I was born on 11th August 1940 during an air raid. I came into the world in Nelson Hospital, Merton, and my mother used to tell me that my entry into the world replaced someone across the road who had just left it, under one of Hitler’s bombs. This actually happened, my mother had to comfort the nurse who had been left in charge of her labour, while others were in the hospital shelters during the air-raid and a bomb exploded across the street just as I was welcomed into the world.
I was brought up on breast milk and milk stout, dried egg and war rations and naturally survived the war. Living in Croydon, we got pasted with everything, Jerry going for the airport, railway, trunk roads and numerous factories. Blitz, firebombs, doodlebugs, V-2s the lot. “If you hear the put-put of the doodlebug stop you’re OK. The one you don’t hear will get you”.
Even the first jet dog-fights we used to go out and view over Caterham hills near the end of the war, Messerschmidt Me262s versus Gloster Meteors, which we also once saw trying to intercept V-1s coming in.
I was called the ‘Little flag boy’ as, if I climbed up the lime tree at the bottom of the garden, I could see the top of a factory next to East Croydon station, which used to fly a red flag before the air-raid sirens went off. I could therefore run in to the kitchen and pre-empt the sirens and get everyone into the Morrison shelter under the kitchen table practically before the sirens fearful wail started up.
All these years later whenever I have heard a siren which dies down and starts up again it fills me with the terror and dread which was instilled in me or passed on to me by my parents and elder siblings through their own fears. (A town test fire alarm in Skaelskor, Denmark used to do it for one minute every Saturday morning and sent shivers up my spine)
I actually loved the war and it was just exciting, bombs, planes, ships, guns, fires, bombsites, ruins, heroes, real baddies, drama – a little boy’s dream of adventure and sensation, not at all frightening.
Unfortunately more often than not I would seem to be crying ‘wolf’ as the little flag boy, because changing the green to red flag only indicated enemy bombers crossing the channel and not necessarily heading for London or Croydon. Too many times did I warn of an impending air-raid and there wasn’t one.
9 houses got flattened in our road alone by direct hits, and a family we knew well all got killed when a bomb missed their house but directly hit their Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden in which they were ensconced. Their Alsatian dog, who had not accompanied them and was in the house, was the only one to survive.
I can still vividly remember the order we got into and the positions in which the whole family slept under the dining room table, in the enmeshed Morrison shelter.
Earlier in the blitz, before we got a Morrison I was normally parked with my elder sister under the grand piano during a raid.
Schooled in Croydon, when I left in 1958 after A levels, I wanted to go into the Fleet Air Arm, as I had missed national service by a whisker and was jealous of some of my older chums going into the military, especially the Navy and Air Force. But I failed on eye-sight and probably bravery. Two other school mates who went in to The Fleet Air Arm, immediately after school, both copped it within one year, and that was in peacetime!
Mother had died when I was 15 and I rebelled a little.
Bill Haley and the Comets at the Davis Theatre Croydon was a highlight, as was Elvis and I spent much non-academic time performing in school plays and operettas, and especially playing rugby and tennis and playing in The Sandrock Skiffle Group.
Thrown out of the Science B Sixth form while studying Zoology, Botany, Chemistry and Physics for A level, I took Maths, Further Maths and Physics instead, in two terms. What a genius!!
I attempted to get a placement at English Electric, but I think my new shiny patterned drainpipe trousers were too much for them.
Cousin of mine, Lee Doig, was a film editor (edited all “The Prisoner”s and even wrote one episode I believe). His actual name was Lionel and because he was so much older than me he used to sign his name on cards “from Uncle Lionel and Auntie Betty”, which I took objection to. Anyway Lee suggested I try the BBC as they were just advertising for engineering trainees with good qualifications in maths and physics.
