Watching TV, an
item from decades ago, a lovely actress appeared and I realised that long ago
she lived three houses up in the same street.
Did we really swing around the lamp post all those years ago? She left early when her father earned a
promotion and they could afford to rent a better house.
This led to a
look at other thespians and one thought to be younger turned out to be older
although not by much, but in the age range for being liable for National Service,
as it proved. As actors can be touchy on the subject of their early life and careers,
I am being wary and naming no names.
But it is not
surprising that he might be nervous because what he was doing was signals work
that was part of the intelligence services monitoring the Soviet forces for
GCHQ. To have that on his CV or well
known could be very embarrassing.
It is unlikely
he volunteered, if only because being in deep country distant from major
habitation doing endless shift work may be a cushy number in some ways but was
not a lot of fun. This is what was
involved, deletions needed at a couple of points.
object was to determine where any significant Warsaw Pact activity was based,
and what type it was; and particularly if there were any significant changes in
activity which might indicate the preparations before hostilities. We were also
on the lookout for any novel type of signal because this might indicate the
introduction to service of a new or modified weapon.
This was done
by listening (using steerable directional aerials) to radar signals from ground
troops and aircraft. Due to the one way path from the (enemy) transmitter to
our (friendly) receiver, the system didn’t incur the enormous losses when
signals are scattered from a radar target and a small proportion reflected back
to the radar receiver. Consequently signals could be detected by monitoring,
way beyond the active range of the radar.
As stated, the
signals were listened to via directional aerial systems; and radar receivers of
two fundamentally different types. The more sensitive type of receiver was
tuned to a narrow band of frequencies, so it had to be re-tuned in accordance with a schedule so that all
sites were listening at the same time to this frequency band.
The much less
sensitive technique used a “crystal-video” receiver which was not tuned in any
way. This was very basic, and received all the signals in the band to which the
aerial and receiver horn responded, but had a relatively short range. In both
cases the operators used headphones to listen to the audible tones and pulses
from the radar receivers.
signals differ between types, and after rectification, they can be made audible
thereby aiding identification. Airborne radars with a relatively long range had
a low pitch whilst shorter range radars used for gun-laying had a higher pitch.
signals were viewed on a simple CRT display to aid maximising the signal by
rotating the aerial dish, and recorded on Ferrograph tape recorders. Comparison
between tapes allowed experts to decide which signals emanated from the same
radar. This process was helped by recording a coded synchronising track (locked
to the BBC pips) on the tape.
Most of the
signals being monitored were in X-band (9-10 GHz) with a wavelength of around
3cm, and most of the dish aerials had a diameter of around 1-2m, giving a
receptance angle of around 2-5 degrees. (Effective angle would vary with
strength of signal being received).
to be able to differentiate between adjacent sites, the receiving stations had
to be set well apart, and this is why in addition to (deleted), (deleted) were
considered so important as listening posts.
receiving the radar signals gave us no information on our distance from the
transmitter, and transmitter sites had to be deduced by triangulation using the
angle information from our aerials. HQ gave instructions as to which sectors
and frequencies to monitor.
During my year
with (deleted) I worked in the development laboratory giving support to the
listening function, testing new techniques and occasionally installing new
So here we
have a young man, quite likely still in his teens, after a limited period of
intensive training, engaged in highly skilled work of critical importance. Perhaps he went straight from school at 18
into the forces. It is probable that any
of it would have been new to him.
This is not an
appeal to bring back National Service. I
am flat against that, it can be a harsh tax on the young. But the question is why we require so many young
people to spend years into adult life in academic institutions with lengthy
vacations at great cost.
Too many at
the end are untrained and unprepared for a working life. Why is it not possible to provide effective
intensive training for many areas of work that take a much shorter time and
enable them to earn good money when young?
find on the actor in question is that he may have been resident in the
Municipal Borough of Finchley in 1959.
That year their new M.P. was Margaret Thatcher, who would have been his
M.P. another matter to be omitted.
The past is a