conclude, I'll say that the situation in science in Cambridge now is that when you retire, very few people continue to do any experimental work. The pressure on space and facilities is such so that when you retire you've really had it from the point of view of an experimenter, and I regard myself as ninety percent an experimenter. So it seemed wiser to get out, not to try to cling around the place, so that's what I've done. What I've been doing since then is amusing myself, and I've been studying times series forecasting, for the simple reason that I'd like to make some money. But I've decided that times series forecasting of economic times theory is a mug's game. So, there we are.  
+
<p>[[John S. Mayo|Mayo]] and I had the following students working on that... Mayo first. He built the first operational gyrotron. Edgecomb contributed a lot to the details of theory. Then Mills built the first really effective millimeter wave gyrotron, and then finally Nichols built the two millimeter one. Edgecomb then came back and worked on the high-powered one, so we did quite a lot of work, one way and another. All the while I directed many Ph.D.s onto cathodes and thermionic emissions in general. Just to complete the personal details, after about eighteen months I was promoted from lecturer to reader, and then in 1966 I was made a professor. We were granted some new chairs and I was given one of them, and then finally I reached the age of sixty-seven and I retired. Just to conclude, I'll say that the situation in science in Cambridge now is that when you retire, very few people continue to do any experimental work. The pressure on space and facilities is such so that when you retire you've really had it from the point of view of an experimenter, and I regard myself as ninety percent an experimenter. So it seemed wiser to get out, not to try to cling around the place, so that's what I've done. What I've been doing since then is amusing myself, and I've been studying times series forecasting, for the simple reason that I'd like to make some money. But I've decided that times series forecasting of economic times theory is a mug's game. So, there we are. </p>
  
 
=== Electrical Engineering at Cambridge  ===
 
=== Electrical Engineering at Cambridge  ===
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
Can you tell me more generally about what went on in electronics at Cambridge?  
+
<p>Can you tell me more generally about what went on in electronics at Cambridge? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
Could you be a bit more specific?  
+
<p>Could you be a bit more specific? </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
I'm not sure that I could... I don't know very much about the contributions that went on here, generally in electrical engineering and particularly in electronics. I know something about the computing that went on.  
+
<p>I'm not sure that I could... I don't know very much about the contributions that went on here, generally in electrical engineering and particularly in electronics. I know something about the computing that went on. </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
Well, in electrical engineering, Oatley had large numbers of students who worked on scanning electron microscopy, and they were very successful. They made a great contribution to scanning electron microscopy. That's all been extensively written up and so on. I'm bit hesitant about this, because it sounds slightly like sour grapes... There was this tendency that if you weren't interested in scanning microscopy you were a little outside the mainstream. When Oatley retired, I took over the headship of the electrical division. I tried very hard to broaden our range of interests, not only keeping my own work going, because that wasn't the point, but also trying to recruit people who were interested in other things. Interested in more than the mainstream. For instance, we had very little interest in things like pulse circuit theory and digital electronics, and so on. That was at a very low ebb, and I tried to recruit people on that side. We recruited from industry. Peter Brandon, from the Marconi company, who was really interested in this sort of thing. He started a group really working on problems of speech compression and things like that. I think that has done rather well. I think they've got quite a good publication record. You'd find that the main name there, I think is Peter Rainer. So that worked.  
+
<p>Well, in electrical engineering, Oatley had large numbers of students who worked on scanning electron microscopy, and they were very successful. They made a great contribution to scanning electron microscopy. That's all been extensively written up and so on. I'm bit hesitant about this, because it sounds slightly like sour grapes... There was this tendency that if you weren't interested in scanning microscopy you were a little outside the mainstream. When Oatley retired, I took over the headship of the electrical division. I tried very hard to broaden our range of interests, not only keeping my own work going, because that wasn't the point, but also trying to recruit people who were interested in other things. Interested in more than the mainstream. For instance, we had very little interest in things like pulse circuit theory and digital electronics, and so on. That was at a very low ebb, and I tried to recruit people on that side. We recruited from industry. Peter Brandon, from the Marconi company, who was really interested in this sort of thing. He started a group really working on problems of speech compression and things like that. I think that has done rather well. I think they've got quite a good publication record. You'd find that the main name there, I think is Peter Rainer. So that worked. </p>
  
I also made contact with the Electricity Council, and I got them to pay for a lecturer in electrical energy. There hadn't been any interest at all in the economics of the electrical supply industry or anything like that. We got this work underway. The first man appointed was very able and pushed it very well. Subsequent appointments perhaps haven't been quite so rigorous... anyway, I got that off the ground. We also got in contact with the Post office, and got them to appoint a lecturer in the sort of problems they were encountering... so we tried to spread it out. We started research on things like the applications of superconductivity in electrical machinery, which haven't born any vast fruit, but at least have broadened the general outlook a bit. You see, we have various constraints. There's a large group in the Cavendish working on high temperature superconductors, very high-powered physics, but they're not very interested in applications, and they aren't at all interested in problems of fabrication or anything like that. But they do loom a bit, and of course the control business is separated from electrical engineering to a large extent.  
+
<p>I also made contact with the Electricity Council, and I got them to pay for a lecturer in electrical energy. There hadn't been any interest at all in the economics of the electrical supply industry or anything like that. We got this work underway. The first man appointed was very able and pushed it very well. Subsequent appointments perhaps haven't been quite so rigorous... anyway, I got that off the ground. We also got in contact with the Post office, and got them to appoint a lecturer in the sort of problems they were encountering... so we tried to spread it out. We started research on things like the applications of superconductivity in electrical machinery, which haven't born any vast fruit, but at least have broadened the general outlook a bit. You see, we have various constraints. There's a large group in the Cavendish working on high temperature superconductors, very high-powered physics, but they're not very interested in applications, and they aren't at all interested in problems of fabrication or anything like that. But they do loom a bit, and of course the control business is separated from electrical engineering to a large extent. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
Is that the [[John Coales Oral History|Coales]]?  
+
<p>Is that the [[Oral-History:John Coales|Coales]]? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
Yes, in the past... Frank Fallside, who's just died very unfortunately, in the more recent past, and MacFarlann was here for a short time. I don't know much about them, not my field at all. They were always a separate group. If I'm honest with you, I'll say that the Cambridge electrical department has never taken what to me would be the sensible move of breaking electrical engineering off from all other sorts of engineering. The undergraduate course is still meant to be generalized, and this seems to me absolutely hopeless in the late twentieth century. It's very difficult to argue against, because there's an enormous alumnus pressure not to. They're always saying the thing about Cambridge engineers is that they can do anything, which of course is complete nonsense; they can't. The general weight has always been that civil engineering is the queen of the profession and electrical engineering is a rather nasty intangible thing that you can't possibly understand and that gives you nasty shocks if you're careless. It really is very very slow, the change. It is evolving, but it's terribly slow. You batter your head against that wall and try to get a course changed. It means that every time you try to change a few lectures in the engineering undergraduate course there's a frightful row with the whole staff shouting you down, and that sort of thing. It's not a comfortable position to be in unless you accept the theory that general engineers are the only engineers.  
+
<p>Yes, in the past... Frank Fallside, who's just died very unfortunately, in the more recent past, and MacFarlann was here for a short time. I don't know much about them, not my field at all. They were always a separate group. If I'm honest with you, I'll say that the Cambridge electrical department has never taken what to me would be the sensible move of breaking electrical engineering off from all other sorts of engineering. The undergraduate course is still meant to be generalized, and this seems to me absolutely hopeless in the late twentieth century. It's very difficult to argue against, because there's an enormous alumnus pressure not to. They're always saying the thing about Cambridge engineers is that they can do anything, which of course is complete nonsense; they can't. The general weight has always been that civil engineering is the queen of the profession and electrical engineering is a rather nasty intangible thing that you can't possibly understand and that gives you nasty shocks if you're careless. It really is very very slow, the change. It is evolving, but it's terribly slow. You batter your head against that wall and try to get a course changed. It means that every time you try to change a few lectures in the engineering undergraduate course there's a frightful row with the whole staff shouting you down, and that sort of thing. It's not a comfortable position to be in unless you accept the theory that general engineers are the only engineers. </p>
  