Interview in The Langham. Intelligence test first, which was a doddle, as my father had been setting the Moray Intelligence tests used in the 11-plus for years, and always used me as a guinea pig. But the interview was a disaster. I had applied for the wrong stream, a JPTA rather than a JPTO, and my engineering and technical qualifications were not up to scratch. I was told so, as well. Also one of the serried ranks of serious be-suited men who faced me, I think there were ten of them, asked me about my scouting days in the Trossachs, which I had lied about, and I was unable to positively say whether I had been plagued by midges or not. Red-faced as I thought I had been found out by a chief scout or even the government, the interview ended and I left the oak-panelled interview room. Unfortunately as I opened the door, to leave in great haste, I got one of my slip-on black shoes caught under the umbrella/coat stand as I backed into it. I left the room without one shoe.
Such was my eagerness to get out of that hell hole of embarrassment that I actually shut the door with my shoe still inside the room. Braving the consequences I gingerly knocked and opened the door again, mouthed feebly ‘my shoe!’ picked it up from where it was lodged under the drip tray and exited to a gale of laughter.
I was working for a brief while on a building site as a tea-boy, where for some reason I was called Gladys, and during that time got the notification from the BBC that I had been accepted, not as a JPTA but as a JPTO, an operator. Because of my theatrical and artistic/thespian side they had recognised my creative side and added me to the list of other eighteen year old JPTO’s who had already been accepted as fodder for the great Public Broadcasting Service machine.
I am afraid that all my records and photographs and memorabilia of my early years were lost in a fire in 1984, including that first acceptance letter of 1958, so I have never managed to produce any piece of that early collection of officialese ephemera held so dear from the BBC. No Photos, memos, payslips, duty sheets, DOIL slips, script top pages, instruction manuals…all gone!
On starting the probationary period, (I wonder how many probationary trainees did not make it past the first year) I received 30 guineas a month, less £3 for the first 10 months as I had been advanced £30. It seems strange that the printer ink in my computer costs now more than a month’s salary then.
In 2008 I attended a reunion of JPTO’s, celebrating our 50 years, to the day, of joining the BBC’s No.1 Junior Probationary Technical Operators and Assistants Induction Course, organised by Clifford White down in Bristol. There were about 20 of us gathered from a possible intake total of 56. The BBC nationally, locally and internally showed absolutely no interest in this pioneering group of old men gathering. Even Ariel and Prospero were indifferent to our reunion, and it got no mention, yet…..
We were the first 18 year olds to be employed as engineers and operators ‘en masse’, all of us coming straight out of school or thereabouts. Before 1958 most employees in engineering and technical operations had done their national service and were predominantly RAF chaps and much older. We discovered that many of that first 18 year old intake of 1958, the JPTAs and Os had stayed on in the BBC for their whole career. We were the first JPTAs and Os and are still proud of it.
Evesham JPTO/A course 1 was a hoot. Apart from learning about microphone responses and experiences in the dead room, the artistry of lighting vases of dead flowers with pups, blondes and redheads, (or was it the other way round? But I have been reliably informed by a technical associate that other than the female form, blondes and redheads were not ), having syncs and flying spot mechau described and image orthicons dissected, cycling races round the grounds, scrumping and scrumpy, working as projectionists in the local cinema, buying second hand motorbikes at the Droitwich auctions, visiting the Nurses quarters in Worcester, and playing ‘up and down the hill’ games, we also bought a boat so we could sail to the Chequers at Fladbury in style. Fifteen drunk students in a small skiff was too much on the way back and we sank in the Avon right in the middle of the river at the bottom of the field opposite Wood Norton.
Later, maybe two or three years later, I retrieved the mast and sail which then rotted away in my brother-in-law’s garage for decades. Anyone remember Brenda Knees, worked in Mr Adam’s office in Administration?
Just like John Summers, 12 years previously, I wished to go on cameras but was put on booms or rather cable bashing and steering boom platforms.
Only claim to fame in those earliest days was a brief glimpse of me on set of “Mother Courage” leaning against a boom platform, picking my nose, in the documentary “This is the BBC”
Was it Tony Youngman who ran the induction course?
