Industry: water, steel & energy

Gronow, Colin (3 of 9). An Oral History of the Electricity Supply in the UK

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  • Recording date

    2014-10-22, 2014-10-18, 2014-12-16, 2015-01-30

  • Interviewees

    Gronow, Colin, 1929- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 3: Comments on National Service 8 weeks basic training: 20 man barracks; drilling; menial tasks; anecdote about whole squad slipping over during drill on a frosty morning; CG support for retaining national service, training instilling discipline in recruits, high level of unemployment amongst young people recently; anecdote about corporal shouting at CG after a mistake in drill; [05:10] CG selected for RAF after interview; CG deciding against commission in RAF regiment; story about CG turning down opportunity to spend National Service learning Russian at Cambridge and gain a commission due to suspicions over being recruited as a spy; [08:00] recruits getting on well and supporting each other. [08:45] Comments on posting to RAF Institute of Aviation Medicine at Farnborough: CG a junior technician; unit including medical or scientifically trained RAF officers and civilians; CG interview with Dr [Geoffrey] Morant; CG work analysing numbers connected with various projects, such as data from test flights; CG playing tennis with test pilot; unit work including climate laboratory for testing clothing, G-suits for jet pilots, decompression chambers for breathing equipment, centrifuge for g-force; commander, Group Captain Bill Stewart, rule that scientists had to test potentially dangerous equipment on themselves before test pilots; Dr Morant specialism in dimensions of people, work on ensuring match of cockpit design and size of pilots; previous accidents with pilots losing legs whilst ejecting from aircraft they were ill-sized for; anecdote about CG being largely legs in appearance; [14:35] Morant analysis of data to ensure fighter pilots were the right size requiring comparisons of quantifiable data; CG role discovering significant differences in Morant's data. [16:45] Story about CG analysing Air Ministry data on Dakota and Hermes crashes to ascertain whether forwards or backwards facing seats were safer: research revealing that rear facing seats were safer; CG writing report up for journal and receiving inquires from around the world; anecdote about letter about car seat belts; general improvements in aircraft safety meaning rearwards seats were not widely adopted; need for different structures in aircraft to support rear facing seats. [22:10] Remarks on Farnborough: dominated by RAE; stimulating place to work; stimulating intelligent colleagues; CG working in a small group; CG greatly enjoying work; anecdote about test pilots' fascination with work and disregard for risks; new equipment and techniques tested on designers before others; Institution of Aviation Medicine an RAF research unit separate from RAE but requiring its facilities; CG limited interaction with RAE; [27:00] CG not flying at Farnborough, unlike his assistant who tested equipment on flights; CG sharing office with two others; CG sometimes analysing data for psychologists in office next door; mentions work of biochemist; mentions climate laboratory staffed by civilians; CG wearing uniform but Christian names commonly used in informal environment; [30:10] anecdote about CG sharing a bed with a sergeant in lodgings; CG spending his national service working regular office hours for two years; CG leaving National Service on Friday and returning to work on Monday as a civilian. [32:30] [cont' from 32:30] Remarks on work as a civilian for Air Ministry at Institution of Aviation Medicine: CG rank of scientific officer, but later promoted to senior scientific officer; limited promotion prospects leading CG to apply for work elsewhere; similarity of CG work at Farnborough as a National Serviceman and civilian; £40 monthly wage; CG marrying on leaving RAF; CG and wife evicted from lodgings when first son was born; CG purchasing house with help of father; mentions birth of daughter; CG move to Capenhurst to join UK Atomic Energy Authority [UKAEA], but disliking role leaving to him leaving after a few months; anecdote about returning to live in same house near Farnborough and commuting to London. [36:30] Remarks on UKAEA Capenhurst: CG move to find a job with better prospects; novel nature of atomic energy at time; Capenhurst production of enriched uranium fuel rods for nuclear power stations; CG role analysing factory plant performance data; use of electric calculators at Farnborough and Capenhurst; Capenhurst a secretive site at time; Capenhurst later also the site for the Electricity Council's research establishment, run by Dr Trevor Churchman to explore applications of electricity such as electric cars, batteries and plant growth; Capenhurst essentially a uranium factory at time; secrecy of working in UKAEA, CG signing Official Secrets Act; transport to work by bus; [42:25] many people in village also working at Capenhurst; mentions first nuclear power station at Calder Hall; CG feelings on nuclear power at time, expensive to build but cheap to run; scientific identity of scientific civil service outweighing civil service aspects of role; feeling of more working in science than working for the public; CG reasons for leaving Capenhurst, limited range of work, CG not getting on with his boss, limited prospects for advancement. [47:00] Remarks on CG joining CEGB: job advert for statistician in London; short interview; easy move back to home in Farnborough; CG disliking Capenhurst; good salary; CG replacing an existing staff member. [48:35] Story about CG interview for a job at Mars as a statistician: Mars offering bonus for punctuality; tests; anecdote about observed group exercise; interview with directors; CG not offered job. [51:30] Remarks on: CG knowing little about electricity industry before joining CEGB; CG later job analysing performance of systems operations regional control centres; mentions chief operations engineer Arthur Hawkins; CG assigned to Operational Research [OR] Unit to improve workplace efficiency; anecdote about CG observing control centres but finding it impossible to find ways to increase efficiency; examples of efficiencies found at power stations by others in OR.

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