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News > Alumni news > Ashley Jones (Class of 1976) Reminiscences on a “Life less Ordinary”

Ashley Jones (Class of 1976) Reminiscences on a “Life less Ordinary”

In response to our request for alumni news, reminiscences and careers advice for any alumni who are career hunting, Ashley Jones (TWGSB 1969-1976) responded to our call.
22 Nov 2023
Alumni news
Bush House Control Room c.1977
Bush House Control Room c.1977

Here he gives a fantastic account of what the school was like in his time here and how it set him up for a very successful career in Broadcast Operational Engineering:

My choice of secondary education at Tunbridge Wells Technical High School, as it was back in 1969, was an easy decision from my point of view, although I think my parents would have been pleased if I had chosen Judd!

Having passed the 11 plus from Solefield School I was offered a wide range of secondary options and chose to visit both Judd and “The Tech” on two consecutive evenings; my father took me along to Judd first. Well, I have no doubt it would have been a fine education for someone more academically inclined than myself but I wasn’t too impressed by the rather stark and serious aura of the place. However, on the following evening I could barely contain my excitement at seeing the two sectioned aircraft engines just inside the main doors, a Junker 88 and a Whittle jet engine if my memory serves. We then toured such delights as the metalwork and woodwork labs., the physics / chemistry labs. and the drawing office, all of these areas were formative and important for my future work and recreational interests.

Early days and memorable teachers:

On my first day I duly started in 1M, Mr. Makinson’s form on the first floor, he was a very kindly master who helped us all settle into the new world of secondary education and gently encouraged everyone to do their best. I am not certain but I think my second year was in 2D, our form master was Mr. Davey, affectionately known as ”The Admiral”, I think he had served in the Royal Navy. He was a fine teacher and one thing that I remember clearly was his amazing ability to distribute our homework books by hand from the front of the class, launching them from the flat of his hand in such a way that they glided through the air and invariably flew to within catching distance of the intended recipient, if not landing perfectly on your desk!

Another teacher who made academic life fun was John Sutton, known as Jim. He took us for geography and was a naturally amusing person with a very dry wit who loved to tell stories from his life; one such story involved glaciated scenery, in which I have always been interested. I won’t relate the whole story for fear of lowering the tone but suffice it to say that he illustrated a particular glacial feature, the hanging valley, by the tale of him enjoying a blissful summer picnic in Wales with a certain Fiona!

Never a sport-loving person, my main interests at school were the metal workshop and physics lab, with some handy electronics thrown in for good measure.

I had always loved making, breaking and mending virtually anything from a very early age which I was allowed to continue at school too! Thanks to Dave Madin, and no ability on the sports field, I came to an agreement with him that I would not take part in any sport or PE but would repair any broken pieces of school kit such as basketball hoops etc. and generally make myself useful with making and mending things. This developed into the lucrative sideline of servicing various masters’ cars, Jim Sutton’s MGB was a particular joy as he even let me use it whilst he was on holiday! I remember on one occasion getting almost airborne coming up from the car park into the playground at quite a speed, testing the suspension I think!

Of all the teachers I had the pleasure of knowing it was Sam Britten to whom I owed my deepest gratitude. He indulged me in many ways which I am very grateful for as his wealth of engineering experience and guidance has stayed with me to this very day.

To illustrate the breadth of capabilities that I learned from him, here are a few of the things that I got up to with his encouragement: -

  • Making an oxy-acetylene rocket motor which blew out the window behind the forge when it backfired! I hadn’t quite turned off the acetylene fully and the combustion chamber was still glowing red hot after a successful run, at a critical point the acetylene ignited and it certainly made quite a bang to say the least!
  • The school had an Austin A35 car in need of much attention, parked just off the back road by the workshop. This was a perfect opportunity to learn all about the intricacies of completely reconditioning an engine and generally making the car driveable again. There was much fun to be had, tearing around the back road and playground.
  • Another story that comes to mind is that of our end of year show, possibly while in the lower sixth in 1975? We were doing a number of sketches, one of which was the conquering of a foreign island which involved planting the Union Flag on the beach of said island. The storyline was that the indigenous population had mined the beach and our flag would set one of them off when planted. Obviously we could have had the sound of a bang played in by the stage sound crew but where’s the fun in that?! So, off I went to the workshop to design and make a blank cartridge firing insert for the bottom of the flagpole, such that when it was planted there was a loud bang, it worked a treat in testing but there wasn’t much smoke. Off to the chemistry lab. This time to make some flashpowder to be electrically fired from the wings…..oh dear, well it worked but a little too well! I had put too much in the burning pot and smoked out the whole of the assembly hall with dense sulphurous smoke, we just used the cartridge firer for the performance!

