The Adventures of Mr Blex
By Bill Exley
In the Beginning, Many Moons ago
I was born in St Peter Port, Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, in 1937. just a few years before the outbreak of the Second World War and the German Occupation of all the Islands. I was evacuated, along with my mother and sister, to Barnsley, South Yorkshire - my father's home town. 3 days later the Germans came in and took over the Islands. So Mr Blex, disguised as a small boy evades the German Forces. now no person could leave the Island for 4 years. We stayed in Yorkshire for 5 years, returning back to Guernsey, where we stayed for the next 10yrs. My father was in the forces with the Sherwood Foresters Regiment and came back to Guernsey and his Job.
Mr Blex goes to School
My schooling was in two very strict, but very good, Catholic Schools, namely Burnt Lane and St Josephs. Later I passed my Scholarship exams and went to the Grammar school (also called - Ecole Intermediaire). Although I am Church of England by faith – the Catholic schools were close by and within 1 mile of our home. The tiny Island of Guernsey itself is only 3 to 4 miles across, by 7 miles down it's West coast road, and a perimeter coast line totalling 24 miles, so in perspective, its 30 Sq Miles would easily fit into the Isle of Wight Four times (148 Sq Milrs)
I was average in school, but enjoyed Art, Woodwork, Metalwork and Technical Drawing, I was also in the Sea Scouts apprx 6yrs.I ran the 1 mile and 3 mile track events and Cross Country, and always well placed. I was then removed a year early from school by my parents, making Mr Hill, the Headmaster, livid. This was because I had just come out first in Form / Class for the final term ! so I had lost the last year. Once more a ‘Nomadic trip’ took our family of four back to Barnsley.
In Barnsley I found employment working in Television ! More specifically the construction and testing of televisions in a small company unit in Regent Street, Barnsley. The company employed only about ten of us, and the brightest lad, Don North, did the final tuning. They were 17-inch Tube size but only the Black and White version, the Colour Television appeared, I think, about mid - 1967 and very expensive. ( Our Boss Mr Smith said we were a part of a Mc. Arthur T.V. company, more likely he had all their Bankrupt stock)
My second job was with a company called Isherwoods. Here I progressed to Outdoor and Bench repairs of Televisions, and attended Barnsley and Rotherham Tech, which lead to my City & Guilds Certificate in this subject. My T.V. job was kept 'Open' by Law, until the end of my 2 years National Service time, Nov 1958 to Nov 1960, so returned 3 days later, in the November 1960.
The Start of jobs with more Scope
Isherwoods was a very nice friendly television sales and service shop, one of ten around the South Yorkshire area, such as Leeds, Sheffield , Wakefield and others, owned by a Mr Alwyn Isherwood from Leeds. Those Halcyon Years… Here I built a working two-and-a-half-inch tube diameter Oscilloscope - from magazine articles and Cct. Diagrams, using Ex Gov parts which I had sourced from a shop in Leeds! It was an 'Aladdins - Cave' and packed to the doors with spares, so always busy.
Around 1956-57 I met my Wife Barbara in a 'Cellar' ! one Sunday afternoon. She was with a couple of her mates and together we help make up our 'crowd' of around ten. I knew she was interested in me as she kept throwing me casual glances thru' the smoke-filled cellar. Unfortunately, I missed it due to the fog! She then gave me the “Eye”. But I gave it her back (as that would have left her with only one – her glass one at that!).
Our crowd used to meet in the basement of a three-storey terraced house, from the front doop entrance it was a two storey house on a level streei, but due to the steep hill, the rear of the house showed three floors, hence we had a large day-lit basement with it's own window. In order to gain access to our ‘local club’ we had to go through a kitchen full of adults, and down some stone steps. However, numbers soon grew to about twenty to twenty-five bodies. We met up to listen to records and even had the benefit of a Tea Chest string Base and a Guitar joining in with the music as we shuffled about, the guitar became two, so noise grew more.
Every Saturday evening a full coach left Barnsley for Wakefield, about 9 miles away, to go to The Embassy or Unity Clubs for a bash and a 'couple' of drinks. You had a Passout stamped on the back of your hand, to do a Pub check ! Later Barbara and I became Engaged. Why I don't know, as I had done nothing really wrong.