 
=== Other Important Research Centers  ===
 
=== Other Important Research Centers  ===
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
Where are the other good research centers in your own research area, not only in the UK but around the world?  
+
<p>Where are the other good research centers in your own research area, not only in the UK but around the world? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
They're largely detailed here. Let's just say that at the end of my career my two major interests were thermionic cathodes and these things. With these things, you find there's a great activity in Russia, they've made enormous contributions both theoretical and practical. In consequence of their own development of the Tokamak for nuclear fusion. I have the highest regard for their theoretical work; I think they're very good indeed. Then, there's a big group in Germany connected with the German atomic energy commission; a big group in France connected with the French outfits. And of course Cornell, in the States, and I think Hughes has probably done the most work on actually making tubes, although I don't think they've quite honestly made much contribution to the understanding of these things. A great deal of work in this sort of field is mostly centered around the big Tokamaks, Jet and the Princeton one and so on. You have to go down to very short wavelengths to get sufficient collision heating in these machines to be of any use to you. If there is ever a real breakthrough in fusion generation, and I believe there will be, it will require sources of very, very short wave radiation, very high power. The knowledge that's being acquired now is very valuable.  
+
<p>They're largely detailed here. Let's just say that at the end of my career my two major interests were thermionic cathodes and these things. With these things, you find there's a great activity in Russia, they've made enormous contributions both theoretical and practical. In consequence of their own development of the Tokamak for nuclear fusion. I have the highest regard for their theoretical work; I think they're very good indeed. Then, there's a big group in Germany connected with the German atomic energy commission; a big group in France connected with the French outfits. And of course Cornell, in the States, and I think Hughes has probably done the most work on actually making tubes, although I don't think they've quite honestly made much contribution to the understanding of these things. A great deal of work in this sort of field is mostly centered around the big Tokamaks, Jet and the Princeton one and so on. You have to go down to very short wavelengths to get sufficient collision heating in these machines to be of any use to you. If there is ever a real breakthrough in fusion generation, and I believe there will be, it will require sources of very, very short wave radiation, very high power. The knowledge that's being acquired now is very valuable. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
Have you been actively involved in professional organizations and activities?  
+
<p>Have you been actively involved in professional organizations and activities? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
Not really. I've been for many, many years a member of the IEEE, since before I went up to University College London, as a young man. I'm a member of sorts, I don't know exactly what, of the IEE, but if I'm blunt it's an organization I don't regard with much interest. I've served on some of their panels. I've served quite a lot on organizing conferences on radar and generation, that sort of thing, but I'm not a great lover of committees, and things like that. I would rather be fiddling round somewhere.  
+
<p>Not really. I've been for many, many years a member of the [[IEEE History|IEEE]], since before I went up to University College London, as a young man. I'm a member of sorts, I don't know exactly what, of the IEE, but if I'm blunt it's an organization I don't regard with much interest. I've served on some of their panels. I've served quite a lot on organizing conferences on radar and generation, that sort of thing, but I'm not a great lover of committees, and things like that. I would rather be fiddling round somewhere. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
A couple of my colleagues at my research center are writing about the history of electronics. If you had to choose just a few centers of research for them to concentrate on, where would you say are the really strong places?  
+
<p>A couple of my colleagues at my research center are writing about the history of electronics. If you had to choose just a few centers of research for them to concentrate on, where would you say are the really strong places? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
It's a very difficult question, but one place that's certainly contributed a great deal to modern electrotechnology is the EMI research labs at Hayes. Their contribution to early television and so on was really outstanding and remarkable.  
+
<p>It's a very difficult question, but one place that's certainly contributed a great deal to modern electrotechnology is the EMI research labs at Hayes. Their contribution to early television and so on was really outstanding and remarkable. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
The field is still large and diverse.  
+
<p>The field is still large and diverse. </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
Well, it's what your interests are, really. I suppose the Phillips Labs at Einholf, have made a very solid contribution over the years, but you'd find it rather difficult to put your finger on anything spectacular. They didn't make a great contribution in the early days of television or anything like that. But of course they've done very solid work on rather humdrum improvements in productivity and quality and so on; I'm probably not being very fair. I spent a year working in CSF in Paris and I wouldn't say that I regarded them too highly as a contributor. It's a nice place and all the rest of it, but they didn't do too much. The people I admire, personally, of course, were at Bell. I don't know much about the present Bell Labs, but the old Bell Labs I think are absolutely tops... I know that's not very original, but I do think they've made an enormous contribution to many, many things. For a commercial organization I think they have to be admired for openness. They were actually publishing what they were doing and thinking. I don't regard the old RCA very highly. I started off being interested in what the English call wireless, and I've really lived through a complete change in everything. It's very difficult; you know, your first impressions tend to linger... I don't really know.  
+
<p>Well, it's what your interests are, really. I suppose the Phillips Labs at Einholf, have made a very solid contribution over the years, but you'd find it rather difficult to put your finger on anything spectacular. They didn't make a great contribution in the early days of television or anything like that. But of course they've done very solid work on rather humdrum improvements in productivity and quality and so on; I'm probably not being very fair. I spent a year working in CSF in Paris and I wouldn't say that I regarded them too highly as a contributor. It's a nice place and all the rest of it, but they didn't do too much. The people I admire, personally, of course, were at Bell. I don't know much about the present Bell Labs, but the old Bell Labs I think are absolutely tops... I know that's not very original, but I do think they've made an enormous contribution to many, many things. For a commercial organization I think they have to be admired for openness. They were actually publishing what they were doing and thinking. I don't regard the old RCA very highly. I started off being interested in what the English call wireless, and I've really lived through a complete change in everything. It's very difficult; you know, your first impressions tend to linger... I don't really know. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
Are there other things you'd like to talk about?  
+
<p>Are there other things you'd like to talk about? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
I don't know. I'd rather you asked questions.  
+
<p>I don't know. I'd rather you asked questions. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
Well, I've got the main material I wanted to get; I just wanted to give you an opportunity if there was something more you wanted to say.  
+
<p>Well, I've got the main material I wanted to get; I just wanted to give you an opportunity if there was something more you wanted to say. </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
I don't know what I want to say! My principal impression is the way that electrotechnology has changed over my active life, the enormous increase in the conceptual complexity, and the sort of things that people are dealing with... I mean when you think how simple life appeared in, say, the late '30s, and how difficult it appears to be now, that's very significant. I don't know what I really feel about engineering education and things like that; I don't know that it really matters. I'm rather old-fashioned, I suppose, I think bright young men will find their way through the jungle somehow or other, and maybe that's all right. I don't much fancy spending too much time on computers and things like that. I rather regret going into the engineering lab and finding people all over the place sitting by computer terminals and doing very little experimental work. I do think that experiment are rather necessary sometimes, and I think the young can very easily be persuaded to sit and play and not to hammer bits of aluminium and things like that. That is perhaps not a very intellectual way of putting it, but you probably know what I mean. I used to enjoy very much the actual techniques of the construction and operation of vacuum tubes; I used to enjoy the actual business of pumping valves, and activating cathodes and trying to get them to run, and fooling around with liquid air, getting big bangs occasionally, one thing and another. I like experiments.  
+
<p>I don't know what I want to say! My principal impression is the way that electrotechnology has changed over my active life, the enormous increase in the conceptual complexity, and the sort of things that people are dealing with... I mean when you think how simple life appeared in, say, the late '30s, and how difficult it appears to be now, that's very significant. I don't know what I really feel about engineering education and things like that; I don't know that it really matters. I'm rather old-fashioned, I suppose, I think bright young men will find their way through the jungle somehow or other, and maybe that's all right. I don't much fancy spending too much time on computers and things like that. I rather regret going into the engineering lab and finding people all over the place sitting by computer terminals and doing very little experimental work. I do think that experiment are rather necessary sometimes, and I think the young can very easily be persuaded to sit and play and not to hammer bits of aluminium and things like that. That is perhaps not a very intellectual way of putting it, but you probably know what I mean. I used to enjoy very much the actual techniques of the construction and operation of vacuum tubes; I used to enjoy the actual business of pumping valves, and activating cathodes and trying to get them to run, and fooling around with liquid air, getting big bangs occasionally, one thing and another. I like experiments. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
Why don't we just end at this point?  
+
<p>Why don't we just end at this point? </p>
  
