Submitted By Member: rbmt20a
I started in the television trade in 1968, leaving school on a Friday and starting work the following Monday. At that time I had no particular interest in electronics; it was just a job and a way in which I could help my family as another wage earner. However I soon become interested in it and willingly studied in my spare time to gain City and Guilds qualifications. I was fortunate that this time coincided with the spread and increasing popularity of colour. My apprenticeship was mainly involved with the repair of black and white televisions from Rank Bush Murphy and then, as I progressed, colour televisions from the same company. Rental was the core of the business and I soon became familiar with the standard chassis of the time, A640 and A823.
You could say my apprenticeship ran alongside the lifetime of the A823. Looking back the early versions were certainly troublesome but most of the sets were rentals and the majority of our customers did not object as all requests for service were attended to same day where possible. In fact the company had an engineer on call six days a week till 10pm but this changed to 5pm which was more agreeable to the service department.
During my employment in the late sixties and well into the seventies, black and white television was still a major part of the business and the service department evolved into two sections. A few of the engineers were quite content to focus on black and white repairs, so it fell to the remainder, myself included, to undertake the colour repairs although we did non-colour repairs when necessary. Early on in my employment, I was with one of the older engineers when we were sent to an elderly couple’s house to fix their very old black and white set. I cannot recall the exact symptoms of its problem – a dark area of screen perhaps – but the engineer was so happy to adjust the ion trap. “Years since I’ve done that son!” he proclaimed. I am sure forum members will be well aware of that type of adjustment; but during my time in the trade I never heard it mentioned again.
I must confess I have little interest in receivers from the fifties, other than admiring the design and quality of the cabinets. The seventies are where my interest lies with many technical innovations taking place during the decade, such as the spread of UHF transmissions; the huge increase in colour receivers; Philips introducing the domestic N1500 video recorder; the launch of Teletext; and the arrival of the Japanese initially with colour televisions and then video with the rival VHS and Betamax systems.. The Japanese certainly had a big impact during that period.
The dealer I worked for was based in a small town surrounded by outlying rural areas at the extreme edge of the service area for television reception. The business had started just after WW2 and benefited from the introduction of television and the consequent popularity of renting, building up a good customer base. During the sixties our family rented a 19 inch Murphy Astra from the company – the set had push button channel selection, with each button being a segment in a circular arrangement rather than individual push buttons in a circle. The business had been heavily reliant on Bush and Murphy products during the previous decade and so when colour television started it followed that this would be the brand heralding the new era.
My training started at the end of the dual standard dominance for colour and black and white sets and my first few months saw me accompany an older engineer to repair or install the large dual standard Bush and Murphy console models. The following year, when BBC1 and ITV started broadcasting in colour, the engineer and I were sent out with a list of customers using these receivers, requiring the keys changed in the tuners to enable the sets to tune into the extra channels.
And so to the arrival of the single standard sets, which were almost exclusively supplied from what would we call RBM from then on. I think we had the odd Philips G8 and just one KB, fitted with the hand-wired chassis and the capability to operate even with the colour decoder removed. The RBM A823 chassis was the main product for both rental and sales. The engineers all attended a course to familiarise themselves with the new technology. I was still at an early stage of my training so I was just listening and watching with regards to repair, reliability and performance. The initial problems, as far as I can recall, were with the flyback tuning capacitors (many types were tried before a permanent solution was found) and the integrated circuit in the intercarrier sound detection module. A later design of IF board performed better and had improved reliability. I will return to the A823 later.
As we moved into the early seventies I had passed my driving test, so I was utilised to deliver and install televisions. I was able to make any adjustments I thought necessary to the colour sets. The seventies also brought a brush with the law – the law of gravity, that is. As I mentioned earlier, we lived at the very edge of the service area for reception, more so at UHF, so aerial installation and repair was an important part of our business. Up until my second year with the company, aerial work was shared amongst the engineers (at least those who were physically capable) and the apprentices, myself included. The company owner took the decision to employ a dedicated aerial rigger, though he would still be assisted by an apprentice from the service department. This would give the apprentices some training and experience in television signal reception. This worked well for a few months until the aerial rigger fell off a roof while fixing a lashing kit around a chimney. So we all had to take turns again with aerial duties.