But then started the long hard slog of having to save up for our Wedding and Honeymoon, and the deposit for a House.We knew of only one person who owned a car, and only one telephone owner in my In laws street, in Kingstone ,Barnsley.. I had a Bike and we used Buses for transport to get about.
Mr Blex goes into the Army
All in all this meant a five year period was put aside to make this happen – and this included a two year gap in monies when I served my National Service time (Nov 1958 to Nov 1960). My pay at the time was a mere £1-40 per week (or 28 Shillings). Later I was lucky enough to receive another 15p per week, as a Lance Corporal and an X3 Skilled Tradesman. I then picked up a new responsibility – that of being in charge of 20 men during peace time. They were a good group of lads and all went well with zero confrontations.
The Royal Corps of Signals is a huge Garrison based at Catterick Camp and 3 miles south of Richmond in North Yorkshire. It has Vimy Lines as 1/T.R. for the Basic Training (Square Bashing ) and 4/T.R for the Trade Training part. It was a desolate area and freezing cold in the winter and no picnic, being out on the Parade / Drill square, lined up in the dark at 6am, with Flood Lights. We marched about plus carrying out rifle drills. Now this is a real leveller for sorting out the “Mummies Darlings” from the “Hard Nuts” from London and Glasgow. ( We had one or two ) But we were all in the same boat – you simply had to all muck in together, as we did, otherwise God help you.
A Running Commentary
At Catterick icy winds didn't go round you – they went through you – especially on an icy square in November. The camp was one of two Notorious Hard Bull camps – the other being Aldershot. At camp we had 6 weeks of drill and square bashing, followed by 10 months of Trade training on Transmitters and Receivers, it was 1 week of Theory and followed by a week of Practical on each type. e.g. tuning and finding pre-set faults laid by the Instructor.
Following my stints I was then posted as a Lance Corporal to the 3rd Royal Horse Artillery Regiment at Perham Down, Tidworth (near Salisbury Plains) – missing going out to Singapore for 13 months, by the toss of a coin, in the Postings Office in front of a jovial Officer, my mate from Liverpool won!
I was one of three Signal Techs. attached to the 3rd R.H.A. Regiment as technical support, for all the Transmitters and Recievers used. The equip. was in Land Rovers, 3 Tonn Bedfords ,(4 wheel drive), and 6 Wheel Saracen armoured vehicles. Once again due to my rank, I was in charge of a room of Lads as regards standards, order and a room fit for any inspections.
While at Catterick and Tidworth my running improved, and I was soon good enough to be chosen to represent the Regiment (the Royal Signals) and then the Army Northern Command. It was here at Tidworth that I came 2nd in the 3rd R H A Cross Country (I was later to win this in November 1960). I was now running alongside Elite County Standard Runners – who, like me, had been caught up in the National Service call up net – but this pushed me on.
All in all I enjoyed my National Service days, finding it a unique experience, with the Comradery with all sorts of individuals. Those two years flew by – but remain memorable days, akin to a day on a white-sandy beach in St Lucia.
Mr Blex climbs 'Pen Y 'Fan' , in the Snow..
During this time, I even volunteered for a 3 week Outward Bound, or Leadership Training Course on the 'Brecon Beacons' in the snow (Mid-February - 1960). Now this is the S.A.S. training area, and we ended up the last three days covering a 75 mile Trek from Aberystwyth, over the Black Mountains and Elan Valley down to the Beacons via Pen Y' Fan (the highest peak at 2,907 feet), a check point, to our Base Camp at Senny Bridge.
This was an elating outdoor experience for me. The leader, in charge of making decisions for a team of four, changed daily (the 'bosses' kept the four young officers as a unit on their own, for certain reasons). I, myself, was very comfortable with the intense map reading which was an integral part of the course. Using Ordinance Survey maps and carrying out the Prismatic compass work – I had done Map reading and Compass work before when I was in the Sea Scouts in Guernsey. Out here, in the snow, it would be a bad experience if you got lost, we saw a Helicopter more than once. We carried a heavy pack, spare Boots, food and a heavy Para' sleeping bag each and tents.
