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Oral-History:Kenneth Sturley

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About Kenneth R. Sturley

Kenneth Sturley is a power engineer whose career has focused on power systems and industrial training programs. He received a bachelor's degree in power engineering and a Ph.D. in engineering from Birmingham University, which he left in 1930-1931. He began his career at Marconi and eventually became principal of the Marconi College engineer training program. He left Marconi after World War II to set up an engineer training program at the BBC. In 1963 he left the BBC's training program and became the BBC's Chief Engineer at World Service, which involved considerable international work including a professorship at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria in 1968. Since his retirement, he has worked as a consultant.

The interview begins with Sturley's early interests in science and his education at Birmingham University. He discusses how Marconi influenced his decision to go into radio, and describes his experiences at Marconi including his work at Marconi College. He discusses his various experiences at technical colleges and then describes his development of a technical training program for the BBC. He discusses various aspects of British television and compares British television development with work done in other countries, including the U.S. He describes his experiences with the IEE and the IEEE and the differences he has perceived between the two organizations. He discusses his international work for the BBC, focusing particularly on his work as professor of telecommunications at Ahmadu Bello University. He also describes various consulting positions he has held since his retirement.

About the Interview

KENNETH R. STURLEY: An Interview Conducted by William Aspray, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, March 22, 1994

Interview #194 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:

Kenneth R. Sturley, an oral history conducted in 1994 by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: Kenneth R. Sturley

Interviewer: William Aspray

Date: March 22nd 1994

Background and Meeting Marconi

Aspray:

Maybe we can begin by having you tell me something about when you were born and what your parents did?

Sturley:

I was born in February 1908, in Smethwick, on the outskirts of Birmingham. My father was a salesman for a fairly big pork manufacturing company. He had no interest at all in technical matters, in fact, as a car driver he was hopeless, and he had in the end to have a chauffeur to take him around when he was receiving orders for various pig products. So that I didn't gain anything engineering-wise from him, but I did gain from my grandfather, who was a mining engineer and came from Wales. I had a couple of aunts, both spinsters, who ran a private prepatory school in Wales, in Merthyr Tydfil, which is in South Wales. I always remember that four years because I was there during the first World War. The thing that would always stagger me was the way in which the Dowlais Works, which was an iron-making works, would flood the world with light every so often. It used to scare me at first, as a youngster in bed, seeing this bright glare in the sky. From there I got a scholarship to a grammar school, which is the more academic type of state education school, and from which I gained a scholarship into Birmingham University. I ought perhaps to make it clear that I couldn't have gone there had it not been for the scholarship, because my father was not what you would call wealthy. We were not badly off, but we were not wealthy, and he couldn't afford to have sent me.

Aspray:

You'd been a good student, then, in school.

Sturley:

Well, yes; perhaps a bit too good, almost, shall we say, looking back over it. It was in Birmingham that my wife to be and I became engaged though we had first met in Abendovey (see Marconi contract). Our acquaintance continued because her family lived in Birmingham. She was an accomplished linguist and obtained scholarships to Oxford University. I was then doing postgraduate work at Birmingham University, and I used to go up to Oxford at weekends, occasionally. Of course, there were strict rules then, in Oxford — you were not allowed to stay in a woman's room after eleven. You were not allowed to have too much freedom, which I think was wise in many ways. I used to lunch in the hall with her. I was the only man in the whole crowd of about two or three hundred women undergraduates, because in those days, women's colleges were women only and men's were men only. Today, of course, it's quite different. I saw the Oxford education, and compared it with my own engineering one, and I came to this conclusion: that if you were wanting to have good training in electrical engineering — then you would go to red brick. But if you wanted real education, you went to Oxford. That was what I learned from this experience. I think I've profited from it ever since, because of marrying an Oxford graduate. Joining the BBC, as I did later, added to my educational enrichment because though I was concerned with my technical training, I was mixing with all and sundry, including producers from an entirely different walk of life. However, I'm jumping the gun there.

Aspray:

Did you have hobbies as a child?

Sturley:

Yes. I was one of the first, I think probably, to put headphones in a hudding basin in order to get a loudspeaker effect. And I can remember the exciting days listening to radio broadcasting from Writtle, as it then was, by the Marconi Company.

Aspray:

You tell, in this story for the life members, about Marconi, and his inspiration of value. Will you tell that story again on tape?

Sturley:

Yes, I'd be delighted to do so. I'd always heard, of course, of Marconi, because my people used to take us children — there were three of us, all boys — away to Aberdovey near Tywyn, which was the place where Marconi started a radio station transmitting to America. Cornwall Poldhu was of course where he the bridged the Atlantic, and began all the experiments. So I'd always watched with interest those aerials strung across from Tywyn. It was a long horizontal wire in those days, with low frequencies, of course, involved. Marconi occasionally came into Aberdovey Harbour with his yacht Elettra, in order to get to Tywyn from there, Tywyn being about five miles away. I heard that it was possible for one to make a request to go on the boat "Elettra", and perhaps even see the great man. So I asked if I might do so, and was granted this opportunity. We went into the Morse-code cabin, and I duly put on the headphones and listened, and then the great man walked in. I'm afraid I was almost too tongue-tied to have much conversation with him. I remember very vividly, him coming in, but I can't remember what he said. It certainly gave me a considerable kick, and made me realize that's what I wanted to do was to be in radio. I think I've been extraordinarily lucky to start almost from the beginning and see radio developing as it has from valves to transistors to integrated circuits.

Birmingham University

Aspray:

How did you choose to go to Birmingham?

Sturley:

I think largely because it was easy. My people hadn't a lot of money, Birmingham University was only about four or five miles from my home. Now that was a disadvantage, I will admit because you were at home, and you were still keeping your home ties, and therefore your university ties were weaker. I took part in debating societies and all that kind of thing, and was a member in the engineering society. It was quite an active one. But I felt I missed out compared with my wife, for instance, who had state scholarships to take here to Oxford University where you were living in a wider community and were rubbing shoulders all the time with people covering a variety of subjects. It was a very big privilege, which of course as an engineer I missed.

