Obituary: Robin Banks – Scottish television pioneer 1925-2017

Robin Banks in his Campbeltown youth.

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The television engineer who made sure the 1952 funeral of George VI could be viewed in Scotland has died aged 92.

Robin Banks BSc, Associate of the Royal College of Science and Technology (ARCST) was one of Campbeltown Grammar school’s most illustrious alumni.

Robert, always know as Robin, was the son of Alex Banks, an English teacher at the school and his wife Mary, of Lochend, Campbeltown.

After leaving the school as Dux in 1943 Robin trained in electronic communications and engineering at the Royal College in Glasgow after which, instead of National Service, he was transferred to classified electronic communications work in the Marconi research laboratories in Chelmsford, Essex.

Here he gained an outstanding reputation for his ability to apply  electrical engineering solutions to real time long distance signal transmission problems.

Television was in its infancy and Marconi’s research laboratories were world leaders in transmission.

By the late 1940’s there was pressure to enable television to be received much more widely than London and the Home Counties.

However, Scotland with its mountains and long distances between populations, presented difficulties.

Eventually it was agreed that the optimum site for a transmitter to reach most of the central belt would be at Kirk o’Shotts in Lanarkshire.

The task of specification, oversight and commissioning was given to 28 year old Robin Banks and the transmitter opened in March 1952, just in time to broadcast the funeral of King George VI.

His parents were invited to the official opening by the BBC, but his father could not attend as his pupils were sitting their examinations.  So a proud Mary Banks took her place with her son among the great and the good.

She was particularly interested that the first item to be broadcast from the new transmitter was of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society dancing the reel Duke of Edinburgh and that it was introduced by announcer Mary Malcolm of Poltalloch, Lochgilphead.

Robin had of course ensured that the signal would be received in Campbeltown as its most distant target.

Thus, the relatively small number of households, in the town, who had acquired a 14inch black and white screen from A&P McGrory’s shop and installed a high aerial had an excellent grandstand for BBC Television’s first major outside broadcast: the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth on June 2 1953.

Marconi merged with GEC and Robin moved to Stafford where GEC had its main research facilities.

Here he specialised in high voltage DC current transmission for electric trains such as the Eurostar and the French TGV.

GEC-Marconi was run by the Lord Weinstock, who appointed Robin as director of research laboratories.

He had to report personally to Lord Weinstock every week, something most staff feared but which to Robin was an opportunity to trade logic with a mind he greatly admired.

Robin was a keen motor-cyclist and motorist, and with his wife Jean, who predeceased him, often returned to Campbeltown.

They enjoyed Scottish Country Dancing and Jean, as an artist, was the perfect foil for the highly mathematical engineer.

They had one daughter Fiona and greatly enjoyed their involvement with their three grandchildren.

Robin Banks in his Campbeltown youth. NO_c41robinbanks01_obit