Bath Electricals & Electronics in Australia

Some 1971 Grads. enjoy a Total Solar Eclipse on the beach

A brief history ..............

The aim here is to collect some words and snaps of things you have been up to over the years since we all climbed the hill to Claverton Down.

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A Brief History of Jim Broughton since 1970

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A Disquisition on the Life of John Bennett

I was born in Bath on the 12th of August 1948, when the NHS was just five weeks old.

As a baby, I was not thrown out with the Bath water.

One of my earliest memories includes eating a tin of Nestlé’s milk that my mother had hoarded throughout the war – the milk was yellow but still delicious.

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When I was 4, we moved to Newcastle upon Tyne – my father was an engineer in the Admiralty – and I started school at Pendower Primary School (now mercifully torn down), where all I can remember is being belted at age 10 for some infraction. The belting treatment continued at Rutherford Grammar School, since I was rarely interested in the subjects in hand. This did not impress Sid Smith, the Geography master, who felt that a weekly belting would have a corrective effect (he was wrong). I was also caned by the headmaster, Roger Bennett, for singing hymns in the classroom following assembly. (No doubt this accounts for my atheism.) Having a headmaster with the same name saved me from bullying for a few months until, Judas-like, he denied me as his nephew.

To everyone’s surprise, I passed sufficient ‘O’ levels to stop them kicking me out, but I remained in the sixth form only until November of the first year, when I was able to get an apprenticeship with the Post Office and finally escape school. I had a grand time climbing telegraph poles, descending manholes, putting corks on telephone wires to stop racing pigeons hitting them (this was Newcastle), and learning to do The Telegraph crossword during tea breaks with surprisingly erudite linemen. I also did day-release, which finally allowed me to study something I was interested in – consequently coming top, as opposed to school where I was rarely out of the bottom five.


When my father was posted back to Bath I almost decided to stay in Newcastle, but at 16 this was a bit of a stretch. In Bath, I now worked in the telephone exchange in the centre of town.

JB17.jpgMy job was to wire up the MDF (main distribution frame), a terrible job since every time someone made a phone call I got a 70v jolt that made my knuckles hit the adjacent tags, eventually leaving me like a prize-fighter. Later I was posted to the Regional Seat of Government, which was, of course, underground. In the winter I went down in the dark in the morning and came up after sunset in the evening – most depressing. After passing HNC in electrical engineering, I applied to Bath University, because it was close by – and, to my surprise, I ended up in Bristol until the Bath campus was ready. I have few memories of Ashley Down apart from the dire flat I shared, which probably was condemned long ago. University came as a shock to me, as I imagined it as an exalted ‘ivory towers,’ Zuleika


Dobsonesque place full of interesting and intelligent people. Instead, the reality led me to compose Bennett’s First Law (technically a conjecture): Idiots are homogeneously distributed. Definition: Found in any set of people – university students, bank managers or world leaders – is an equal number of idiots as anywhere else. (Luckily, the converse is also true, but alas, the number of idiots greatly outnumbers the others.) This was a supremely dispiriting moment. Of course, this does not apply to you, dear reader, only them others.

I found the university parts of the sandwich course to be less engaging than the work ones, and I struggled during periods of reflection over whether this was a useful strategy for pissing away my life. Interestingly, in 40 years of working as an engineer, including registering as a Professional Engineer in the USA (quite hard), I have never had to show my degree certificate to anyone.

I was a bit naughty with my industrial sponsor (the Post Office). I broke their rules twice. On one work period I went off to work for General Electric in Schenectady, New York. During another I insisted on going back to Dollis Hill Research Centre for a second period when that was specifically prohibited.

The Post Office not only forgave me, I was offered an executive engineer position when I graduated and became the youngest one in the country. I was sent to Cardiff, responsible for all of the telephone exchange power plants in the Wales and the Marches region. The gentleman who had been holding my position, one Harold Mathias, was 56 years old. He knew the job backwards. I was 21 – and knew nothing. He could have been a bastard, but we ended up being a great team. When contractors came to negotiate they immediately started talking to Harold, totally ignoring me, the young kid in the corner. I never said a word. When finally it came to the sell, they would say, “Well, do we have a deal?” To which Harold would reply, “Don’t ask me, ask my boss!” The ensuing embarrassment usually got us another 10% off the price.

In Bath I had met a Cornish girl, Megan Coombe, who was teaching at Newton Park College. I found that being away in Cardiff without her was not much fun. After a year, I resigned and entered a post-graduate teaching course in Bath so we could be together. We were married in 1972, in Hayle, Cornwall.