About ten days after the rigger’s accident I was sent to install a new colour set and erect a hi-gain aerial with a masthead amplifier. We unboxed the set, fitted the stand and set about fitting the aerial on the chimney of the three storey building. Everything went as planned until I made my way back down the roof. We were not using a roof ladder and suddenly I found myself sliding across the slates. I hit the gutter at the edge of the roof and dropped over the edge, falling through the air and striking the wall of an outdoor stairwell – I rebounded against an oil storage tank before I hit the ground.
The ambulance was met at the hospital door by my worried mother who had been telephoned by my boss. I was sent straight to X-ray and then admitted to the hospital ward. Guess who was in the next bed to me? Yes, the rigger who had fallen ten days before! He was still in bad shape having suffered a broken leg, broken arm, broken wrist on the other arm and various cuts and bruises. I was informed that the doctors suspected I had suffered a fractured pelvis. I counted myself very lucky as I had no other injuries. I was hospitalised for two weeks and off work for a further two months.
Once back at work I was restricted to light duties such as stock control of spares, checking the sets in the showroom were displaying good pictures and demonstrating to the shop staff the various controls. After taking it easy for a month or so I returned to my usual work. As my apprenticeship was nearing completion I was more involved with repairing black and white and colour televisions both in the field and workshop. The sets were mainly the A823 and the A774 chassis.
I mentioned earlier the introduction of new technologies during the seventies. The most memorable for me was the Philips N1500 video cassette recorder, since I was asked if I would like to attend a Philips training course for the machine at the company’s premises in Croydon. My memory is not great, but I reckon this would have been in early 1974, as I recall taping some matches of the FIFA World Cup that year. The machines were very expensive but a small number were sold to domestic and educational users. At the Philips course I was able to meet and discuss common problems in the trade with fellow engineers, not something I was used to due to our relative geographic remoteness. At the course I had the pleasure of sitting beside an older dealer/ engineer, with whom I discussed the quality and reliability of the current range of colour televisions. He was a Ferguson dealer not far from the Ferguson factory at Enfield.
“You know,” he said. “I’ve recently started selling small colour televisions from a company called Sony. Despite being shipped all the way from Japan I can deliver the set to the customer’s home still in the sealed box and it works every time. I can’t do the same with a Ferguson. I have to unpack the set, ensure it powers up, check picture quality and make any necessary adjustments.”
Little did I know then how that scenario would be played out on a larger scale in the years to come.
Another milestone, so to speak, was the Radio Rentals takeover. No, it’s not what you are thinking. Our business took over the rental contracts from RR in our area. Rumour had it the negotiations involved no less than Sir Jules Thorn. Radio Rentals had a presence in the area for a few years, though I’m not exactly sure how many, and conducted business from premises just on the outskirts of town. The takeover was a surprise to the service department and we were not really prepared for the repairs of sets unfamiliar to us, such as both black and white (700 series chassis) Baird, plus the 3000/3500 series chassis and 8000 series chassis from Thorn.
I found out later that RR found it difficult to retain an engineer for the area and justify the cost due to the limited amount of customers. Also, as it was a time of changing technology, new aerials were required and this was not a service RR was willing to provide, hence the transfer of rental contracts. From an RR customer’s point of view it was an awkward situation. They had, for whatever reason, chosen not to rent from the local business and had rented from RR instead. This resentment began to manifest itself when a service call was requested and the set removed for workshop repair, giving rise to questions such as “When will the set be returned?” and “Do I get a loan set?” as well as demands for a refund of rental payments. I remember it as a difficult time with a sharp learning curve on those Thorn chassis.
Earlier I mentioned our reliance on the RBM A823 colour chassis and the A774 monochrome chassis. About two years into the life of the A823 the service department was supplied with two field service kits and two repair jigs to allow for the repair of the faulty boards. For some reason we referred these boards as panels not PCBs or boards. These kits and jigs would allow more repairs to be carried out in customers’ homes with only the most serious faults requiring the set to be brought back to the workshop. We found the A823 fitted in very well with this system. To be honest we found the picture quality to be quite good, we had very little else to compare it to, the customers were not that discerning and we continued with many variants well into the seventies.
