David Pearce’s recollections......
David Pearce’s recollections of the Tunnel were all BBC and he had never been in the top part of the tunnel before He joined the BBC when just under 16 in 1943 as a technical assistant.
He went to the tunnel regularly on night shift and helped to get the equipment ready in case of a quick transfer from Whiteladies Road. He stopped going there at the end of war and went to do National service aged 18 in 1946.
”As a sixteen year old in 1944 I used to go down there and go in by the bottom door, which was if I remember correctly a solid steel job which was very heavy and strong. This was to stop the Germans if they had successfully invaded from getting in too easily. As you know the BBC had an emergency control room there. There were four or five rooms at the bottom each about 12 feet square with a roof height of roughly 8 feet. Right at the bottom was a diesel generator. It was installed early in the war and electric starters were unknown so you had to start it with a starting handle. This handle engaged a dog on the crankshaft and you tried to turn it round and round as fast as you could until the engine fired. It was a brute of a thing for us to start.
But I get ahead of myself, the BBC worked 24 hours a day 365 days a year so we had 3 shifts. The day shift from 0900 until 1700 an evening one from 1700 until 2200 and then the night shift from 2200 until 0900 the next day.
It was on night shift at about 0100 hours after routine jobs had been completed in Broadcasting House that two of us would go down to the Tunnel to check that equipment was in a working condition. We started the generator and switched everything on and did engineering checks on all facilities. Starting at the bottom there was the control-room with all the landlines coming in along with the amplifiers and gear to operate the studio, which was the next room. This was a Talks Studio, which contained a table with a microphone on a stand and four chairs for announcers etc. It was not suitable for music or anything else as it was meant for issuing messages only.
Next was the room, which contained a very modern and scarce recording machine. This machine could record a programme, which lasted 30 minutes, a very long time for that period. The normal recording method was onto 12inch disks, which lasted for 3 to 4 minutes. I think there were very few of the machines we had in the country at this time. It was a Phillips Miller film machine but operated in a unique way, a specially shaped sapphire cut a groove in the film according to the sound fed to the recording head. To hear the sound on playback a light was shone through the film, which travelled at about a foot a second, and that was converted to an electrical signal. Very advanced for its time.
We them come to the transmitter room, which housed a one-kilowatt sound transmitter. Not powerful compared with the big boys but capable of covering a large area of the country with sensitive receivers. Lastly there was a small stock of spares and a water and food store with a rudimentary stove in the last room. To my knowledge it was never used in anger for broadcasting and I think we stopped checking it certainly just before the war ended.
I hope this is of some interest to you and will follow your progress with the Railway with the greatest admiration and interest over the coming years. If the treatment at the top is an example of your standards then it will be a joy to see it later. I was only 5 or 6 when my father took me for a ride but I still remember it and the turnstiles one went through to board the car.”
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