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, lying apprx 90 miles S.W. of Lands End, in 1937. It was 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. 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 Notre Dame du Rosaire Primary School, , with the gentle Charismatic Sister Cecile. (Burnt Lane) and then St Josephs. I later passed my Scholarship exams and went to 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 the 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 was always a slim lad, so the 1 and 3 mile track events and Cross Country, suited me, so being built for endurance 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 this 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 Isherwood and here I progressed to Outdoor and Bench repairs of Televisions, and attended Barnsley and Rotherham Tech, which led to my City & Guilds Certificate. My job was kept open for me by Law, until the end of my 2 years National Service time, Nov 1958 to Nov 1960, so I returned 3 days later in Nov 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 looked stunning in her Clog Boots. 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 then left her with only one, her Glass one.
Our crowd used to meet in the basement of a three-storey terraced house, from the front door 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 drinking Tea, 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 Inlaws street, in Kingstone ,Barnsley.. I had a Bike and we used Buses for transport to get about.
Mr Blex goes into the Army
This meant a five year wait to bring our Wedding plans to fruition, with 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 in 'old - money'). This equates to 20 pence per day (at that time) The Army is a 24hr job, so that means less than One Pence per hour .Later I was lucky enough to receive another 15p per week, as a Lance Corporal, also 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, just 3 miles south of Richmond in North Yorkshire. It has Vimy Lines as 1/T.R. for the Basic Training, Square Bashing then 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. Here 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 as 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 Andover and the 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 Ton Bedford ,4 wheel drive if reqd, , 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 runing improved, and I was soon good enough to be chosen to represent the Royal Signals) and then the Army Northern Command. It was here at Tidworth that I came 2nd in the 3rd RHA 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. One of my ronning mates was a 2nd Lt Ian Jacks, he soon told me, on the track, it's Ian, so not the usual automatic Sir, a nice chap.
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.(the highest point of the Brecon Beacons).
During my time at Tidworth, (nr. Andover, Hampshire) I 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 was very comfortable with the intense map reading, which was an integral part of the course.We used Ordinance Survey maps and Prismatic Compass work for positioning – 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 did got lost, we saw a Helicopter more than once, as there had been a fatality the year before. We carried a heavy pack, spare Boots, food and a heavy Para' sleeping bag each and tents.
Mr Blex is taught a Lesson or two.
During my second year of National Service, with the 3rd RHA, I approached our troop officer and asked if I could take my Driving Test in the Army, as I believed this was legal and covered me after N.S. I allready had a provisional Driving Lic, he said "thats fine, and take a month of tuition, using the Land Rovers ".
I was pleased with the outcome. it involved days on the roads, with instructors and some night cross - country driving on Salisbury Plains, with No lights, just following the small Convoy Light under the back axle of the one in front of you. The lead vehicle was the only one allowed headlights on to see, so led the way and we all followed.
I even had a practice, with the officer's permission, in a 6 wheel Saracen armoured vehicle, (as used in N.Ireland) during a 3 day scheme on the Plains. My mate, 'Brummie' Rose, the proper competent driver, soon showed me how to use the small 6 gear pre-selector, on the right, for the automattc drive, no incline was too steep for the huge 6 wheels. It was a very nice drive, or cabbie, as we called it, obviously this could not happen on any road.
While on / or in, the Saracen theme, during a night scheme, the young Officer calls down to me, "do you know exactly where we are Cpl Exley" ? as regards map and true position, (at night). He had noticed I was always looking at the large scale ordinance survey map, so I told him our Correct Location. This happened more than once, I had free time if no work had to be done, (fine tuning or a breakdown) so I enjoyed my map reading and helping with all the camouflaging around dawn for our 3rd RHA mates...
When we came to the 100 mile drive, to Bristol and back, I was getting into my usual Land Rover and a seven foot Sergeant bellows "get in that Bedford 3 Tonner lorry, now" , I said "I don't drive those Sarge" so he shouts " you do now boy", so Mr Blex obeys and off we went.
