I had appendicitis [as a child], it was what inspired me to want to get into anaesthesia, if I could do anything to help people suffering. I had ether [and] the anaesthetist was fantastic, in fact he was the local dentist. And I had this anaesthetic, I remember the mask coming over on me and I looked at the anaesthetic apparatus and there was bubbles and that, I didn’t understand, I just saw these cylinders on it and it was all red rubber. It was all made from laboratory rubber tubing which was perished, which was all stuck together with sticky tape. That horrified me because I was used to repairing my own bicycle inner tubes and realised what perished rubber was –
“He was right there and he died in her arms. And I’ve never, ever forgotten it”
I came round about four in the morning and then they would start doing the dressings about ten o’clock in the morning, this was the one that really got me. There was a partition bit [in the ward] and in there were mastoid cases, and there was a boy there having a dressing taken off his head. His head was so swollen it wasn’t true, there was no antibiotics, and they were trying to get this dressing off him and he was screaming like you’ve never heard screams. And they got it to a certain point and they had to stop… his screams became weaker and weaker and then they left him and he was being cuddled by a nurse, she got to the last bit of dressing coming off and she left it. His pain became a whimper and the other nurses stopped and they were all looking, tears rolling down their face, and then all this dressing fell away and all this yellow and green mess was falling out of a hole in his head. He was right there and he died in her arms. And I’ve never, ever forgotten it.
“That gave me inspiration… I would do my utmost to make it safe…”
And after that, that gave me inspiration, I thought if I could ever get into this, I will do it and I had an ambition then to try to make at least the equipment, I knew I wasn’t going to be a doctor or anything like that, but if I ever got the chance to get into engineering, I would do my utmost to make it safe and predictable so at least all of them were the same. And anaesthetists could go from one machine to another and he would know it would work the same and that was what the ambition was and I think I got there by the time of 1986.
ADCO & Jectaflo
Because it was in the Wartime you couldn’t go and just get a job where you wanted to, you had to go to the Labour Exchange and you had to take whatever they gave you.
They gave me a job working in an aircraft components and tool company… I was only there about six weeks but I absolutely loved it. After six weeks, I moved onto a better job and that took me to a company called Globe Pneumatic Engineering. There they did all the equipment for the docklands, etc. I was for about the last 9 months of the War and I got into a job with a friend of the family with M & I E Ltd.
I was told, ‘It’s developing an anaesthetic machine, Jectaflo, for the Amalgamated Dental Engineering Industries (ADCO) at Walton-on-Thames.’ I went in there first of all as a machinist, working on making the parts, [and then] it was quickly seen that I could set the machines for somebody else to operate. I was only 15, 16.
“I want you to come and work direct for me…”
And I’d only been there probably about six months and I said, ‘Will it be alright if I made a model diesel engine in my own time for my aeroplanes?’ So I copied a model “ED” or “Mills” diesel engine and I fitted it up in a vice on one of the benches and got this thing going. And the noise was horrific! Who came running in wondering what the hell was going on, Henry Talley and his brother… And they were absolutely enthralled. And he took one look at it and he said, ‘What did you copy it from?’ I said, ‘From this one.’ And he looked at it, he said, ‘I can’t really tell the difference between the one you bought and the one you’ve made!’ And he said, ‘I want you to come out and work direct for me and Fred on the development side of Jectaflo.’
So I was in there making special parts to develop this machine. The first thing they couldn’t get right was the oxy-percentage valve. So I worked on that and I then modified it slightly, tweaked it here and there, and got it sorted out, then I did the N2O side and I sorted that out. And then I found there was trouble with the regulators and so it went on. It was a walking disaster this machine, it was awful. And it was all based on the McKesson Dental Anaesthetic Machine.
Now the McKesson machine, I didn’t know much about it until I walked round to Devonshire Street, and I came across A Charles King. He was an absolute delight. I was so enthusiastic he asked me in and I asked him a bit about it… he had modified the basic McKesson [and] I don’t know what he did, but it was a better piece of equipment. And of course he was working with Ivan Magill, and a few others used to drop in. So I nearly went to work for King but not quite.