I believe I was first assigned to Crew 2. Peter Friese-Greene senior cameraman. I think that Brecht’s “Mother Courage” in Riverside 1 was my initial studio experience (although I cannot find reference to this production in IMDb) . I know that I also worked in Riverside 1 with Peter on “Quatermass and the Pit”, because we used to get the same Greenline 715 home. That final popular science fiction series of Quatermass, as well as Mother Courage, was directed by the great Rudolf Cartier, who I later vision-mixed for consistently.
At the end of the Quatermass series in Riverside Studios, Peter had snaffled a few of the jabolite false bricks used in the ruins off the set, and on our way home in the greenline bus, he lobbed one of them at the bus conductor coming down the aisle to get our money. This could have meant the great man being ejected from the bus, as the conductor reacted with fearful agility and a scream to avoid the missile, which looked real enough, but it simply bounced off his cap, making everyone laugh. Peter proudly let all our fellow travellers feel the realistic looking lightweight bricks and then explained all about the programme, his role and TV in general. Those bricks on that bus must have been the talking point that would set off all those on the London Transport coach future knowledge of how a TV programme was made. The whole journey resulted in a wild frenzy of hilarity. Every time anybody got on the bus they were greeted by a shower of bricks thrown at them. My goodness think of that in today’s paranoid terrorist era!
Why was the great Peter Friese-Greene, a cameraman of exceptional talent from the very first days in Ally Pally and grandson of an even more famous William Friese-Greene, the British portrait photographer and prolific inventor, most famous for his invention of the kinematograph, Why, after Peter became deaf in one ear, and taken off London TV crews, was he re-assigned to the audio unit in Bristol? To see out his days with the BBC.
I feel the same nostalgic awe over the names of others, who were our greatest TV cameramen such as Ted Langley, Mark Lewis, Michael Bond, Bert Postlethwaite, Frank Wilkins and Jim Atkinson. What has been the real recognition of their dedicated talents and ‘creative’ artistry?
I used to love working with Jim, not on the crew with me as a cameraman or dolly op, but as a vision-mixer. The precursor of the single camera technique now solely employed in modern TV plays, EXCEPT the majority of the play would be on one continuous developing shot on his camera on a ped, albeit in a multiple camera ‘live’ set up. No editing!
Jim’s mastery and direction , for, as we all know, he often directed the actors more on the studio floor than the director did from upstairs, was unique.
I always v-m’d for the director Donald McWhinney, especially the Giles Cooper plays, and
they would practically always be single camera technique direction, with Jim Atkinson as his master cameraman. What was that movement or style of TV shooting called, expostulated by Mervyn Pinfield and carried out by the likes of Donald McWhinnie and other directors in the mid 60s? I can’t remember.
In “Unman Wittering and Zigo” with young Hywell Bennett and Denis Waterman, Donald had six main shots on the one camera (operated by Jim) in total in the whole of the 90 minute play. What an easy life you’d think I had as a vision-mixer, except that at three points in the play there are roll calls of every boy in the class, and each got a close up, so for three or four minutes each time, there were about 120 shots and as many cuts. That woke me up! When it came to the actual recording, which was a one off recording on to telerecording after two days of studio rehearsal, there were no recording breaks, Donald, in the director’s chair, FELL ASLEEP, even through the manic fast cutting sequence and did not apparently wake up until after the final roller credits had gone through and we had faded out and broken recording.
“How did it go?” he asked and finished his half drunk tumbler of gin and tonic.
“Brilliant” we all replied.
“I knew it would” he smiled enigmatically, having said very little throughout rehearsals, “I have Jim as my eyes. Well done everyone. The bar calls. All come up for a drink or three!”
Although I know many tales about my supposed exploits as a vision-mixer have become folk-lore, many of them are apocryphal. I will, later on, tell the truth.
