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THE TRANSMISSION GALLERY

THE FALL AND RISE OF EMLEY MOOR

SOME EMLEY  MEMORIES...

From: Joe Hakeney, Former BBC engineer:

Test Card EI was duty engineer in Leeds control room when the mast fell down; even watching the BBC2 Test Card on a receiver at the time. When ringing to find the cause of breakdown, my reply was the usual "pull the other one"!

The phone never stopped ringing all night - most complainers wanted Coronation Street to be transmitted on BBC1 after close down. There were one or two who were prepared to redirect their aerials and needed information to do this.

Yorkshire TV and BBC2 were the only services transmitted from the mast at the time. (BBC1 and VHF radio came from Holme Moss and Medium Wave radio from Moorside Edge.)

The repair activity in transmitter department started the same evening, all hell broke later in the evening as every available bit of kit was collected together to be sent up to Emley Moor to help restore the service.

Our main phone line was constantly engaged during the evening with viewers complaints and the overflow went to the poor commissionaire, who did his best.

I was on the desk again 1 days later when Holme Moss phoned at about 10:30 and calmly asked for a quality check on BBC2 reception. My reply, without looking at the receiver, was "nil". So they said "Well switch on the set". I couldn't believe my eyes - perfect reception.

The BBC2 transmitter as back on air about 40 hours after the collapse. This was using a single aerial panel (salvaged from the fallen mast) mounted on an Eagle Tower from Manchester Outside Broadcasts and it remained like that until the mast was rebuilt.

From: Barrie Stephenson
Subject: I Was Lying on My Back in he Snow
Date: 19-Mar-2009

Forty years ago this evening I was on my back in the snow under a section of the Emley Moor transmitter mast near Huddersfield. I was salvaging aerial panels which only a couple of hours earlier were 1,200 feet above my head.

I worked for the BBC as a Technical Assistant at the Holme Moss transmitter station ten miles away. We also maintained the BBC2 transmitters on the Emley Moor site. At 5pm on March 19th 1969 the mast crumpled under the weight of ice on the structure.

The Emley Moor transmitter site belonged to the Independent Broadcasting Authority but the BBC and IBA UHF transmitters were being co-sited so we had a small building near the much larger IBA Transmitter Hall. The BBC engineer on duty at Emley on March 19th was called Fred. As he worked inside, the mast collapsed and curled itself around the UHF buildings on the site and other building across the road. A cable stripped the roof of the BBC building of its ventilation shafts and took a few bricks off one corner. The IBA UHF building next door, as yet unoccupied, was demolished.

Fred called the Senior Maintenance Engineer at Holme Moss, Frank, who was busy and initially took Fred’s cry for help as a joke. It’s so rare that someone rings to say “The mast’s fallen down” that it wasn’t given any credibility. Especially when it’s a 1250′ modern structure at a main transmitter site belonging to a major broadcaster. But it had fallen and Frank soon took Fred’s call.

I had just finished my day shift at Holme Moss. At home in my bedsit in Huddersfield I could only receive BBC1 on VHF. No ITV or BBC2. I called the control desk at Holme Moss and heard the news for the first time. It was all hands on deck - so I forgot about tea and drove out of town to Emley Moor.

Fred was sitting in the transmitter hall, quiet and shaking.

After hearing his account some of us went outside to inspect the damage. We couldn’t see much at all. It was dark, cold and foggy. Snow lay on the ground. We were helpless. Changing a valve or replacing a section of feeder wasn’t going get us back on the air in this case.

More out of a need to do something than anything else we began to unbolt UHF aerial panels from the mast in case they could be re-deployed on a temporary mast to get the station back on the air. It was a useless exercise of course. Those panels were designed to work in a matched array at 1200 feet. They were just useless bits of aluminium on their own. But we endured the cold - did the British thing - and salvaged three or four panels before calling it a night.

Less than 48 hours later BBC2 was back on the air. The UHF transmitters had been de tuned and fed into a UHF panel that had first brought BBC2 to the Birmingham area at Sutton Coldfield - another station where I had worked during my training as a technician.

I left the BBC soon after that and didn’t return to the corporation until 1983 when BBC Radio York went on air. I eventually became Managing Editor of the radio station and often told the story of the night the mast fell down.

From: Alan Whitehead:

At the time of the collapse I was an engineer in the GPO TV Network Switching Centre in Manchester.

The GPO engineer at Emley was called Maurice and he had been in the GPO room all day as the original problem was break-up on the ITV feed.

