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Chas' Life, RACAL history

My own personal account written at the time.


RACAL was founded by RAymond Brown and George CALder Cunningham. They were Royal Air Force technicians and produced H. F. radio communication equipment in a large shed in the back garden!

Ray Brown 1920-1991 George Calder Cunningham ?


RACAL went public by issuing shares.


Ernest Harrison was elected chairman.


The RACAL group took over Thermionic Products in Hythe.


The company was known as RACAL Thermionics.

I started on 6th August as a prototype wireman in the Technical Services Group. Bob Hannan designed the test circuits to test the P.C.B's inside it. I designed the layout of the test boxes, drilled all the holes, got it painted, applied the lettering and assembled all the fittings. Then I wired it all inside including making any circuit boards that were required in the test box.

The PCB to be tested was plugged in, power and signals applied and inputs and outputs measured. Adjustments were made on the PCB to calibrate it.

With all the PCB's tested the assembled recording machine was tested for performance to specification.

Store 4,7 and 14 used 1/4" and 1/2" tape were the bread & butter machines. Tony Miles was a design engineer for the 'Store' family of Instrumental Recorders. Engineering was developing International Communication Recorders with 32 tracks on 1 inch tape. Pete Wrigley and John Lewis were the design engineers of that project.


The company moved to a new factory in Hardley Industrial Est. having been in Hythe on the waterfront.

The International Communication Recorder was launched with 32 voice channels. (I. C. R. 32). It recorded up to 32 telephone conversations on 1 inch tape.

Due to the miners strike the company had to use the generators 2 days a week to save electrical power. Other companies were on a 3-day week. We were given supplementary pay to keep up with the inflation of 15 to 20%.


This year is the 25th Anniversary of RACAL. We were all given pewter tankards. RACALEX was held in London. We all went to London by coach to see it one evening.


Job threat. 30 people leave.


The company was renamed RACAL Recorders.
I did not keep a record of activity during 1977, 1978 and 1979. When did Tony Crosse leave the Engineering department?


Tony Miles is appointed Technical Director.

AUTO STORE is launched. A small 8 track voice recorder with a reel to reel cassette containing 1/4" tape.

Bob Hannan left. He had been my boss since I started. Sadly he died soon after.

A production bonus was given to everyone each month.


SR 108 launched. It is a small rugged cassette recorder for the Army.


Our Managing Director, Mr. Chudley retired and is replaced by Mr. Kempson.

The entire production machine shop is removed. All items are to be made outside. 15% of the workforce is made redundant.

I. C. R. 20/40 is launched. New record/replay heads are designed using aluminium. This one recorded up to 40 telephone conversations on 1 inch tape.


I am working for Alan Goodwin. Still making test equipment in the Technical Services Department. More computers and Automatic Test Equipment based on Hewlett Packard systems are in use.


14M turn over. We all get a 10 bonus.

I am transferred to the Engineering lab to work as a technician. I build prototype circuits using wire wrapping, designing the layout and acquiring the components. These circuits were designed by the Electronic Engineers for new products yet to go into production. The lab was effectively carrying out research and development. It got so busy that I ended up with a team of about four people including apprentices.


STOREHORSE is launched. This is the first product with a microprocessor! Neil Crick was a design engineer on this project. It used large reels of 1 inch tape and was able to find messages using a time code.

The VAX computer starts work. It is a 'Mainframe Computer' serving several terminals. Used mainly for document writing and production stock control.


I. C. R. 64 is launched. It is small voice recorder with processor that will replace the I. C. R. 40. Mike Short was one of the design engineers for this project.


V STORE launched. It is an instrumentation recorder that uses videotape to record 24 channels. The tape deck was too complicated and had to be re-designed.


24 people are made redundant. Sales of some products are low.

Developing ELFIN. Building prototypes. Buying bits. Neil Crick is the design engineer. It was intended for the financial market.


Mr. Kempson leaves. Mr. Adrian Day is our new M.D.

ELFIN is launched. It is a helical scan recorder using videotape on a standard mass produced video deck. It is controlled via a terminal or telephone and records voice or data digitally. It never really took off!


The Canteen is completely stripped out and a new restaurant takes its place. No more Social Club but we can join the ESSO Club!

The 2000th I. C. R. 64 is sold to North Yorkshire Police.

WORDSAFE is launched. This is another helical scan recorder. 32 channel voice only. There is a very high demand for this product. It uses much less tape.