Adventures in Jazz
At this time in the late 1950's we went to Wakefield or Sheffield City Hall and saw many of the well-known Artists of the day, covering Jazz, Rock and Roll and others. These were Ella Fitzgerald, Chris Barber, Lonnie Donegan, a member of his Band, (Rock Island Line) and Ottilie Patterson his singer, John Dankworth and Cleo Lane, Charlie Parker and his American Jazz All Stars. We were very lucky to see them all, including Dizzy Gillespie, George Shearing, (Brilliant) Bill Haley, Dave Brubeck. Plus ''Humph'' or Humphrey Littleton (Bad Penny Blues) and Acker Bilk (Strangers on The Shore)
Mr Blex and Mrs B enter the Property Market
Then came the house purchase, we went for a luxury end terrace house with (wait for it!): No Central Heating, No Bathroom and No Double Glazing! But we did have a posh Outside Toilet in the back garden and a Tin Bath to be used in front of a fire! We had the distinction of having four 100 yr old Victorian Fireplaces, as coal was so cheap. They were in each small room and handy for the cold winters, or if anyone was ill in bed.
.It was a veritable Two-Up, Two-Down as they say. but we did have each other. for that 10 mths period. Now in Todays' modern times, you have the toilet inside the house and eat outside, we knew how to choose our Luxury £800 first time home!! The good Old Days as they say.
A Fortuitous Steppingstone for Mr Blex
While working at Isherwoods, I saw a job advertised for 'Calibration Engineers' in Guernsey, with a company called Tektronix Ltd. Tektronix being a huge American Company with plants already in Portland, Oregon, America and now also based in Guernsey. They had moved to Guernsey as a legal loophole, to beat the Import/Export Taxes to the U.K. Tektronix were currently building their full range of Oscilloscopes and Peripherals here, and as I had already made my own “Scope” I wrote off for an Interview and managed to sail through it and was offered a job. To cap it all, we had a Free Hol in Guernsey at the best Hotel for 3 days regardless.
So Babs and I moved down to Guernsey in December 1962, after getting married on March 24th 1962 and making a profit of £150 on the house sale. We had all expenses paid by Tektronix, all selling and removal fees and free flat rental until we bought our next house, 500yds from the factory ! !
I was put into the Calibration Dept. of the many types of Oscilloscopes and Plug Ins, to finite Tek.standards and Manuals, for perfect conformity.. Such as the 545A and B, 547, a huge 555, 310 (a mini one) and the 502A as used in Heart- Opperations, so critical in a Theatre, for accuracy etc They all looked superb and were acclaimed World Wide as the Rolls Royce of 'Scopes' I was soon a Q.C. man and put into training and forming a Trouble Shooting section.
I have often spotted them in background scenes of Technical or Labs, on Films and Television.We stayed in Guernsey for seven years and we loved every minute of it. Those seven years saw the birth of our two sons (1964 and 1966) and so as you can imagine we spent all of our spare time on the beaches, or eating out at fine, but affordable resturants with good menus and Table-Side cooking etc.
While we were in Guernsey I wrote a book, 'Guernsey Coinage' a historical and numismatic monograph, it was a World First and reviewed in The Times , small books section in Dec 1968, my collection now sits safely .in a Guernsey Museum. Tektronix was a small company of only about 300 peaple, it was a very relaxed but efficient work place, We had a bi - annual profit share of 4 - 9% of wages earnt over 6mths.It was all tax free, as you had to deal correctly with the local Tax Office
Mr Blex on the Beach.
Every summer a 'Tek. Picnic' took place for all, including families and 40 local deserving children, all food and sensible Drinks being provided with the crossong. It took about 20 minutes to get to the delightful island of Herm. 3 mies off St Peter Port harbour, a ' Miss Tektronix' Pageant was also held.
Halfway through the morning, while sunbathing on the Shell Beach, (next to Belvoir Beach) a gorgeous Shocking Pink. Catamaran glides round the rocks, it had WAHOO on the side and looked straight out of a James Bond film. My work mate Barry Despres, also a Calibration and QC man, had just finished building it from scratch with his father. He casually strolls up the beach and from the first large Cool-Box I had seen, then takes out a White Wine and a Chicken salad, talk about Panache (One of our Pony Walkers)
Mr Blex goes on 'Walk- About',
We saw an advert for THE PONY WALK, a Pony being a popular Guernsey Bottle Beer, so for a laugh we entered aTektronix team and did the walk, with other works teams. You had a Free 'Half' or a bottle, at every point around the Island and the Landlords then signed you in. I would 'Guess-timate' our Walk, with Libations, was apprx 15 miles. It was an apprx.10-30am start, at St Sampson Harbour on the N.E. coast of Guernsey, one of the two, and a 3-30 pm finish. So at 5 Hrs duration at a 3 mph, average walking speed , so supports our c15 miles covered.
