The IET Archives has just completed the cataloguing of a collection called the ‘Walter Leslie Watton Papers’ which was donated earlier this year. For researchers and anyone interested in the technical details of the early years of television in the United Kingdom this should prove to be a useful and valuable collection.

The papers of Bill Watton comprise mainly his technical notes, notebooks, and reference material, from his time as an engineer with EMI from 1935 to 1972. At EMI Bill was involved with EMI’s early television development work before moving on to missile and rocket technology in the 1960s. The image below shows Bill (in the centre of the image) at his EMI retirement presentation in 1972.


In addition to the technical papers, this collection contains historical reference material about EMI and some of the people with whom Bill worked throughout his career such as Alan Dower Blumlein. There is also personal material including correspondence, diaries and items related to important events in Bill’s life such as his graduation.

Walter Leslie (Bill) Watton

[Thanks go the family of W L Watton for providing these biographical details. W L Watton was known as Leslie at home and Bill at work.]

Walter Leslie (Bill) Watton (1907-2004), was born at South Stoneham, Hampshire in 1907, and was the eldest of 5 children. His family moved to Brighton during WWI where Bill was awarded several scholarships. Bill attended Brighton Municipal Technical School where he gained a University of London BSc at the age of 20 in 1927 (presented 9 May 1928, when he was aged 21). Bill then continued to study at Imperial College and was awarded its post graduate Diploma for work in the field of calorimetry. He also became an Associate of the Royal College of Science.

After leaving Imperial College in April 1930, Bill worked for a brief period testing valves in Muswell Hill for Cambridge Instruments before joining Robert Watson-Watt’s team at the Radio Research Laboratories in Slough (Bill was interviewed by Robert Watson-Watt).

In January 1935 Bill left the Watson-Watt team to move to EMI at Hayes to work on television receivers and was part of the team that gave the first demonstration of the EMI system to the Postmaster General and the BBC. He also worked on the radio relay system supplied to the BBC for the outside broadcast of the 1937 Coronation.

In November 1939 Bill was transferred back to work on radar devices and other highly secret work and ended up working with Alan Dower Blumlein. Later in WWII Bill was seconded from EMI to the Telecommunications Research Establishment at Malvern.

Following WWII Bill went back to working with EMI on television development and helped to develop the equipment used for colour television. The item of equipment shown below is a television microwave link type ML 6A, circa 1951, a piece of EMI equipment designed by Bill. In 1951 F W Cutts wrote a paper titled, ‘a mobile high power microwave link for vision & sound’ in which he acknowledges Bill for the design and construction of the equipment.


Bill became a Senior Engineer with EMI and by the 1960s was working for EMI’s Telemetry Division, Feltham, on military developments and in particular RF characteristics of explosive devices. He pioneered measuring techniques and researches into the behaviour of these devices and was recognised as an expert in this field. This resulted in Bill sitting on a number of Ministry committees concerned with the safety of these devices in which capacity he visited North America and Australia. Bill finally retired from EMI in 1972.

Bill was a member of the IEE/IET for over 50 years. He joined the IEE as an Associate Member in 1947 and became a Member in 1966.

Alan Dower Blumlein

The collection includes a folder of information concerning Alan Dower Blumlein (1903-1942) with whom Bill worked closely at EMI. Blumlein was the English electronic engineer, noted for his multiple inventions in telecommunications, sound recording, stereophonic sound, television and radar.

In particular there is a 3-page paper about Blumlein and Bill’s experiences of working with Blumlein which Bill wrote in November 1972. Bill begins his description of working with Blumlein with the following words;

“Blumlein was during my first year with EMI mainly concerned with developing the video signal, with its standard waveform composed of picture, synch. pulses and black level. I was second to W H Connell with the task of developing radio receivers, and extracting the video waveform from the signal received from a transmitter. Connell’s team was located on the 5th floor of the Research Building and Blumlein’s group was mainly on the ground floor. Hence he and I met only infrequently when there was a common interest to discuss. During the war, however, the radio receivers developed into I.F. amplifiers in radar equipment, and Blumlein became much more interested in mechanical construction and in reduction of size….”

The last item in the folder is Blumlein’s own copy of the report that Blumlein wrote at EMI Research Laboratories, 26 January 1941, titled, ‘AC Bridges with two sets of ratio arms’.

The Walter Leslie Watton collection has been catalogued with an archive reference SC MSS 278 and is available to consult at the IET Archive Centre, Savoy Hill House, London.