I didn’t have any formal apprenticeship or anything like that. In those days after the War, the nearest technical college I could get to was over five miles away, so it was out of my reach because of the time I had to get to work, etc. It was learning on the job in those days. And people were very good that way, they’d teach you this, that and the other, help you with your maths and things like that. I bought a machineries handbook, I use the same book today!
I stayed there in M&IE itself until I was 24 or 25 and then I went over to Hallam Dental Company. I went there to get more money because I was married by that time. I got married in 1953 and met my wife cycling. I was always very energetic so I did cycle racing in the RAF. I was in the RAF for 18 months– until I was 18 and 4 months through to I think it was May of 1950, I think. When I went in, I had one ambition – To be an ex-serviceman!
“I met my wife cycling in 1953… we’ve been together 61 years!”
And then when I came out, I met my wife, I went up onto the A127, there was these two cafes across the road and there was literally 100 cyclists and 3 girls. I hadn’t known her very long before I asked her to marry me. Seven or eight months, something like that and so we’ve been together 61 years. I have two boys. My oldest one’s 57, my youngest one’s 53.
When I was at M&IE all that development followed me to Hallam Dental Co, and I produced the Wimpole and Weymouth Boyles apparatus and I also produced another one… we were gradually taking the market from BOC, I didn’t realise how much, but we were taking the market share. And what I was trying to do for my own self was to try and make anaesthesia safe, to make all these pieces work and make it at affordable prices because we had the NHS in 1948 then and there was a lot of competition price-wise.
Towards the end of the time I was up to leaving and joining BOC, we were producing something around about 250 kits of anaesthetic machines which were going to Canada… and home-grown stuff we were selling about 300. So round about 500 machines we were selling in that sort of numbers in ten years… because when I started at 19… we produced about 20 or 30, that was all, and now we were then up towards the 500 mark.
I think we’re in the 60s now. I started at BOC which was only 24 miles from where I lived in, so it wasn’t too much of a journey across country to get there… If I worked at the ADCO at Walton-on-Thames which I did for a few months – It was nearly 40 miles each way and then the cost. So anyway I worked there, it sort of drove me out really. It was desperation then, so they offered me the job as a Design Draughtsman and I had no option. So I really started too low down the ladder, but I was a Design Draughtsman.
It was with a promise because I’d shown them bits of equipment and told them what I’d done for M & I E. So they took me on, on the basis of three months’ trial as a Design Draughtsman. Well, it didn’t take long before they realised I could do it and [my] first job was to produce a large 10-1 scale Wright’s respirometer because that had just been developed by Ferraris… And they wanted a big one to show on the exhibition. So I said, ‘Yes, do you want it with a breathing cycle on it, so I can make it follow the breathing pattern with an electric motor?’ ‘Oh, yeah!’
So I went away and I said the first thing I want to do is to go down to Clerkenwell and get a gear train… and I remember I found this firm called Biddle & Mumford and they made gears for watches, clocks, you name it, they made gears, some gears they made for church clocks. You know some of these gears were four, five foot in diameter, right down to little, tiny gears which goes into a wrist watch. So I designed this gear train, and then I put a delay system in which I used with O-rings and I got the breathing pattern. I found a motor with City Electrical which was originally fitted to the Beaver Ventilator and I fitted that in the chassis, which all my model aircraft experience came in because I made it with the chassis in plywood… [and] all the casing was made of thin plywood in strips and we then painted the whole lot… and it looked really good. So we put it on the exhibition and that was when we got a comment back that they’d never had anything like that before from the Design Department and congratulated us. So then the next thing I knew I’d been made a Design Engineer – Within about two months, two or three months, a Design Engineer and then not long after that I was made a Senior Design Engineer.
When I was at Harlow I produced the Mark 3 Circle Absorber… I’d learnt a lot from M & I E ADCO because they were full of chemists and we had a lovely chemical department, a metallurgy department, and they knew how to make soda lime. So I was very ashamed of what I did really. Mr Childerhouse took me to Softnall Soda Lime Factory, they were the only people that made soda lime in the country, and it was for the firemen’s breathing apparatus, and truthfully, a lot of the time, it wasn’t very good.
