Although the two jobs were separate, they were run in parallel
and not at one factory, but at three, each separated from the
others by nearly 200 miles.
There were lots of common bits and,
of course two lots of unique bits, and completion dates were
roughly the same.
Funnily enough, although Equipment Acceptance
dates were only roughly the same, at the end of three years development
and manufacturing, fate dictated that the acceptance of the first
communications system for one customer was on precisely the same
day as that for the other.
It was surely pretty obvious to either
group of visitors that something was up as the two communications
containers selected for acceptance stood side-by-side on the
factory floor. One was painted dark brown and the other desert
sand. Although the factory was full of them, fate had dictated
that the two containers randomly selected were, of course, adjacent.
As I recall, both groups ignored each
other and probably just pretended the other wasn't there.
Both systems were accepted that day
and I remember the only glitch was when one customer opened his
document, no doubt supplied by QA, to see the words "SYRIA
SECRET" across the top of the page. Suffice it to say that
neither customer came from anywhere near Syria! They were due
Our site was looking after the communications
bits, and the manufacturing and integration of the systems was
carried out on the second floor of the factory.
Why was this, when each container weighed
more than ten tons and there were dozens of them, surely it would
have been simpler to do it on the ground floor?
The problem was their size, each measured
over 30 feet long and they needed a lot of manoeuvring to get
them all in. The factory, being fairly old, had large pillars
to support the floors. Downstairs there were more pillars because
they had to support the weight of the four floors above but at
each floor the weight got less so there were less pillars.
On the second floor there was just enough
space between the pillars to park the containers.
Whenever one was ready for delivery
they were all juggled about until it was next to the outside
wall. To get the containers in and out we had knocked out some
of the windows and a bit of wall and fitted a wind-up door. The
City Centre street outside was very narrow, dating back to the
1700s, and we needed a special giant crane to do the lifting.
This was always arranged on a Sunday
when this part of the City was deserted.
Suffice it to say; the exercise wouldn't
have been possible if the wall of the building, above the first
floor, hadn't been set back about ten feet or so. This had been
done to preserve the "right of ancient light" for the
building opposite. Without this feature the job would have been
impossible as it allowed the containers, which came out endways,
to be twisted round before being lowered to street level. Although
it was a tight fit it worked smoothly and dozens of the things
came and went in this way and I don't believe anyone ever noticed.
The local paper had their offices only
a stones throw away and to the best of my knowledge they never
found out what was going on.
Neither did anyone notice the large
foreign aircraft shuttling in and out of Hurn Airport. This was
a very quiet airport in those days and it was probably most convenient
for the three manufacturing sites involved, although our containers
had to travel about 250 miles to get there.
If news had got out about the identity
of the customers, there would have been more than a bit of bother!
I was a bit amazed at the time that
we'd even got export licenses.
An article appeared in The Mirror the
best part of a year after the last delivery of one of the systems
but only because an ex-employee spilled the beans..
The projects were known by codewords
chosen by the customers; "Rodent" and "Lion"
and the former, according to one or two people (collecting their
repaired TV sets), and who have since moved to the UK to live,
It's a small world isn't it! That was
Rodent, all I know about the other was that we got a job a few
years later to replace the Russian radios with American ones
so that must have been OK as well.
Oh yes I forgot to say, as the theme
is computers and I haven't mentioned them yet. We used milititarised
PDP11 computers in the containers to handle the comms. We had
touch-input MMI and computer controlled reed relay switching
matrices to handle radio voice traffic. It wasn't half complicated!