Jul 09 2014

Guest Post: 1950s Audio Visual at Welldon Park School

guest_postGuest post by David Stewart, Organist at South Harrow Baptist Church…

I left Welldon Park in 1960. The “Space Age” had begun. Transistors were ousting power-hungry valves from portable radios, and being packed into computers, which were finding industrial and commercial applications. Most of my classmates had television at home; in my case, BBC only (no ITV). “The Lone Ranger”, “Crackerjack!” and (from 1958) “Blue Peter” were popular programmes.

Under the Headship of Mrs Cooper, I think the school was forward-looking. An electric gramophone played “78s” and “LPs.” The Hall was equipped with blackout blinds, so that a “Bell & Howell” 16mm cine projector could show educational films, interspersed with the occasional “comedy.” Sometimes, the film had been spooled incorrectly, resulting in “backwards” action and sound, and unintended laughter.

An “epidiascope” enabled an enlarged image of, say, a coloured map in a book, to be projected onto a vertical sheet of paper, and traced; a painstaking procedure, for which I never volunteered. It had to be done in a windowless storeroom, because, despite the powerful lamps (which made it “hot work”), the picture wasn’t very bright.

The “School Radio” fascinated me. The received and amplifier were in the Secretary’s Office, and were permanently wired to a loudspeaker in the Hall and at least one classroom. A few minutes before the broadcast, one of us was instructed to “go and ask for the radio to be switched on.” A big switch “clunked” and a red 15-watt sign lamp illuminated. I used to linger briefly, peering through the vents in the grey metal cabinet, to see the valves start to glow. We had “Singing Together” and (in the Hall) “Music and Movement.”

We were encouraged to tell the class about our hobbies and interest, and were allowed to write/draw on the (dark green) “blackboard, enlivening out presentations with coloured chalks. I demonstrated lamps and bells on a battery and a hand-driven telephone generator. With my father’s help, I made and demonstrated an electromagnet, a “carbon rod” microphone, and a one-valve battery radio. Other children spoke about pets, knitting/embroidery, puppets, racing cars/motorcycles, model railways, cookery, sports…

In 2011, the Headteacher kindly showed me round the building. The dark veneered-wood loudspeakers had been removed in the 1980s, but the loudspeaker socket was still on the wall of the Hall, linked by conduit to the rotary multi-positions “On/Off-Volume” switch in the corner. This evoked mostly happy memories of an establishment which doubtless helped to lay the earliest foundations of a career in electrical and electronics research. I’ve encountered a few more circuitry-filled metal cabinets. Incidentally, if you would like to know how that microphone worked, please ask me!

David J Stewart (Organist, South Harrow Baptist Church)

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