'''Beck:'''  
+
<p>'''Beck:''' </p>
  
Okay. That's very nice.  
+
<p>Okay. That's very nice. </p>
  
'''Aspray:'''  
+
<p>'''Aspray:''' </p>
  
Thank you.  
+
<p>Thank you. </p>
  
[[Category:People_and_organizations]] [[Category:Engineers]] [[Category:Inventors]] [[Category:Universities]] [[Category:Research_and_development_labs]] [[Category:Culture_and_society]] [[Category:Defense_&_security|Category:Defense_&amp;_security]] [[Category:World_War_II]] [[Category:Education]] [[Category:Educational_institutions]] [[Category:Engineering_profession]] [[Category:Engineering_education]] [[Category:Communications]] [[Category:Broadcasting]] [[Category:Radio_broadcasting]] [[Category:TV_broadcasting]] [[Category:Communication_systems]] [[Category:Microwave_communication]] [[Category:Radio_frequency]] [[Category:Power,_energy_&_industry_application|Category:Power,_energy_&amp;_industry_application]] [[Category:Consumer_electronics]] [[Category:IEEE]] [[Category:Telephony]]
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[[Category:People and organizations|Beck]] [[Category:Engineers|Beck]] [[Category:Inventors|Beck]] [[Category:Universities|Beck]] [[Category:Research and development labs|Beck]] [[Category:Culture and society|Beck]] [[Category:Defense & security|Beck]] [[Category:World War II|Beck]] [[Category:Education|Beck]] [[Category:Educational institutions|Beck]] [[Category:Engineering profession|Beck]] [[Category:Engineering education|Beck]] [[Category:Communications|Beck]] [[Category:Broadcasting|Beck]] [[Category:Radio broadcasting|Beck]] [[Category:TV broadcasting|Beck]] [[Category:Communication systems|Beck]] [[Category:Microwave communication|Beck]] [[Category:Radio frequency|Beck]] [[Category:Power, energy & industry application|Beck]] [[Category:Consumer electronics|Beck]] [[Category:IEEE|Beck]] [[Category:Telephony|Beck]] [[Category:News|Beck]]

Revision as of 17:22, 26 March 2012

Contents

About Arnold Beck

Arnold Beck is a telecommunications engineer who was a research engineer at Hughes and STC and then taught electrical engineering at Cambridge University until his retirement. He received his degree from University College in London, and then went to work at Henry Hughes and Sons where he worked on various electronics projects and early klystron research. During World War II, he joined the naval scientific service and worked at the H.H. Wills physics lab. After the war, he worked briefly at Hughes on various radar and high frequency projects; after several years, he went to STC to develop valves for the first high frequency communications links. Eventually he went to work at the engineering laboratory at Cambridge and became a professor of electrical engineering at Cambridge, focusing on electromagnetic theory and high frequency theory. He is currently retired.