By now I was mainly a bench engineer repairing colour televisions and also responsible for the repair of faulty boards returned by the field engineers. I mentioned earlier that the workshop had two jigs – this arrangement allowed the soak testing of repaired boards but also of boards changed by the field engineer in response to intermittent faults. I really enjoyed this part of the work and was able to build up a good understanding of the chassis and its common faults. The decoder and the power supply were the most common boards that needed repair. The two integrated circuits on the decoder were the common failures. The RGB output transistors (BF337) and the corresponding driver (BC148) were also replaced fairly often. The small electrolytics associated with the two integrated circuits gave us trouble, as well as the luminance and chroma delay lines. I thought the two integrated circuit board was a big improvement. That could also apply to the later design of the IF board which I found could be repaired quickly to component level or by replacing the appropriate module. I rarely came across the earlier IF board with the large heatsink for the audio output transistors and the troublesome integrated circuit.
One fault, no colour, which became relatively common, was caused by the vertical preset at the top of the board (chroma level). A white sticker was usually attached to keep the desired setting. Cleaning the track cured the problem but the adjustment of this control (600mv) was critical to reliable decoder board operation. Initially the field engineers had quite a few call-backs after a board replacement to ensure the colour locked on every channel change. There was also an vertical preset on the decoder (bistable) which required adjusting. Although the power supply could be easily be repaired in the customer’s home the engineers mostly replaced them to save time, checking the HT was set to 200 volts and making sure the screws were tight to ensure a good earth onto the metal frame. When repairing, I always fitted a BY164 in place of the four individual diodes in the LT supply whether they were faulty or not. The thyristor, the 390k resistors, the thermistor and the LT smoothing block (1500+1500 UF) were parts that were commonly replaced.
The earlier scan drive board had failures with the frame output transistors. I seem to recollect a modification kit for this. Electrolytics and the small green diodes in the 40 volt frame supply were suspects for frame collapse. In the line section the drive transistor BD131 often failed, though I cannot remember much else. The later scan drive board I found to be more reliable. I commented earlier how the A823 fitted in with our repair methods. If a board replacement would not effect a repair, for example line output transistors, the engineer could simply remove the chassis and return it to the workshop to be repaired and tested. There was always a set that could be used for testing. We never swapped a chassis. Tuner problems, as in electronic, were rare. Mechanical problems were not. The nylon runners – we called them running nuts – on each tuning rod became weak or even split resulting in poor channel change or no tuning at all. If doing field service I always made sure I had a complete mechanism in the van. If the buttons were worn and the correct type not to hand I used a piece of rubber flex as a spacer over the tuning rod. I found this to be a lasting repair! Opening up the tuner itself usually revealed hardened grease which I cleaned with a suitable solvent. Complete failure of the tuner was not common. The varicap tuners fitted to later models were troublesome, with faulty units being sent away for repair after being removed from the board.
The sets which had finished their contracts were refurbished to be re-rented. When undergoing refurbishment, the chassis was removed. The condition of the two large smoothing electrolytics was checked and invariably they were found to have leaked onto the metal chassis, so they were replaced. The cover over the line output transformer was removed to reveal the condition of the focus VDR and also to replace both focus resistors with types of better quality. While in that area I would replace a 820k resistor behind the transformer – I think this resistor was in the beam limiter circuit. A repaired mechanism was fitted to the tuner and if necessary the CRT replaced with a regunned Mullard Colourex one. The hinged convergence panel also had its fair share of problems. One of the red/green controls would burn up and the A1 controls (2 Meg) would vary in value.
Being very familiar with the sets and chassis brought about an involvement with the local police – the CID to be precise. I was taken to the local police station and escorted to a cell where I saw a Murphy 22-inch colour television. The set had been recovered by the police from a house during routine enquiries. The set was suspected as being one of our rentals which had been stolen from a customer’s home a few weeks before. The burglars had removed the serial number which was stapled or fixed with screws on the top left of the cabinet and had taken off the back cover so that they could pull off the little yellow labels which were stuck to the boards (something that was not necessary as the labels were not relevant).
“Is there any way you can identify this set?” the detective asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
During the refurbishment, if replacing the CRT, you had to remove the degassing coil which was mounted on a metal shield around the CRT. Parts of the coil were held in place by black fabric sticky tape. I had found that a yellow label with the serial number of the set printed on it was always underneath the same piece of tape. It was on the top right hand side next to the EHT cap. I gently removed the sticky tape to reveal the serial number which coincided with the number our office had given the detective. A court appearance as an ‘expert witness’ a month later gave me a day off work!