At the time Manchester was the controlling NSC [Network Switching Centre] for Emley. The break-up was caused by ice falling onto the "bedstead" over our microwave dish and giving the dish a severe shaking. We had been in contact with Maurice all afternoon on the private wire recieving regular updates on the state of the problem and thhe bedstead was apparently knocked off at some point. However at approximately 1700 the PW [private wire] rang and a very shaky voice at the Emley end said "it's come down".

My reply was "has the dish come off then?"

Answer was "no the whole bloody mast has fell down!"

Actually Maurice obviously heard it start to fall and dived under the bench in the GPO room. When he emerged the concrete roof had been split wide open. Fortunately he was OK.

From: Keith Caley

I've told this story many times, so I might as well write it down...

Having started work in (Kingston Upon) Hull as an apprentice 'Radio & TV engineer' in 1962 I was doing field service calls that afternoon.

By chance I had a call to make in South Cave, at the foot of the Yorkshire Wolds, some 12 miles West of Hull and within the service area of the Emley Moor transmitter.

The TV was a Ferguson (Thorn) with a mechanical push button UHF tuner, which was where the fault lay - it suffered from the normal symptoms of 'flashing and interference' due to poor earthing contacts to the rotary shaft of the tuning gang.

Having verified the symptoms, I set about the routine job of stripping down the tuner and servicing it.

The phrase "imagine my surprise" does not quite do justice to my emotions when, 10 minutes later having re-assembled the Tuner, I was faced with a screen full of 'snow' but no sound or pictures!

Some hours later after trying everything I knew to restore reception, and with the customer's somewhat ironic comments still ringing in my ears, I arrived back at the workshop with the Ferguson to be greeted with the words "Bugger about Emley eh?".

Sadly my response is not suitable for your sensitive readers...

From: Richard Bentley:

I remember the night of the mast collapse quite well. At that time I was working for Baird TV, Bradford, in the development labs.

The mast fell down at 5.01pm. By the time I got home to Huddersfield at 5.40pm, my mother said that the TV wasn't working.

The night of the collapse, I drove with my brother up to Emley Moor. Police had closed all the main roads, but I looked on an OS map and found a small lane which we went up in my mini van.

We parked the car and walked into the field behind the church. The scene was eerie. Snow was on the ground and it was slightly foggy. All the trees were covered with ice and heavy with long icicles. 

In the light of the Sodium vapour street lights there lay 9ft. diameter steel and fibreglass sections of the mast. Intertwined were pieces of corrugated aerial feeder cable possibly 6" diameter, with a copper tube for the centre conductor. Also strewn around were microwave dishes, aerial assemblies consisting of groups of bow ties and some of the guy wires.

The cause of the collapse was freezing rain forming ice on the guy wires. Then, I think one guy wire failed and the the others just pulled the mast over.

Belmont and Winter Hill had similar masts and the transmitter stations were evacuated as a precaution. The Belmont mast was also actually in danger, but it didn't come down.

The mast at Waltham had previously collapsed shortly after it was built in 1967

From: Mark Carver:

The first time I saw the present mast was during a thunderstorm in June 1991.

I was on my way to up Scotland for a holiday with two of my friends, we made a 'slight' detour, and parked up in the observation lay-by. The sky was jet black, and it was raining.

My level of enthusiasm exceeded that of my friends, and I leapt out of the car to take some photographs. As I did so, there was a tremendous simultaneous bang and flash. The tower had been hit by lightning.

My friend who was driving, immediately started the car, and with panic in his voice announced that we were departing! I did see some bods run out of the TX building, look at the tower, and run back in again!

From Chas Dutton:

I can remember the afternoon that Emley Moor came down. I was - and still am, for my sins - an aerial installer (based in Mansfield) - we had just purchased our first UHF/VHF field strength meter from Pye/Labgear. We were testing the meter with a range of UHF aerials at my brother's home using the Belmont and Emley transmitters; he was in the garden with the meter and I was on the chimney holding the various aerials aloft. He was shouting to me that the Emley signals had disappeared and was I off direction (I wasn't) so we checked connections at each end of the test lead, replaced the test lead; still nothing. We were thinking that the meter must have gone faulty and would try the test aerial on the TV; still nothing!

As a consequence we spent the next couple of years revisiting previous installations and changing them to Belmont and the new Waltham transmitter. It's an ill wind...

From: Richard R:

On the day the mast fell, we kids were watching TV and for some unknown reason there was a loss of most of the TV pictures. Mum said she wouldn't be surprised if the mast had fallen down. Not long afterwards of course we found out that the Emley Moor transmitter mast had indeed fallen down.