However. Whatever I have achieved in a long career in television, I still consider myself first and foremost an ‘operator’ and more especially a Tech Ops man, even though I became a vision-mixer in 1961 and V-Ms and I left camera crews for Studio Management in 1963/4.
THE DAY I CAUGHT FIRE
But one incident in my whole early life at the BBC, while I was still on camera crews, I have dined out on, on many occasions. During my probationary period, after a brief spell on Crew 2 I went to Crew 4 as a ‘D minus’ graded dolly op 3 or was it 4 or just cable-basher.
I do get a little mixed up with who was who in those days and what camera crew I was actually on, as John Henshall knows.
Was Crew 4 Frank Wilkins, Stan Appel, Bert Postlethwaite (senior cam) What crew was I on with Dave Hodge, Alan Kerridge and John Davies. Was I with Bob Cole, Mike Rix and Geoff Feld and Dave Mutton, the other dolly ops, then, I cannot remember.
Anyway, I was due for a re-assessment of my probationary period, must have been after two years I suppose, to see whether I was suitable material to become “established” permanent staff. Or it may have been later when I was possibly up for promotion to the dizzy heights of Grade D.
Bill Bayliff had taken over from Sammy Sampson as HTO Tel S, while Potts was AHTO Tel.S (Assistant Head of Technical Operations Television Service) and my interview was with him in his new office in the TV Centre. Must have been end of summer 1960 then, and I was on a stay of execution for bad behaviour! No chance of an upgrade for one so mischievous.
I often cycled in to Shepherd’s Bush and White City from Wimbledon. It was August and very very hot but this time I was wearing a nice ‘best occasion’ woollen charcoal suit and bri-nylon white shirt with smart collar and tie. Unusually for me, but do remember this was 1960 and even dolly-operators had to wear suits in the TV Theatre and jeans were disallowed, I was pretty smartly turned out, and had bought new bicycle clips instead of tucking my trouser turnups into my socks.
Interview at 2.00pm. I usually managed to smoke two cigarettes on the journey, one at Roehampton and one at Hammersmith Palais. As I arrived at Shepherd’s Bush Green traffic lights along the Fulham Palace Road, I first noticed that my right breast felt particularly hot and looking down observed that my jacket was on fire, with flames issuing out of the top pocket. Falling off my bike and ripping the flaming jacket off I stamped on it to extinguish the flames, in so doing holding up quite a bit of traffic until I had pulled bike and smouldering material to the kerbside.
I later worked out the cause. When one smoked and rode a bike, one held the cigarette in one’s mouth and the outside would remain intact smouldering and blackened while the tobacco burned off and blew away. Then a whole length of outer cigarette paper would fall off. This had obviously occurred and the smouldering cigarette paper had dropped into my top pocket, where there were a number of old bus tickets and other bits of essential ephemera, and ignited the whole lot from the inside up. Although it was a hot day I couldn’t believe it was that hot under my armpit, and by the time I saw the flames and had fallen off my bike, the fire had done quite a bit of damage to me and my clothing.
However having extinguished my jacket I put it on again, re-mounted my bike and rode down Wood Lane.
I arrived at Potts’ office looking a little worse for wear. He was most concerned and asked whether I had been to see the sister, or wanted to go, if I was injured in any way. I said I was all right, and he kindly suggested I shed myself of my burnt suit jacket and hung it on a hook on the wall of his nice new office.
I must have looked a bit of a sight. My bri-nylon shirt had melted all down the left hand side at the front and under my left arm, leaving my chest bare on that side. My red braces were blackened. I had singed the few meagre hairs of my chest and my left nipple felt as if it had been excised with a blow-lamp.
