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Last updated 13th March 2003

'The Wonderful World Of Wireless'

Some Thoughts on the Classic Service Literature of the Valve Era

As the valve faded from the general view of the service technician and electrical engineer, and they grappled with the complexities of the new transistors, the classic literature concerning aspects of valve circuit design,equipment construction, servicing and maintenance also began to vanish.

As we enter the 21st Century, there is precious little new material produced concerning these issues apart from some excellents work written for the enthusiastic amateur. Although the valve has enjoyed a renaissance in the world of high-end audio (and this has produced new literature), the majority of the enthusiast's technical information must come from original source material.

Here we will consider some sources of such material as well as important authors and authorititive publications.


Immediately, the Internet has given us 2 very good sources for finding and purchasing vintage literature. Firstly, there is eBay - the premier auction site. Secondly there is the place to go for all used books which was (until recently) a well kept secret - Abebooks. This is an Amazon of used book sellers and functions in exactly the same manner.

Leading Authors and Their Works

F.J. Camm (1895 - 1959)

England was fortunate in producing some very fine technical writers - the chief amongst these being FJ Camm. The life of Frederick James Camm is the subject of an excellent biography by the late Gordon Cullingham ('F.J. Camm - The Practical Man'). Born at the end of the Victorian era, F.J. grew up in the early days of motoring, aviation and electronics and contributed, through his extensive writings in the 'Practical ...' series of magazines and his own books, to the public's understanding these new sciences. A skilled modeller, Cullingham's book contains photographs and drawings of F.J.'s aeroplanes, steam and petrol engines and a wealth of other examples of his amazing versatility and accomplishment.

How does one begin to explain the breadth of Camm's contribution to the fields of endeavour he worked in? His interests ran from miniature modelling (he may well have inspired Neville Shute's hero in 'Trustee From The Tool-Room') to self-built cars, aeronautics (although his brother, Sydney, was to make a greater reputation in this area) as well as radio and electronics. He founded and edited many magazines in diverse areas of interest and, presumably, made his employers, George Newnes, a great deal of money.

Camm's key works in the area of radio are listed as follows. All were published by George Newnes Ltd, London WC2. The first publication date is given in brackets with dust jacket copy.

  • Everyman's Wireless Book (1934). "A radio consultant for the Listener, Expert and Amateur Constructor, explaining the operation, upkeep and overhaul of all types of wireless receivers, with special chapters on the principles of radio telephony, installation and systematic fault-finding." A practical (and largely non-mathematical) look at servicing equipment for the non-technical amateur and the few instruments required for this purpose, e.g. meters, valve testers and how to use them. Noise, interference, design faults, equipment troubles, home-made test equipment, a tool kit, gramophones, etc. are also covered. Even a list of wavelengths according to the 'Lucerne Plan' is also included. This is a companion volume to the 'Wireless Constructor's Encyclopedia' by the same author.

  • The Wireless Constructor's Encyclopaedia (1934). "A Complete Guide, in aphabetical order, to the Construction, Operation, Repair and Overhaul of all types of Wireless Receivers and Components. Containing a special section on Television."

  • Practical Wireless Service Manual (1938). "A Complete Work on the Testing of all Types of Wireless Receivers, and the Construction and Use of Test Instruments."

  • The Superhet Manual (1940). "A Handbook dealing with Principles, Design and Servicing, and including Chapters on Aerials, Tone Control and Variable Selectivity".

  • Newnes Short Wave Manual (1940). "A Treatise on the Design, Construction, Operation and Adjustment of Short- and Ultra-Short-Wave Receivers, Aerials and Equipment, with Designs for Seven Short-Wave Receivers."

  • Radio Training Manual For the Services and the Trade (1940). "A complete course on the principles and practice of radio. Specially designed and graded for students and those desiring to enter the Services."

  • Practical Wireless Circuits (1941). "A progressive guide to the construction of all types of wireless receivers...It is the only work of its type on the market...It has been written by a leading authority, whose writings on radio and scientific subjects are known all over the world. Every one of the recievers herein described has been buillt and tested".

  • The Beginners Guide To Radio (1955). "An Elementary Course in 27 Lessons...It has been written at the express request of some hundreds of readers of Practical Wireless, the monthly journal of which I am the Editor, and in the pages of which this book originally appeared as a series of articles."

M.G. Scroggie (1901 - 1985?)

Though not as prolific as Camm, Scroggie is chiefly remembered for his seminal work, 'Foundations Of Wireless' - now in its 11th edition and availiable at Amazon. Marcus Graham Scroggie was born in Scotland around 1901 and graduated from Edinburgh University in 1922. He gained practical experience at Bruce Peebles Ltd and Creed Telegraph before moving to Burndept Wireless Co (one of the original constituents of the pre-Reith British Broadcasting Company). He served in World War II in the Royal Air Force (RAF) as a radar operator and from there became a lecturer at the RAF Radar School as well as being tasked by the Air Ministry to take charge of all RAF secret radar and radio publications. After the War, he became a technical consultant and is known for more than 800 articles he contributed to 'Wireless World' as well as several books. He died, presumably, some time in the late1980's.

'Foundations Of Wireless' was originally written by A.L.M. Sowerby and published in 1936 by Iliffe & Sons, London - Arthur Lindsey McRae Sowerby was, himself, a well educated man and lectured in chemistry at the University Of London. He was also well-known for his interests in photography and electronics. 'Foundations...' went to a second edition in 1938, with an additional 4 impressions by June 1941. It was the third edition of November 1941 that was, 'Revised and enlarged by M.G. Scroggie B.Sc, M.I.E.E' and all subsequent editions bore Scroggie's name as author. The book was entirely rewritten for the 5th edition of 1951 and revised and enlarged again for the 7th edition of 1958. For the 8th edition of 1971, the book was again rewritten and retitled as 'Foundations Of Wireless And Electronics'. The current 11th edition of this venerable tome is now written by S.W. Amos and known as, 'Scroggie's Foundations Of Wireless And Electronics' in homage to an institution in electronics.

B.B. Babani (1905? - 1975)

Bernard Baruch Babani was a successful technical publisher with his own firm. Founded in wartime Britain in 1942, Bernards (Publishers) Ltd produced pamphlets to help the the civilian to 'make do and mend' as well as identify armaments and uniforms. The move to the technical side of radio and amateur electronics came shortly after the war. Babani himself was a prolific author as well as being responsible for bringing the work of others into print in a form of inexpensive and useful booklets. This tradition continues today with Bernard Babani Publishing being run by his son and producing a similar line of very useful and inexpensive short books for the hobbyist in electronics, radio and computers.

Other Useful Works & Authors

Some, perhaps, are better known than others. Nevertheless, here are my considered inclusions into theis category.

  • W.T. Cocking, "Wireless Servicing Manual". London, Iliffe Books Ltd., 1936. Another classic that lasted well into the transistor era with a 10th edition in 1961.

  • C.L. Boltz, "Wireless For Beginners". London, George G Harrap & Co., 1933. This too went through several revisions and edition well into the late 1950's.

  • E. Molloy & W.E. Pannett, "Radio And Television Engineers' Reference Book". London, George Newnes Ltd., 1954. This is a massive work and one in which, strangely, FJ Camm does not seem to have been involved (he is not listed as a contributor).