Aspray:

What was your course of study?

Sturley:

Oh, it was really biased if anything to power engineering. Originally the professor there had been a man named Kapp, who was of German descent but in my day Professor Cramp was in charge. Birmingham was in the center of considerable industry, and power engineering was a very important one. But there was a light current section which you could go into voluntarily and I chose that. We had also a good specialist lecturer, named Sims, who was keenly interested in radio. In fact it was there that I realized there was a lot to learn. For instance, pentode valves (tubes) were a new idea in those days — and we used to have an awful lot of trouble with the pentode blowing up. We were trying to find out why it was, and then realized we were open-circuiting the loudspeaker, and were generating a very, very high voltage when a big signal was applied to the grid. You were just blowing the thing to bits. So it was a good instruction for me.

Aspray:

How much mathematics and how much physics was part of the curriculum?

Sturley:

Well, there was a considerable amount of mathematics. We would do Heaviside’s stuff, of course...

Aspray:

The operational calculus.

Sturley:

The operational calculus, yes. We were fairly well drilled in that, and I was glad too, because in those days, with analog wave forms, the significant ones, it was very helpful to have an idea of Heaviside's calculus and its application to transmission lines, aerials and feeders. We learnt quite a bit of physics, but it was pure physics, like mechanics. We did a course of electrical physics too, but it was more from the point of view of the cathode ray tube and thermonic emission. Remember, in those days the cathode ray oscilloscope was known, but they didn't give students easy access to it.

Aspray:

Did you have any access to calculating devices as an undergraduate?

Sturley:

No, not at all, unless you like to call a slide rule a calculating device.

Aspray:

How did you do at university?

Sturley:

I did reasonably well, because I got a first class degree, which is the highest you can get. As a result I was offered a research scholarship and given an opportunity of working on electrothermal storage. It was partly due to the lecturer Sims who was put in charge of me during my postgraduate years. He had close contacts with the Swiss firm Sauter, in Switzerland, and they were very keen to develop thermal storage systems. They were using cast iron, if I remember rightly. They were wanting to get away from that, and were thinking in terms of using steatite stone; there's plenty of it in Switzerland. I did quite a lot of work developing the stove itself, and insulating it, taking characteristics over long periods, but then I thought I had a bright idea. I thought this was silly, doing all this work, where you're having the temperature varying all the time. The temperature is dropping as you introduce the heat so the amount of heat given out to the room decreases steadily. You could of course reduce this effect by automatic control but why not make use of the latent heat principle, and then have a constant temperature all the time? I thought this was brilliant. I checked a lot of latent heat substances.

Thiosulfate is a good example, a bit low in latent heat temperature, but nevertheless it was worth looking at. I did quite a lot of work on various compounds that had high latent heats, but were higher in the temperature range. I discovered unfortunately that all these had low heat conduction coefficients and when they went solid on the outside, you couldn't get much heat out from a still molten core. However, I did do some work on determining their thermal conductivity, and found that Kaye and Laby, which was then a well-known book of tables of constants, were actually wrong, and I got that put right. Somebody had made a mistake in determining thermal conductivity. It was usual to give a viva at the end of the post-graduate course, before you were granted the Ph.D. My examiner was very well thought of in the radio world, Professor Howe of Glasgow University. He’s probably completely forgotten now, but he used to be editor of The Wireless Engineer. That was a research periodical, a well-known one in our country, not necessarily in yours.

Aspray:

I know of it.

Sturley:

You do know of it. He was my examiner, and decided that there was no need to interview me, and I was given the higher degree on my thesis. So that was that.

Marconi, "Marconi College" & Other Work

Aspray:

What were the job prospects?

Sturley:

Not too good, because it was in 1930-1931, when I left the university, and there was a recession on, just as there is today. Marconi's was the place I wanted to go to, and I was lucky enough to get a post there. My post was to be a research engineer. The first thing you were given when you got to Marconi's was six months in the Marconi College, as they called it, which was virtually on-the-job training in laboratory work.

Aspray:

Did you move around from department to department?

Sturley:

No, you didn't move from department to department. You were in the college, learning what they knew about radio, on transmission, reception, and everything, before you went into a research department. You will remember perhaps, the case of Peter Wright, who wrote the book on spies. Do you remember all the uproar there was in my country, about the government trying to stop him from publishing the book?

Aspray:

Oh, yes.

Sturley:

Well, his father, G.M. Wright was the head of the research department at Marconi's, and also my boss. I was given the job of developing what they called a rebroadcast receiver. Marconi's had dotted around them at Chelmsford various sites which were reasonably radio quiet, where they could do experiments on reception and I was located in one. I was given the task of developing a rebroadcast receiver which picked up by DX a broadcast from some other organization and then fed it into the lines, so that the programmer could be rebroadcast from somewhere else. I had the design of the DX part of it, and the receiver, offering variable bandwidth to enable interstation or local interference to be reduced. Soon after this task had been completed — about fifteen months after joining the Marconic company. I was called into Wright's office, and Wright said to me: "I'm awfully sorry, Sturley, to tell you that I'm afraid we have to dispense with your services. We're in a situation of recession, and the company is in a difficult financial position. I have to give forty of you young people who've just joined us notice that you will have to leave. We can't afford to pay you. The company has decided, however, that it will give you three months’ salary." That was pretty remarkable in those days, remember, because you didn't get redundancy payment as a general rule. But it was the sort of feeling you had of the family atmosphere at Marconi's. Marconi was then busy on long-distance short-wave experiments and I was never to see him at the works headquarters in Chelmsford.

