Memories of Kennedy’s visit

I WAS interested in the Mid Sussex Times article on Paul Elgood’s new book on John Kennedy’s 1963 visit to Harold Macmillan’s Birch Grove home near Horsted Keynes in 1963.

As a young Post Office Telephones Engineer I was given the job of setting up and maintaining a bank of teleprinters in the Hotel Metropol in Brighton.

The hotel was used as the telecoms hub for the presidential visit, and I was amazed at just how much preparation went into it. We spent the whole of the week leading up to the visit setting up the equipment, while burly men in grey suits and sunglasses strolled around viewing the constant stream on information coming into the hotel.

It is frightening to think that in 1963 with Kennedy’s visit coming only eight months after the Cuban missile crisis, that any one of these messages may have requested action for a nuclear war. From my own point of view, however, little of this went through my head, as part of the telecoms setup involved a CCTV television set being placed in the communications centre. We soon discovered that we could watch ordinary TV channels on it, and were able to watch perhaps the most exciting cricket test match of all time. This was the second test at Lord’s between England and West Indies.

The match had a very exciting climax, and when stumps were drawn England were just six runs short of the 234 that they needed to win. The ninth wicket fell when Derek Shackleton was run out from the fourth ball of the final over. Colin Cowdrey had his left arm broken earlier in the innings, and had retired hurt. Now he reappeared, with his arm in plaster and batting left handed. Luckily for him, and for England, he was not required to face a ball, David Allen playing out the remaining two deliveries.

Luckily for me the tedious boredom of sitting listening to all that noisy clattering equipment for five days was rewarded with the biggest overtime payment I had ever seen. I am reminded of John Donne’s famous quotation: “They also serve who only stand and wait”.

Don McBeth,

Crank Barn,

Ditchling Common