Working Lives

The Medical Designer (1932-1994)

Location: London

Bob gives details of his work as a medical systems designer, and beginning his working life in the circus!

My first job was an illegal one.

During the school Christmas holidays when under the age of 14, (1935/36) a school friend suggested we applied to a circus that was coming to a local venue, Alexandra Palace North London. I was accepted as a Call Boy; in those days before the use of mobile telephones, Call Boys were used in theatres and other businesses to carry messages and orders to staff, actors and performers, for example, to warn them it was “time to come on”.

I was a Call Boy to the Manager of The Rossinis’ Circus and Funfair. Both were installed within the larger halls of the palace. The floors were mainly wooden but underneath were a vast network of concrete rooms, passages, foundations, also “dungeons” where I was told First World War prisoners were held. The circus animals were kept down there. The animal trainer also had some quarters down there.

For my first working week I was employed in the office while rehearsals were on. Occasionally I accompanied the manager for short visits to the ringside as a “shadow” to run messages Among the sideshows were a family of Abyssinians, a family of Albinos and a family of Midgets. One day I answered a knock on the office door and was about to close it but heard a protest about my “knees”. It was one of the midgets to see the manager. The world about me was magical. It was fantastic to see at rehearsals the midgets sitting on the backs of the horses prompting them to whirl into wonderful sweeps and patterns. During the next two weeks of full performances, I was held, not unwillingly, at a ringside seat next to the manager ready to run messages. During rehearsals and performances there were many incidents. Giving me a lifetime of wonderful memories.

On my way to deliver a message to the animal trainer, I had to pass what seemed to be a corridor of elephants, and the feeling of their trunks searching, probing and fondling me lives with me when I think of them even now. One day when advancing to the circus ring, all four legs of one elephant went through the wooden floor. A mobile winch had to be used to extract the poor elephant. I was amazed that a good proportion of the performers were in fact members of the Rossini family, and in the programme were listed under some fanciful names, giving several different kinds of performances under different names.

After a total of three week’s employment there, it was realised that I had no employment card, being under age, and I was asked to leave. I did not make much money but had a valuable working experience.

In 1936 I left Elementary School at 14, not having done geometry, trigonometry or anything like that, wanted to further my education with a bias towards electrical engineering, started at night school as soon as I left at 14 and did a three year course. I then started another course, in all doing nine years of technical training. At 14 I went to work in a small company, with about 20 employees, manufacturing controls for electrical motors and worked on turret lathes and presses. My starting rate of pay was 8 shillings and 9 pence for a full five and a half day week. After a short period it was increased to 11shillings and something per week.

Essentially the controls were rectangular slate panels about ½” thick drilled to take contact studs in arcs or circles with a rotating armature that selected resistances connected to the stud contacts. Most items were manufactured by the company in relatively small batches. The resistances were similar to the heater coils in some electric fires. I drilled slate panels on pedestal belt driven drilling machines with no guards, with hair being caught and pulled out of the head on the odd occasion.

I made resistance spirals. A reel of resistance wire was held on a bar in a crate and wound onto a spindle held and rotated by a simple finishing lathe. The spindle was a rod up to about 2 ft long and of various diameters say 3/16″to 3/8″ diameter; the left hand held the wound spindle both sides of the wire being wound whilst the right hand steered and controlled the resistance wire to tight adjacent turns.( stretched to desired spacing of coils on assembly)

I spent most time there as Turret Lathe operator, making the stud contacts, which were made up to 5/8″ diameter brass rod 10 – 14ft long. The rod is turned down to about 3/16″ diameter for say 1″ and threaded for about ¾”. It is then parted off after chamfering the top face of the stud leaving the 5/8″diameter about 3/16″ long. This is a 5 tool operation using both hands and both feet. NOT AUTOMATIC. I was given a choice of flat rate or piecework at 3 pence a gross. But no more than equivalent of 1 and 1/4 basic rate. My personal highest speed was 2 ½ gross per hour (Fast). I was selected to time for other operatives at the company; also the precision engineers my next employers.

The rate for making brass washers below ¼” internal diameter on a hand Fly Press was 3 gross for 1Penny. The rate for making brass washers ¼” internal diameter on a hand Fly Press was 2 gross for 1 Penny.

