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British Industrial History

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Alec Reeves

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Alec Harley Reeves, CBE, (1902–1971), engineer and inventor.

1902 born on 10 March in Redhill, Surrey, the son of Edward Ayearst Reeves (1862–1945) and his wife, Grace Eden, née Harley.

Attended Radnor preparatory school in Redhill (1910–14) and Reigate Grammar School

1918 he was awarded a governors' scholarship to the City and Guilds Engineering College.

1921 Gained degree (ie ACGI). Postgraduate at Imperial College studying RF impedance of coaxial ferromagnetic condensers and applications of phase locking between sine-wave oscillators. At this time he also invented a cathode ray tube radio direction finder.

1923 Employed by the Western-Electric Co at its factory in New Southgate, London, in a team working on the world's first commercial transatlantic telephone link.

1927 After the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation (ITT) take-over in 1925, Reeves went to Paris where the company's work on radio systems was situated, although transmitters and receivers continued to be built in the UK. He built a short-wave radio circuit for connecting the telephone systems of Spain and South America.

1930 he devised the first single-sideband high frequency radio telephone system, an electronic automatic frequency control (AFC) device for resupplying the carrier frequency at a radio receiver and the circulating delay-line store for digital information. He later developed a prototype of the first super heterodyne receiver for microwaves using AFC to control the local oscillator and he pioneered a simple multi-channel carrier system for UHF radiotelephones (used on the first VHF system connecting the telephone systems of Britain and Ireland). He conducted experimental work on an early airborne altimeter, designed the first short-wave radio-telephone link between Spain and the Balearic Islands and perfected a condenser microphone.

1931 With Maurice Deloraine built a high frequency radio system between England and France - the term microwave was coined to describe the new technology.

1937 Reeves saw that telegraph technology had great advantages in its ability to avoid the problem of the increasing noise on radio signals; together with another of his ideas (in 1926) of a binary counter that measured frequency very quickly and accurately, Reeves suggested a technique he called "pulse code modulation" (PCM), which later became the basis for most digital communications. He gained patents on this even though no equipment based on Reeves's design was built at the time.

1940 Escaped to Spain, eventually reaching England on a coal boat. A committed pacifist, he was initially reluctant to undertake war work but eventually joined the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. Joined the team assembled by R. V. Jones to detect and destroy the German "beams" used to guide bombers. Reeves was seconded as a civilian scientist to the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) to develop accurate navigational devices - the first was GEE; the second OBOE, using PCM-like pulses. OBOE was used in over 10000 Allied bombing raids.

1945 Returned to Standard Telecommunications Laboratories (STL), initially in Enfield and, from 1959, in Harlow. Was one of the first to consider transmitting signals optically and influenced STL to develop optical fibres (implemented by his team including Charles Kao, George Hockham, and others).

1946 Awarded an OBE.

He devised (what may have been) the first "smart card" and conceived the notion of an optical communications "ring main".

1969 Left STL and set up his own consultancy to explore many ideas, including the possibility of optical regeneration. Awarded a CBE.

Reeves was awarded over eighty patents.

1971 Died at home in Harlow


See Also

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Sources of Information

  • Biography of Alec Reeves, ODNB