My Mentors

cecil dad corbyn Image editThis is about teachers and lecturers who have influenced me. The reason for writing it now will become clear in the last paragraph.

One of my schoolteachers, Mr Scruton, still remains in my memory, in that I can rehearse his voice acting a few lines of Shakespeare, Henry V and Merchant of Venice. Obviously these were examination pieces and only a few lines of each remain, but remembered in his accent.

Next must come Dr Dennis Flack, a part time lecturer at Bristol College of Technology. He was young, energetic, a glider pilot and worked at Bristol Aircraft Co. His subject was electrical instruments which he treated with great enthusiasm and was largely descriptive. In the examination I only needed to picture him and his words flowed straight from memory onto the page. I recall a meeting of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in Bristol when he read a paper about the control of induction motors and at one point he said “the motor just sits there and growls at you”. Some older members glanced at each other, this was not the language expected in a professional institution!

At the same college, Lecturer Patrick Davis at first annoyed us by setting a midterm examination and leaving the room. No one could see the relevance to what we had been taught and on his return he explained how each question related to our subject, but needed some thinking “outside the box”. I remember his last words were “and by George! a Ward-Leonard System”. He had worked at Sperry during the war and a lab assistant told us that old colleagues had visited with problems, going away happy after the session, with reams of formulae. Pat introduced us to the graphical analysis which I used throughout most of my working life and we kept in touch sporadically. When he died he left me his BBC computer in his will and his executor telephoned to tell me, knowing that by then it was outmoded.

On completing my apprenticeship with Westinghouse Brake and Signal Company I entered the electrical design office, to work on the design of power supplies, producing direct current from mains alternating current. Some of my older colleagues (I was the youngest) always used surnames to address each other, in the public school manner. Others, ex-servicemen, used first names. One man, David Benjamin Corbyn or “Corb” was a little unconventional, wearing coloured corduroy trousers, sometimes held up with a tie and frequently with blood stains on his shirt collar after using a “cut throat razor”. He often walked into the sharp corner of a table in the small office and one morning he arrived brandishing a large saw and proceeded to saw the offending corner off, to the shock of the rest. This was in the 1950s and most people drove old cars and Corbyn came in one day carrying an oily back axle to demonstrate to everyone the problem with its differential. However I found that if I had a problem with work my colleagues would direct me to “Corb” who would always find time to help and explain. This was before the advent of computers or electronic calculators, and we all used a slide rule. I had used an inexpensive one for five years as a student and it had warped, with a loose slide. Corbyn told me that I needed a better one for precision work and I travelled to Bath at the weekend and purchased a fairly expensive slide rule. When I proudly showed him on the Monday, his voice rose a couple of octaves, as it did often, and he said he had not intended me to spend so much. I still have that rule, but rarely use it now. David Corbyn had derived much of the basic theory we used and was undoubtedly a brilliant electrical engineer. At a time when the country had reverted to conservatism it was rumoured that he was left wing, if not “red”. Much of our work used established formulae, but I felt the need to understand what lay behind them. Corbyn encouraged me in my graphical studies and introduced me to a book, in German, which had a couple of pages of assistance. I think I saw his wife when she came to collect him once from the office, but we did not meet. She must have been busy bringing up their children at the time and possibly teaching part time. I have a photograph from 1951 showing “Corb” (in a suit!) extreme left and I am the youngster 3rd from the left.

After two years I was called for long deferred National Service, and on my return in another two years I found “Corb” had left to join English Electric, probably because he had been passed over for promotion. A few years later we met again when he read a paper at Savoy Place in London, as we were still in the same area of manufacture. Subsequently he was always happy to have a friendly chat.

For some time I have been aware that Corbyn’s son, Jeremy, was a Labour MP and he recently became prominent as the new leader of the Labour Party. I have never met Jeremy, his father was clever and good, but did not hit the headlines.

Bridport History Society meets on October 13th at 2.30 pm for its AGM to be followed by “Incidents in the Civil War in Dorset” from Bruce Upton of Bridport Museum.


Cecil Amor, Chairman, Bridport History Society :

Tel . 01308 456876.