At the end of the working day, a galvanized bucket of water was heated on a gas ring and stood on a packing case in the yard. Employees needing to wash had to stand round the bucket all together at the same time getting rid of the works grime. You had to supply your own towel.

I left there to go to a precision engineers where eventually I was able to operate almost any machine in engineering, and became the Number 2 turner there. With a corrugated roof, we had to clear the snow off our machines in the morning and wear heavy clothing all day, there being only two cast iron heaters for about 25 workers.

After about three years (1939) I was invited to apply for a job at a company called Newton & Wright who basically produced a range of scientific and X-Ray equipment. In fact they were supposed to be the largest manufacturer of X-Ray equipment in the UK. I started in their electrical workshop – I would have then been 17. Whereas I had been used to strict precision machining, I was then instructed how to manufacture almost anything on lathes by hand machining. The lathes used were called brass finishing lathes and had no screw cutting facilities on them, and the threads used were mainly chased by hand from scratch.

When I first went there into the workshop the foreman told me to get materials to manufacture tools like hand saw and chisels and things like that for myself. Having done that I then had to get materials, mainly brass, to machine by hand to precise dimensions, and to chase threads on them up to, say 2 inches, mainly 26 threads per inch, being a basic type. I had to practise how to do this before actually manufacturing. I was shown by the foreman how it was done and you had to be able to produce mating parts of threads, say from half an inch in diameter to 2 inches in diameter, by hand, to precise dimensions without screw cutting facilities.

The company manufactured, apart from X-Ray equipment, highly skilled optical equipment because the founder of Newton & Wright was a relation of Sir Isaac Newton and was manufacturing the scientific instruments required by Sir Isaac. Eventually, of course, I was able to manufacture these parts by hand, but the system of work there, you were given a job by the foreman and you had to see it through from start to finish. In other words you produced a wooden pattern which was sent to the moulders to either cast in aluminium or brass. When the castings came back to you, you then machined them in whatever machine was required, be it planer, shaper, turning lathe, drilling machine, and you manufactured that part or parts yourself. If a part wanted forging then you forged it hot on anvils the same as used by blacksmiths. If it was a complete piece of equipment in itself, a smaller item, an accessory to the main X-Ray unit, you did the whole lot. You wired it yourself and although you might have to do a basic test, you then passed it through to the electric test and research department. This gave you a wide range of activity ranging from forging up to precision machining and wiring and assembly, and very often, whereas the foreman would describe what he wanted with a pencil or pen in the palm of his hand, you did the rest! Such was the industry.

Eventually in 1942 I was invited to join the drawing office. By this time they’d seen several years of my work and my activity. During that period I was also taken out to assist senior engineers working on X-Ray equipment actually in the hospitals in London. The company of Newton & Wright was at Church End, Finchley and part of the factory had been a cinema – that was the electrical shop. We had a glass-blowing shop which produced X-ray tubes and large rectifying valves, and amongst the jobs we handled in the electrical workshop was the manufacture of the internal anodes and cathodes complete with the filament holders


etc of the rectifying valves, which at that time were possibly 2 foot 6 long. The X-Ray tubes at that time were open, or some of them were, but they had just started using integral tubes which were inside cast cover insulated with oil. So we manufactured the castings which took them, we machined the insulators that were part of the X-Ray tube, that took the high tension cables that came from the X-Ray generator. So we were working on silica based materials, for which we were expected to drink half a pint of milk in the morning and half a pint of milk in the afternoon, due to either the vapour or fine dust particles that came off in the machining.

At that time the actual high voltage came from the generator to the X-Ray tube, and probes were hooked on to high tension bars that ran high up, way out of reach because they went up to something like 125 thousand volts, and the other end of the probes were hooked onto the ends of the X-Ray tube. Of course, the operators invariably went behind a screen or outside the room, because of the danger, but there were a number of radiographers still doing their job in the industry, who had had their hands virtually burnt away by X-Rays when they were manipulating patients behind the fluoroscope, behind the actual X-Ray screen, where you visibly saw the shadow, the actual “X-Ray” on a barium tungstate screen.