I was probably only about 20, 21, he took me down to Softnall Soda Lime, somewhere down the Great West Road, and we went to this factory and this chap came in who operated the machine that made the soda lime… [and] said to me, ‘Come with me, I’ll show you the machine.’ Fatal. Because I had a photographic mind, I went out there, he went and showed me this huge machine, about 100ft long of this grading machine and I’m looking at this and I’m making a few questions. ‘That’s a big, electric motor, isn’t it?’ He said, ‘That’s 35 horse power.’ I said, ‘Big as that?’ ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘You could do with 50 really.’ Anyway, I looked at this machine and I was saying to myself that’s about 10ft, 7ft or 8ft wide and that’s the first stage,’ and how you did this trembling with cams and shaking the… And I went down to the machine and I said, ‘How do you get these rocks?’ You’ve got these great rocks and it breaks it down and eventually engraves it into 4-8 mesh. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I’ll tell you what I’ll do, come on, I’ll show you, we’ll make some.’
“‘Come with me, I’ll show you the machine.’ Fatal. I had a photographic mind…”
So he gets the materials like making batter pudding, a big thing, stirring all this lime up and then he put sodium hydroxide in, percentage of that, you make sure the water content is this and then you bake it, then you bring it out of the oven at the right time, then you break it up into reasonable, small bits and put it on the bed, then it shakes it until eventually it drops through the sieves and ends up a 4-8 mesh. And then you seal it up quick into tin cans and they are soldered into the cans.
So of course when we got outside, he drove round the corner to some quiet road and there was me with my pad out drawing there, saying, ‘It’s about that long, it’s this, it’s got electric motor here and so and so…’ So I did about four pages of drawing to show him and he said, ‘Come down to Walton-on-Thames with me,’ and we went down and saw Sam Strange, the factory manager.
Anyway we got this information so I spent a few days down there with them, telling them all about it, and then they were drawing this machine and… Within about two months at the maximum, we were making soda lime at Addlestone.
“Within about two months we were making soda lime ourselves”
We were selling soda lime which was better than Softnall in my opinion and we were making it ourselves. But I did feel a bit sick about what I did, I didn’t like that. And the only time I found that Mr Childerhouse felt the same.
I was probably [at BOC] for 26 years, so that was 1960-1986. I argued about my position and I was made the Principal Engineer for anaesthesia and pipelines. I left BOC because I’d been itching to try and get the equipment better but I’d realised that the profession or the country could afford something better in the engineering field… The company also realised this as well and it was a bit of a double-edge sword because they started to pull in consultants or outside design experts they were called… People went to the Industrial School of Art & Design for two years and they thought they’d got it all… Suddenly I was presented with this thing, ‘Here’s the impression of an anaesthetic machine.’ Well, if you’d made it, it was a failure. But anyway, it turned out that I produced the Boyle 2000 Range. We only ever made 350 and the reason for that was because I managed to stop it.
And then we had a change when BOC Medishield merged with Airco. I was still working for BOC up to that point, up until 1986, that’s when after 26 years I decided to take a golden handshake– I was 56 at that point- and I came out of it then to open up my own company: M-E-D-D-S. That was Mechanical Engineering & Design Development Specialists or you could make it Mechanical Electronic Design Development Specialists.
So the first thing I got into through a friend was into Glaxo and I worked on dispensing machinery for Ventolin.… There things, about 6ft high, 4ft long and 3ft thick, cost £30-40,000 to make each one and this was to put the doses of Ventolin into these discs, 8 doses, sealed. When I got onto it they were making them, but the production was not what they wanted, I think they were making about £65 on these discs and the way I did it, £280.
Then we did a strip of 63 doses every two seconds.. They went into a film spool for a small inhaler and so all the business about how do you get the powder into an indent and all that, I did most of that. Powder is a black art, I’m afraid, and getting the drug to attach onto lactose, it’s basically, a powdered milk, and you have to attach the drug to it. So now do you do that? Now I got a feeling of how they did it but – It was a big secret.