A day or two later, with my Dad, I visited the site of the downed mast and vividly remember what I thought at the time was the top of the mast and peeking down the inside of it. There was a triangular-shaped lid which I opened, and looking into the mast I seem to remember cables, lights, and a ladder structure inside.

I remember the weather during this period being very inclement, not a lot of snow, but a mixture of dampness and cold that was very penetrating, one could describe the conditions as very raw.

As for memorabilia, I have some partly sheared galvanised nuts and bolts together with some copper tubing. The tubes are about 1" diameter and 18" long, with a brass base. Soldered to the top of the tube was a brass rod about " diameter and about 12" long. I think originally these things were encased in fibre-glass. I've always wondered what these things are and mused that they were part of the transmitter antenna.

From: George Whitaker
Subject: Memories of the Mast

We came to live in Emley the year before the mast fell, it was a small village on the outskirts of Huddersfield its only claim to fame was the fact that just up the road was the mast, this transmitted television waves to the surrounding county, it was a very delicate structure which defied the wind and rain on Emley Moor, it's a bleak area with a few houses spread very sparsely about, a small chapel was at the other side of the road and in winter when the weather was cold, ice was a constant hazard round the base of the mast, spread on four sides were guy cables which supported the mast, the whole structure was balanced on a what could only be described as a metal ball, this allowed the main mast to sway to the limit of the guy cables, the caretaker of the small chapel, in winter when the ice was liable to be falling, would wear a crash helmet when he was working in the chapel just in case, and he lived in a house not far from the chapel, Emley moor is noted for deep snow drifts and at times was buried in drifts up to fifteen foot deep.

When the mast fell it landed between two houses and the only damaged it caused was to the chapel which was cut in two by one of the guy ropes which hit it when it fell, from that moment everything possible was done to restore the service to the public, and very quickly a temporary mast was erected to give a limited service on BBC 2 , and arrangements were made for a temporary mast to be brought from Sweden this was soon here and was quickly erected, this gave a better picture to a bigger area and soon after this work was started on the new concrete tower, the structure as it grew week by week attracted a lot of interest from far and wide, a small car park was constructed to keep visitors cars off the narrow road that ran alongside, the structure went up section by section over the months until the observation platform was reached we all thought that was as high as it was going to be, but no another part was built up inside the top, and was jacked up slowly until it reached the height it is now, this makes it a landmark which can be seen as far away as Sheffield on the M1 and from many other places around, when we went on holiday, as we were on our way home when we could see the tower we were home!.

Inside, the tower is wide enough to accommodate a small lift which goes up to the observation platform, when I was on the Denby Dale Council we were invited to go up the tower and round the transmitting station which was at the bottom, we got into this lift which only held the lift man and two others and it started to rise, It was a little wire mesh cage with an open grid like floor so you could see the walls passing on all sides and if you looked down you could see the ground gradually getting further and further away, (not for the squeamish) with the only consolation being that if it broke down there was a ladder fastened to the side of the tower (Certainly not for the squeamish and not in any way for me!!) the journey took every bit of seven minutes, but seemed like a lifetime, we eventually got to the top, it was quite a surprise when we stepped out as the observation platform which only looks small from the bottom was in fact very big and spacious with electrical equipment all round it, looking out of the windows which go from roof nearly to the floor one could see for miles, it was a bit misty but the lift man said that on a clear day you could see the towers of York Minster. I was willing to take his word about that, but even though it was a bit misty, the view was breathtaking and was well worth the worry of the lift with its rattles and bangs, and it was the same coming down.

The Tower is now a listed building, And is the tallest structure in England.

From: Alan Stokes:

Some years back, I had the pleasure of a visit to the Observation area. I was visiting some friends in Meltham, not a million miles from Emley, and the next door neighbour was an IBA engineer at the station. He had joined the BBC the same day as me (9/9/68). One evening, as I was fiddling with my car outside the friend's house, this neighbour asked if I was free that evening. On my reply of "Yes" (I had no idea what was coming!) he said, "How would you like to go up the tower?" Well now, I have no head for heights - I get pretty giddy standing on a chair - but this was an opportunity you do not turn down.

When in that lift (7 minutes, agreed!) I just locked my eyes on something within it. I seem to recall it was an open lattice type and the world (well, the inside of the tower) could be seen going past!

Apart from the magnificent view I noticed some amateur radio gear in the observation area. The engineer mentioned that they could get some very good distances from there. I asked where the aerials were (slightly silly question really!) and he said, "Well, think about it. What closed down recently?" It was the VHF-405 service for YTV but the aerials were still in place. So, with a little aerial tuning, the VHF units were connected to the amateur radio gear.

If you have any 'Emley Memories' please drop me a line...

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