While I’m talking about the barium screens, they were behind a thick layer of lead glass, that way the X-Rays didn’t get through directly to the operator watching the screen, but his hands, when he manipulated the patient, were subject to direct X-radiation, and this is why their digitals were decaying away. On one occasion, later on in my career, at another company, I was testing some dental X-Ray tubes for line up of the actual filament and anodes where the X-Rays are generated, so I had the X-Rays switched on, and I always had the feeling that under X-Rays I got a slight tingling sensation, and I wasn’t very happy. It appeared that somebody had broken the lead glass screen that was the protection between the X-Rays and the operator, and, of course, in this case I was the operator, and somebody had replaced the broken glass with ordinary glass, so that while I was testing I was in the direct path of the X-Ray beam. Fortunately I didn’t experience any disastrous effects from that.

One thing I might add: At Newton & Wright we also produced switch panels, big switch panels that were used in destroyers and various ships, just as a part of the War effort.

Now what can I say? An interesting part of my education within the electrical department, which I didn’t mention earlier, was after we had got the materials to make our own tools we went on to produce threads by hand, making mating parts by a process that was called chasing, which is a rare case. It’s not normally done like that. It was originally in the olden days before they had screw-cutting lathes. And in our optical workshops, I have to say that there were two characters who were able to produce optical mounts for the lenses of 4 inches in diameter and perhaps only half an inch of thread on them and they were able to chase by hand. In my case in the electrical shop I never chased anything above 2 inches in diameter, but they were working very often 4 inches, sometimes 6 inches in diameter.

Having been invited to join the drawing office about 1942, I used to plan layouts, apart from manufacturing drawings. I used to draw up the plans for fitting units into the X-Ray room, because sometimes they would have three or four major items of X-Ray equipment in the room and one generator to feed the three. But we planned X-Ray rooms, and sometimes we planned suites of rooms in fact, where there were a number of X-Ray rooms, we did the whole lot, including amongst other things lighting, radiators etc. But we nearly always gave one drawing which was a perspective view sketch of how it would look as you walked into the door of the actual X-Ray department.

I think I ought to say that there was a great amount of humour that went on within the workshops, and it created a very desirable working atmosphere. Being in a cinema, and it hadn’t had any inter-floors, it had a very high ceiling and it was not unknown for somebody’s trouser braces to be taken up and lowered on a string out of the ceiling of the cinema to well out of reach of the person wanting to get ready to go home. I thought I would just add that for a bit of entertainment! (laughs)

We also had one person, a youngster, who was a very good cartoon artist and whenever there was anything peculiar went on there was always a cartoon put in quite a large magazine he’d developed. And my nose caused a lot of mirth, actually the cartoon that he did of me was of myself on an operating table with a surgeon holding a scalpel to my nose and the consultant saying “no, no, no, I said his appendix not his appendage!” (laughs). However, it was happy, and one of the things about the job was that really whatever position you had there, you didn’t get as much pay as you would have had in general industry, because of it being that nature of being involved with the medical industry and the vast range of the technical knowledge that was required in the manufacture of X-Ray equipment and all the accessories. People enjoyed the experience if I can put it that way, and often people that left to go for more money eventually came back because they couldn’t put up with manufacturing one item repeatedly. It became a repetition in machine shops, whereas at Newton & Wright you covered a whole lot, and in the electrical shop, I mean, we wired up the complete generators and assembled them, the high tension generators with the high tension transformers, we built them up, apart from the manufacturing side.

There was also a mechanical shop where the actual tilting tables were built. Essentially in the drawing office I was designing the circuitry that was used, because every hospital had its own requirements for X-Ray equipment, mainly because of the different equipment that they had because there were numerous items of X-Ray diagnostic equipment. So the circuitry of interlocking was quite involved. As we said “we could make the thing foolproof but we couldn’t make it bloody foolproof”! Ultimately we was given to understand that the Ministry of Health spoke to the management and tried to persuade them to join hands in the production of X-Ray equipment. Although we were the largest producers of X-Ray equipment in Great Britain apparently they thought that we wouldn’t be able to produce enough for their requirements. This was when the National Health Service was beginning. Later when they got round to organising themselves on equipment, we were partnered with part of the AEI group, which was Metropolitan Vickers and also the Victor X-Ray Corporation, who were part of the Picker X-Ray Corporation of America. We, of course, were the major part as far as the X-Ray side was concerned, and a factory was built at Motherwell, and there were five key personnel from Newton & Wright that were expected to go to Motherwell to work in the factory up there. Well, I was called upon to re-design the actual X-Ray generator for production up at Motherwell, and this was some time before we, the five personnel, were supposed to join them, but we had to produce manufacturing drawings, and therefore it was necessary for me to remain at Finchley with Newton & Wright at the time.


