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Examination of the scientific literature reveals a large variation in the Schottky barrier heights measured for metals such as silver deposited on atomically clean cadmium telluride surfaces. In the present studies we have probed the growth of gold, silver, and aluminium films on clean cleaved cadmium telluride by LEED, angle resolved UPS, by AES and by XPS. We have also probed the early formation of the Schottky barriers and established the thick film values for metals on clean and oxidised surfaces by C–V and I–V methods. The experiments indicate that in many cases the interfaces formed are not atomically abrupt and there is considerable intermixing between the metal and the CdTe. Low energy electron beams have dramatic effects on the CdTe (disordering it without altering its chemical composition), and on the interfaces formed with metals. The interfacial oxide layer, produced by cleaving in air, has a significant influence on the interfacial properties. The results of the experiments are compared to similar experiments for metal contacts to indium phosphide. The observations are discussed in terms of various theories of Schottky barrier formation and in particular we consider the defect model and its applicability to CdTe and InP.