A Manchester Wireless College recalled
by Roger Bentley
This article was originally published in the September 2004 QSO.
Scanning the list of members I have only found this establishment listed with one other members details and I am grateful to John Royle for some of his recollections which are duly acknowledged.
I started at this college in the summer of 1949 a callow youth two months short of my 16th birthday, but having taken and passed the school certificate earlier in the year I was allowed to leave school as my formal education was finished. I had originally hoped to be an apprentice deck officer, and had received application forms from Manchester Liners and Blue Star Line. However, my eyesight had started to deteriorate, and my father paid for a sight test by a Consultant in John St. (Manchester’s Harley Street). The results showed that I would not be gracing the deck of a ship as a cadet!
I was still keen to go to sea, and as a result my father took me down to Manchester again and up the stairs of a Dickensian type building in John Dalton St, where we met a Mr Moran who was the proprietor. After stressing how hard I would have to work he accepted me as a student. I was duly signed up and the fee for the first term handed over.
I don’t think I ever saw Mr. Moran more than a couple of times after that initial interview as he seemed to be involved in lots of other business activities and certainly didn’t do any teaching in the school. John Royle believes that he was a very successful scrap metal dealer and also a bit of a philanthropist in the Manchester area and connected with charitable institutions. Quite how he became the owner of a wireless college is a mystery.
So in late August I arrived for my first day at the ‘college’ complete with sandwiches and an apple! I think there were three storeys in the building, the ground floor seeming to belong to other business enterprises, the purpose of which never became clear.
My class of beginners was a real mixed bunch, with one other school leaver like myself and an even younger chap who seemed to be totally bemused and lost. He did not last very long and soon departed. The others were older and included an ex-national service man Alex Fitzpatrick, and a special certificate holder called Simpson who was going to return to sea after taking his second class ticket. He was older than the rest of us and we tended to look up to him in awe, although looking back he probably was still in his early twenties.
Morse training began quickly under the supervision of another special certificate holder and temporary instructor, Fred, who was the scion of a wealthy manufacturing firm in Accrington, and seemed to be working apparently in an unpaid category. Supposedly he was there to study for his 2nd Class PMG but never seemed to progress in this endeavour. He hated sharp pencil points and his favourite trick was to bang down on the hand of any student using such an offending piece of equipment. If looks could have killed he would have died many times. After lunch and a few pints at the Sawyers Arms on nearby Deansgate, however, he was much mellower and often regaled us with tales of his seagoing career. We new boys gaped in admiration.
As we progressed we came into the realm of Paddy the Morse instructor proper. He was a superb sender and always started with the editorial in his daily paper the Express. Later in the day and also after a visit to the Sawyers we heard all about his time on the MATIANA, whose call sign of GDMZ featured in all the practice sessions. Looking back, he had probably only made one trip to sea but he certainly made the most of it. Often in the afternoon he would stick Portishead on the receiver and I well remember the thrill of hearing that superb gruff note of GKG. CW never sounded quite the same as that ripping MCW – 850 c/s modulation note.
For the technical sessions I can only remember the great Frank May oh. Although there were other instructors in this area, but they seemed to belong to a floating population and apart from a Mr. Lomas, who taught there for a while, their names have been forgotten by me.
Frank was an enthusiastic and popular lecturer. He has received several mentions in recent QSO articles, but I believe that it was at 25 John Dalton Street that he started his notable career. I don’t think he was long out of the RAF at that time and had recently married. I think his first child was born during that spell, as I seem to remember another instructor telling us of a great night out with Frank celebrating the birth.
Students were often described as ‘young slash’ if he couldn’t remember their names. I recall that when he announced that the young chap who had started with my group and who appeared to be having great difficulty in following the instruction was to leave. He said, “We have had words (presumably the We’ included Mr Moran) with his dad and “young slash’ is leaving.”
