Tony Gilbey, G4YTG – 23 February 2024

| March 19, 2024

President, Chelmsford Amateur Radio Society (CARS) 2015 to 2023

Tony’s parents bought him an SX24 Hallicrafters receiver when he left Technical College to start work with the GPO as a “Youth in Training”. His family used it as the main set at home and he would listen to “The Shaving Club” on Top band. During his two-year GPO training he was given day release to study ‘The National Certificate in Light Current Electrical Engineering (Radio and Telephone)’ at Chelmsford college, where he met some Marconi Apprentices. Together they built radio equipment from ex-government hardware “recovered” from the scrap yard at Marconi Wood St. Chelmsford. Most of the kit was new and unused.

During his GPO training, he was sent to work with all the sections for experience of telephone fitting, exchange maintenance and “Poles and Holes” – telephone wires and underground cable jointing, basically a lead plumbing job! Those were also the days of compulsory National Service and his call-up was delayed until he had the certificate. Immediately after came the dreaded call-up and an order to report to Royal Signals, Catterick Camp. After the initial square-bashing, Tony used the radio qualification to persuade them to assign him as a Radio Mech rather than a Tele Mech where most of the GPO employees went by default.

He started the 20-week Royal Signals course which had a test each week that you had to pass or do the week again. Tony managed to pass top of the class each week as it was the same theory as his National Certificate. He finished the course two weeks early, was placed on an instructors course and promoted to Lance Corporal. Within weeks he was teaching regular soldiers including ones who’d failed the 20-week Radio Mech course he was on!

The unit had a fully equipped radio club and the mechs were encouraged to spend some free time in the evenings there. They had two 70ft masts with a 280ft dipole, two 25W army transmitters on a control desk with two AR88 receivers. Anyone with a licence was allowed to operate or listen on the 5 or 6 HROs spread around the hut. Tony was made Troop Sergeant in charge of 20 instructors on the practical half of the course before he was demobbed.

On returning to the GPO, Tony asked for a job in radio and they immediately appointed him “Radio and Television Interference Investigation Officer”. The role included amateur inspections where licensees had to have the station inspected yearly to check the power and frequency accuracy of their transmitters (nearly all homemade in those days). He often spent his evenings listening to the very friendly hams he’d met, inspected and signed off in his day job.

In 1960 he was moved to a new position at the Post Office London HQ within the microwave link division and he was involved in the aerials and construction of the General Post Office tower which opened in 1965. On one occasion he took his wife June to see the tower and aerial arrays before it was fully commissioned into service. Tony realised after leaving the tower that he’d left his watch near the top of the aerial array section. He returned in the early evening but the lifts had been taken out of service for maintenance and so he had to take the stairs all the way up past 16 floors of equipment and to the top of the 115 feet of aerial arrays and back down!

Tony was involved in sorting out the loss of TV services from the tower after an IRA bomb exploded in the toilets above the aerial galleries in 1971.

Whilst in the microwave group, Tony took his amateur licence exam and became G8ZWX with mobile gear in his car being used as he visited the microwave stations in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

His next move was to the Aerial and Structures Group, dealing with the erection of Towers and Dish and Horn aerials for the rapidly growing UK inland microwave service. Tony was then offered the Head of Aerials and Structures post at BT. This included Overseas Services Stations, HF Aerials at Rugby with 900ft masts and Ongar, Dorchester, all the UK MF coast stations and the big dishes at Goonhilly. Tony once commented “What a job for a Radio Ham – I was able to play radio with all this expensive gear, having also by this point passed the morse test, so I was G4YTG – and being paid as my job was my hobby!”

He was also directly involved in the design and development of the 300ft Spyrocone antenna with a company external to BT which was deployed at Rugby and used for BA’s Concorde flights.

Tony’s final move was to be appointed as Chief Engineer of BT Maritime Services from which he retired in 1989. He was very proudly responsible for Portishead Radio GKA and all its aerial arrays at Somerton.

Tony was a very well-liked and highly-respected member of Chelmsford Amateur Radio Society, serving as President between 2015 and 2023. He stood down in October 2023 due to failing health but kept in touch with the club on a regular basis until his passing in February 2024. I still recall the first time I met him the evening I passed my Foundation exam in November 2018. He asked how I’d got into the hobby and I mentioned having been a Radio Officer in the Merchant Navy in the 70s and early 80s – that was it… we spent an hour talking about GKA, Somerton and everything BT Maritime. He was a very kind man and he recently gifted me his Rugby Morse key, Katsumi EK-150 electronic key and a Racal RA-1217 receiver, all from GKA.

Tony, G4YTG – it was an honour and a pleasure to have known you. 

A final word from Tony: “Rapid promotion from “Youth in Training” to Chief Engineer in 44 Years! I enjoyed every bit of it and I try to keep up to date, but I have a certain amount of worry with these tiny three-legged fuse things called transistors.”

John O’Connell, M0JOC

Category: Silent Keys