By the death of Captain H J Round, MC, ARCSc, on 17th August at the age of 85, We have lost the last - but by no means the least - of the small band of wireless engineers and technologists who rose to eminence during the early years of the present century. Rounds career was unique, if only for its length. In the 50th anniversary number of Wireless World (April, 1961) there was a paragraph reading 'A name that has constantly recurred in our pages - and happily still recurs - is that of H J Round. . . .' His activities continued after that time, the last of the 117 patents granted to him was dated 1962 and, indeed, he was planning to set up a new laboratory a few days before his death.
One of the earliest mentions of his name in the journal was a brief announcement in 1912 headed 'Movements of Engineers', 'H J Round from Head Office to Manaus'. Behind that bald statement lies an adventure story typical of Rounds earlier exploits. He could almost always be depended upon to produce a quick solution of the technical problem of the moment. The Marconi Company had recently installed two high-power stations for point-to-point working along the upper reaches of the Amazon. Due to atmospheric disturbances and unexpectedly high signal attenuation over the dense Brazilian jungle communication was poor. At a time when hardly anything was known about day/night propagation effects Round, far from sources of supply, decided to double the wavelengths of the stations for daytime working. By miracles of improvisation the necessary alterations were made and the required traffic-handling capacity was achieved.
In the same year Round wrote an article containing by a big margin the first mention of what we would now call electronics to appear in this journal. He described the use of a Fleming diode as a valve voltmeter - an instrument not in widespread use until a good ten years later.
Henry Joseph Round, born on 2nd June, 1881, at Kingswinford, Staffordshire, received his technical education at the Royal College of Science, where he studied under Dr W H Eccles, the first of the radio physicists. He joined the Marconi Company in 1902 and was then sent to North America, where one of his earliest jobs was training wireless operators. Later he installed stations on the Canadian coast and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
On his return to England he became a personal assistant to Marconi and then worked on the Clifden - Glace Bay transatlantic link. The record is lamentably vague as to precisely what part he played in the redesigning of those highly successful but now almost legendary stations, which achieved practically continuous communication both by day and night at a range of nearly 2,000 miles at a time when no others in the world could manage as much as 1,000 miles. We know he was at Clifden in 1910-11, when the station was entirely rebuilt, and at Glace Bay (Nova Scotia) in 1912.
At about this time he produced the balanced crystal limiting receiver. Though that device did not offer a complete solution of the problem of reception through atmospheric interference it was the best available at the time.
Rounds work as a prolific inventor of devices of fundamental importance then began in earnest. The 'soft' valve named after him, though tricky to handle, gave receivers a hitherto undreamed-of sensitivity. Its use in direction-finders for which he was responsible enabled German naval movements to be tracked during the First World War, leading directly to the fleet encounter at Jutland. D F bearings were taken with an accuracy that could hardly be bettered to-day. His patent for amplification by regeneration narrowly missed a claim for priority in the use of the valve as a generator of oscillations. Later work included the design of tubular valves of low inter-electrode capacitance (the V24 and Q types) which he used in some of the most effective cascade RF amplifiers of the period. After the war he produced high-power transmitting valves and undertook the conversion of the Caernarvon transatlantic station from spark to valve. He patented a screened-grid valve in 1926 and an RF pentode a year later, though his work on multi-electrode valves went back much earlier.
With the start of broadcasting in the early 1920s, Rounds output became prodigious. He designed the London broadcasting station 2LO, which became the BBCs first transmitter, was partly responsible for the Sykes-Round microphone and produced systems for electrical gramophone recording and sound-on-film. He had already been made head of the Marconi research group. In 1931 he resigned from the company to become a consultant but never entirely severed his connection. In the last war he worked for the Admiralty on anti-submarine devices.
Round was one of the last survivors of the era of the individualistic inventor, as opposed to the team. He was fortunate in that fate led him into his chosen field at a time when it was wide open to his considerable talents. These he exercised with untiring energy and almost boyish enthusiasm to the end. H F S
It is perhaps fortunate that H J Round was born to flourish in a previous engineering era for he was far too much of an individualist to have fitted comfortably into the disciplines of a large electronics research laboratory of today. Round was an originator; a man who teemed with ideas and was wont to pursue them with a sublime disregard for protocol which, even in his own period did nothing to endear him to his Head Office. His energy was tremendous.
His big chance came when Guglielmo Marconi selected him as one of his personal assistants, for as such he became one of a small corps elite which, in between special assignments, were permitted considerable individual freedom of choice in research work. To the wisdom of this policy Rounds 117 patent applications bear tribute.
Those who were junior engineers under 'H J' in his hey-day recall him as one who did not suffer fools gladly. Nevertheless an honest try by a subordinate was always rewarded with kindly encouragement and constructive criticism.
One of the facets of Rounds genius lay in his ability to clear the dead wood of irrelevancies from a given problem and reduce it to its simplest proportions for final demolition. One of his great aversions was the cult of technical mystique and obscurantism in technical papers and any engineer guilty of such practices would provoke his formidable scorn.
No appraisal of his character, however brief, would be complete without reference to his lifelong friend and rival within the Marconi Company, C S Franklin. In private, each had a profound and unstinting admiration for the others talents, but in public they had, over the years, built up a cross-talk act - it was no more than that - in which they would swipe at each others achievements with cheerful abandon. Franklins portrait was prominent in Rounds private laboratory and the death of his old colleague in 1964 affected Round deeply.
To the younger generation of engineers the era which H J Round represented may seem as remote as the Middle Ages. But let there be no doubt as to the debt which the electronics industry and the nation owes to him. That debt, to our eternal discredit, was never paid by his own country. Not a single British civil honour was ever conferred on him and it was left to the United States to underline this ingratitude by presenting him with the prized Armstrong Gold Medal in 1953. W J B