I was given the termination notice by Wright in December, 1931. I determined I wouldn't be out of work for any length of time, and I took a job with Lucas, the car component manufacturers. It was a fairly lowly job, developing windscreen wiper motors. Interesting, nevertheless. I'd done some work on motor at University, but bigger jobs than small twelve volt car components, and I was with Lucas for six months. Then I saw an advertisement from Ediswan, wanting a receiver designer. They made the Mazda valve. They didn't make receivers, but they provided circuits to receiver manufacturers who would use their valves. It was a way of getting their foot in, you see. I had the job, in a small research department, of designing the receivers, which were then passed on to the manufacturers who used Mazda valves. I was with them for something like five years, I suppose. Do you want to continue quizzing me?

Aspray:

Go ahead.

Getting Research Published

Sturley:

I ought to say first of all that I was very keen — I think all research engineers are so keen — to publish if I possibly could. I'd done quite a bit of work on receiver automatic gain control systems. I discovered that it was quite significant the loading which the automatic gain control system put on the last a.f. stage of the receiver and thus distorted the wave form. So I did a lot of work on this, on time constants and that sort of thing. I got it all ready for publishing and went to see the managing director, as he then was, of the research department. I asked could I please be allowed to publish, and he hovered and havered and wasn't keen on me doing it. In fact, when I was about to leave them, was the only time I got permission to publish, but I did get it published after about five years of working at it. Then I had a call from Marconi's — you've heard of Ladner and Stoner, have you? They wrote a text book on Short-Wave Wireless Communication published by Chapman and Hall.

Aspray:

I don't know them.

Sturley:

You don't. Well, Ladner was quite a well-known figure at Marconi's; where he was head of the Marconi College. He wrote to me and said, "Sturley, I was awfully sorry that you were axed from us, but I've got a job in my department. Would you like to come back to it?" I decided that I would. The work still enabled me to do quite a bit of research, for I was involved in teaching engineers of the companies to which Marconi were supplying radio apparatus. For instance, they covered aircraft, communication transmissions and also broadcast transmissions — everything. I was really training these people to handle the Marconi equipment. That's really how I began to think in terms of writing a book on radio receiver design. In 1936, I think, I decided that I would do this, and began it in 1937. Yes. Of course the war came in. That gave one some extra opportunities. During the early stages I was put in a reserve category, not to go into the army or any of the service forces.

Aspray:

Because of your job?

Sturley:

Because of my job. Marconi of course was busy on war equipment. There was a slight falling off of numbers at the Marconi College, so I did have some spare time at work that I used for looking through possible information chapters for the book. I applied to Pitman's, which was one of the well-known technical publishers in this country at that time, and asked if they would be interested. I gave them a synopsis, and also a specimen chapter, which was the normal thing to do. I heard nothing more from them. Ladner published with Chapman and Hall, and he said, "You know, Sturley, you ought not to keep on waiting like this. You should apply to Chapman and Hall. I can give you an introduction." He did so. Bless me. Within about a week after that, Pitman's wrote and said to me, "We'll accept your book. We'll publish it for you". So I wrote to Chapman and Hall, having sent them a copy of my specimen chapter, and said, "I can't expect you to make a quick decision. I've had another offer.” They said, "Oh, give us three weeks. We'll give you an answer by then." So I delayed it, and they came back and said, "We will accept it." So I then said, "Well, as they've been so quick, I'm going to give it to them rather than Pitman's." They published it in 1942.

Aspray:

What other books were there on this subject at the time?

Sturley:

I can't recall that there were any. It was just that my interest had been stirred from the fact that with radio receivers, you can start when you're young. With a transmitter, it's too big a job. I was not interested in ham work. Having done the rebroadcast receiver, I'd had a fair amount of experience from that, and then going in for design of receivers with Ediswan, I had had even more. So that's how that book began.

Aspray:

How was the book received?

Sturley:

I had a number of reviews that on the whole were pretty useful, and generally congratulatory. Judging from the reaction I've had ever since from people who used it during the war (because it became almost the receiver textbook in the UK services), it must have provided some useful purpose for them.

Aspray:

Do you know how many were printed?

Sturley:

I think it was something of the order of about twenty thousand. Some in America. But in the early days in America, I had to pay your income tax and ours. So I had double taxation. But later on that was stopped. I only paid English income tax; the Americans let me have the money back straight away. I think it was John Wiley who published it but I'm not absolutely sure. I did quite a bit of writing after that. In fact, I came to the conclusion that I was a better explainer rather than a brilliant researcher. I could interpret people's understanding of what the circuits were doing, rather than, shall we say, having a brilliant idea myself.

Aspray:

That's a very useful talent.

Thoughts on Teaching

Sturley:

It is a useful talent to have — I do quite agree with you there. I was with Marconi until the end of the war. People had to be trained for the Royal Air Force, on transmitters and receivers. Marconi had designed a special type of receiver — highly selective for helping the RAF to home onto broadcasting stations as beacons, and a transmitter for sending back information as well. I was training them, and using any spare time I had for writing more books or articles. I published quite a number of articles on mostly receiver problems.

Aspray:

What sorts of special talents do you think were important in being able to do this work in training? Anything other than what you've already said?

Sturley:

I think the important thing is to appreciate what the position is of your student. I had a mixed bag of students when I went back to Marconi's before the war and they were from all over the world. I can recall having some Chinese students who were really quite good. On the other hand, I had a Siamese student with whom I had to work really hard because he hadn't got the fundamental principles needed for understanding radio. I had Iranian students who had to be pushed pretty well — they were quite good, technically, but they always had to be prodded a bit to get anything done. One or two occasions I had almost to shame them by saying "All Right. I'll do it myself, without you." That spurred them on to do something. So you've got to... I think the Americans would say motivate the student, and you've got to find out what will motivate him. In some cases, you don't find it difficult. When I was a postgraduate, I wanted to supplement my scholarship money and did some teaching in a technical college, which I found useful. It was relatively easy because many of the people were in their forties even. They were older men who were anxious to get on, so I hadn't got so much to motivate them as give them the help they needed. That was quite interesting.