Sitting like that I then had to listen to Pottinger read the riot act to me about my bad behaviour. This was mostly due to a condemning letter in the form of my annual report by, none other than John Summers’ elder brother, George. George was the TOM on my crew and had observed how untoward I was on a number of occasions and noted down a list of wrong doings which were now read to me. George’s letter detailed how I had taught make-up girls to walk along camera cables without falling off, how I had strapped a tubular chair to the back of a motorised Vinten and steered it with my feet, how I had done something unspeakable with a C-spanner, how I had trapped another member of the crew between the double doors going from Studio G into the prop store, the old Studio F at Lime Grove, for the whole of a thirty-minute live programme. How I had unscrewed Pat Lett’s beer handle focus-pull just before a live “Wednesday Magazine” and it had come off in his hand as he tracked in to David Jacobs, and he was heard to say over the air “I can’t. It’s come off in my hand!”
Luckily in the middle of this tirade and list of misdemeanour’s being read out to me, Pott’s intercom buzzed and he excused the interruption of my condemnation with a little wave of apology and answered. It was Pauline, his secretary, asking whether he, ‘Mr Pottinger’ and ‘Doig’ (untitled) wanted a cup of tea. (NB: Christian names were not ever used in formal meetings and boards and schedules until many years later)
He smiled stiffly at me and I nodded and with the intercom switched off again he picked up where he had left off, that really my behaviour was not what was to be expected of a probationary tech op or even a dolly op 3/4/5.
Within a few minutes there was a knock on the intercommunicating door between Potts’ office and Pauline’s and in came the girl I had been dating for a couple of times recently, until her policeman father took a dislike to me, with a tray and two cups of tea. I should point out and many of you will recognise this hierarchical status demarcation, Mr Pottinger’s tea was in a standard BBC pale green china cup firmly located on a pale green china saucer, while my ‘cup’ of tea was in a waxed paper beaker wobbling and slopping about on the tray, both, may I add, emblazoned with the BBC logo. But, as she placed the tray on his desk, to everyone’s amazement, my jacket, hung up limp, unobtrusive and lifeless on the wall peg, suddenly came to life and burst into flame again, a flame that immediately scorched and burnt the newly wallpapered executive wall in the newly furbished AHTO’s Office, and billowed ominous back smoke up to the ceiling. With a move of such alacrity, of which many fire officers would have been proud, I leapt up grabbed my beaker of tea off the tray, ran over to the wall and threw the contents over the offending jacket, dousing the flames and reducing the conflagration to a mere blackened softly smoking, burnt-wool smelling, warm wet mass. The reason for this renewed blaze had obviously been the draught caused by Pauline opening the door.
It was all highly dramatic, and although Pauline had not quite got over the shock of seeing me in a half melted bri-nylon shirt with a bare singed nipple, she too was quick to react and picked up Pott’s official BBC cup off its saucer, ready for more fire fighting duties.
When I announced that the conflagration had abated and was out, she relinquished hold of her makeshift extinguisher and handed it back to Potts and exited.
The Head of Tech Ops was worried enough about having to castigate me without having to add that I had nearly burnt down his office and possibly the whole of the newly opened TV Centre, and had no alternative to bring the interview to a close, and advised me to take my jacket away and go and see the sister, and what is more telling, take the rest of the day off!!
Later I did get my upgrade to D and Potts was always friendly with me whenever he saw me, sympathetically so I felt, although I never had another chance to date Pauline.
Back on the crew, it was Jim Atkinson, so was that Crew 2? Or someone said, “That’s what comes of wearing a smoking jacket!”, and another said, “YouI should have just worn a blazer!” Although my initial description of my suit being coloured charcoal seemed apt enough.
They were all such wags and I can well remember, in those halcyon days of television, everyone having such good fun. We were all so proud of working on all the varied and wonderful new and seminal programmes. Those in the 60s were the most exciting, rewarding and ground breaking days of TV, inevitably led, both technically and artististically by the Beeb. Here I am eulogising about the BBC, whereas in point of fact I was an agent provocateur and union representative, hell bent on bringing down the old country-club management and the proliferation of middle management and expansion of desk-bound non operative jobs and services for the untalented.