The repair of black and white sets still took up a considerable time in the workshop, the most common set being the A774 chassis, the mainstay of our rentals. While these sets were not the most reliable we did try to eliminate potential faults; however the failure rate of the line output transformer was extremely bad. I recall seeing a box of fifty transformers, which I believe was supplied free of charge. This scenario was to be repeated some time later with a certain colour chassis. To resolve the complaint of line tearing/ flicker I would connect all the vertical earth points on each side of the chassis together and then bend the wire left and right to connect to earthing points along the bottom. The small presets associated with the AGC circuits were also changed as a matter of routine. I do not remember if the replacement was due to the presets being faulty or if it was a modification and different values were fitted. Sadly I disposed of all the service information I had gathered on both chassis, and from other manufacturers, thinking it would be of no use. Fifty years on, it is difficult for me to be specific regarding component types, values and circuit references.
It is said that nature dislikes a vacuum. Well, shortly after our takeover of the RR contracts, a dealer from a nearby town opened premises on a street not far from our shop. The arrival of the new business just happened to coincide with the start of transmissions from a new high-powered UHF relay. This vastly improved the quality of the signal and simplified aerial installations. The new business was purely a television dealership, unlike ours which also sold white goods and had a separate electrical installation and repair department. So, what would the ‘opposition’ be selling or even renting? A look at the advert in the local press announcing the shop’s grand opening told us the Japanese had arrived. Sony and Hitachi would be the two brands for sale and I think the GEC brand was used for rental.
Around this time the public were becoming much more aware of the reputation of Japanese brands. Although the Japanese sets were limited in the range of screen sizes at that time, they did have an impact on our business with a drop in sales. There was little effect on our rental business, however. During the early years the Japanese brands were very loyal to the small independent dealers – this would change in later years and we would not be allowed access to these two specific brands. I am unaware of how or why the choice was made. but, National Panasonic (as it was in the seventies) would be the Japanese brand alongside the traditional British names. I think it was a good decision as we had very little trouble with the products, the only downside being limited supply and range until the manufacturer opened their factory in Cardiff.
I remember the first set to arrive was a 13-inch colour portable model TC361G. The cabinet was white with the fascia/front black, slider controls and the ‘green line’ tuning system. I recall being very impressed by the picture quality and unsurprisingly they sold really well. Looking back the sets seemed to be popular with older customers who wished to change over to colour but were unhappy at the fairly large cabinets of the standard sets. I am unsure of the timescale (my memory is not very accurate) but I also think a 14-inch model appeared around the same time with a white cube-shaped cabinet, touch controls for channel selection and slider controls arranged vertically on the right hand side. I cannot remember the model number, but this was another excellent set.
This is where things get a little confusing for me regarding the models as the Cardiff factory started production. Was that 1976? I am hoping someone reading this will be able to comment on the start of production and the ensuing models built during the next four years. I recall seeing a 20-inch (perhaps model TC202G?) with styling similar to the TC361G I mentioned previously. Was this set Cardiff-built with Japanese sourced parts or was it directly imported from Japan? I do remember a set, could be a 20 or 22-inch, with a teak or similarly coloured cabinet, with a manual channel selection and eight rectangular buttons, square on/off button and maybe slider controls. I was informed this set was Cardiff-built. The other set which I remember well is the TC381G, which superseded the TC361G, with a black and grey cabinet, rotary controls and the ‘green line’ tuning. I look back on the early National Panasonics with great affection, especially the TC361G. At that time the comments from the dealer at the Croydon course and his words “they come all the way from Japan and work straight out of the box” were confirmed. I would be very interested in finding one to refurbish/restore, and any information on National Panasonic from the seventies would be gratefully received!