[Editor’s note: In September 2012 we had the following information from the former X-Ray Marketing Manager, Europe GE Medical Systems

In fact Victor X-Ray Corporation were directly owned by the General Electric Company of America, a major competitor of Picker! (see Glasgow Herald)The Glasgow Herald – May 25, 1949 page 6 – Expansion of New Scots Industry – Newton Victor Ltd, who were recently formed to combine the X-Ray apparatus manufacture of Metropolitan Vickers, the activities of Victor X Ray Corporation (a direct branch of the General Electric Company of America) and the scientific instrument manufacturer Newton and Wright Ltd (London). The establishment of the Newton Victor X-Ray works at Motherwell introduces an entirely new industry to Scotland.”Out of interest, the GE (USA) Company eventually acquired the Picker operation in the UK in the early 1990’s (I was then the X-Ray Product Manager for UK subsidiary GE Medical Systems(USA)).]


Eventually I left the company. I’d finished designing the X-Ray switch table that contained all the main components except the high voltage transformer and rectifying system. We produced a prototype at Finchley, and Motherwell produced one up there. Both were satisfactory and were applauded by the Ministry of Health and went into production there. It was the first time that there had been really full manufacturing drawings. I believe there must have been ten or twelve draughtsmen, I can’t remember exactly, that were assigned to me to carry out the detailed drawings, because they hadn’t really been done in detail before. It was largely in the heads of the foremen of the departments. For instance the high tension X-Ray transformers which produced 120,000 volts, and the auto transformers which were responsible for controlling the output of the high tension transformer, nearly all the details were held either on bits of paper or in the head of the foreman of the coil winding shop.

However, although I was allocated a brand new house, up at Motherwell, my family didn’t want to go and I left there and went to a company at Hendon called Witton-James that manufactured printing press drives. There I was employed as a designer-draughtsman and I found that quite interesting, but I was only there for I suppose about six months and just beginning to learn the innards, shall I say, of their manufacture. Apart from 250 horsepower variable speed motors, they manufactured roller paster stands. These took three rolls of unprinted newspaper which were about six feet long. As one reel was running out, a second one was run up to the same peripheral speedand at the right moment, arms came in, took the end of the incoming roll, pasted it onto the roll that was just running out and continued without actually stopping the machine. It was quite a feat of engineering. They were very, very heavy.

I was employed on the actual drawings of the main switchboards for use at the plant for printing presses. Because the drawings were so long we held the drawing paper on a reel at one end and you worked on your drawing board and as you finished that bit went onto the roll and fresh paper was drawn for the other roll. I mean these control stands were, I believe, about 24 feet long. Actually the one that I worked on was going to Russia for the main Russian press. That was of interest, of course, but not in the same way as the X-Ray game, and when I was approached by the Works’ Manager of a small X-Ray company that was just starting to design and manufacture items other than X-Rays, and invited to join them as chief draughtsman, I agreed and went there.

The company was called Exal, which unfortunately doesn’t exist any longer, as it was taken over by an American Company which closed it down. I was their chief designer. I produced a number of firsts. It had a small workshop, but most of the manufacturing was done by outside contractors, one of them being Dewhurst & Partners (lift manufacturers) and they were manufactured to my drawings. We never, or very rarely, were we allowed to produce a prototype, so your drawings had to be right in order to produce the equipment in a company that was distant from our office which was at Earl’s Court. There were occasions when there were certain items that our own workshop there was unable to manufacture and (laughs) I was called upon to go down in the workshop and actually manufacture them myself. In fact we installed equipment; being agents for American equipment and Italian equipment. We installed two Cobalt 60 units in London Hospitals. They required a minimum of about 34 inches of special reinforced concrete as X-Ray protection, because that was a two thousand Curie source, which came from the reactors over in North America. On one occasion – just out of interest – one had only been installed a matter of weeks when the actual shutter, which moved the source out of the huge lead type dome that it was installed in for protection, failed to function and the service engineers found that a gear had stripped, roundabout two inches in diameter. They were able to get to the gear and remove it, and they got onto me back at the company by phone, and I gave them details where they may be able to possibly get a substitute, but that was a complete failure. So I told them to bring back a certain diameter, larger diameter, piece of brass and I set a machine up and actually cut the gear on a lathe by hand. They put that in to the Cobalt 60 unit. I suppose that was installed somewhere in the 50s. When I last heard that gear was still functioning. But it was just an interesting point that it is possible to grind up tools to such precision that you can manufacture by hand a working gear.

I believe that I was the first in the UK to design an Electrical Remote Controlled Shutter which actually controlled the aperture of the X-Ray beam before it went through the patient and it was used in fluoroscopy. It enabled the operator to be watching the image on the X-Ray screen and just by moving a handle, one on either side, one controlled the horizontal shutter and the other one controlled the vertical shutter. And by that way, just by using the two handles, you could control the shutter from complete closure up to about 4 inches, which, of course, at its position became coverage of the whole screen which was round about 14 inches square. You could also control the aperture to any size rectangle, vertical or horizontal. The Shutter Diaphragm will be described later.

The other first which I believe I set up was instead of doing a serial radiograph where a picture was taken one after the other, three or four X-Ray films were put in one cassette layered above each other at a regular distance, let’s say it could be a centimetre gap between the two films, but you needed what we called an intensifying screen between each layer, and they were graduated. Now I believe that what started the design of this was the fact that I’d been called in to a hospital – I won’t name the hospital – but they’d been sent a patient to check from the Midlands for checking, and to do a tomograph of this patient. They were given the figures that the Midlands Hospital had set the images at, and they didn’t agree, therefore there could be a faulty diagnosis. I would explain that the tomograph is, instead of being an X-Ray film of just the shadow, the actual X-Ray tube is swung either in an arc or can be, depending on the design, about the pivot point, which was at the layer to be taken through the body, and the X-Ray film was likewise beyond that pivot. Now what actually happens is that if you move the two, if you move the X-Ray tube and the film, and they are kept focused with each other, the only thing that it sees solidly is the item which lies on the pivot level, so that, for instance, you have a radiograph of a layer through the lung and the heart without seeing the shadows of the ribs. That will explain, I think, the tomograph to you. Due to the discrepancy between the tomographic equipment at this hospital in London and that of the Midland Hospital, the actual layer wasn’t the same taken on one equipment as on the other. So I was sent in to see what the problem was and discovered that there was a fault in the design of the tomograph that had been made overseas. I was allowed periodically to use X-Ray equipment in the Brompton Hospital, where I was able to experiment, and I proved that there was a fault in the design of the overseas equipment. As a result of this, this cassette, that we called a multi-layer cassette, was developed, so that in one sweep of the system using interfilm screens of various sensitivities you were able to take three or four layers through the body at the same time. I believe the work that I did was the sort of forerunner to that multi-film cassette.

Due to the fact that the designers overseas would not agree that their design was at fault I was sent out to Italy to put them right, which I was able to. Funnily enough it was the owner of the company himself that realised from what I was saying and demonstrating that there was a fault, and not the designers. Eventually they had to put right all the tomographs that they had distributed internationally because they were all reading wrong. They also made equipment that was solely for tomographic use, whereas tomography was normally done on standard equipment with just link-ups between the tube and what we called the potterbucky, which contained the X-Ray film, and this was specific equipment for that purpose.

Now, in the X-Ray diagnostic field there was a piece of equipment called the Schonander skulltable. Essentially it was a piece of equipment for precision X-Raying the head and components within the head, and was a very advanced mechanical structure. An Italian company produced one quite a number of years after, very similar and we did in this country manufacture a batch of this Barrezety craniographic equipment. I was given the task of project engineer to see the project through.

While I was there we also built a very important piece of equipment which I was made responsible for, which was a pulse transformer used for guiding missiles from ships. There were two companies that took on the job, and at the end of the day, when they put them on test and had them going for a fortnight continuous working, the one that we manufactured worked and the one that the large electronic company manufactured didn’t! (laughs) And we were asked to produce another one! That was interesting, and I saw that project through as well.

We were involved in supplying from this company Electrocardiographs made by Sambourne, who were known as the ECGs of the world. I have made enquiries recently and I don’t seem to have anything back to them, but at that time they were the main people. I believe that Cambridge Instruments were alternative manufacturers.

So we were handling, as I say, Picker X-Ray equipment and at that time a device called an Image Intensifier was developed by one company, I don’t know which. This would be about 1959/60, though maybe the Image Intensifier was developed a little bit before that. What it did was to amplify the X-Ray image so that you could get a picture or a radiograph or you could see the X-Ray image with a much lower strength of X-Rays. Now while I was at Newton & Wright I was responsible for modifying a standard tilting diagnostic table to be able to do serial radiography, particularly on the duodenum where you need to control the barium which is left in ulcers etc. So I redesigned the mechanics and the electrics to enable them to do serial radiography, taking up to four, sometimes a few more, radiographs while the barium is progressing through the digestive system and in particular the duodenum. Basic controls for the X-Rays and tilting table were made available to the radiologist close at hand to the serial device. Now whereas I developed what I believe to be the first tilting table for diagnosis of gastro-intestinal disorders, the Americans started to use the Image Intensifier on a tilting table for continuous radiography or fluoroscopy; you could actually see the image on a tilting table. It was rather difficult to palpate the patient because of the interference of other equipment on it. At a Congress in Munich when this American table was first demonstrated I was called upon, amongst a few other Americans, to take sessions showing doctors how they could palpate the duodenum to get the maximum and best diagnosis using an Image Intensifier.

At that time my own company was actually demonstrating an illuminator – we used to manufacture illuminators, apart from Kodaks, for viewing X-Ray films – and I was challenged by the owner, or Managing Director of Exal to better the design of their standard illuminator. Actually I developed an illuminator that you were able to put edge to edge and use it for doing a larger area, and that was ultimately called the Lumitile. Not only was I able to design the illuminator to do something which hadn’t been done before, to get the illuminators to edge up to each other like a tile, but I also designed it and it was cheaper than any other illuminator, this was to my knowledge, certainly of our manufacture, maybe even to any others that were produced in this country. I don’t know, but I believe I might have been the first to design multi-way illuminators built on two foot, three foot and longer fluorescent tubes, and including a high intensity spotlight for momentarily viewing dense areas.

Amongst other things that I designed and manufactured were completely plastic processing units for X-Ray film. This was really before automatic film processors were developed and the whole unit was made out of half inch rigid PVC and it had all the features that were required to develop X-Ray films from start to finish, so there were various chambers in it, lots of welding and also custom built ones where there were considerable extensions to that. I can remember designing a big installation at St Bartholomew’s extending through two rooms.

We also designed a rotating hatch. In order to pass the actual X-Ray films through from the dark room into daylight we used to put a hatch in the wall. We developed a rotating one which created a lot of problems. I didn’t have anything to do with the design of that. It created a lot of problems and engineers were having to go out all over the place trying to modify and repair them and I said I wouldn’t touch it until they gave me the job of doing it, without any interference. And I did quite a simple modification that prevented all the troubles, and it was in the form of just a small kit of parts that the service engineer was able to go and fit. It was really to stop the sudden shock that took place in turning and rotating the lead protected hatch which was very, very heavy.

We were also importing portable respirators for breathing polio patients. Now normally polio patients would be put in an iron lung. Over in the States they had developed portable ones and we at Exal, although we were supplying them, ultimately designed one ourselves, which was on a different principle. I was involved to some extent with it, but later on after they had got injections which meant the incidence of polio dropped to almost nothing, these iron lungs were virtually put out of use. We used a Perspex cuirass which went round the patient and the body was sealed off around that cuirass with a jacket which used the materials that were used on the first Everest expedition, which were virtually air tight. That went round the Perspex cuirass and sealed, or best part sealed, round the arms and round the neck and round the waist. They were able to breathe polio patients with that and actually got better results sometimes with various patients than they did with the iron lung.