When I came to London to work with Ediswan, which was near London, I found that the London technical colleges wouldn't take you unless you'd done what they called a pedagogy course, which really means the elements of teaching. I decided I would take that, and I found it quite useful. It meant some evening classes, in effect, on presenting your case, making certain that you didn't do stupid things. For instance... it wouldn't bother me because I'm a nonsmoker, but I do remember one person lecturing to us with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. That's a very bad example to students anyway, and it's very difficult to understand what the person's saying. Another thing which I was warned about was idiosyncratic habits. An example was quoted of a lecturer throwing up a piece of chalk and catching it while lecturing. This can be irritating for the student, and distracting too, and the result is he is watching for the chalk to fall, rather than what you're trying to teach. So I was fairly well schooled in what you should do, and not do. Shall I continue?

Aspray:

Please do.

BBC Training Department

Sturley:

There was an individual at the Marconi college who was senior to me—let’s call him Smith (not his real name) — put in for a post at Nottingham University, and I also put in for it at the same time. We both had an interview; he got it and I didn't. He probably correctly got it, because he was older than I was and had wider experience. Years later I saw an advertisement for a post at the BBC, towards the end of the war, in 1944, just after the invasion of Normandy. The BBC wanted somebody to start a technical training department for them, and I applied for it, and was duly seen. Lo and behold, Smith from Nottingham University was there too! He said to me as we were leaving (whether he had a premonition that I'd got it or not I don't know). "By the way, Sturley," (Remember he'd been at the Marconi College), "I know that you are planned to be the next principal of the Marconi College." (Ladner was retiring, and I'd been told by Marconi's that I was the next one to take over). "If you get this BBC job, will you remember to tell Marconi's that I would be interested in the Marconi College host?" Two or three months after the interview with the BBC, I was called into the office of the Marconi Managing Director, who said, "Hi, Sturley. What are you doing, going off from us? We'd booked you for the Marconi College! Why are you doing so?" I said, I thought it was time I had a move. He'd just proposed me for a fellow of the IEE (not IEEE) and I had been accepted, so I think he was a little bit peeved. I mentioned to him that Smith would like to apply for the Marconi College principalship, if they hadn't got anybody in mind apart from myself. Smith was interviewed and accepted by Marconi to run the college — a fair exchange, I thought.

At the BBC I was lucky to have the chief engineer as my boss. The BBC hierarchy consisted of a director of engineering, supported by an assistant director and the chief engineer. The assistant director was responsible for all the departments dealing with the equipment — design, research, planning, and installation. The chief engineer who was responsible for all the operational side. He was very good indeed to me, because there was considerable opposition in the BBC to having an outsider coming and in telling them how to do their job. First of all I was to have three months completely free to go around the BBC wherever I wanted to, and find out how the organization ticked. At the end I was to put in a report saying how I would organize the training department, and where I should be set up. Well, I duly did this. I found there was quite a bit of opposition to my plans. My position was greatly helped by Wynn coming in and saying, "Look, a training department is essential to the BBC!” Indeed it was to prove essential when commercial television began, because over about a month the BBC lost four hundred technical staff, just like that.

If they hadn't had their training department, they would have been in a real mess. Hynn more or less said, “I'm not going to have all this caviling at Sturley; you ought to help him as much as possible." He fought on my behalf quite a good deal, and made a very big difference to my problems. The thing I did say to the people who were very critical to begin with was, "Give me a year, and then see whether you feel that the staff you're getting are the type you want." I found that within about two or three years everyone was saying, "How on earth did we manage before?" So I knew I'd got somewhere at last. There was quite a controversy going on — do you separate your technicians and your operators? I said that both technicians and operators should be trained and intermixed to some extent, because you can find that sometimes the fellow who is a poor operator is quite a good technician and fault-finder, and quickly can discover what's wrong. Equally you may find that a technician makes a better operator than a technician. So we were able to do a certain amount of interchange, in that way.

Aspray:

There weren't labor rules that prohibited people from going back and forth?

Sturley:

No. Fortunately at that time, in the early stages of my life with the BBC, there was a staff association, and the staff association was not so (we would call it) "bloody-minded" as the unions could be. Until unions came into the BBC (they did, and they made quite a big difference from that point of view, by starting the business of "You can't do that, that's X's job") we were able to do all sorts of transfers. The BBC was on the whole farsighted, because if a person felt that he had a chance of making good in another department, another section, he was often given the chance of a transfer to that department temporarily, to see whether the heads there liked him, or whether he was suitable for the job. So there was a good family relationship in the BBC.

Aspray:

What was the character of the technical training that you did?

Sturley:

There were a whole lot of people who had been brought up, man and boy, learning their job by watching others do it. They were learning on the job rather than being shown what you could do and couldn't do. I had to remember these people existed and they had to be given some elementary radio and electrical fundamentals even starting from Ohm's Law, in some cases. We were also recruiting at the same time, and there we could establish the level so that they needn't take this preliminary course. We always had lectures in the morning on the principles of radio transmission and reception and analysis of the broadcasting chain and apparatus even entirely occupied in practical work on the apparatus they would use and they would end up producing a "mock" program. So they always had a mixture of talk (well, chalk, if you like) and then actually handling the equipment. That was essential, and that's been well maintained until fairly recently.

