Interview with Peter Farnworth, 20 July 2021
Level: Category
Sound Archive
Level: Fonds
Level: Series
Communicating Connections
Scope and Content:
Peter Farnworth [PF] interviewed by Stevie Mackenzie-Smith [SMS] about working at the Marconi Company from 1966 to 1992. PF talks about growing up in Manchester, starting at Marconi as an apprentice, and travelling around the world working as a contracts project manager. Recorded remotely via Squadcast.

Part 1

[00:01:10] PF recalls moving to Essex in 1966 to join Marconi’s apprentice scheme. Got his Ordinary National Certificate (ONC) in his first year, and then studied for his Higher National Certificate (HNC) over the following two years. Explains that they did six months at college and six months at work during the scheme. Around six people on the course.

[00:05:23] Recalls his first day at Marconi and living in a hostel for Marconi apprentices on Springfield Place. Around 40 boys in the hostel.

[00:07:07] Explains that he grew up in Preston but moved to Manchester aged five, after his mother got a job there as a nurse and midwife. Comments that his maternal grandfather owned a tobacconist shop and his father was an engineer. Talks about his main interests as a child: bus spotting, history, English and reading.

[00:12:00] Comments that his family’s shop was in Longsight. Saw a lot of Teddy Boys and Teddy Girls. States that his family found the move to Manchester a means to an end. Describes difficulties in his father’s life: paternal grandmother died young; bullied at the coal merchants. Comments on long working hours in the shop. Describes his family history.

[00:21:49] Describes his two-up, two-down family home and their view of Levenshulme Palais de Dance. Describes visits from his family, including his wealthy grandmother and her chauffeur and general helper, Ward.

[00:27:57] Describes people visiting their shop before going to Levenshulme Palais de Dance: the ‘place to be’ for young people in the 1950s and 1960s. Tells anecdote about the cigarette machine getting stuck. Served in the shop from a young age as his father was ill.

[00:34:56] Describes jobs and shops in the area, including the camera and photography shop next door, Eagle Photo. Comments that his best friend was a painter and decorator; others were taxi drivers.

[00:36:20] Attended primary school in Longsight. A good reader but didn’t talk unless he had to. Recalls oversleeping on the night of the 11+ as his father had been ill. Planned to go to Liverpool University but failed his A Levels. Attended grammar school and did reasonably well. Notes that the best teachers were previous pupils who had been to war and then qualified as teachers. Comments that the teaching was good, although it was a bit rough. Tells anecdote about his maths teacher.

[00:52:31] Talks about his passion for reading, his brother’s dyslexia, and his interest in buses; collected bus numbers and organised a trip to the bus depot. Interest in local history; visited Manchester Central Library and was picked up by the press. Also enjoyed general studies and debating with his classmates.

[01:00:46] Recalls being worried that he wouldn’t have the opportunity to talk and debate at Marconi; found that colleagues were interested in talking about life and current affairs.

[01:01:19] SMS asks his career plans and PF comments that he wasn’t surprised when he failed his physics and chemistry A Levels. Recalls building an amplifier: stereo pair model 510. Liked to repair radios. Wanted to get away from home and have a good time.

[01:04:05] Mentions that he got into Liverpool University bur put arts and history on the back burner and went to Marconi.

[01:06:54] Describes travelling to Chelmsford with his best friend and his parents; nervous about the unknown but excited. Dropped off at Springfield Place. Eight new apprentices. Played music for everyone on his record deck that his mother sent him. Comments that most apprentices cycled around Chelmsford. Recalls hitch-hiking back up to Manchester occasionally.

[01:14:12] Talks about Marconi hostel accommodation: the wardens who looked after the building, Mr and Mrs Cuthbert; around 40 resident boys, all around 18; the ‘ship room’ at the top of Springfield Place; and the parties apprentices held.

Part 2

[00:00:20] PF describes how students built a transmitter at Springfield Place to have their own radio station, until their neighbour Neil Sutherland [the chairman of Marconi] shut it down for interfering with his television.

[00:01:40] Talks about the music they played in Springfield Place, like Led Zeppelin. Divide between people that liked Radio Caroline and others that liked Radio London.

[00:05:00] Explains that apprentices went to the Apprentice Training Centre and learned to file and use the lathe. Also did soldering and built a preamp there to go with his amplifier. Recalls using a drill with the wrong rake on it at Baddow Research; still has the scars. Comments that he didn’t learn much as an apprentice and was unsure what to do after his training.

[00:10:00] Mentions that apprentices were sent to Gray’s Brewery to draw technical equipment; also allowed to sample the beers. Lists specific tutors, such as Louis Shner. Comments that college was a means to an end. Mentions studying ‘digital techniques'; largely computer studies.

[00:15:42] Comments that he didn’t learn very much as he’d been ‘messing about’. Felt that some teaching staff were better than others and that they thought the material was a little basic. Found mechanical engineering boring and quite hard. Had a good time, though.