Well, I’d retired and they got in touch with me because the moulds for making the Perspex cuirasses had been destroyed, there being no demand for them because they’d outwitted the polio. As they were manufactured by the people that used to manufacture the Perspex parts for bombers and fighter planes, you know the actual windows of the cabins, the moulds were thrown away. Dr. Spencer of the South Western Hospital was calling for cuirasses to play around with because, I forget the actual name of the disease, but people and children with distorted spines, sometimes called “the hunchback’s disease” for some unknown reason, or at least that’s the way it was told to me. With the restriction on the vertebrae they didn’t breathe in sufficient oxygen to decarbonise the blood stream. And they used to gradually deteriorate because the blood, gas-wise, was getting bad, because of the lack of oxygen because they didn’t breathe deep enough, and they ended up in hospital until they died of heart disease. Now Dr. Spencer had the idea -because there were a lot of iron lungs floating around that were sort of redundant – had the idea of putting a patient in one of those and seeing how it affected them. He found that their system was greatly improved by putting them in an iron lung. Far better than just giving them oxygen. Just giving them oxygen works, but not as good as actually enforced breathing. So there they were and they didn’t know what to do, so the company got on to me and asked me if I could do anything about it. I mean I was retired then; I’m talking about plus 60, 62, 63. So I said “Right, well, it’ll only be crude, but I’ll make up some wooden moulds and mould some cuirasses, and see how you get on”.

I made an oven in which to put the Perspex and moulded them, I made male and female moulds, and put them under pressure, and made the cuirass and made what was the back brace, and also turned the hose fittings. So there was me manufacturing the Perspexes, and the actual jackets that went round them that I said were made of material that had been used and researched for the first Everest expedition, those jackets were made by a Mr Halford who was a well-known tailor. We developed a range of jackets that would cover them, and I made a range of four different sizes of Perspex cuirass. I would also go out to hospitals that had patients with unusual body structure and actually fitted the patients up with the Tunnicliff Breathing Jacket, as it’s called. I actually fitted a patient in Anglsey. I was sent from London, and before I went in to fit the patient was called in the doctor’s office there to discuss breathing patients. What was interesting was somebody sent me an article about a doctor who managed to save a baby’s life, and he was using the principles that I’d discussed with him. But that’s only an aside. I would fit my micro bus up as a workshop with full facilities for modifying the cuirass and back brace and plug into the hospital.

I retired from the X-Ray company and became a Sub Postmaster in 1963 but set up a workshop at the Post Office. I continued with respirator work for about thirty years. During that time I fitted youngsters and adult patients, some from overseas. I was asked to design and find a manufacturer for the terminations that go into pacemakers for an Italian firm, which I did.

I haven’t done a great deal since 1994, but some time ago was asked if I could design a respirator for breathing cuirasses, cheap, easy to produce if required in numbers. As I say I haven’t manufactured them myself here, but if you were interested in seeing a cuirass etc I could show you. Likewise if you wanted to see a pacemaker, I’ve got a couple in my workshop. I have also got parts of my last design project; the cheap respirator for you to see.


I’ll now try to explain my development procedures for further interest:

I draw a line across the drawing board about 4in to 6in from the top of the board.

Then draw vertical lines above that line splitting the space into a number of boxes depending on complexity of pending design.

In the top right hand box goes the specifications. Whether given to me or to my own specification. I always keep an eye on it and not afraid to upgrade or modify.

In the rest of the boxes or even one, I put the many different ways of meeting the specifications or requirements and doing quick brief sketches and notes.

If the job is a complicated unit and after studying the alternate ways of doing it I pick one from the top boxes and start designing in sketch form leaving plenty of room to design in detail. At some stage in order to get the best outcome it may be necessary to abandon that item and proceed with another from the top. My aim is always for perfection.

I take a long look at the top boxes and specifications before going home, concentrating on them before sleeping. Very often I find problems solved when I awake.

When I woke up and had solved the shutter clutch problems (detailed later) I was so excited, I rushed out to Bonds and bought two small 12 volt motors used in OO gauge model train engines so that I could make a working model of the double clutch action in the work shop.

The shutter was designed in two identical halves, screwed, sealed and rotated at 90% The diaphragms were driven by what I consider to be an ingenious two way clutch system. I have never seen the principle used elsewhere. It could have applications outside the X-ray industry.

A steel worm with smooth faces and a smooth bore bearing hole through centre which could slide to left or right on a driving shaft.

Free running clutch washers made of sintered bearing material (metal lubrication) on both sides of the worm.

Free running brass ferrules with shoulders to take a coil spring fixed to the ferrule pressing on the clutch washers. The outer ends of the coil springs are fixed rigidly to ferrules which themselves are fixed to the driving shaft.

The clutch system is complete. The outer ferrules are adjusted to spring load the worm to its position on the driving shaft.