As far as I remember, the 5th year discussion about my career options weren’t too onerous, I just knew I wanted to do engineering in its broadest sense and remember very well a visit to the MoD at Fort Halstead, near Sevenoaks, where we were shown some amazing workshops making missile nose-cones. Little did I know that déjà vu was at play!

Academically speaking, it has to be said that I didn’t push myself terribly hard but ended up with 5 “O”s and 2 “A”s which enabled me to contemplate two offers of employment in the long hot summer of 1976.

Ashley is front row, second from the right

Both jobs required formal interviews, the MoD job was to do electronics at Chislehurst and they said to bring along something I had made. Well, the electric firing box from the stage show came in very handy as I had made it with lots of switches and lights which I thought made it look interesting, I was asked to explain the design criteria behind it and I think they must have approved as I was sent off for a medical and then offered a job.

As for the BBC job interview, it was for a Technical Assistant post at the World Service Radio HQ in London. I hadn’t really planned to go into broadcast engineering but I had been talking about career options with a friend of mine in the upper sixth, Graham Tidy, and he told me about the BBC job he had just applied for so I went for the same one. On the day before the interview I thought perhaps I should read up on broadcasting so I bought the Penguin book “Fundamentals of Broadcasting” and read the first chapter on the train to London for the board. This chapter was on magnetic tape recording and was all I had time to read; clearly I was destined for this job as most of the questions were on that precise subject, I passed the colour blindness check and was offered a job.!

With the two offers in front of me I was in the enviable position of having a choice to make, should it be the MoD or the BBC?  The choice was easy as it turned out, the BBC unconditionally offered me £2514 p/a with an initial 3 months’ assessment and training at their Engineering Training Centre, Evesham, whilst the MoD’s offer was less p/a than the BBC and conditional on passing ‘A’ level Pure Maths at Bromley college; I had enjoyed applied maths but couldn’t get on with pure maths so I joined the BBC!

Ahsley is on the phone in the background, Bush House Control Room c.1977

My BBC career started off with what was effectively a well-paid apprenticeship with frequent training sessions at Evesham throughout my career, initially wholly technical and then latterly in management. From day 1 my work in London involved a mix of electronic workshop duties making amplifiers etc., Control Room operations looking after the worldwide programme contributions to, and the distribution of, over 40 foreign languages which involved satellites and high powered transmitters in the UK and overseas, along with fault finding and maintenance of dozens of different studios at Bush House in The Strand, London. As time went by I must have become more useful as, in 1984, I spent five weeks in America working in the International Control Room covering the Olympics, it was quite an adventure!

Last shift at the BBC 2013

Through a long and happy career in Bush House for the BBC and latterly a management buyout into a private company with TUPE transfers out of, and back into the BBC, I finally ending up in Broadcasting House working not only in radio but television as well. This all came to an end in 2013 when a lucrative voluntary redundancy package was offered to my department and I took the money and ran. This allowed me to indulge in another childhood fascination; that of pyrotechnics and explosives, which I carried on for 5 years working for QinetiQ at Fort Halstead……remember my careers visit back in the 5th year?

Ashley with his wife and sons at his retirement party

There are many more stories that could be told of my school and work life, of which you have heard some of the highlights and I and have to say that, with few exceptions, I thoroughly enjoyed my 7 years at TWTHS and over 40 years of employment.

Now I look back on my time at school as being essential to the success of my working life and an integral part of all the fun that I have enjoyed since 1976 and which enabled me to enjoy a ‘Life Less Ordinary’ and a comfortable retirement.

Parting thoughts:

  • If you can have a clear idea of what you would like to do as a career, then it would be useful for focussing your efforts in the right subjects.
  • If you have a particular interest or ability in practical or technical things, then an apprenticeship may be just what you are looking for as there is currently a shortage of people with these skills in many companies.
  • If you enjoy your work, then you will feel as though you don’t work a day in your life, so choose your career carefully.
  • In the workplace it may not be possible to get on well with everyone but always try to engage with everyone if you can, a smile goes a long way.

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Ashley, such an interesting journey after school!   If you would like to impart your experiences and knowledge to the next generation, or just share what you have been up to with your fellow alumni, please simply emai your copy and some good quality photos through to: 



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