He also had a wealth of RAF stories and these could break up the monotony of a lecture. When in flying mode the subjects ranged across a wide field, and I well remember his answer to one ‘young slash’ who enquired what toilet arrangements there were in a Lancaster.
“Pee tubes and an Elsan,” was his succinct answer and on his saying the latter was sometimes emptied in flight, one chap obviously a budding health and safety inspector was most concerned and wondered what happened to the contents and couldn’t people below suffer!
“Don’t worry ‘Slash’, even the stiffest turd disintegrates in a 260 mph slipstream” – then it was back to the Auto Alarm circuit diagram. Thus did my further education proceed.
There was a small canteen near the Morse room and this was run by a Mrs Webb who served tea and coffee during the breaks, and then made a lunch for a very reasonable price. Her hotpots preceded those of Betty in the Rovers Return in Coronation Street, Lunchtime was another occasion when ‘sea stories’ were bandied about, but on one occasion I remember a very bitter argument developing between two students both of whom had been at sea previously, one having served on tramp ships the other on big ships. The big ship man was accused of being a crawler and toadying around the depot manager to get a cushy number.
This gave us innocents the first inkling that perhaps the big employers of radio officers were not quite so friendly towards staff. The atmosphere got so heated that even Mrs Webb joined in, ordering them to cut it out and shake hands – which was grudgingly done.
One of the older students who was trying for a 1st Class was a chap called Jimmy Keogh, who was on leave from the Bibby Line. For a lot of the older students, time at John Dalton St seemed to be more of a rest and recreation period. The Sawyers Arms seemed to do a roaring trade at lunch time, and it would seem by the reports bandied about next day in the canteen, on several evenings as well. Jim seemed to have great success with the ladies as well, discovering (as he told us) the erogenous zones of his latest girl friend’s upper arms! Apparently stroking them brought great results.
I had to catch the train home each afternoon so was never privy to these goings on, at least until I returned to the college in 1952 to take my 1st Class, but that is another story.
Having passed my 2nd Class in the summer of 1950, I decided to try my luck and go to sea first instead of staying on. Frank Mayoh had encouraged several of us to take City and Guilds Telecomms 1 and Radio 1, and my results in these didn’t bode well for taking the 1st Class without more experience.
I accordingly applied to Marconi and sat back to wait for a ship, although still attending the school. One morning Jimmy Keogh came in and told me that a vacancy had suddenly occurred in Bibbys – the 3rd R/O of the LANCASHIRE had been injured in a fracas in Malta when going to the aid of a shipmate and had his jaw broken by a Maltese policeman’s truncheon. Jim said he would call the Radio Superintendent George Nutter and see if I had a chance.
A trip to the Bibby Line offices followed where I was accepted, and started to go through the process of getting a medical and discharge book etc. I did ask Mr Nutter where the ship was going but in true ‘wartime secrecy’ fashion he merely said, “The Far East.” Since the Korean War had started in June of that year, even I could put two and two together.
The day I returned from this visit, my father was waiting at home with a telegram from Marconi offering me the GOLFITO in Avonmouth subject to my medical etc.
Having listened to all the lunchtime canteen gossip I had no compunction in sending my regrets to Marconi, and the end of September saw me joining the LANCASHIRE as 4th RO.
Entering the radio room with its rich aroma of Best Bruno pipe tobacco (the Chief R/O as I found out soon enough was an ardent pipesmoker), I found not a single piece of familiar equipment apart from the ¼kW emergency spark transmitter. No Ocean Span, no CR 300; instead, the dark panelled interior housed a 381 Tx for MF, a 376 Tx for HF, and a 352A receiver for LF and MF with an Eddystone Rx for HF. However, I did recognise the 579 DF when I visited the chart room.
The learning curve was at the bottom again!
The comment below was copied over when the free standing Training Schools section was created.
The full name and address of the Manchester Brookes Bar college was:-
The College of International Marine Radiotelegraphic Communications