The interview begins with Beck's early schooling in Cambridge and his education at University College in London. After describing the University's specialized program in telecommunications engineering, Beck discusses his work at Henry Hughes and Sons after his graduation and his work for the naval scientific service on reflex klystrons during the war. He mentions the powerful influence Slater's electromagnetic theory had on wartime research in the U.K. He discusses information exchange within the U.K. during the war and then with the U.S., mentioning his visit to the U.S. to look at countermeasures developments there. He describes his dissatisfaction with Hughes and his move to Standard Telephones around 1947 to work on the first high frequency communications links. He outlines the circumstances that led to his taking a lectureship in Cambridge's engineering department, and discusses his experiences in Cambridge's engineering program and research he and his Ph.D. students did on gyrotron development. He briefly outlines which research centers he thinks are particularly outstanding in his field, and mentions his memberships in IEEE and IEE. The interview concludes with Beck's comments on the increasing complexity of electrotechnology over his lifetime, and the effect that this has had on experimentation; he asserts that he has always enjoyed the hands-on work involved in experimentation.

About the Interview

ARNOLD BECK: An Interview Conducted by William Aspray, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, March 24, 1994

Interview #195 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Arnold Back, an oral history conducted in 1994 by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEW: Arnold Beck

INTERVIEWER: William Aspray

DATE: March 24th 1994

PLACE: Unknown

Background and Education

Aspray:

Could you begin by telling me when you were born and what your parents did?

Beck:

I was born in a little village just outside Norwich, on August 7, 1916. My father was an officer in the regular army, and my mother had been various things. She was really a farmer's daughter, and she had nursed in Canada. She was my father's second wife; I had two older half-brothers. I was born in the middle of the war. My father was then serving in various places in England and later in Ireland during the troubles. As I've said, he was a regular officer and this was rather late in his life. When my father finally left the army he got a fairly senior job with the city council in Norwich. His job actually was what they call clerk of the market, which in Norwich at that time was rather a senior job because it was a great market. They had very large cattle markets, and vegetable, and fruit markets and so on... it was a full-time job. It also involved running a smallish farm. You know, Norwich farms tend to be very big. This was about 140 acres, which was fairly small. Anyway I was brought up just outside Norwich and went to a preparatory school there. When I was about thirteen I got a scholarship to Gresham School Holt, which was a school run by one of the old city companies, actually the Fishmongers Company. I went there and spent five moderately happy years there. It may be of slight interest to say that other pupils there were Auden and Benjamin Britten, the well- known composer, and — just to mention an important figure in Cambridge — Alan Hodgkin, who became FRS and a Nobel Prize winner. It was a school with a very firm scientific tradition, which was not all that common in those days. We had good laboratories, separate labs for biology and chemistry and that sort of thing. We were very well taught. I did all the usual things that we did in those days, took the school certificate exam and then I got a leaving scholarship and I went to University College, London.

Aspray:

How did you choose to go there?

Beck:

For a reason which will appeal to you. At that time it was one of the few higher educational establishments which had a specialized course in telecommunication engineering, and I very much wanted to do that. I was extremely interested in wireless, as we called it in those days, and I used to spend a terrific amount of time making radio sets and that sort of thing, so that appealed to me very much. Another big reason was that after five years of boarding in a public school, I was fed up to the teeth with communal living. I don't think I could have stood three more years in College here at that time. In 1932-33, the colleges were still doing this awful thing of making the undergraduates come in at ten o'clock at night, and you had to wear gowns all the time — all sorts of stupid restrictions. From my point of view, the worst thing about Cambridge was that you had to take a terrible examination called Littlego, which involved Latin — and I was absolutely of no use at Latin; I'd done German all the while I was at school. I did try a sort of crash course in Latin; it was obviously a no go. Anyway, I did in fact go to UCL and I was very, very happy there. It was a lovely place to be for somebody like myself who had spent his life in the country. London in those days was a very nice city to live in and the college was a very jolly place. Just to give you an idea of the sort of difference: it had one enormous advantage from the point of view of young men. It had what was... still is... the Slade School of Modern Art, and there were a very large number of most attractive young women in the Slade School who wouldn't have been found in most places! The general atmosphere was very free and easy. I don't know if you know this, but UCL was founded as a counterblast to religious schools, and it had this great tradition of free thought. The founding fathers like Jeremy Bentham were still very much revered, so it was a very nice place to be, and a very nice part of London, too, to live and work in. So I enjoyed that very much, and I got a first class degree at the end of my time there.

Aspray:

What was the course of study like?

Beck:

It was a telecommunications course. We did conventional electrical engineering as well. In the middle of my time there we got a new professor, R.O. Kapp, who was really interested in power engineering and economics, but the person I worked closely with in my last phase there was H. Monteagel Barlow, of whom you may have heard. He contributed largely to hollow waveguides and things like that just after the war. He was very lively and then quite a young man, and he influenced me a lot. When I went up to UCL I'd already taken the first year engineering exam at London University, which you were allowed to do externally if you were suitably qualified, so I spent only two years over my degree. Then I stayed on and did a third year of fairly poor research. I undertook a problem on secondary electron emission, which was far beyond the capacity of the lab to cope with. It involved vacua and things like that, about which they didn't really know anything. They should never have let me do it, but it was also my fault; I was always headstrong. Anyway, I rather mucked that up, and at the end of that time I had to think about earning my living, because my family couldn't support me, or anything like that. I took a job with a well-known firm of navigational instrument makers, Henry Hughes and Sons.

Henry Hughes & Sons

Aspray:

Was it difficult to get a job? This was still the Depression.

Beck:

Well, no, it wasn't difficult for young engineers. You see, we were just starting to rearm, and particularly in things like navigational instruments, people were beginning to get worried about radar and better direction finding systems, and it wasn't too difficult for people like myself. Unemployment, of course, was terrible, but not for young engineers. On the other hand, pay was pretty low, but also the cost of living was pretty low. An engineer with a first-class degree would get two or three hundred pounds a year and that sort of thing. I started with Hughes, who had made their reputation really by making supersonic echo sounders, which worked on magnetostriction. They sent out a pulse of about thirty kcs, received it and amplified it, and so on, and this was quite a big navigational thing. They were then finding their way into more sonar-like things, and when I went there I first started working just on the electronics, improving their amplifiers and things like that.

The managing director was a very big character called Arthur Hughes, who was extremely irascible. He rather took to me and pushed me into thinking about radar. It was just about this time that William Hansen published the paper on klystrons. Hughes was farsighted enough to allow me to build up a little vacuum lab, and try to duplicate that work, which I did. We made a sort of [concrete] klystron, which gave out enough power to light a little flashlight bulb. At any rate, that was all very interesting, and then of course the war came. Everyone had known for years that the war was coming. There was no doubt about that; anybody with half a brain knew. The sort of thing that gets written now just makes me angry. The whole of my generation of young people knew they were going to have to fight the Germans, no doubt about that, and when the war came, we all spent most of our lives just working. We went to a seven-day week, and we used to work nights. Then of course things got much worse after the fall of France, because we not only had to work nights, but we also had to form home guard units, or LDV units, and guard the factory. People like myself who had been in the OTC at school walked round with Lewis guns, looking like absolute idiots. I don't know what we would have done, had the Germans come. The next thing that happened was that there were very, very hair-raising air raids. This factory I worked in was on the outskirts of London, in Ilford, or Barkinside to be exact.