RAPIDAX Phase 1 is launched. This is a multi channel hard disc-based voice logger. Inputs from telephone or radio can be instantly replayed even while still recording. Based on a P.C. with monitor, keyboard and remote terminals for replay. Andrew White was the development engineer. The software and some hardware were developed under contract by ORIGIN in Nottingham.


This is my 18th year with RACAL Recorders. Sir Ernest Harrison visits Recorders. The record/replay head shop is reduced. Not so many heads are required now that products are using helical scan standard video decks.

The RACAL group made 222M pre-tax profit on a 2,084M turnover. (10.6%)
'Recorders' is one of the more profitable parts of the 'specials division'.

The 80% stake in VODAPHONE is sold off. RACAL had created VODAPHONE.

In September RACAL shares were 51p and VODAPHONE shares were 347p. William's Holdings made a bid for RACAL worth 753M. This was considered hostile.

A Small Portable Instrumental REcorder is being developed.(S.P.I.R.E). Later called STOREPLEX.

The chairman of the 'special' division Jim Diggins is to retire. The new chairman of 'Recorders' is now David Elesbury. He is the right hand man of Sir Ernest Harrison.

45 people made redundant due to lack of orders worldwide. Service and spares department merge. The record/replay head machine shop is moved to an expanded model shop.


All contractors have been told to leave. The rest of the head shop has closed and all our heads to be made by outside contractors. NO PAY INCREASES THIS YEAR!!

RACAL sell off CHUBB. Shares now stand at 150p. I join share option to buy at a price of 105p. RACAL shares now worth 61 pence. William's sold their 10% holding.

Pre-tax profit is 23M on sales of 449M for the group. (5%)

VSTORE is being used on P & O ferries as a black box recorder.

I am working on the Phase 2 RAPIDAX NETWORK and STANDALONE systems. I am mainly evaluating the software and assembling prototype equipment.

WORDSAFE 2 is being developed. It has a more reliable deck and a better front display.

Caroline Gladhill, who works in the lab, is awarded Young Engineer of the Year.

Our Managing Director, Mr. Day leaves and Mr. Poole takes over.


This is my 20th year at RACAL Recorders. We get a late pay increase of 4% from January. There is an upturn in orders mostly for WORDSAFE.

Another on going project is the portable Instrumentation Recorder to be called STOREPLEX. Based on computer technology.

I continue to work on RAPIDAX. Still evaluating software.

An interesting development was a recorder for the F. B. I. I was involved with building 6 prototypes and evaluating the software for that! The F. B. I. will evaluate the recorders for a year and get back to us. They never did as far as I know!

STOREPLEX is launched into the market and WORDSAFE 2 is nearly ready.

A new training area is to be run by personnel.

Pre tax profits are 32.1M on sales of 946M for the group this year. (3.4%). Shares are now worth 227p.

We have been awarded the Quality I.S.O. 9001. All now work to written procedures!

Caroline Turner wins the Southern finals of 'Young Engineer of the Year'.

In November the shares went down to 180p.

December sees a new ceiling, lighting and heating installed in the engineering department.

Jon Green and Darryl Pullen are apprentices for the lab. Ron Fairman retires from the Drawing Office.


Share prices back up above 200p.

Andrew Moore takes over as design authority for Rapidax. RAPIDAX RANGER now being developed, with a new rack mountable box to replace the 'tower'. Time spent vetting new manuals for this 16 channel recorder.

4M profit made this year by Recorders.

RACAL & ICL have won the contract to run the National Lottery! Good news indeed.

On the 14th June there was a power cut. Within an hour the generators were on. Kept us going till 3 o'clock.

3% pay rise given. Share price is 218p.

Start on RAPIDAX RANGER DIGITAL TACTICAL LOGGER with 32 channels with a new layout and processor. There is much work to be done getting the Equipment Specification together using various issues from ORIGIN. New hardware and software have many problems to solve.

Digby Payne and Steve Lifford join the team. Apprentice Darryl Pullen also gets quite involved. Several 'B' Models are built and given to various departments and Beta sites for evaluation.

Production is already building RANGER DTL's but they cannot be sold until some problems are solved, hopefully early in the New Year.


Final Test and Production are combining to form production units for each product. Teams in each unit will become expert in that product. They will control their own stock levels, build and test and deliver working systems. The suppliers of components will ensure that sufficient stock is on site for current production.

