Recollections of BBC engineering from 1922 to 1997
The British Broadcasting Corporation
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Designs Department

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The department's function was to design broadcasting equipment that the BBC needed, if suitable equipment was not available from external suppliers.  Thousands of designs were produced and they were used in studios, outside broadcasts, control centres and transmitting stations.  The output from DD was manufacturing information and intellectual property related to broadcasting systems. The manufacturing information enabled BBC Equipment Department or commercial industry to produce the required quantities of equipment needed by the BBC.

Some designs were also made under licence by commercial industry for sale to other broadcasters, in which case the BBC received a royalty.  Due to the leading edge nature of the department's work, its staff also contributed to national and international organisations concerned with the development of broadcast engineering (e.g. colour television).

Designs Department was formed in 1947 and based in London W1 until 1987.  It was then reduced in size to form Design Group and merged with Equipment Department to form Design & Equipment Department, in Chiswick.  Following the closure of D&ED in 1993, Design Group merged with Research Department at Kingswood Warren, Surrey to form BBC Research and Development.

New Jun 2020: Geoff Larkby's achievements epitomised the pioneering nature of the department's work in the early days and this article provides an overview of one of his projects: The first programme from an aircraft in flight - 1955. (John and Jimmy, captioned in one of the pictures, were John Austin and Jim Moon who became Head of Equipment Department and Head of Site Acquisition respectively.  John's daughter Margaret Evans kindly made the contribution to BBCeng.)  Design Department's David Savage has pointed out that in the article the route map is not quite right. The microwave link chain from Walton would have terminated on the mast at Swains Lane (Highgate), but the signal would then have been routed over an equalised telephone pair to Alexandra Palace, a couple of miles to the north, and then sent to BH over the EMI balanced pair cable.

This article from the Practical Television magazine dated May 1957 provides a flavour of some of the developments that were taking place. (Contributed by Neale Davison.)

Designs Department Open Days booklets: 1982, New Jun 2020: 1983 and 1985.

Designs Department Staff Handbook c1982.

Many of the Designs Department Technical Memorandums listed in this document are available and individual copies may be requested from bbceng.

Finance For Design Engineers.

Licensing BBC Designs - Article in Ariel, June 1980.

Brochure: Opportunities in BBC Engineering Designs Department c1982.

New Jun 2020: Some senior staff between 1947 and 1989

Starting in 1947, the first Head of Designs department was H B Rantzen (father of Ester Rantzen, the well known TV personality).

F G Parker and T Worswick joined in 1948 and worked on television studio equipment.

F Stringer was Head of Sound Transmission Section, assisted by G Stannard and M Chorley.

In 1949 L E Weaver joined the Department. He came from Standard Telephones and Cables and began work with the BBC by designing a portable receiver to be used for monitoring purposes by commentators. He was later to play a part in the arrangements for the first full scale Eurovision project, and to become the first Head of Measurements Section.

H Davies who had been engaged on the development of recording equipment as a member of Research Department at Nightingale Square, Balham, moved to accommodation at Maida Vale as a member of Designs Department and there led a section devoted to sound recording. Later he was joined by J Houlgate, G V Buckley, J T B Percy and W R Hawkins among others.

In March 1950, following a secondment to the United Nations Telecommunications Department, H B Rantzen left the BBC to become Director of Telecommunications at the UN. He was succeeded as Head of Designs Department by Dr A R A Rendall, who had been his deputy both in DD and Lines Department to which he had come from Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd.

In 1964 Dr Rendall retired from the BBC and was succeeded by S N Watson.

In 1968 Dr R D A Maurice succeeded S N Watson who became Chief Engineer, Television.

In 1969 P Rainger succeeded Dr Maurice who became Head of Research Department;

In 1971 E R Rout succeeded P Rainger who became Head of Research Department;. (succeeding Dr Maurice who became Chief Assistant to the Director of Engineering).

The source of the above text is unknown, but the following has been added by David Savage to complete the history.

In c.1977 Eric Rout became Head of Research Department and was replaced as HDD by Gordon Parker.

In c.1984 Gordon Parker became Head of Equipment Department (replacing John Austin) and was replaced as HDD by Ian Miller.

Ian Miller died in 1985 and was replaced by David Kitson.

In 1989 David Kitson became Head of Design Group in the newly formed Design and Equipment Department, the post of HDD having been abolished.



Western House
The home of Designs Department from 1953 to 1987.

It is now called Wogan House and is the home of BBC Radio 2.