The BBC was a stuffy, bureaucratic, authoritarian organisation with old-fashioned managerial ideas, mainly due to its heritage of RAF and senior service men.
Later after I had done stints as an AFM and FM with Studio Management and then PA in Light Entertainment, one great RAF Commander, Head of Light Entertainment , the redoubtable Tom Sloan, interviewed me at the end of my attachment.
Not only did I sink from view when he offered me a low armchair in front of his desk, so that I had to perch on the edge to be able to see his glaring blue eyes and twiryl moustache, but he never once actually looked at me, and was far more interested in viewing the statue of Helios which was apparently relieving itself into the bowl as it was pouring with rain. Basically he stared out of the window as he told me off. Tom Sloan alikened Light Entertainment department to the Army. There were commissioned officers, the directors, producers, head of genres and naturally himself, then there were the NCOs working in direct communication with officers and finally the ranks…all the rest in the studio. He wanted his PAs ( at that time a PA was an Floor Manager assigned solely to LE or Drama – later to be known as APs) to be like Regimental Sergeant Majors, their function to keep control of the troops in the studio. I, Doig, he still adhered to the surname principle, was certainly not an RSM. What he did not want was some jump up intellectual buggers aspiring to be officers doing the job of running the studio floor. What this had to do with LE programmes I had no idea, and had I been so awful at discipline working on the first series of Dad’s Army with David Croft, the very first special with Barry Humphries (Edna Everidge and pink gladdies) with Dennis Main Wilson, or The Dusty Springfield spectacular with ….I suppose I had!!!
Ray Butt got the job, I didn’t. As most of us know, at one time Ray was a very good RSM, only much later did he gradual turn into officer material.
But despite Tom Sloan’s edicts thank God there were bright young things coming through who took the artistic and creative risks that made the BBC so popular and necessary.
Still to come at another time:
- The day I fell out of a window on the 4th floor of Cavendish Place
- The chocolate bar story and the Head of Catering
- Bruce Armstrong, the best ever vision-mixer story ever, “A Greek Orthodox Bishop appears on the Money Programme” in Studio G. Honestly best ever!
- Christmas trees on personal files
- Mistaking studio 7 for studio 6
- Why the BBC had a contract with Bronco toilet paper
- Why Oddi’s did not get the TV Centre canteen contract
- The dangers of booms and moles (Carnage on “The Insect Play” in Riverside Studios)
- The first Doctor Who’s
- Yes I did manage to get round the periphery of every production gallery at TVC without touching the floor.
- Yes I did drop my cigarette on the floor just as we were coming back to studio after a telecine insert, but did the Cue & Cut perfectly from beneath the desk.
- Why I am ‘aka’ Olive Dong.
- Following Mitch’s account of his sad journey round the TVC ghost studio complex, a look back at when every single studio, all 11 of them were full to capacity and we were all working and had 19 crews!
No. I have decided to recount the great Bruce Armstrong story here and now. It’s too good to miss.
THE GREEK ORTHODOX BISHOP on the MONEY PROGRAMME
I was great friends with fellow vision-mixer Bruce Armstrong (Australian with very apt Christian name despite his Borders surname) and one day I was on standby and had arranged to go out with Bruce after he had finished, to meet up with Stan Morecambe in Stanhope Gardens in Gloucester Road area. So, as Bruce was mixing the “Money Programme” in Studio G, I popped over and sat in the back of the gallery until they had finished their one take recording of this unnecessarily boring programme.
I believe the producer was one Mike McCoy, who always used to annoy me, whenever I was scheduled to mix the programme, by walking back and forth behind the control desk jangling the coins in his trouser pocket.
That day that Bruce was mixing, I forget who the director was, but he was relatively new and nervous and concentrated more on his script and his PA’s stop watch than looking at the camera monitor or output.