The shaft drives the worm which itself turns a multi-toothed spur wheel attached to the main mechanism. When the main mechanism hits stop at either end of its travel the spur gear is stationary and the turning worm rides along the shaft until the desired spring tension causes the clutch to slip. In the instance of the shutter the lead diaphragms are held tightly together to prevent X-Rays passing.

Designing “My” Respirator

An Example of what I call Progressive Design

In the top “boxes” drawn on drawing board:

1. The Monagham Respirator Portable Expensive – Piston Pump – gear box-filters – continupous running motor- Expensive motor replacement

2. Exal Respirator Portable uses special built Roots pump ( as used in supercharging) positive/negative valves driven from motor-filters. Accessories; Inverter 24volt to 240 volts -very, very noisy – Large silencer cabinet necessary for ward use – capable of car and aircraft patient transport.

3. Iron Lung Whole body enclosed-head only out-patient servicing through ports-large, heavy-Mobile but non portable.-due to whole body pressurisation, sometimes slightly less effective than efficient portables.

4. Tracheotomy No comment – Hole in throat.

5 . Four Hand technique. Inadvisable to explain.

Thoughts about a completely new system

1. Find a suitable, cheaper, quieter motor.

2. Do I need to run motor continuously as breathing is cycled

3. What cycling system? Rotating cylinder, flap valves, slider valves.

4. Valves to be driven by pump motor or separate motor to vary breathing rate

5. How do I control rate and ratio of inspiration / expiration or zero positive

6. Portability

7. Size

8. Ease of manufacture

9. Speed of production in emergency

I try vacuum cleaner motor. On test it produced sufficient negative pressure to pull a Tunnicliffe Jacket. A bit noisy, but if nothing better a bit little bit of silencing might do the trick. Now is it worth trying something else,
I tried cycling the motor to breathing rates and it seems fine. Just needed
some form of regulation. This would dispense with all valves.

If only I could think of some form of regulation that is able to control ratio.

I made an electro mechanical test bed. A circle of contacts with rotating armature, each contact connected to a terminal block in a ring of terminal blocks. With links on the terminals, the ratio on / off per revolution could be determined. This test bed although bulky worked well driven by a motor and cycled the vacuum motor well.

Having tried a few electro mechanical systems, I played with electro controls and finally located a “Chip” dedicated to Fractional

Horsepower Control which fell within the specification and by digital counters was able to fully meet the requirements. I could have put a sigh pulse into the system but it was deemed unnecessary. I then had the equivalent of a printed circuit board about 4in x 4in x 1in

So after a number of almost sleepless nights, my poor brain exposed a printed circuit board.

About 3in x 3in which fitted into one half of a 13 amp twin wall socket with full control knobs for Pressure, Rate and Ratio. In an emergency one only need to lug a good vacuum cleaner into this 13amp socket to breathe a cuirass.

A criticism of the system is motor life. Well, arrange in the next progressive design to make it a plug-in unit and call it a battery for quick easy and cheap replacement. After all it is virtually only pulsed instead of continuous running at speed as are others and would only be used for periods in the twenty four hours determined by the doctor monitoring the recovery of the blood gas condition.

Other Projects Designed

Two Drawer Table Top Film Dryer.
Air Tight Stainless Illuminator Windows for Theatre Use
Structure for mounting first ceiling mounted X-Ray tube stand in country at exhibition.
Rotating “Light House” – a cylindrical bank of illuminated panels 17x 14in two rows high, for viewing X-ray films at exhibitions. Continually rotating but may be stopped with a light touch of the hand for continuous viewing. (Clutch driven).
Test Tube Rocker. To take up to 12 assorted size test tubes, rock able over an adjustable angle at an adjustable speed. For Manufacturer researching pharmaceutical products.
Units for Research and numerous requirements.

Involved In

Body Box; Solved problems (in my workshop) of sealing entrance door. (Instrumentation and design project by WATCO)
Automatic Film Corner Cutter
Under Table Serial Cassette Mounting
Diamond Tool Manufacturer asked advice on entering “sintered pin borer” field. I advised up to manufacturing stage. Furnacing, compression and amalgam (powder metallurgy). First trials outlasted existing borers in the field.

(Main contact; project manager H. Pritchard)

Unit for dispensing, sands and aggregates in the correct proportions and quantities to transport vehicles

Bob (b. 1922) talking to WISEArchive on 10th November 2008.

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