I finished up passing my Full Test , by choice, in the 3 Ton Bedford RL, 4WD lorry, from me closing my cab door, it was a running commentary to a Captain examiner. This covered all signage we saw, why I was changing gears and all my observations. If I went quiet he soon prompted me to continue. (2-Passed and 2 men Failed that day)
Mr Blex and all that 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 Quartet . Plus ''Humph'' or Humphrey Littleton (Bad Penny Blues) and Acker Bilk (Strangers on The Shore)
I saw Dave Brubeck twice, once in Newcastle and at the City Hall Sheffield with Miss Babs, One Wednesday I knew he was in Newcastle for that day while touring, so Mr Blex thinks, I will hitch - hike up from Catterick camp to see him Live,, on our 'free afternoon' a Wed. Sports- day when you could choose to go Swimming, Table Tennis or walking, so I did a walk, part of the way up the A1 Northwards to see my show. (Without an absence or On- Leave Pass)
During the late 1950's and 1960's it was a common sight on major roads, to see Army and R.A.F. lads hitching lifts by Car or Lorries, to get home or back to camp on a weekend Pass or longer. I had lifts in a Rolls Royce, a lone Chauffer heading back up North, a posh Jaguar, and smart Sport Cars, one was a pale Blue M.G. Midget driven by a nice Blonde girl, she had spotted my Uniform and a L/Cpl stripe, (She could spot the High- Rollers on £1-40 per week) she had to stop, to Pick me Up as they say. (Mr Blex day- dreams) .It was easy from Catterick to home, but long and tiring from Salisbury Plains (Tidworth) , I was always lucky as regards weather and getting soaked.
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 chose to move to Guernsey (a part of the U.K.) as a legal loophole, to beat the high Import / Export Duties due to the U.K. and also pay a 'Lower Tax rate on all profits, a shrewd move on thier part...
Tektronix were currently building their full range of Oscilloscopes and Peripherals here now, so as I had already made my own 'Scope' I wrote off for an Interview and managed to sail through it and offered a job. To cap it all, we had a Free Hol in Guernsey at the best Hotel for 3 days regardless.
Mr Blex heads South
So Babs and I moved down to Guernsey in December 1962, after getting married March 24th 1962, 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 site ! !
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, used in Heart- Opperations, (1963-1971 Build) so critical in a Theatre, They all looked superb and were acclaimed World Wide as the Rolls Royce of 'Scopes' Ater a while, I was a Q.C. Eng. then part of a training group, with Joe Guerin and Den Bott, we were also a Trouble Shooting section, clearing time consuming faults.
At Tektronix, Guernsey, the factory of about 300 employees work in Unit Wiring, Assembly lines and many other departments. We actually built the Oscilloscope mainframe on site and it's variations of Plug Ins from imported parts. These arrived as required, via London, Gatwick from the parent company in Portland, Orgone in America. The Tek factory was only 10 mins from the tiny Guernsey airport and built near it's perimeter. Girls made a complex wiring harness, like a spider's web, of multi- coloured wires, white with pink, green, blue, or red sripes , all to an excact layout. These were then wired to ceramic sections of 10 to 20 solder points, so all the components and parts were connected.
This was the Unit Wiring process . with an 'Eyeball Examination' for accuracy, neat soldering to all components. etc. Then a Pre - Cal. was done, just a pre-lim check , after many tests, so it did not blow up or burn out with a first switch on. Each unit tben had a Life -Test run for 24 hrs, switching on and off in a special enclosure. Then the Full Calibration , (apprx 1 to 3hrs) followed by a repeat, by the Q.C Engineer with a full written report. This could affect your salary, wage rises, or promotion, so based on the critical findings of your work output.
We also had an Audit Dept. who could do a random 33% selection check of any Oscillscope, it had to be perfect, Only then could it be boxed and shipped out to a customer, so meeting all Specs. as per the Manual. They were trusted, like a Spirit Level worldwide !
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 being a small company was a very relaxed but efficient work place and highly thought of by the Guernsey people. (In the shops, you worked at Tektronix, Techtronics or Text-Tronixt for a purchase) We had a twice yearly profit share of 4 - 9% of wages earnt over 6mths, this was Tax free, as you had to deal correctly with the local Tax Office for any income. There is no V.A.T. or a N.H.S. in Guernsey either.
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 crossing. 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, the winner had the usual Sash the Cup and a Dinner for two on Tek , at a Top Resturant .
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 Eng. 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 most signs are in French, so 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 American company, with sites in Dallas and Lubbock, America, Nice / France, Friesing / Germany and one in Italy.,We thought they were on business or holiday, but it turned out that they had come over to Tektronix for a course on our products, as they were widely used back at Texas Instruments These managers wanted to 'Poach' one us, there and then, no interview needed, just our knowledge and experience, on the systems we worked on and knew inside out.
Mr Blex goes to Texas.
So, I took the gamble, after serious thought, with Barbara, 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, so 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 as 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, Bob Coton, an eng. 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, (lay your King down) , being put in a mental Half Nelson. The Last man Standing, or our best player, was a 14yr old schoolboy, a son of one of our team. The chessman, Jim Plaskett remarked to me, "the boy is a good young player, I had to think" - his visits to our tables only took 5 to 20 seconds at the most....
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'est La Vie.. / .. Mr Blex
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Or try Rock Climbing in Guernsey .../.. Last revision - 10th Apr - 2021 ../.. by Bill Exley.