Gradually the school developed so that it took graduates as well. But graduates were generally intended for the research design or planning and installation work, and they were given a different course. In fact you knew what sort of level your graduate had already reached and you merely taught him the BBC aspect of his work, rather than starting from scratch. After that, we dealt with the engineers-in-charge of various transmitters, studios and major distribution control rooms dotted about the country. It was thought that they should have a refresher course when color TV was introduced, so we had to prepare refresher courses for them. Whenever a new development occurred, like transistors, for instance, I had to run new courses, for the older higher-ups as well, who were completely unfamiliar with the subject. In fact, they only thought in terms of valves (tubes). So that had to be done, and I even had the departmental heads of technical and operational work, there. They would have perhaps a weekend course. I ought to have said that it was pretty obvious where we should establish the school, because during World War II the BBC had constructed a second broadcasting house in the Midlands of England, in case the broadcasting house in London got bombed. So there were all the facilities there for sound broadcasting and transmitting as well.

Aspray:

Was that after television?

Sturley:

There was no public television then. Though the BBC was first in the field to develop a television service, it had to be shut down in 1939 when the war began. The USA entered the war later and with your distance from the battle front, you were able to continue with television and develop your very ingenious NTSC color system. The BBC did not restart its public TV broadcast until the early 1950s. So there was only sound broadcasting then. Evesham also had the advantage that the BBC Monitoring Service had been located there. This service picked up signals from the various enemy broadcasts as well as the allied broadcasts, and passed the information to the government, who could better determine the war situation and the line of enemy propaganda. Monitoring was shifted during the war from Evesham (the Duke of Orleans country mansion, where I was going to be settled) to Caversham, which is near Reading. So all the living accommodations, crude by present day standards, was available in brick-built huts with beds 7 a side (14 per hut) and coke stoves for warmth. We weren't allowed to do any building, because materials were in very short supply.

After the war, we were really in a mess. We were greatly helped by your Marshall Plan, which made all the difference to our recovery. Fifty years on from the war everything has changed at Evesham. There are en-suite single bedrooms of first-class standards, so it's absolutely up to the minute now. But of course in my day I had to do all sorts of things in order to get what I wanted. I started off by getting a new brick-built building, with two beds per room, and proper central heating and all that kind of thing. Then we gradually developed recreational facilities. My wife took quite a major part in acting as a sort of unpaid headmistress, as she was called on one occasion.

We organized country dancing, English and Scottish, and so on, for the students. We used to recruit the women from the local town, Evesham, and in fact it became almost a marriage bureau, the girls and students linking up and getting married. I think that gives you the idea. We used to run, instruction weeks for university staff. This was a engineering propaganda exercise if you like, with the aim of recruiting graduates to broadcasting since the BBC was the only broadcasting organization and was undertaking nearly all the research design, manufacture and installation in the UK, needed for developments in sound and television broadcasting. We started training for television staff in I think 1952. That was when we really got cracking.

Again, this was much against the views of the people in charge of television, who said we could do nothing, that training on the job was the important thing. But they were won over after about a year or two, and realized that, you could save an awful lot of time and develop skills which took much longer if you were merely watching somebody else doing it. The research and designs departments used to develop apparatus for outside broadcasts, microwave links and standards converters for color recordings to be changed from say NTSC to PAL studio acoustic design, and so on staff had to be strained to operate the new equipment. I found that the best thing was for me to send my staff to a research department, for them to get really familiar with the apparatus, and then for them to teach it rather than make use of the designer as the teacher. There was a tendency for the researcher/designer to assume that the students knew much more than they actually did. The students would be simply, open-mouthed, doing what they were told, but they wouldn't properly understand it. So that was another principle I learned from experience.

BBC Funding & Commercial TV

Aspray:

At the time, how was the BBC financed?

Sturley:

Oh, it's always been financed by a charge being made for anybody owning a television or a sound receiver. Nowadays you only pay if you use a television receiver, but in early days if you had only a sound receiver you paid a smaller sum than for sound and television together. In 1954, commercial television came along and there was considerable outcry — why should people pay a fee to the BBC when perhaps they didn't listen to the BBC? Commercial television did, at the beginning at any rate, as it does now, have a different aim from the BBC, because generally speaking it must satisfy its advertisers who are only invested in pulling in the largest possible audience. The BBC hasn't necessarily got to, though it can't ignore numbers but it can afford to be more innovative in programs and could experiment. Commercial television started quite quickly, hadn't really the requisite staff for starting, and effectively bought people from the BBC. In fact, on one occasion I was furious because it was reported to me that a letter had been found stuck on the students' noticeboard, telling them where they could apply for posts with commercial television. About four hundred staff were lost over a very short period. Had the BBC not had a training department, they would have had great difficulty in filling those posts again.

Aspray:

The attraction of moving to commercial television?

Sturley:

Was higher salary.

Aspray:

Higher salary.

Sturley:

There had been several inquiries into the BBC funding. Because first of all it was suggested, “Why doesn't the BBC compete on equal terms with commercial, and have adverts?” The reply was that if you start using adverts, then undoubtedly the man who pays the piper calls the tune. The BBC would not have the editorial freedom, nor would the BBC news broadcasting have the significance that it has overseas, if it were controlled by somebody other than itself. Undoubtedly the BBC World Service had been better able to project itself as the unbiased voice of Britain beyond the power of the government or sponsors' control even though its World Service costs are met separately from the government funds. Nevertheless, the fact that the BBC was licensed was a big help in showing people abroad that this was an organization trying to tell you the truth — it may not always do so, but generally speaking it does.

Aspray:

What was the status of commercial television in Britain? I mean, did it continue to coexist with the BBC?

Sturley:

Oh yes, it did. On the whole, I think, it was helped by the BBC being there, if acting only as a yardstick for program quality. The Conservative government tended to be critical of the license fee and their aim was, "Get rid of it." The Labor people were the reverse; they tended to be pro-BBC. On the whole one found that when they were in power, the BBC was helped. This produced political problems for the BBC because the Conservatives could then argue, "Oh, the BBC is a leftist organization — it serves Labor," which wasn't true. Often the BBC could use the post bag to judge whether it had achieved as fair a political position as possible in news bulletins or in programs. If the post bag was produced nearly equal numbers of antis and pros, you knew you weren't far off what you should be. That was a sort of general rough test.

