Laurence John Thomas West, the son of a sailor, was brought up in Portsmouth. His ambition was to join the Navy, but when he applied as a boy he was told he was “a few days too old”. Instead, in 1924, he joined the RAF as an aircraft apprentice and was posted to RAF Cranwell as a coppersmith, an occupation which earned him the nickname ‘Knocker West’. In 1933, he applied for pilot training and was soon flying a wide variety of aircraft.
By World War II, he had become an instructor and taught many of the young pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain. In June 1940, he was awarded an emergency commission as pilot officer and a year later was promoted to flying officer and posted to the Central Flying School. He was awarded the AFC in 1941 and the next year was promoted flight lieutenant. In 1945, he was posted to Transport Command. At the end of war in the Far East, he was involved in bringing troops home to Britain and in 1948, was one of the many airmen who flew into Germany during the Berlin Airlift. He was promoted to squadron leader in 1947, completing his RAF career with postings in the Air Ministry. Meteorology had been a hobby during his years in the RAF and he took a degree in the subject and taught it to air crews.
In 1955, shortly after he retired from the RAF, Associated Rediffusion were granted the franchise to operate the ITV programmes for the London area and were looking for a qualified meteorologist. West was the ideal candidate. He became the first independent television weatherman and took a jauntier, less cerebral approach to his forecasts. Instead of using terms like ‘isobars’ and ‘frontal systems’, he told viewers to expect ‘wind’ and ‘rain’. Instead of the Met Office weather chart, he invented a device that would enable him to show changes over time. This consisted of maps drawn onto a series of horizontal three-sided metal bars attached to a capstan rack, allowing him to change the map by turning a handle. He also developed the idea of using small mobile symbols of the sun, clouds, rain and snow, which could be attached by magnets to the map. Viewers were encouraged to stay tuned by the owl which heralded West’s broadcasts and by the two weather girls whom he recruited on to the programme in 1958. Always smartly dressed, West himself never appeared on television without a fresh flower in his buttonhole. By the mid-1960s he had made nearly 3,000 broadcasts and retired in 1968.
West was a keen all-round sportsman and in his later years became an international umpire for both hockey and bowls, and served on the International Umpires Selection Committee.
Video Clips on the Internet
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PICTURED: Laurie West. SUPPLIED BY: Paul R. Jackson. COPYRIGHT: Rediffusion London.