World War II and Bristol University

Aspray:

This was still for the same company, during the war?

Beck:

Yes. Then I was sent for to go and interview a chap in the admiralty called Brundreth, who was recruiting people for the naval scientific service and so on. They signed me up, and I was dispatched to Bristol. It must have been just after Christmas, 1941, and they'd had a hell of an air raid the night before. Temple Mead Station, which was the main Bristol station, was in the middle of a sea of flames, and that was all very splendid, a good introduction to a new life. I found myself in an admiralty outstation in the Royal Fort, which was the physics lab of Bristol University, called the H.H. Wills physics lab, where at that time Mott was the professor of physics, in charge of the place. We established in one of their big labs the group that built the early reflex klystrons, and we really perfected the technique of doing copper to glass seals, and that simple construction where you built the resonator through a big glass envelope. We also produced large numbers of these tubes and then transferred the design over to GEC and EMI. GEC mucked it, EMI improved it, and that occupied us for quite a lot of the time, trying to find out all about making reflex klystrons.

I'd like to remind you that none of us really knew anything about electromagnetic theory. Electromagnetic theory in terms of Maxwell's equations and so on just wasn't taught to more than a handful of people, and we had to pick it up as we went along. Just as a historical note: Slater's wonderful "Electromagnetic Theory" reached this country just about then, and it was a complete revelation that you could calculate so many things, and do so much with it. That to me is one of the great books of this century. I don't think it's really ever been properly acknowledged, how important an influence it had on thinking in the early days. I don't really know what happened to Slater in the long run.

Aspray:

I don't know either.

Beck:

At any rate, it was one of the great influences on my thinking. I gradually got to know a great deal about the techniques of valve construction. We had to do it all ourselves; we had to set up things like all the messy business of spraying cathodes and making heaters, and pumping and activating these things... we had to do it very much by learning on the job. Bristol University had a very skilled glassblower called John Burrow, who made great contributions to all that. The head of the section was R.W. Sutton, who'd had some experience making ordinary gridded valves with Esso before the war. He had a knowledge of actual valve factory construction methods, and so on. On the whole, we were trying to evolve new techniques, and in particular we worked very hard on things like electron gun design and trying to improve the focusing and performance of the reflex klystrons. As the war went on we gradually branched out into doing different things. For instance, we made lots of rather high-powered klystron oscillators, which were used in various forms of navigation. There was a system which involved dropping a transponder. Aircraft could then converge on it, and that needed a ten centimeter valve which produced about twenty to thirty watts of power. We worked on oscillators to cover a very wide frequency range, and we worked on a lot of valves intended for countermeasures work. For that you needed quite a lot of CW power, quite a lot of watts rather than milliwatts, which had to be frequency modulated and so on and so forth, all the usual sort of stuff.

Aspray:

Was Bristol the only place where this kind of work was going on?

Beck:

Oh, by no means. There was a lot going on in admiralty establishments. The admiralty also supported a lot of people at Oxford, at the Clarendon Lab there. There was a very large and efficient group at EMI; there was another group at Standard Telephones and Cables who were very good mathematicians, but they chose to work on the Heil tube, which wasn't very effective really. They were a group of Cambridge mathematicians who'd been taken over by Standard Telephones before the war. They did a lot on the general theory. There was a bit of work done at BTH and Rugby. I don't want to be unfair to anybody; I'm trying to remember... the production was done by firms like Esso and Pye. As the technique got established it was transmitted. It had to be, because the number of devices needed was quite large, and it was a big industry by the end of the war.

Aspray:

How were the specifications set for the work you needed to do at Bristol? Were they set by some outside group?

Beck:

We would go first to TRE at Swanidge, and we would talk to the people who were actually developing radar sets. They would tell us what problems they were having and what they would like done. I remember very well going over there and being told by a chap called Skinner about the problems they were having with mixing devices, and coming back and trying to modify reflex klystrons by putting extra electrodes between the resonator and the reflectors to use that as a demodulator. That was the sort of thing that happened. There was a very close link between us and the people who were developing the actual radar sets. On the magnetron side, which we had nothing to do with, the same thing happened, the people who were making magnetrons were much influenced by the requirements of H2S and later H2X. There was very good liaison. I think it's fair to say that everybody exchanged information very freely and that there was a good relationship all around.

Later on we had the same sort of relationship with the Americans. We had many visitors from the MIT Radiation Lab, and not so much from the American commercial world, but plenty of their governmental organizations. They too made a big contribution to the general knowledge. It was a most exciting time. You were spurred on. While I was working at Bristol we had the windows of all our labs blown out about three times, and there was a large number of raids, and living was hard, but it was an exciting time. I was enthralled by what I was doing. I liked it very much and was learning a great deal. Everything was really rather new, if you look at it sensibly... at the beginning of the war pulse techniques were absolutely in their infancy, and people just didn't think in terms of pulsing things, everything really before the war had been CW, and of course that meant there was a revolution in general technology. If you think back, the sort of instruments you had were primitive in the extreme. You had a limited supply of old primitive oscilloscopes that worked up to about a megahertz, and we developed the power measuring instruments and things like that as we went along. It was a period of enormously rapid development.

Mission to U.S.

Beck:

I got more and more involved with countermeasures, and I was sent over to the States in very early '45 — to look at countermeasures developments there. I went to a large number of the big contractors like Raytheon, the Bell Labs, Westinghouse, and so on.

Aspray:

Also to RRL?

Beck:

Oh yes, that was very interesting indeed.

Aspray:

Was your purpose for this trip just to learn what was going on in the United States, or did you have a more specific reason?

Beck:

Specific things. Countermeasures was becoming very important before the invasion... I must have got that date completely wrong, because it was before the invasion that I went. The general program for out-foxing German radar was being developed very fast, so there was a great heat on countermeasures, and a lot of effort, which had been on straightforward radar, was diverted into that. I worked on lots of different things. I also worked on developing gas discharge, TR cells, and things like that for H2X. I met and developed a friendly relationship with John Pierce at the Bell Labs; I got on very well with him. I admired his work very much indeed — I think he's still alive, isn't he?