Other Activities while at BBC

Sturley:

I was fairly active in fields other than the BBC as well, because the BBC was very good from that point of view; they encouraged their staff to have other pursuits. I found myself examining for Ph.D. degree, on the board of governors for a polytechnic, and I became chairman of the South Midlands Center of the Institution of Electrical Engineers at Birmingham. I was also chairman of their education discussion circle, which met about once a month during the winter. We used to discuss problems in dealing with how you would train research students, how you would deal with students who are of limited educational background, and all that kind of thing. I was given an opportunity by the UK government to go to Germany for about four or five weeks to see how the German engineering educational system worked. I was able to look at the training given by their technical universities (Technische Hochschule) and their severely-practical technical colleges (Gwerbeschule) — both ends of the spectrum, which I found of considerable interest.

I wanted very much to visit America, because I wanted to see your educational and trained systems. It took a little time, because foreign currency was strictly rationed in the 1950s and the BBC would have to fund me. I did consider whether I might be able to have a three month leave of absence without pay, working in one of your universities and wrote to a number of your institutions, enduring Fred Terman of Stanford University. He could not keep but boosted my ego in his reply by stating he had read Radio Received Design with interest. I kept working on the BBC hierarchy, and eventually they said "All Right Sturley, you've been with us long enough now. We'll let you have five weeks in the States." So off I went in 1957. I had to make all my own arrangements, and I visited a number of your universities, Princeton, Harvard, MIT, also Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago — you have a wide variety of them including the state universities. Naturally I visited CBS and NBC but discovered they had no formal training correspondence courses in radio. I remember RCA Institutes and Capitol Radio Engineering Institute headed by Eugene Rietzke was running it. When I went to see him, he more-or-less tried to recruit me to join him. I must tell you an interesting sequel. He came to this country — I think I may even have mentioned it earlier; did I? About going to Stratford?

Aspray:

No, I guess not. At least, I don't see it right off.

Sturley:

He came with his wife to England on holiday and called on us because he wanted to see what I was doing in broadcasting training. He was running a very efficient ship, I must say, and I congratulate America, on the way it has made such a success with correspondence courses. They provide a considerable amount of information, and give a man a chance to lift himself up by his own shoe-straps. Well, Rietzke came to Evesham and I duly showed him what we were up to, and then I realized that as he was an American, he'd probably be delighted to have a chance to go to Stratford Theater. I made application for tickets but could only get tickets in the balcony, which has bench seats, not all that comfortable. It happened to be "Twelfth Night," which is a comedy, so we took a risk and invited him and his wife to come with us, warning them that they would be in the only seats we could get. Afterwards they were so completely absorbed in the play that they completely forgot the situation, and I think they didn't notice the discomfort of the seats.

Going back to activities, the BBC allowed me to undertake: I was chairman of the City and Guilds Telecommunications. Committee, which oversees all the examinations for radio communications, telephony, telegraphy, television, and so forth. We had to decide whether the quality of the examination papers — they were all written ones of course — were up to standard. I was also a moderator for the Rugby College of Technology, which undertook the equivalent of a university course, overseen by a London-based organization responsible for setting standards in most colleges of technology. The moderators had to examine the laboratory projects and check the marking of written papers. The universities themselves had professors from various universities, who used to oversee their equivalent professors, in order to ensure that standards were kept up. I think you have a similar scheme too.

Aspray:

That's right.

Sturley:

I was very active in the Institution of Electrical Engineers. I was on the council, and took quite a lot of interest in an education and discussion circle which began in London, and eventually I became chairman of that too. Later on, when I retired, I'm afraid I cut myself off from doing anything but consulting work. I didn't go much to the IEE meeting, partly because I got absorbed in English history of the 17th and 18th centuries. But that's another story.

Involvement in IEEE

Aspray:

You also became a member of IEEE at one point.

Sturley:

Yes. Now it's interesting there, I became a senior member of the IEEE later on in World War II. When I began it was purely because I thought it would be of advantage to me if I tried to publish in America. I was very glad I had done so, because I gleaned a lot of my information for the book Radio Receiver Design from IEEE publications, which were really on the ball. The IEE at one point tended to be, I would say, a bit snobbish. Unless a paper had a wealth of mathematical detail in it, it tended to be downgraded, whereas I feel that the IEEE had its eye on the fact that we were addressing engineers who produced something. The IEEE publications contained a wealth of information, often well presented, too, in the sense that you could understand it as you read it. When you read some publications you say, "Oh, Lord. I can't spend all that time mugging through this stuff," and so on. The IEE later on got away from that, and they became, dare I say it, a little bit more like the IEEE! So that was how it began. I'm very glad I did join, because I've had more contact with the IEEE after retirement. I used to go to the IEEE functions, which were much smaller than the IEE ones, and made a number of very good friends there.

International Comparisons of TV & Radio

Aspray:

From a technical point of view, how did British radio and television compare with developments in other countries?

Sturley:

Let's take television. It is a good example because Europe split, of course, between French SECAM and German PAL, as you will remember. We were very impressed with your NTSC system. This is another good example of the way in which I think America was ahead of us in the matter of interpreting color needs. You thought out the principle of, "Well, if you're going to have compatible color television, what you want is black and white, and also two approximate color signals", and I think this was a very important step forward which NTSC brought about. Then the PAL system came in, which was a way of getting rid of jitter. It was a step forward on the NTSC. Europe had been plagued by self-seeking nationalism, and we should have made a strong effort to avoid separate standards over our continent.

Aspray:

Yes.