[00:20:26] Describes becoming interested in motorbikes and working as a project manager, which he was more interested in; did the paperwork while engineers did the physical work. Then worked as an installation engineer.

[00:24:44] Recalls living in Little Cops, the ‘only Marconi student house’. Had belonged to a manager who went to South Africa for a year and wanted Marconi to rent it to responsible students. Comments on cooking dinner together, coke fired heating, and their interest in motorbikes and cars; one had a Mini Cooper. Talks about taking his motorcycle apart and putting it back together.

[00:35:00] Recalls loud music and parties in the house. Mentions that they were short of female friends, but occasionally met a lady.

[00:41:37] Discusses his salary at the time; started on £470 a year, which increased to £1000 when he qualified as an installation engineer in 1969. Comments that Marconi did not pay well.

[00:43:44] Talks about working on the installation of a transmitter in Crystal Palace for ITV. Explains that the BBC and ITV were both moving to colour television at the time, and that though the new transmitters for BBC1 and BBC2 were mostly made by Marconi, those for ITV were made by TVT, except for the one he was working on. Recalls working with other engineers in Crystal Palace, celebrating his 21st birthday at the Wood House in Dulwich, and renting a flat in the area.

[00:49:50] Left the installation department in 1975 after doing installation work for the BBC all over the country, including six months in Kilmarnock. Comments that Marconi did not pay well but he claimed a lot back on expenses. Used this to help other engineers on site, so considered a good manager.

[00:55:00] Recalls helping colleagues and having a loyal team. Comments that he was technically the engineer in charge at Crystal Palace, although others were cleverer than him. Mentions that the travel involved in installation work meant that other engineers were largely young people or older bachelors.

[01:02:33] SMS asks if they had to figure out the work as he went along. PF comments that it was a means to an end. Recalls engineers coming out quickly for the BBC. Describes learning a lot on a four-month job in Sweden, although the focus was on customer liaison rather than engineering. Mentions that it was the first time he had flown. Describes himself as naïve.

[01:12:33] SMS asks about PF’s earlier comment he wasn’t as good as other engineers. PF describes going to Libya later on as he couldn’t get anyone else to go. Spent three months teaching the Libyan engineers and three months installing. Comments that his experience enabled him to teach. Discusses his tenacity, liason work, and being trusted due to his ability to get a rapport with customers and other engineers.

Part 3

[00:00:00] PF describes ‘falling out’ with Marconi in 1975 and working freelance. Head-hunted in 1978 and returned to work at Marconi a project manager in the contracts department until 1992. Mentions that much of his freelance work was with Marconi transmitters and installations.

[00:01:46] PF talks about working in Dubai and explains why he left Marconi. Took a holiday, leaving an assistant engineer in charge of the job. Was asked to leave after a salesman phoned Marconi saying that the engineer had left. Told Marconi that he would go back to the site but resign when the job was complete. Then took a role he was offered by a consultancy; also better paid.

[00:04:49] Recalls building a television station on a mountain in Dubai and using the Dubai Defence Force helicopters. Mentions that he did the same job in Brunei, which also had Marconi transmitters. Was told he would strengthen the transmitter side of the consultancy. Also worked in Bangkok, Thailand.

[00:07:09] Comments on being relieved at being head-hunted to return to Marconi; was living ‘fast’ as an expat and wanted to settle down back in England.

[00:11:48] Describes working for two to three months in Libya in the late 1980s. Recalls wearing a suit and briefcase, issues with payment which meant the project didn’t work out, and the difficulty of getting engineers out due to bombing. Recalls his wife sending him English food like chocolate and Marmite.

[00:15:47] Talks about spending time in Cyprus on his return to Marconi. Ran a project to install two medium power MF radio transmitters, with permission from the Greeks to do so. Comments on being friendly with the Director General and teaching his daughters English.

[00:20:02] Describes making friends abroad, welcoming them into his house in Essex, and learning a lot about different cultures from the people he met on his travels.

[00:23:20] Comments that Marconi was a good place for him to be. Recalls that the television and radio work went down towards the end, and he moved onto the GEC network. Talks about wanting to dedicate more time to his wife and opening a wine bar. References poor pay at Marconi; improved after they were taken over by Cable Wireless. Took some time off sick and voluntary redundancy but re-joined Cable Wireless and was there until he retired.

[00:28:05] PF reflects on his later years and changes in the industry; became less ‘gentlemanly’. Mentions that he was usually given the awkward customers to sweet talk. Comments that he succeeded at Marconi because he tried hard. Says that Marconi was a rollercoaster; felt privileged to work there and travel to different countries.
Dates of Creation:
20 July 2021
3 hours 16 minutes 21 seconds
Creator Name:
Stevie Mackenzie-Smith, 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:
3 MP3 files
Related Unit of Description:
For a transcript of this recording, see SA 13/8/26/3
Dates of Description:
6 June 2022
Not Available:
Digital item(s). For access please email ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk