Interview with Brian Clark, 20 January 2021
Level: Category
Sound Archive
Level: Fonds
Level: Series
Communicating Connections
Scope and Content:
Brian Clark [BC] interviewed by Leona Fensome [LF] about working at the Marconi Company from 1953 to 1999. Recorded remotely via Squadcast.

[00:00:00] BC comments that he was born in 1937. Recalls his first connection with Marconi in 1952 when at school in Luton. Interested in radio as a child. BC’s father suggested he do an apprenticeship at Marconi; went for an interview, but they made him go back to school for a year until he was 16.

[00:04:57] LF asks about BC’s first day as an apprentice [in 1953]. BC talks about staying in St Mary’s Lodge, the Marconi hostel in Cottage Place, and not knowing anyone on his course. Comments that they tried to give him a craft apprenticeship, which was five years long, until his headteacher told Marconi to make him a student apprentice, which was faster.

[00:11:18] Comments that the apprentices did the same thing for much of the time, under the control of the Apprentice Training Centre. Recalls working with a marine development engineer who was developing echo sounders. Paid two pounds and two shillings. Describes only doing seven months – rather than nine - in the Apprentice Training Centre. Finished in July 1954. Comments that there were around 700 apprentices at Marconi at that time, and the New Street site held about 10,000 people.

[00:24:07] LF asks about long working hours. BC comments that they made it work. Recalls social activities like hockey and local dances. On the committee of the Apprentice Association, which organised technical visitors for the apprentices. Talks about being financially independent from his father when he turned 18.

[00:28:37] Talks about the end of his apprenticeship; introduced to professional engineering work and went into the transmitter development department. Then spent some time in the receiver test department and finally ended up in radar development, in Pottery Lane. Got his Higher National Certificate (HNC) four years later, but couldn’t join the Institute of Electrical Engineers until he was 21. Spent six months at Marconi College learning about the science and engineering of radio. Finished his apprenticeship in August 1958; then went into radar development at the Great Baddow research laboratories.

[00:35:28] LF asks about BC’s role in radar development. BC comments that he was only there for six months; after doing some menial work he was allowed to design a waveguide coaxial transition cable.

[00:39:44] BC talks about being a junior engineer; paid around 50% more than the apprentice salary. Recalls renting a flat with someone he met in his first year at Marconi. Mentions wanting to get married in the mid-1960s. Describes trying to get a job abroad, selling multi-channel radios in Africa, but comments that the government would have called him up for National Service if they knew he was no longer working in radar development.

[00:44:55] Describes applying for a job in oil exploration. Left Marconi in September 1960 to work in Libya. Talks about being financially independent and wanting enough money to get married; earned two years’ of his Marconi salary in one year abroad.

[00:48:03] Describes re-joining Marconi in November 1961 in closed circuit television (CCTV). Made redundant in 1965 but due to the shortage of engineers, moved back to radar to help with their work for NATO. Then went back to the laboratories to work on a scan converter project. LF and BC talk about engineers needing to keep up with technology; a ‘lifetime’ of five to six years. BC comments on working on goverment contracts at Marconi from 1966 until 1999.

[00:56:33] LF asks about his brief break from Marconi and BC comments that he was worried about losing his skills as an engineer. Mentions his pay as a development engineer and when he returned. Discusses poor pay at Marconi and lack of trade union membership amongst the engineers.

[01:03:38] BC describes his work on classified projects (under codenames) in the systems department. Comments on a contract with Associated Electrical Industries and working in Pakistan, Iran, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia. Mentions that he became the Chief Systems Engineer in the radar group by 1977, when he was about 40.

[01:09:03] Recalls that working hours were from 8.30am until 5pm. Paid overtime when their salary was lower but not when it went up. Comments on the long hours when people worked abroad.

[01:10:33] LF asks about sport; BC recalls playing hockey until around 1966. Explains that the new personnel director at the radar company had two squash courts built at the Beehive Lane sports ground. Comments that the Marconi Social Club had tennis, hockey, bowls, table tennis, and badminton facilities. Tells anecdote about being squash champion at Marconi and playing for the Essex county team. Talks about the importance of sport.

[01:16:28] BC describes his work as Chief Systems Engineer in the early 1970s. Lists three to four year projects: a flight plan processing system for Heathrow; a project in Saudi Arabia; and using S600 radars in Oman between 1979 and 1983. Recalls being in the Omani Ministry of Defence Squash Team.

[01:27:32] Discuss the last years of his career. Describes working on a project in Malaysia from 1989 to 1995: called from Oman to Kuala Lumpur by his manager in Chelmsford, to design a helicopter transportable microwave communication system for their new defence system. Mentions a large contract they didn’t win in the Philippines. Discusses the political situation at the time. Mentions that he retired in 1999.

[01:34:34] LF asks about his reasons for retiring. BC explains that Marconi offered a whole cohort of engineers early retirement. Mentions being diagnosed with prostate cancer the same year, although in remission now.

[01:39:44] LF asks about BC’s last day. BC recalls a party at the Marconi Social Club for around 60 colleagues. Mentions that people were worried about the Millennium Bug. Talks about being in touch with former colleaguess, including a group of ex-systems engineers that meet at the Orange Tree in Chelmsford every Friday, and met on Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also plays at Chelmsford Golf Club. Mentions Alan Hartley-Smith and the work of Marconi heritage.

[01:46:08] Reflects on his time at Marconi. Comments on the sense of comradeship and that apprentices grew in the company together. Mentions Basildon Cottage, the Apprentice Association’s cottage on New Street, and dances at Shire Hall. Comments that Marconi built bonds between colleagues, and that Writtle Road and the Baddow Tower are key local landmarks.
Dates of Creation:
20 January 2021
1 hour 57 minutes 21 seconds
Creator Name:
Leona Fensome, interviewer
Archivist Note:
Custodial History:
Recorded for the Communicating Connections project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF).
Copyright transferred to ESVA
Physical Characteristics:
1 MP3 file
Related Unit of Description:
For a transcript of this recording, see SA 13/8/7/3
Dates of Description:
6 June 2022
Not Available:
Essex Sound and Video Archive: use digital copy available on Soundcloud