Sturley:

I cannot press this point because the UK is displaying its nationalism over the European Community. I think we've been crazy. All the kerfuffle that our Foreign Secretary is going through is just empty verbiage; it doesn't mean anything. If we're going to join the EEC, we should join it, and not go fiddling about on the touchline like we are at the moment. But that's my personal view. The French developed SECAM, and they kept it. It would have been a great move, if we could only have said, "Let's stick to PAL," or something like that. Over high definition television, there is quite a discussion going on. The feeling is generally that you Americans are coming back into the picture. Japan has been making all the headway since the war, and America was almost dropping into the background, which was a pity. The ideal system would have to be common color world-wide standards for high definition television. An awful lot of energy is wasted when you get nationalism coming in and you say, "Oh, no, we've got our own ideas."

Aspray:

In terms of broadcasting equipment, or receiving equipment, do you see any differences in the quality of the products that were made, or in the technology?

Sturley:

During the war I saw a difference. Europe tended to be a bit heavyweighted in equipment, and I think you were faster in developing miniaturized equipment. Miniaturization was important and still is now, and we have much to thank the Japanese for in post-war developments because we were forced to concede. “Well, they have taken our ideas and developed them, and with quality control now in action, they're beating us to a frazzle.” I think that's had a very salutary effect on all of us. I hope that it continues, and that America and Europe return to their prewar position of being great developing powers in radio and electronics.

Aspray:

Who made the broadcasting equipment that was used for radio by the BBC in the early days?

Sturley:

Mostly self-made by the BBC.

Aspray:

Mostly self-made?

Sturley:

Yes, but it isn't now, it's the reverse. The great tendency is to push everything out to contract, and have nothing made in-house with BBC only doing the minimum of research, design and construction.

Aspray:

Are the pieces of equipment now manufactured mainly by British firms?

Sturley:

I wouldn't be able to say, at this stage. I think that the majority of equipment would be made in the UK. The BBC would always make use of what they thought was the best. For instance when television recording came in, Ampex was the great name, and they were used. There were other people making video recorder that were not regarded as so good, so Ampex got the job. If the BBC felt there was a job to be done, they would tend to choose the one that in their view had the belt and the braces outlook. Remember, the BBC principle was, "The show must go on," and you must make certain that you can make it go on or get it going on.

Aspray:

Yes. Do you want to make any observations, not from the technical but from the operational point of view, about the BBC compared to radio or television in other countries?

Sturley:

I think what amazed me comparing it with American television was that I'd always thought the latter was much more free and easy and more individualistic. When I got over there I came to the conclusion that I was completely wrong, because you seemed to be much more "union minded" than we were. Anybody making headway in the broadcasting system in America had to be in the union; if you weren't you hadn't a hope. The BBC was prepared to take anybody and train them. They needn't even be in a union. It was quite a surprise to me to find that that was the case. If I may just put this in, which is perhaps sounding terribly insular, from an Englishman: I was so surprised at how, in conversation with Americans, I would find that they were wanting to try and find out what other people thought of them. I wouldn't bother two hoots about what somebody else thought about me, provided I thought I was doing a decent job myself. I would say "Well, that's the best I can do," so to speak. But I was very conscious of the America's concern about his standing in the opinion of his peers. Do you think that's a characteristic of the Americans? That's the impression I got, but remember I was only there for five weeks.

Aspray:

I'm not sure I know.

Chief Engineer Position & Nigeria

Sturley:

Really. Well, that was the sort of general reaction I gained. I'd always wanted when I was a younger man to get a chair, a professorial chair. I'd made several applications, but with no success. I think it may have been due to the fact that although I'd produced a number of publications, my publications were more explanations of how a thing worked rather than bright research ideas. My wife said to me one day (I think I must have been about forty-five at the time): “You've tried getting chairs in this country, and obviously you're not likely to at your age, because so many chairs are filled at ages thirty or forty. Why don't you consider leaving the BBC promptly at age sixty, and perhaps going to a Commonwealth university?" I said, "Hmm, that's not a bad idea." I moved from being head of the training department in 1963, because I was offered the post of Chief Engineer at World Service. That attracted me, because I was always interested in travel and public relations. It meant that the world was my parish, because I had to go around and contact the various BBC transmitting stations in the UK and abroad and liaise with the Voice of America, the Canadian Overseas Service and the German's Deutschewelle. The BBC had recipricoal transmission broadcasting facilities with each of the three organizations and one of the four would often be prepared take another's program for transmission to another part of the world reachable by his transmitters. There was also close cooperation in using the limited short-wave frequency spectrum economically and in preventing cross transmission interference.

Towards the end of my time, when I was about fifty-eight, I was very friendly with Willis Jackson — he eventually became ennobled, Lord Jackson, and sat in the House of Lords and was a big noise, generally, in government circles. He said to me, "Oh, by the way, Sturley, there's a job going in Nigeria. They're very much wanting somebody with telecommunications experience. Would you be interested in going out there?" I said, "I would", and next thing I knew, I had a letter from the UK Government Overseas Department, inviting me to apply for the post of Professor of Telecommunications at Ahmadu Bello University. There were five universities then in Nigeria: Lagos, Ibaden, Ahmadu Bello University, Ife. I've forgotten the name of the other one. Ahmadu Bello University was located at Zaria in the north, which was the wrong place from the point of view of getting local students, because it was a Muslim area, educational based on the Koran with scientific principles largely neglected. It was the technical university for the whole country. I had a very welcoming letter from communication with the head of the department, Professor Harris; so I went out there in 1968, when I was just sixty.