I think it was in 1975 when we saw the arrival of the Z718 chassis. To start with they were just 18-inch sets fitted with the usual RBM four bottom mechanical tuner. Large numbers were sold or rented, the same happening with the later large screen variants. RBM was so confident in this chassis the Murphy branded sets were sold with a 5 year guarantee, a bold innovation at that time, which involved the purchaser being supplied with a book of vouchers, one of which was to be signed by the customer and handed to the dealer after a repair. To begin with the 20, 22 and 26-inch Murphy sets were only to be sold but later RBM changed that policy and allowed them to be rented with the dealer being paid for any repairs. Let me say I filled out many vouchers. Compared to the A823 chassis the field engineers had a difficult time. From the outset if a large screen model was to be installed it would have to be brought into the service department and have the voltage tapping on the mains transformer altered. As our electrical supply in the area is over 240 volts we thought it prudent to change it from the 220 volt setting. The chassis soon displayed a wide range of faults, the biggest problem being the line output transformer. It failed across the range, 18 to 26-inch, and at certain times led to a special area to be set up for sets awaiting the transformer as it was sometimes in short supply. Looking back I think we received preferential treatment from the RBM spares department as we received bulk supplies of the part. Other faults included the two Semikron? diodes in the E/W circuit which also formed part of the LT supply and the 910 ohm resistor in the same circuit. I always soldered the earth wire from the plug and socket on the rear of the decoder board directly to the board. Doing this stopped strange flashing and flickering in the picture. Resistors in the A1 supply were suspect along with transistors in the field output stage. I believe the CRTs were all Toshiba and I never came across a faulty one. Varicap tuners fitted to later models gave problems along with the associated push button units. These sets certainly kept the service department busy.
Hearing that a replacement for the Z718 was on its way gave us hope that life, as regarding reliability and repairs, would be easier when dealing with the new T20 chassis. Sadly this was not the case. I think we received some of the earliest sets off the production line and I distinctly remember repairing a set with a very low serial number. These new sets had a very high failure rate out of the box. The line output transistor failed due to a faulty resistor in the line drive circuit. A different type of resistor was later fitted. Tripler and line output transformer were also regular failures. This amount of faults brought about a visit from someone I had heard about but never met. The regional Technical Liason Officer of RBM, who I found very helpful, was with us for a couple of days to report and solve the ongoing problems. In his estate car (which I thought at the time was the bee’s knees as we all had BMC J4 diesel vans without so much as a heater) he had brought a good range of boards and components to repair the mounting number of faulty stock sets. As well as carrying out repairs he also spent time with us explaining the chassis and in particular the switched mode power supply circuit. I thought at the time he was doing his best to represent his company and to take responsibility for the situation.
At that time RBM was going through a difficult spell. I think it was laying off workers in an attempt to cut costs. The TLO was honest enough to say morale in the factory was low and hence quality control had suffered. In hushed tones he even hinted at the possibility of sabotage by disgruntled workers on the production line. The conversation moved on to the steady inroads of the Japanese brands. He admitted the quality and higher rating of key components in these brands was a factor – he demonstrated this by picking up an on/off switch (Lorlin?) used at that time in the RBM chassis, which often failed, and explained how much bigger and more mechanically robust the Japanese equivalent was. This exemplified the difference in approach to manufacturing a reliable product.
The business persisted with the RBM products with the upgrade to the T22 chassis with a single signals and decoder board and varicap tuning, I think. We sold a lot of the Murphy version with the six square push button channel change which gave frequent problems. These sets were also sold with the manufacturer’s 5 year warranty. I think the later T26 chassis displayed the best picture of all the RBM products, mainly due to the introduction of the Mullard 30AX CRT. Around this time there was a tie up with Toshiba and we took into stock Bush and Murphy 20-inch sets fitted with a Toshiba chassis (X53?) which RBM designated the T24. These were excellent sets and I can only recall repairing one, the fault being rectified by replacing the line drive transformer.
I do not know of the proper sequence of events leading to the demise of Bush and Murphy. I may be wrong but I believe there was a rebranding to Rank Radio International and an announcement of collaboration with Toshiba for joint production at the Plymouth factory. I do not remember how long this arrangement lasted but we were not surprised when the Rank organisation decided to pull out of television manufacturing altogether. What concerned us most was the continued supply of spares for the sets we had to service. We soon learned that Mastercare was appointed to be responsible for the supply and distribution of spares. I was not directly involved in ordering spares but I remember my workshop boss saying he encountered many problems in dealing with Mastercare.
So, who would fill the void left by the loss of the Bush and Murphy brands? Toshiba was the obvious choice but it did not happen – perhaps being a Panasonic dealer put off Toshiba or vice versa; however many years later it did become a Toshiba dealership. KB, later known as ITT, was a make which we had sold or rented, with CVC5, 8 and the solid state CVC20 and 30 all making an appearance in the workshop. Philips could have been chosen as well as the business had been part of the introduction of their video recorders; but while we continued to sell the brand it did not fill the space left by RBM.