There had been updates on the stock exchange and one or two interviews about a forthcoming budget, and then they cut to a lengthy filmed interview with a politician outside the Houses of Parliament, shot a couple of days before and hastily edited together, neg cut and print overnight, the subject of which escapes me. It was a film insert from TK down the line from TVC and lasted maybe 5 or 6 minutes.
The director studied his notes about the next studio set up and on the floor they did a turn round to another interview set, nobody really watched the filmed interview, except the producer. The film editor had also come in to the gallery and watched his cut film with interest – mainly one shot on the politician intercut with questions from the interviewer and a few noddies. A pretty simple film item to cut together.
In the gallery, the TM was Bernard Fox, who dutifully checked on his spangle board with VT that they were still recording, again in TVC basement.
Bruce, who had been told more than once that he could not have either BBC1 or BBC2 on any of the preview monitors, (football was on BBC1), only Studio Output, was bored and turned and raised an Aussie eyebrow of ‘soon to be over’ towards me. We wanted to get out and down the pub for a few jars. I had a half a mind to wander into the sound control room as I knew they would be watching the football, but I decided not to make anybody aware of my presence and stayed put , knowing it would all soon be over. Bruce then idly fiddled with a particular kellog key on a special panel on the desk to the side of the A/B mixer. This key actually switched the Main Studio Output Monitor either to BBC1 TX (to the left) or BBC2 TX (to the right).
(This was a very useful and necessary switch when a programme was going out live. As one got the cue from presentation, through the cue dots at top of screen, to start one’s programme, the VM would have switched the central monitor to the Channel that the programme was going on air, and when one faded up the Opening Titles or the first studio shot, you could see that you were actually ‘on air’ on the correct channel – I did once fade up “Compact” titles as we went out live, to see nothing come up on BBC1, but a slave monitor showed that presentation had taken us on the ‘new’ BBC2 instead. I though that I had made a mistake and frantically faded various faders up and down, but then Pres realising they had made a mistake, switched us off and both channels were blank. Two captions of apology were hastily put up while having had a false start we started the programme again on BBC1)
When one was simply ‘recording’ a programme (RX) from the studio for future transmission (TX), the key was not needed, and indeed on the central monitor at this time in Studio G the film insert was still running.
Bruce without any deliberation, simply fiddling around with boredom, flicked the aforementioned kellog key to the right, thereby switching the central output monitor to BBC2, for about 3 seconds, and then back again to the film.
I saw what he had done and didn’t think anything of it. On air on BBC2 was a mid-shot of a Greek Orthodox Bishop looking straight at camera, a Makarios lookalike, which was in a documentary programme going out at the time, possibly about elections in Cyprus and the new EOKA B.
Nobody noticed this switch to BBC2 TX and back, except the producer, who then asked the terrifying question.
“What was that Greek Orthodox Bishop doing in our film?”
Nobody knew. The director had not been looking nor the PA, and Bruce shrugged and Bernard remained schtum, to be honest he had dozed off during the latter part of the film.
“I just saw a Greek Orthodox Bishop come up in the middle of the film. Didn’t anyone else see it?” McCoy repeated and rounded on the film editor, “Did you see it?”
Now such were the other duties of the film editor, or his wont, that his assistant had cut the whole film and he had not had anything to do with it. He probably hadn’t even seen it until that moment and didn’t know how the footage had crept in. Maybe his insubordinate assistant had cut in a spare shot off the cutting room floor for a joke, or to get his own back for some editing room feud. He shrugged and replied that he hadn’t seen it, but it couldn’t have been in the film. Not a strange shot from another shoot.
McCoy was not convinced, “But I saw it!”
Now the producer did get upset and made Bernard wake up and phone through to Telecine and ask them whether they had seen a Greek Orthodox Bishop appear in the film outside the Houses of Parliament.
The Telecine Operator replied that they had not seen a Greek Orthodox Bishop, mainly because, as they had taken rather a long time to answer Bernard’s call, they were probably watching the football on BBC1. Once they got the cue to “Run TK” their job was virtually over, apart from checking the waveform monitor and that the film was running round the spools, until the film finished and ran off the reel.
