OBITUARY by PETE KENNEDY
Intruding aircraft can fly just a few feet above the sea, below the cover of microwave defence radars: In order to track this threat, with his expertise in microwave, Ken Perry oversaw the development and production of high frequency surface wave “over-the-horizon” (OTH) radar.
A huge antenna is spreading for a kilometer or so on the ground off the Yuendumu Road, north-west of Alice Springs, and a second similar facility is north of the Plenty River Road.
Ted Pegram, of Marconi Radar Systems (MRS), which set up the facility, said in the company’s Silver Jubilee publication in 1994: “In addition to detecting ships and low flying aircraft, this class of radar can also monitor the state of the sea surface, including surface current speed and direction, and wave height.
“These abilities can be used to track oil spillage from tanker accidents.”
In the last decade of his career Ken played a significant role in the award to GEC-Marconi of the major contact with the Australian Government for the design and implementation of the Alice Springs facility.
“This has proved to be one of the most successful radars of this class ever undertaken and will be in operation for years to come,” with Ken and John Bodonyi receiving the Nelson Gold Medal 1994.
MRS’s Gerry Valentine said: “Ken he was transferred from the Research Department to MRS 1983 to ‘mastermind’ the development High Frequency Surface Wave ‘Over The Horizon ‘ Radar (HF SWOTH) aided by John Bodonyi, Ted Pegram and others.
“In 1988 when, Marconi Radar Systems was one of 169 firms who registered interest in the Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN), Ken came to Australia and was instrumental in securing the contract for collaboration with Telecom Australia.
“After a protracted study a major contract was signed in 1991 and a large group of engineers moved to Australia with John Pearce appointed Project Manager.
“Ken used his powers of persuasion to get company agreement to take it on as there had been severe misgivings within senior management at MRS.”
Ken Perry was born in Harrogate, England on June 7, 1930, evacuated to Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales, went to Ffestiniog’s grammar school then continued in Sunderland.
In 1948 he was called up for national service with the RAF at Lossiemouth. He studied physics with mathematics at Newcastle University, joining Marconi in the early 1950s.
There he became an expert on the design and manufacture of microwave components for high-powered radar systems.
In 1956 he met Ann McEntee and they were married at Brentwood Cathedral in 1958. They had four daughters – Karen, Alison, Rachel and Nina.
Ann remembers receiving a phone call from the late John W. Sunderland CBE, vice-chairman of the Marconi Company between 1982 and 83 when he retired, an MRS executive, in which he said that Ken had “saved the company”.
All the evidence seems to confirm his pivotal role in the development and subsequent promotion of OTHR.
He continued to work with MRS for seven years after his 65th birthday being named as the inventor of “near-vertical incidence HF radar” on a patent application in 2001, signalling some small recognition for a lifetime’s work.
After departing Marconi in 2002 he returned to give lectures there for many years. He also did lectures at the Institute of Engineering and Technology annually and supported his wife’s homeopathic interests.
He retired to Goldhanger becoming tower captain and organ player at St Peter’s church. He translated many hymn tunes into a suitable form to play on the church’s eight bells. The legacy is a web page of scores, forty hymns and thirty carols now used in other churches.
Ken died on 28th July 2015.
PHOTOS (from top): Ken and Ann Perry at their 50th wedding anniversary. Photo by Nina Perry • newspaper article explaining how the over-the-horizon radar works • Ken, Ann and their four girls •