Aspray:

Yes. I corresponded with him not long ago.

Beck:

Well, he certainly is a great man. I don't know that he's ever received all the recognition he might have.

Aspray:

Fine, there's plenty of opportunity to remove them. Did you get to know Terman?

Beck:

No, I didn't. I was sort of trotted around the States by a young chap in the Office of Technical Development or something like that, whose name I now forget. He was a very pleasant chap, and I liked going round with him, but I was a bit lost in some respects. I think I did just say hello to Terman. I spent a lot of time at MIT and met a lot of nice people there, Rabbi and so on. The thing that impressed me about the States after what we'd been through was the enormous degree to which they had technical backup. We got along with a very small number of lab boys, and by God they were boys, young boys of sixteen or seventeen, who'd been shoved in to help. They hadn't much education and they had to learn on the job to do the things that needed doing around the lab, helping with the vacuum work and so on. They did it very well, but in MIT I was shocked to see teams of Ph.D.s doing the same sort of thing! That really did worry me a bit. I'm not being unkind. I can remember one specific thing. By the time all this happened they were trying frantically to develop 1.25 centimeter radar sets, which turned out actually to be a disaster. They were a group of I think five Ph.D.s who were adjusting the distance between the resonator and the reflector to try and find the optimum position. It was really very humble. It was not misguided work in any way; they were going to find an optimum probably, but it didn't seem worth the effort. Now, do you know the awful story of K-band radar?

Aspray:

The water absorption? I've heard about that.

Postwar: Standard Telephones

Beck:

That was a bad one. I came back to England, of course, and went on with the admiralty up until the war ended. Then I went back to my old job with Henry Hughes. I changed my job there completely. I took charge of a department to make for them a three centimeter marine radar. There was a specification agreed by all the manufacturers in the Ministry of Transport or somebody. At any rate, it was a government-agreed specification. The firm quite rightly thought there was a good market for something like this. We got this radar out pretty quickly, and we were actually the first company to produce a postwar three centimeter radar in England. We put it on the ship that ran from Newcastle to Bergen, called the Venus — a good name for that sort of ship! That was fun too; that worked quite well. Anyway I didn't really like this sort of work.

Aspray:

And why was that?

Beck:

Well, I wanted to get back to the research on the ultra high frequencies and things, really. That was what interested me, always.

Aspray:

Why had you chosen to go back to the company after the war was over?

Beck:

I didn't have much option, actually, I had been really on secondment to the admiralty. It was a terrible arrangement, one of which I won't go into the details of. All this meant that I got the worst of all possible financial worlds. I was meant to be paid by Hughes but they never kept my salary up commensurately with my status in the admiralty. It meant I was losing money. Anyway, when I went back I was able to negotiate quite a decent raise, at that time, so that was one reason. Anyhow, I didn't really have much option. But after a fairly short time, about two years, I joined Standard Telephones, who were just establishing a new central research lab, and wanted a valve division there. The old one, which had been located in a place called Ilminster in Somerset, by then had all dropped apart. All the mathematicians had gone back to Cambridge, and Standard Telephones was very interested in developing valves for the first high frequency communications links. They got a contract for the first television link, which was from Manchester to a place just outside Edinburgh called Kirn O'Shots and that was to be a 4000 Mhz link. In about 1947-1948 that was a fairly visionary sort of thing. STC wanted the valves developed for that, and we started work on that at Enfield. We got that going eventually, and that was quite an interesting project.

Aspray:

What were the technical challenges there?

Beck:

The technical challenge was to exploit FM techniques in that frequency range. I'm a bit hazy now about the numbers, so forgive me if I think a bit... it was basically a 4000 Mhz link, and I think the FM-ing called for a frequency spread of about sixty Mhz, or something like that, and with existing tubes that was rather difficult to do. The early klystrons only FM-ed over about one Mhz or something like that, a very small percentage of the center frequency. Really the technical problem was getting the FM going and getting that right. The technical person who more or less supervised this thing was A.T. Starr. He was quite well known in this country. He wrote a very large number of books on telecommunications, and worked for STC for many years. The other thing we did in the long run was a complete flop, I'm sorry to say. We did a lot of work on gas counting tubes. We did a lot of work on a ten-stage counting tube, which flopped. The technical reason why it flopped was interesting, and I don't think it's ever been solved. It was this problem of the concentration of the impurity of gasses around the cathodes of the electrodes which weren't on... long term, that was really rather a failure. Lyons, then a very large catering firm, sponsored the use of these things in computers. To be blunt, it was a flop. Flops like that really came out after very long life testing. If you have a glow discharge on the electrode, it gradually stews any impurities around into the surrounding atmosphere, and it really is a bugger to get it going.

Aspray:

Why was STC chosen to do this valve development for Lyons?

Beck:

STC and Plessy, both telephone exchange companies, were naturally very interested in the all-electronic exchange, and it was thought for a long while that the gas tube would be the tool of the electronic exchange. STC was a very hardheaded business firm. If they could get work sponsored by somebody else they were very happy to do it. At that time they were really an American- managed firm, by a gentleman you may have heard of, Colonel Sostones Behn. Have you ever heard of him?

Aspray:

No.

Beck:

He was one of the great buccaneering figures in the American telecommunications industry.

Aspray:

I see.

Beck:

They were fairly hardheaded about that, and that was quite reasonable for a while... this was a good approach.

Aspray:

Why do you say that the Lyons' development was a failure?

Beck:

Mainly because it wasn't reliable enough. I don't want to make excuses, but when development things like that started, people didn't really appreciate the standards of reliability that were required. Down the road here at Edsac they didn't appreciate the troubles they'd get with the cathode failures on lots of their double diodes. They had to start off with what they had, and these things show up after a long time. You see, the experience with really long-life thermionic devices was mostly with valves in telephone repeaters, repeater amplifiers, and the specification for those valves was really very, very low, I mean they had very low mutual conductances and so on. They could tolerate deterioration of the cathodes a very great deal, but once they started using lots and lots of diodes and pulse amplifications, they wouldn't tolerate the cathode deterioration. That was all another long-term thing, of course, wiped out by transistors, which I never worked on.

Cambridge and the Gyrotron

Aspray:

I've taken you away from your main story. I'll let you get back to it.

Beck:

Anyhow, at STC we did a lot of work on these links, and we did a lot of work on gas tubes. We did a lot of work actually on the development of special types of thermionic cathodes, which interested me very much. That was all fine, but as these things happened, I got to a stage where two things upset me. We had to move from our lab on the outskirts of London to a new town in Harlow. I didn't want to do that because we had a very nice house in North London, which I didn't want to leave. Also I got to the point where it was quite clear that I was either going to have to manage a lot more things or else become a sort of backwater scientist. They started having these appointments where you got shoved up two floors into a comfortable office, and people were asked to consult you, and of course never did. Neither of these things appealed to me.

