Known by many as the editor of numerous practical magazines and especially 'Practical Wireless', Frederick James Camm was born in Windsor, UK in 1895, the second of two boys and the younger brother, by two years, of Sydney Camm. Their father, George, was an accomplished craftsman and their can be little doubt that both the brothers gained much from the skills and attitude of their father. 

The two brothers were very keen on aeronautics and flying machines in general. Sydney went on to design the famous WWII 'Hurricane' fighter. FJ and Sydney (later, Sir Sydney) were the founding members of the Windsor Model Aeroplane Club, during which time they planned to build a full-size man-carrying glider but the first world war brought their venture to a halt.

In 1910, FJ began his long and varied career when he gained an apprenticeship (seven years) for Brown Brothers Coachbuilders. He started writing early in life: A 1915 edition of 'Flight' magazine has notes from him of a technical nature to do with the loading, balance and thrust of flying model aircraft. FJ married Dorothy May Field in 1919. Their only son, Frederick William Sydney, was born in 1920. 

FJ began working for Pitmans in London, where his excellent draughtsmanship and technical writing abilities were put to good use. He wrote for a number of publications including Hobbies (wireless telegraphy and model engineering) and Everyday Science. At the same time he began to build a store of material and ideas for the soon-to-be Newnes publications 'Practical Mechanics' and Practical Wireless'.

In 1919 his first book - the first of many, over several decades - was published. It was entitled 'The Design of model Aircraft'. By the time the second edition hit the streets he could claim to be Model editor of 'Flight' and technical editor of 'Everyday Science'. He continued to develop a growing interest and ability in all branches of engineering and he freelanced his journalistic work and designed a five cylinder compressed air model aeroplane engine and numerous designs for flying model machines of all kinds. He introduced the 'Reader's Queries' sections in his journals, a free 'help' service which continued throughout his long career.

With the help of his brother and father, George, he built a three-wheeler car which they christened 'The Cambro'. These cars were manufactured by The Central Aircraft Co. of Kilburn and offered for sale at 79 guineas. Later, as editor of 'Practical Mechanics' he designed a home-build car which had three and four-wheel versions.

Editing Hobbies Weekly for Newnes, he soon began a 'Practical Wireless' section in that magazine. By 1932 this title had become a fully-fledged magazine of its own. By 1935, Practical Wireless had merged with 'Amateur Wireless' and the combined magazine was edited - of course - by FJ. 

Always outspoken, especially when using the pseudonym 'Thermion' (and the 'Thermion' column to be found in some 1920s copies of Amateur Wireless surely must also have been his work), FJ could give vent to the things that irked him in life and it is on the Thermion page (On Your Wavelength, each month in Practical Wireless until his death brought an end to them), that we can glean some insight into the man behind the initials. A stickler for accuracy, he suffered fools not at all and disliked Americanisms and the BBC penchant for affectation in pronunciation. Typical of his mistrust of 'novelty', he denigrated the long-playing record upon its arrival when 'Thermion' expressed considerable reservations and stated the need for record decks to be set up with the aid of a spirit level if the record was to stand any chance of being tracked without the pick-up skating! He preferred 78 rpm discs (at the time, though doubtless he would have been persuaded otherwise in later years).

Throughout his career he wrote and edited constantly and many were the books published bearing his name as author or editor. As well as writing he continued to edit the range of Newne's 'Practical' magazines. His name could be found on the cover of Practical Wireless, Practical Television, Practical Mechanics and others. He was and remained throughout his life a highly skilled, multi-talented and restless workaholic.

I suspect that many who worked with him found him to be a hard taskmaster but without doubt he was also a gifted teacher, the evidence of which can be  found in any of his technical books, all of which ran to multiple reprints. Purists, sticklers for complexity in technological texts, would sometimes complain that his work was too 'accessible' but his clear, jargon free explanations were welcomed by the great majority of readers. He could be opinionated and abrasive at times and on occasion he took to court - and won - those who sought to denigrate him. Much of his output was by nature of its time and he tended to stay in the present, rarely venturing very far into speculation about the future and staying with tried and trusted technology. It is self-evident to anyone reading his books that much of the material has a dated feel, sometimes even by the original publication date, because he re-cycled material constantly. Even so, everything he wrote reads easily and there can be little doubt that his voluminous contribution to the development of radio as a national hobby  - not to mention car mechanics, cycling, model engineering and early do-it-yourself material - was far reaching and a very great debt is owed by all of us to this remarkable and truly inspiring man. 

FJ died in February, 1959, still chain-smoking and working hard at the time of his passing.




FJ Camm, early 1930s

FJ Camm, The Practical Man (book). Reviewed on 'Things to Read'