It was pretty well the last voyage by sea that one could take, because air transport was taking over for travel to Nigeria, since it was thirteen days’ travel by boat. But a very pleasant way of doing it, I must say. We stopped at Sierra Leone, Las Palmas, a number of the West African seaports. At Lagos I visited the Marconi representative there, because they were doing quite a big trade in Nigeria. He said, "I don't know if you know this, but the government have got their eye on you, and they're wanting you to chair the governmental technical committee for the modernization of sound broadcasting for Nigeria." I said I'd not heard anything about it, and I thought, "This is a good old story", but shortly I received a confirmatory letter from the Nigerian Federal government. This meant that I had to commute to Lagos from time to time. It was about six hundred miles. Nigeria does not cover a very large area in Africa but it contains about a third of the population of Africa. It's about six hundred miles from north to south and about five or six hundred across from east to west. I found myself in charge of a Modernizing Committee of six. One was a British expatriate who was the head of television for northern Nigeria, and the others were all Nigerians involved in telecommunications of broadcasting enjoyed it — the Nigerians were very good technically, they were lively, and we made good progress together. I was only there for three years, as professor of telecommunications, but after the first year Harris left and I was appointed head of the department, so I had quite a lot of managerial responsibilities as well. It was during the Biafran War, which made things rather more complicated, though the war didn't affect us very much. Some foods were difficult to get, but on the whole we were lucky because we were in a backwater some 400 miles from the eastern corner comes where hostilities were taking place. Gowon was the president, and a very good president he made, but he was too much of a gentleman and got ousted.

Aspray:

Really?

Sturley:

He was a Christian, and as I say, too much of a gentleman to succeed in politics, I think. But he was honest, which is not something that can be said about all the army staff in Nigeria. In the end I produced a unanimous report for the Nigerian Government. For local Nigerian broadcasting the report determined where the medium wave and longer short-wave transmitters were to be located, the frequencies to be used and the probable service area providing satisfactory signal-to-noise ratios applicable to the proposed sites. We had done quite a bit of work on determining noise levels; at Ahmadu Bello University we had monitoring equipment for doing that is for medium waves. We were required to use similar criteria for their planned overseas service employing highly directional short waves using long hops reflected from the ionosphere. After completing the report and recommending a successor as head of the department at the University I returned to the UK.

If you've been away more than three years you begin to lose your contacts with your home country. The BBC had a good rule from that point of view; they would second people to Commonwealth countries, but would always say to them, "You're not to be away more than three years unless you wish to stay, because we can't be sure that we can keep the post available for you back home." I thought it was right, because we were beginning to feel that we were losing contact with our own family. We did come back every year for a holiday, but even so, the grandchildren were growing up, and we were not getting any contact with them. So at the end of three years we decided we were going to return home. And when I'd come back, the Nigerian Government said to me, "We will wish to have tenders put out for this broadcasting modernization, and there are three organizations we would like you to see, and give us an opinion as to which should get the contract." One was the Swiss Brown Boveri, another the French Thomson, and the other the third was American Continental. I visited each company in turn, discussed the Nigerian requirements with the chief engineer and was shown over their factories.

All had their value; the American firm had done quite a lot of work on very high-powered transmitters, but in my view the people who'd got the edge were Brown Boveri, because they'd actually installed them. The Americans and the French companies had actually produced things, but they'd not sold them, whereas Brown Boveri had sold them and they were in use. They also had applied negative feedback into the suppressor circuit of their pentode output stages, and were thus achieving low distortion with high conversion efficiency. I therefore recommended that Brown Boveri should be awarded the contract, and asked the government ministry in Lagos, "Do you wish me to send the report through your UK High Commission, or do you want it posted directed to you?" They wrote back instantly, and said, "You're not under any circumstances to put it through the High Commission." I think I can guess why. Did they fear that someone would try to get a take-off? They said, "Oh no, we're going to send a special envoy over to pick it up from you." He duly came, and the control was awarded to Brown Boveri. I kept in touch during the next five years with the head of Brown Boveri's transmitter department and learnt of their problems in fulfilling the contract. Not least was the disappearance of materials and components in Lagos port at Apapa.

Work as Consultant & Expert Witness

Sturley:

After retirement and I became a consultant, and was invited by RCA to act as an expert witness in what they claimed was an infringement of patent rights for a transistor circuit by the UK company Thorn. Sir John Thorn, the head of the organizations had the reputation of never giving in on these occasions. Possibly, he thought that if he went on long enough he would wear down the opposition. RCA was not that sort of opponent at all, and I did quite a lot of research on their behalf. At the end of my investigations I was fairly certain that their patent was absolutely solid, and I told them I thought they would win the case if they took it against Thorn. I had long discussions here in this country with various RCA legal representatives and I'd also bribed the QC (Queen's Counsel) who was going to take on the job in court for RCA. I was about to go out to RCA labs to clear up the matter before the court case.

At the beginning of that week I had confirmed m opinion to RCA, and at the end of the same week came a letter saying that Thorne had capitulated. You can imagine how excited I felt to have been vindicated. I got some other jobs after that, but not a great deal, I must say. Unless you're a workaholic, there is a tendency for people to forget you exist, I think, after a while. I did some work for the government on industrial tribunals, where cases were considered of unfair dismissed by an employer. An employer may have been made redundant unjustifiably and if the tribunal felt he had proved his case financial compensation could be awarded. The three man court had a lawyer chairman; a trade union representative and a neutral observer such as myself.

After about seven years of consultancy work I changed to voluntary work in which my wife joined me. Our main volunteering effort has been for the National Trust. The Trust was founded in 1895 with the aim of acquiring restoring and preserving places of natural beauty or historic interest for everyone to enjoy. It is not financed by the government but by its 2 million members, legacies and gifts, some of them contributed by generous supporters in USA. The Trust now owns over 200 important historic houses, a large number of extensive open spaces, over twenty percent of our coastline, and is our largest single landowner. All this requires a big annual income, only kept in bounds by a large amount of volunteer work of every kind. Over the past 25 years my wife and I have organized recruiting of new members at Disraeli's country house in the Chiltern Hills north-west of London, and have gained publicity for the Trust by jointly lecturing on Trust Matters to local organizations like historical societies as well as groups of National Trust members. I undertake the history of my wife deals with the furniture and contents of famous houses. Not a bad record for two 80+ year olds still cooperating after 60 years of marriage. Well, that gives you a general picture of the life of one Fellow IEEE in retirement.

Aspray:

That's very nice. Thank You.