It was very enjoyable because there was me doing all the mechanical side, we had a fellow who was superb on the control side, we had another fella who was a computer programmer and one of them was a computer expert. So we all stuck to our fields and it all came together and all worked and it was an extremely enjoyable thing to do. So I came back off of that to Therapy Equipment Ltd and designed them their first vacuum regulator.
“I did the first Entonox apparatus based on an aqua lung… there’s nothing so reliable as an aqua lung. Diving was one of my hobbies for fifteen years”
M-E-D-D-S is being employed by these other companies… So we then produced the vacuum regulator… which you see them all round the hospitals. I was involved in oxygen therapy design equipment, pretty well 95% of Therapy’s Equipment Ltd made I have designed.
So whether it be oxygen therapy, the regulator with flow meter, I designed the flow meters. I also did Entonox by the way, I did an Entonox apparatus for Therapy Equipment. I did the first Entonox apparatus that was based on an aqua lung because there’s nothing so reliable as an aqua lung. That’s one of my hobbies, diving that was, for fifteen years.
Retirement & Regrets…
I don’t intend to ever retire. I don’t want to. My wife doesn’t mind because I don’t do that long at it. My workshop is in my home, in my garage. And then I’ve got an office at the back and I’ve got in there a computer and I’ve got a big drawing board because I worked conventionally on a drawing board.. [and] I have two computers and I’ve got my desk, phone, all my reference books and so on.
The thing I regret most of all… I’ve thought about that and that when I produced the first stainless steel Boyle E F and H apparatus for BOC, I was then this Designer and a Design Engineer and so I was countermanded by some people as to what it should be like. And I’d done some nice things really… and there was a small, corrugated hose which you plugged into the fresh gas outlet and it wasn’t liked because it looked untidy. When it wasn’t connected it was hanging down, and they didn’t like that and the request was that we had a parking spot on the side… and I didn’t fight enough because I did say, ‘It looks like it’s connected to the machine’ – And it wasn’t… and I think I regret so much not really having a go about this, because it was against one of my bosses and I sort of let it go. And then we had a case and she was having a simple operation, I think appendicitis or something like that and there was a doctor there and he was running about three or four operating theatres– looking after all the people there with nursing anaesthetists- and he thought it was connected. He’d got her on an automatic ventilator… All went very well but the thing was if you didn’t connect the fresh gas supply to it, the bellows would go up and down because the cyclator did that and it looked as though it was all working.
So myself and the product manager saw the consultant at Charing Cross Hospital and wised him on this because you’d look at it and you’d say, ‘It’s working,’ but it wasn’t. So I produced a non-return valve to prevent this again…
My proudest achievement… I’ve thought a lot about this, I think my proudest thing is that I believe I succeeded in my first ambition and that was to make anaesthesia safe in as far as the equipment’s concerned, move anaesthesia from where I was, up to something which was to the modern day and affordable and I think I did that up until the Boyle 2000 which put the cost up by about a third and you didn’t get a lot more for your money, but it was good. I think that is the main thing but there was a couple of other things really.
“I believe I succeeded in my first ambition and that was to make anaesthesia safe”
The BS3849… that is mine. And that’s a British Standard for taper connectors. I pushed that and pushed and pushed… The 22ml, 15ml and the 30, that was the ones that I did. I laid down the basic way in which they would be done.
The BS3849 took some time to go in but I think that was the biggest individual thing and I think because I felt for Dr Cope… He was the Chairman of the BSI Committee and he came in one day into the meeting late and you could see his eyes were red and he was a very humane man. And he apologised and he told us all the story about where he had tried to resuscitate a young girl, a student, about 19 and she had choked on her own vomit and he couldn’t get a piece of equipment to put together so he could resuscitate her by hand, he couldn’t do it. They didn’t fit together, he had the Waters’ Canister on one bag and then he had a Coxeter here, then he had a McKesson there and so on and she died. And that really got to me.
So I got him to one side and I said, ‘Look, if I don’t do anything else, I will try to get this thing, I will do my best,’ which I did.