Group turn over is 938M with a profit of 61M. (6.5%),
Recorders turn over is 30.6M with a profit of 6.2M. (20%).

RACAL acquire shares in British Rail Telecom for it's Network.

Current products under development are WORDNET, RANGER DTL and STOREPLEX. Standard computer hardware is being used in many products. Software is written under contract by ORIGIN. They are all undergoing enhancements that include RADAR recording. System design is popular this year!


This is my 23rd year. Many people I started with have reached 25 years service. Ray Willbourne, Tony Miles, John Lewis and Will Agnew to name a few. I am invited to Lohn Lewis' party.

Mike Foster, an electronic engineer, moves up to a front office!

This year we stick a 'CE' label on our products to comply with EMC regulations!

'Recorders' are finding it difficult to reach high output targets set by Group. We have done better than last year but it's not good enough for Group.

I am evaluating RADAR recording software on RANGER. Despite the fact that the RADAR board has not been tested the system went to market.

A new Recorder is being considered. Many existing products are being up-graded to accept digital signals from Phone Lines. 'It would be possible for a person to request the replay, through a phone, of a recorded message made by another person. The system will know the identity of every person and will know where that person's recordings are to be found! It won't matter which phone the person uses.' (Too clever)

Further development of Ranger has passed to the Quality Department. Steve Stares is now the Design Authority. But I continue evaluating the many issues of software from ORIGIN in the Engineering Department.

Budget is very tight. Recorders turnover is 43M and profit is 13M. (30%)

Group wanted 15M after the last exceptional year! Group turn over is 933M?

Share Price is 243 pence in December.

RACAL Recorders has purchased a German Company called Joseph Heim. They develop, market and produce Instrumentation Recorders. We have fallen behind in this field of recording.

Internet and E-Mail is fast becoming an essential source of information and communication.

Mr. Kempson has returned as Managing Director for 6 months while Mr. Pool looks after British Rail Telecom because their M.D. left!

A move round in Engineering resulted in my loosing all 4 benches that were being used for training, safety, students and apprentices. My PC does not yet have access to the Stock and Cat. Number search facility.

Just before Christmas I was given the offer to transfer to Technical Services Group and I moved out of Engineering. I have been in Engineering for 12 years and it was quite a wrench getting the roots out! I leave behind Labstock, Safety Testing and training.


This is my 24th year. My PC is setup on the production network and is much better than in Engineering. Quality procedures are available 'on line'.

WORDNET, although selling worldwide has many problems in the field, far more than in RANGER. A concentrated effort found 50 faults a day. Now we need good software engineers to fix them. No work is being done on the new RANGER product.

Shares stand at 281 pence in April just before the General Election.

I continue to be a Safety Rep. RANGER is finally released into production! The RADAR version of software is now being evaluated.

RACAL expect to make a profit of 40M but it is a bit short of the target. The group is valued at 680M. Is Sir Ernie Harrison about to retire? The Shares now stand at 237 pence and fall further to 220 pence in May. By Dec. they are up to 250 pence. My share option matures and I elect to buy some at 150 pence.

Bad news. 10% redundancy is announced. Many of my friends are to leave. 35 people leave quite suddenly. 20 of them were managers. There is much re-organisation to follow. Many more are leaving including Malcolm Leavens who was Quality Manager. Even our Managing Director wants to leave at the end of the year!

A 3% pay rise was granted at the end of June.

A power cut occured in June. Generators are powered up but it is not safe to use the computers.

Mike Foster is now in charge of the Engineering dept. Quality and Product Support are also under his control. I find myself working in Product Support under Alan Gray. Customer complaints, Drawing Changes and software evaluation on RANGER and WORDNET are my main concerns now.


I have served RACAL for 25 years and had a party! Not long after that I was made redundant!


Yes it is a long gap. Suddenly I got a message on Facebook from Ian Donald who I had worked with at RACAL. He had some 'friends' who I had known at RACAL. Collecting 'friends' snowballed on Facebook!

Ian Donald, Clive Pearce, Doug Lyon, Mark Thompson, Dawn Bundy (Goodwin), Ian Worthington, Andrew Moore, Ray Wood, Darryl Pullen?, Neil Truckell?, Kerren Lillywhite?, John Campbell?,

There is even a Group called 'Racal Recorders Limited' ?

I had previously contacted Colin North, Tim Giles, Neil Crick,