At just about that time I'd been working in conjunction with somebody in the Cambridge engineering lab on the design of the sealed-off vacuum tube for a cesium atomic clock. This was a project too that went down the drain eventually in favor of the later laser-type one, but for a while there was a lot of interest in producing a compact, sealed-off cesium atomic beam device that would act as an extremely accurate frequency standard. I was working with one of the lecturers here, a chap called Jim Yates, and a consultant on this project, which was funded by the RAF. Jim Yates got an enormous cancer and died, in about a fortnight. I wrote letters of condolence to various people and was rather surprised to get a letter back from Oakley, asking me if I'd like to apply for Yates' lectureship. That fit in rather well with my circumstances. We didn't want to move in London, but we didn't mind so much moving from London to Cambridge. My wife had lived here before the war and liked the town very much, and we knew a good deal about it. I applied for the lectureship, and surprise surprise, got it, so we came down here. My job at Enfield was taken over by Eric Ash, who's now the director of Imperial College.

Aspray:

He's just retired.

Beck:

Yes. We came down here, and I started working in the engineering lab, which I must say was hard to begin with, because I had an enormous amount of lecturing to do at the beginning.

Aspray:

What did you lecture in?

Beck:

[laughs] Practically everything! My important lectures were given to the final year students on electromagnetic theory and high frequency electronics. But I lectured other years on ordinary electron circuit theory and that sort of thing. In my first year we were very short handed, and I delivered eighty lectures, which was considered to be a heavy load. The other thing which I did find rather a shock, was going down from industrial backup in secretaries and typists and people to do the xeroxing, things like that, to the sort of support we had in the engineering labs, which was absolutely minute.

Aspray:

Was it also true of capital equipment?

Beck:

Capital equipment was a problem, but I'd expected that, so it wasn't a shock. I knew I'd had to build things up, but I was used to that. After all, I'd done it at least twice before. At that time I started off PhD students of my own, and I and a student named Mayo evolved the idea of the gyrotron.

Aspray:

I don't know about the gyrotron.

Beck:

The gyrotron is now the principal source of really high frequency power, and it's largely used in priming the discharge of big tocmacs, like Jet, and things like that, and the Princeton and Cornell ones. You can generate hundreds of kilowatts with very reasonable efficiencies with a gyrotron, which involves pushing a spinning electron beam through an open resonator. If you adjust the rate of spin by adjusting the value of the magnetic field correctly, you can get a very powerful electromagnetic interaction, which will drive the resonator into oscillation and give you a very high-powered output. We worked out the theory and it seemed to be quite attractive. We got going very slowly because we had to build everything up. We got going on a demonstration of it, and rather to our surprise it worked.

But we made a silly blunder in our theory. We didn't allow for the effects of relativistic slowing down. We were using quite low voltages. Normally, with voltages below about 100 kV, you don't bother about relativity in ordinary klystrons, or anything like that, so we didn't bother about it. But it so happens that in the cyclotron resonance relativistic effects become important at much lower total energies. Well, funnily enough, this just puts a minus sign in the theory, so the interaction takes place at a slightly different magnetic field from the cyclotron resonance one. Otherwise it's almost identical, so that although the structure we invented worked perfectly well, or worked not too badly, our theory was later sneered at by Russians who came along and developed a proper relativistic theory. Although we invented the thing, they were the people who gave the first really correct theory. A number of my students did Ph.D.s on that. We ended up our work with a version working at about two mm.

At that time there was an interest in long haul wave guide and it seemed that there would be an outlet for good tubes. The existing tubes for that sort of thing were pretty poor, although Bell did demonstrate a system working very well, it was obviously something that needed a shove. That was what started it off, but later on we were approached by people talking about the Tokamak problem, and injecting lots of power, and so we gradually worked over to that. We were held up always by, as you said, lack of facilities, but we did quite a lot of work. This is a book edited by a second generation Ph.D. student of mine that has just come out. Actually it came out about Christmastime.

Aspray:

Just to get it on tape, it's C.J. Edgecomb's Gyrotron Oscillators.

Beck:

That's right. That is a pretty complete story of where gyrotrons are now...

Aspray:

And it looks like it has at least some introductory material about the origins of it.

Beck:

Well, not much, actually. It's really a compendium of papers about how the things are standing, and what developments are being made.

Aspray:

Okay.

Beck:

Mayo and I had the following students working on that... Mayo first. He built the first operational gyrotron. Edgecomb contributed a lot to the details of theory. Then Mills built the first really effective millimeter wave gyrotron, and then finally Nichols built the two millimeter one. Edgecomb then came back and worked on the high-powered one, so we did quite a lot of work, one way and another. All the while I directed many Ph.D.s onto cathodes and thermionic emissions in general. Just to complete the personal details, after about eighteen months I was promoted from lecturer to reader, and then in 1966 I was made a professor. We were granted some new chairs and I was given one of them, and then finally I reached the age of sixty-seven and I retired. Just to conclude, I'll say that the situation in science in Cambridge now is that when you retire, very few people continue to do any experimental work. The pressure on space and facilities is such so that when you retire you've really had it from the point of view of an experimenter, and I regard myself as ninety percent an experimenter. So it seemed wiser to get out, not to try to cling around the place, so that's what I've done. What I've been doing since then is amusing myself, and I've been studying times series forecasting, for the simple reason that I'd like to make some money. But I've decided that times series forecasting of economic times theory is a mug's game. So, there we are.

Electrical Engineering at Cambridge

Aspray:

Can you tell me more generally about what went on in electronics at Cambridge?

Beck:

Could you be a bit more specific?

Aspray:

I'm not sure that I could... I don't know very much about the contributions that went on here, generally in electrical engineering and particularly in electronics. I know something about the computing that went on.

Beck:

Well, in electrical engineering, Oatley had large numbers of students who worked on scanning electron microscopy, and they were very successful. They made a great contribution to scanning electron microscopy. That's all been extensively written up and so on. I'm bit hesitant about this, because it sounds slightly like sour grapes... There was this tendency that if you weren't interested in scanning microscopy you were a little outside the mainstream. When Oatley retired, I took over the headship of the electrical division. I tried very hard to broaden our range of interests, not only keeping my own work going, because that wasn't the point, but also trying to recruit people who were interested in other things. Interested in more than the mainstream. For instance, we had very little interest in things like pulse circuit theory and digital electronics, and so on. That was at a very low ebb, and I tried to recruit people on that side. We recruited from industry. Peter Brandon, from the Marconi company, who was really interested in this sort of thing. He started a group really working on problems of speech compression and things like that. I think that has done rather well. I think they've got quite a good publication record. You'd find that the main name there, I think is Peter Rainer. So that worked.