In 1977 I was again fortunate enough to be asked to attend one of the roadshows put on by Philips to promote the new G11 chassis. This event was not technical but highlighted the benefits of the new design and thinking. I enjoyed this approach to launching a new product. I was always interested in the manner in which the business was run, by that I mean anything connected with television sales and repair, but I was never involved in any decision-making, be it business or technical. That would happen a few years later but that’s another story. I thought the G11 to be a big step-up in picture quality compared to what we were used to with the A823 and others. In fact I purchased one on behalf of my mother-in-law and it gave good service for many years.
We ended up with not one but two new makes being brought in. GEC (which I thought was a good choice given the tie-up with Hitachi) and Luxor/Skantic which would later become Salora?, a make unfamiliar to us. The GEC sets 20 and 22 inch were fitted with the Hitachi NP8CQ chassis. I remember being impressed by the picture but also remember frame problems with failure of the module(thick film assembly?) and the electrolytic capacitors close by. I am unsure as to which make was to be the dominant rental. By the end of the seventies we were served by a wide range of makes. Panasonic, ITT, GEC, Philips, Ultra, and Luxor/Skantic could be seen on the bench alongside the sets from the RBM era. One chassis I have not mentioned is the Z179 chassis. I think we stocked a few out of loyalty to the brand and I can only remember repairing two, the second of which was the last set I repaired before moving on to pastures new in 1983.
Although video recorders had been with us for some time with the Philips machines it was not until the arrival of the Japanese with the VHS and Betamax systems that we saw a surge in demand. As regards to which system to choose, the business initially went with Betamax. Why? Around this time we were still dependant on RBM products and RBM had a business arrangement with Toshiba who had chosen to manufacture the Betamax machines. So the first of the ‘new system’ video recorders we sold were Bush branded top loaders manufactured by Toshiba, perhaps the model BV5740? They proved to be very popular with every delivery being sold out almost immediately. I think we even had a waiting list. The only common fault that I remember was the failure of the capstan motor giving a distinct warble on sound. This would be the only Betamax brand we would sell or rent.
VHS arrived with a JVC machine. Until other manufacturers joined in, making their versions of VHS available (such as Panasonic and GEC with their tie-up with Hitachi) JVC was the only VHS machine to be sold or rented. I do not think we were a JVC dealer and think we were supplied through a wholesaler, not directly from JVC, so supply was limited. Only when Panasonic and GEC offered their models and made them available in large quantities did VHS become the preferred option for our customers. The two machines I remember in particular are the Panasonic NV7000 and the small and neat Hitachi-made GEC.
Teletext was an innovation that seemed to evolve slowly.. I recall setting up the first Teletext set in the showroom, a 22-inch Bush Z718 chassis with a large text module squeezed in, with a price tag approaching £900! Much later in the decade and into the eighties, Teletext became more popular in our area. Maybe customers thought that, if they were purchasing a set with a remote control, they may as well have the text version, albeit with an increase in price.
Lastly, I’d like to mention RBM’s take on small screen colour and monochrome televisions. The 12-inch Bush Ranger was very popular and was even offered for free if a customer was purchasing certain large screen colour televisions. I cannot remember if this promotion was backed by the manufacturer or if it was our own idea. The Bush colour portables (BC6004?) were not sold in great numbers. I remember repairing a couple but do not recall the faults.
So the decade finished with the UK consumer electronics industry in a completely different state than at the start. Some big names had disappeared or were close to doing so, and the competition from Japan had been firmly established.
Writing this has brought back many memories which I have been unable to share as many of my former workmates have sadly passed away or left the trade. I hope anybody reading this will forgive any chronological errors. My intention was to tell of my experiences and memories during what I consider to be a time of major change. Some model numbers, component types and circuit references may be incorrect (hence the question marks) but it was fifty years ago. I could have gone online and turned this into a research project; but as I said I wanted it to be a genuine recollection of a time when the products were designed to be repaired and could be repaired, some much more than others!
I left the trade, or what was left of it, eight years ago but I still try to do the odd repair now and again to keep my brain active.