JB-Mayor-Hayle.jpgAt university, Paul Glossop had introduced us both to Transcendental Meditation, so Meg and I decided to go off and work for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Spain, then Switzerland for a couple of years. Weird but interesting. When Meg became pregnant it was time to re-enter the real world, and I took up a consulting job with Westinghouse Brake and Signal Company as a telecommunications consultant in Chippenham, directly opposite the pig abattoir. One of the projects was in Kuwait, where they wanted me to pop over for ‘a week or two’. I persuaded them to let me take Meg and son Ben (just over a year old) – and we remained in Kuwait for almost a year.


When that contract ended I joined Plessey Radar in Addlestone, Surrey, to do a project in Iran. Plessey promptly lost that job, and I was asked if I would replace their just-sacked engineer in Saudi Arabia. This serendipitous event resulted in my spending 10 years in Jeddah. I could write a book about this era of my life – but this is only a disquisition. Suffice to say that the unique excitement of a job that included time in the Empty Quarter of the Saudi desert was perfectly balanced by multiple performing roles with the Jeddah Light Opera Company. (My interpretation of the supercilious Pooh-Bah in The Mikado was an enormous stretch!)

We decided it was time to leave Jeddah when Ben became a teenager (daughter Beth had come along too by then). My then boss was an American businessman who asked if I would run one of his companies in Boston – so in 1987 we went off to the USA, where I would stay for almost 20 years. During this time Meg died of multiple myeloma, Ben and Beth both married, and I got remarried, to Donna Anton, a Chicago native of Greek extraction. I also learned to fly single-engine airplanes and became a flight instructor. I later joined a company that researched atmospheric science, which included my installing meteorological systems in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Venezuela and Greece./p>

When I decided to retire in 2004, Donna and I moved to our seaside home in Hayle, Cornwall, where Megan had grown up. Not one to be idle, I am now mayor of Hayle, treasurer of the Cornwall Archaeological Society and two other organisations, and I serve on numerous committees. Donna, whose passions are film and music, is in her third year as director of the Cornwall Film Festival. She has also served as chair of the British Federation of Film Societies, and she just became chair of the Friends of the International Musicians Seminar Prussia Cove, which brings world-class master classes and chamber concerts to West Cornwall.

By now I am also a grandfather – Ben, who is still in Boston, has two sons of his own, ages 8 and 6. Beth, recently divorced, lives and works in Portland, Oregon. And Donna’s son, Aleksei, also in Boston, is completing his first year of engineering studies following five years in the US Marines, which included three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. With our kids far away, Donna and I are content doting on our 9-year-old standard poodle, Bazzle.

All in all, as we rush towards the tomb, I don’t feel I’ve had an entirely worthless life. To tell the absolute truth, though, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up!

Laurie Fineman - A sketch.....................

Before Uni I was a rare Londoner who likes the place and spent many teenage years cycling around different parts of it. I still get excited when I have an excuse to go there but am beginning to see why others like other places too. Just before going to Bath, together with 2 other BT apprentices we jointly persuaded the company to let us travel around Europe (including some Communist States) as far as Istanbul, to see Telex Exchanges. My wife Jean still says I have never recovered from this and some from Bath days might remember the yellow converted London Ambulance we travelled and lived in for many weeks. I eventually sold the ambulance to students at Birmingham University.

I stayed with BT after our course working in Shoreditch, Lambeth, Holborn and Reading. Topics included transmission for early digital networks, a network design & finance case for privatising BT, introducing mobile phones for BT in the UK, finding Local Area Network products and converting our ancient telephone exchanges to modern digital ones in the Thames Valley. I commuted to London from Bath from 1972 to 1984 while doing TV repairs evenings and weekends to pay for the fares. During this time we also ran a guest house in Bath and I became a BT union Branch Secretary for junior managers in the City. After leaving BT in 1996 I worked variously for Racal, ECI, Porsche cars (driving them is exciting as most other cars either give way or start to race you) and NTL (now Virgin Media). Now nearly exhausted and as good as retired. Latest fad has been to install an almost 4 kWh peak solar pv panel array on the flat roof of our strange castle looking house in Caversham.

Main interests these days are family, photography, simple DIY, reading newspapers & books, travelling, supporting Spurs, building websites and occasionally playing with electronics. I still do my own plumbing and electrics around the house but get the experts to check things out for safety. I have a seat on various committees in London and do some work with a local charity concerning stroke survival.

We seemed to have had plenty of holidays in Portugal and in the end bought an apartment on the Algarve that keeps us busy checking it out, trying to improve it and renting it to others as keen as we are on virtually guaranteed sunny breaks along a ragged coastline where everyone seems to speak English. We still love tripping around the UK and well beyond.

I'm hoping to do some more distant travelling - that includes seeing my first total solar eclipse in November 2012 in Queensland. I'm also warming to the idea of some cross-continent train journeys.