I also made contact with the Electricity Council, and I got them to pay for a lecturer in electrical energy. There hadn't been any interest at all in the economics of the electrical supply industry or anything like that. We got this work underway. The first man appointed was very able and pushed it very well. Subsequent appointments perhaps haven't been quite so rigorous... anyway, I got that off the ground. We also got in contact with the Post office, and got them to appoint a lecturer in the sort of problems they were encountering... so we tried to spread it out. We started research on things like the applications of superconductivity in electrical machinery, which haven't born any vast fruit, but at least have broadened the general outlook a bit. You see, we have various constraints. There's a large group in the Cavendish working on high temperature superconductors, very high-powered physics, but they're not very interested in applications, and they aren't at all interested in problems of fabrication or anything like that. But they do loom a bit, and of course the control business is separated from electrical engineering to a large extent.

Aspray:

Is that the Coales?

Beck:

Yes, in the past... Frank Fallside, who's just died very unfortunately, in the more recent past, and MacFarlann was here for a short time. I don't know much about them, not my field at all. They were always a separate group. If I'm honest with you, I'll say that the Cambridge electrical department has never taken what to me would be the sensible move of breaking electrical engineering off from all other sorts of engineering. The undergraduate course is still meant to be generalized, and this seems to me absolutely hopeless in the late twentieth century. It's very difficult to argue against, because there's an enormous alumnus pressure not to. They're always saying the thing about Cambridge engineers is that they can do anything, which of course is complete nonsense; they can't. The general weight has always been that civil engineering is the queen of the profession and electrical engineering is a rather nasty intangible thing that you can't possibly understand and that gives you nasty shocks if you're careless. It really is very very slow, the change. It is evolving, but it's terribly slow. You batter your head against that wall and try to get a course changed. It means that every time you try to change a few lectures in the engineering undergraduate course there's a frightful row with the whole staff shouting you down, and that sort of thing. It's not a comfortable position to be in unless you accept the theory that general engineers are the only engineers.

Other Important Research Centers

Aspray:

Where are the other good research centers in your own research area, not only in the UK but around the world?

Beck:

They're largely detailed here. Let's just say that at the end of my career my two major interests were thermionic cathodes and these things. With these things, you find there's a great activity in Russia, they've made enormous contributions both theoretical and practical. In consequence of their own development of the Tokamak for nuclear fusion. I have the highest regard for their theoretical work; I think they're very good indeed. Then, there's a big group in Germany connected with the German atomic energy commission; a big group in France connected with the French outfits. And of course Cornell, in the States, and I think Hughes has probably done the most work on actually making tubes, although I don't think they've quite honestly made much contribution to the understanding of these things. A great deal of work in this sort of field is mostly centered around the big Tokamaks, Jet and the Princeton one and so on. You have to go down to very short wavelengths to get sufficient collision heating in these machines to be of any use to you. If there is ever a real breakthrough in fusion generation, and I believe there will be, it will require sources of very, very short wave radiation, very high power. The knowledge that's being acquired now is very valuable.

Aspray:

Have you been actively involved in professional organizations and activities?

Beck:

Not really. I've been for many, many years a member of the IEEE, since before I went up to University College London, as a young man. I'm a member of sorts, I don't know exactly what, of the IEE, but if I'm blunt it's an organization I don't regard with much interest. I've served on some of their panels. I've served quite a lot on organizing conferences on radar and generation, that sort of thing, but I'm not a great lover of committees, and things like that. I would rather be fiddling round somewhere.

Aspray:

A couple of my colleagues at my research center are writing about the history of electronics. If you had to choose just a few centers of research for them to concentrate on, where would you say are the really strong places?

Beck:

It's a very difficult question, but one place that's certainly contributed a great deal to modern electrotechnology is the EMI research labs at Hayes. Their contribution to early television and so on was really outstanding and remarkable.

Aspray:

The field is still large and diverse.

Beck:

Well, it's what your interests are, really. I suppose the Phillips Labs at Einholf, have made a very solid contribution over the years, but you'd find it rather difficult to put your finger on anything spectacular. They didn't make a great contribution in the early days of television or anything like that. But of course they've done very solid work on rather humdrum improvements in productivity and quality and so on; I'm probably not being very fair. I spent a year working in CSF in Paris and I wouldn't say that I regarded them too highly as a contributor. It's a nice place and all the rest of it, but they didn't do too much. The people I admire, personally, of course, were at Bell. I don't know much about the present Bell Labs, but the old Bell Labs I think are absolutely tops... I know that's not very original, but I do think they've made an enormous contribution to many, many things. For a commercial organization I think they have to be admired for openness. They were actually publishing what they were doing and thinking. I don't regard the old RCA very highly. I started off being interested in what the English call wireless, and I've really lived through a complete change in everything. It's very difficult; you know, your first impressions tend to linger... I don't really know.

Aspray:

Are there other things you'd like to talk about?

Beck:

I don't know. I'd rather you asked questions.

Aspray:

Well, I've got the main material I wanted to get; I just wanted to give you an opportunity if there was something more you wanted to say.

Beck:

I don't know what I want to say! My principal impression is the way that electrotechnology has changed over my active life, the enormous increase in the conceptual complexity, and the sort of things that people are dealing with... I mean when you think how simple life appeared in, say, the late '30s, and how difficult it appears to be now, that's very significant. I don't know what I really feel about engineering education and things like that; I don't know that it really matters. I'm rather old-fashioned, I suppose, I think bright young men will find their way through the jungle somehow or other, and maybe that's all right. I don't much fancy spending too much time on computers and things like that. I rather regret going into the engineering lab and finding people all over the place sitting by computer terminals and doing very little experimental work. I do think that experiment are rather necessary sometimes, and I think the young can very easily be persuaded to sit and play and not to hammer bits of aluminium and things like that. That is perhaps not a very intellectual way of putting it, but you probably know what I mean. I used to enjoy very much the actual techniques of the construction and operation of vacuum tubes; I used to enjoy the actual business of pumping valves, and activating cathodes and trying to get them to run, and fooling around with liquid air, getting big bangs occasionally, one thing and another. I like experiments.

Aspray:

Why don't we just end at this point?

Beck:

Okay. That's very nice.

Aspray:

Thank you.