Mr Blex and his Car.
I now needed a car to get around the small Island, 'hiding' 300 miles in the Labrynth, or Maze, of tiny lanes. Guernsey has a coast line of only 24 miles and 3 miles across from the harbour of St Peter Port to Vazon Bay on the West coast.My first car in my life was an Austin A30, Reg plate as 350 only, a few years later a M.G. 1100, (Reg 7015) and twin S.U. Carbs. - Now Miss Babs learns to drive and passes her Driving Test 1st time, and is soon nipping about the Island. The max speed allowed is only 30 mph anywhere, with 10 or 20 mph near the town, Jersey is 40 mph as a max. speed. You could easily get lost in the maze of inner , short run lanes like Cornwall, plus all the signs being in French ! ! Many visitors in Hire Cars come to grief.
The last Steppingstone for Mr Blex
Around the Autumn of 1969, whilst playing Darts, (See ref link to Darts and The Horseshoes) we met two Managers from Texas Instruments Ltd, Bedford. also a huge AmKerican company with sites in Dallas and Lubbock, America and Nice France,, Friesing in Germany and one in Italy.,We thought they were on business or holiday, but it turned out that they had come to Tektronix for a course on our products, as they were widely used back at Texas Instruments These manaWgWers wanted to 'Poach' one us, there and then, no interview needed, just our knowledge and experience on the systems we were calibrating.
Mr Blex goes to Texas.
So, I took the gamble, after serious thought, and moved back to the U.K. and Texas, enabling us to see our parents more and to give our two sons a better chance of access to varied employment in the future. But I never really left Guernsey as whilst I was at Texas Instruments, I was lucky enough to return back to Tektronix in Guernsey six times to go on New Product retraining courses.
These covered the New 7,000 series and Sampling systems, both quite complex and fast and now used by our Design Teams all over the production areas and top security departments. I was now employed in running the company Computerised Calibration Department, or repairs, back to their original Factory Standards when new. Engineers used them as a pass or a fail of product, like a 'Spirit Level' it's got to be trusted..
This involved another highly qualified Standards Engineer of the highest calibre, who I would place in the top four in the U.K. We were sometimes in contact with the National Physical and Standards Lab at Teddington, London, and one of only four in the world, for the Retention of standards, the Volt and Yard etc. The others being in Paris, America and Canada. I will now cease my jottings for 'boredom level', I could expand, but No.
While I was at Texas Inst ltd, I took up my passion for running, but only 10miles and Half Marathons on the road completing about thirty. Then Squash, Chess, being Press Ganged into running them. I also put our company team of athletes into the Annual Bedford Half Marathon for many years. Texas provided smart running vests in a different colour each time, plus our entry fees.
As regards Chess, I organised a visit by Jim Plaskett who is a Bedford and U.K Chess Master, to make a free guest visit for our Open Day. He took on apprx 20 of the Texas staff who could play, all at the same time. He was in a large square of tables and just strolled round inside, opening first, being White, so his move ... He beat us all easily either by his fast genius moves, to a 'Check Mate' , or a 'Decline' by us being put in a mental Half Nelson.
To put my memories into Perspective , we were working in fast changing times , as we now know today, that the whole onboard computer science on the Moon landing rocket,, can now be put into a Mobile Phone or an Apple Smart Watch. ! All due to fhe advances in Micro Technology.
Mr Blex goes into Prison !
Our fellow employees came from all over the U.K. to take part in the annual Bedford Run of 13 miles, I reduced my time of 1 hr 45mins for my first one, down to 1 hr 32 mins, now a good time for a Veteran, over a few years. You can not compete with 20 year olds doing sub 6 min miles ! ! The Chess nights actually took our mediocre team into H.M. Prison, Bedford, being arranged by our management, We went in of our own volition but this I bitterly regretted afterwards, for several reasons..
Later in1994 I left Texas Inst after 24 years, when it was closed down by biased Italian management. When I started in 1969 it had over 3,000 staff and very profitable, at the end we were down to 900 and still making huge profits ... /... C'esr La Vie.../.. - Mr Blex
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Or try Rock Climbing in Guernsey .../.. Last revision - 9th Sept - 2020 ../.. by Bill Exley.