McCoy would not let it rest, and now the director got very agitated and warned the studio that they might have to go back and do the whole programme again, as any editing was prohibitively expensive, even more than a five minute studio overrun.
The producer, fairly outraged, got Bernard to check with Tape Recording in TVC, who strangely enough actually agreed that they had seen a Greek Orthodox Bishop on the screen. Well, in point of fact when Bernard had asked them “Have you seen a Greek Orthodox Bishop” on the screen, they answered, above the din of the whirring 2 inch machines, “Yes”. This later transpired that they had been watching BBC2 on their switchable monitor and had no idea of the significance of the question.
The film ended and the final interview lasted the allocated three minutes with McCoy still muttering expletives. The end credits, music and fade out took place, and the programme was within four seconds of its scheduled running time.
Bernard checked with recording for a spot check and all was clear.
“We’ll have to look back at the film” Mike McCoy announced, now doubting his own sanity, “Tell them to reload it, we can’t go out with…”
Bruce stood up and nonchalantly turned to the crowded chattering anxious production team, “Hey! I know what it must have been, I must have flicked over this TX monitor switch like this and…”
He leant back and switched the Kellog key to the right and in front of everybody’s eyes, there on the same monitor screen appeared the same mid-shot of a gesticulating, mouthing Greek Orthodox Bishop still on air.
“…That’s what’s going out on BBC2 at the moment”, with which he picked up his coat off the back of the chair, winked at me and we left.
Imagine Bruce’s laid back Aussie brogue, his matter-of-fact manner and his innocence.
Bruce unfortunately hated television and vision-mixing in particular. He had applied for transfers and attachments to film department, which he loved, and in which he had incredible knowledge, on numerous occasions only to be rejected time and again under the unfair BBC board system. He eventually left London and he and his make-up supervisor lovely wife Elizabeth moved up to Scotland. He was a keen ornithologist and I did visit him up in Scotland once later and was taken out to Boat-of-Garten on the Strathspey in the Highlands to see the one and only wild Osprey that was nesting in Britain at the time.
I haven’t heard from him for many years.
Thinking of Studio G and making switching mistakes, not on purpose, reminds me of the numerous Grandstands that used to come out of that studio, G in Lime Grove, on Saturday afternoons live.
‘Ginge’, Bryan Cowgill, was always the director when I was mixing. He had married a PA called Janet I had worked with in LE I knew very well, and although he was a bit of a tyrant and continuously swore at his production team, I seemed to get on with him quite well.
In Lime Grove, telecines from TVC and OBs appeared on different OS lines on a crash box beside the mixer, and only one source could be previewed and selected to the mixer at any one time, each having to be genlocked before being cut up on air.
This particular Saturday I think there was horse jumping, horse racing and athletics on the crash box and a separate feed of a cricket game on a separate genlocked OS line, but not very much else going on.
Grandstand always started with, and now I cannot remember whether it was Peter Dimmock or David Coleman who presented it, certainly before it moved to Studio E with those famous titles around noon, followed by a menu of the events coming up and then a black and white film of a boxing match, which had taken place and been filmed during the previous week.
That boxing match film was actually called “Match of the Day” and often lasted for more than half an hour in the early part of the programme.
We had checked, in rehearsal in the morning, all the OBs and OS lines and all communications, talkback to the various directors at the events and reverse talkback etc. But once we cut to the boxing film on air, as it was coming in as an Outside Source from TVC on the crash box, we could not preview any other event.
It was quite an important boxing match, shot specially by the BBC Sports Film unit abroad somewhere.
We were going to come out of the film and go straight to the last ten minutes of the cricket match before lunch, but rain had stopped play, and the field of play on the single feed was empty.
Bryan swore and made an instant decision – we had to go somewhere else after an update from the cricket situation. He wanted to see what was going on at other venues and simply asked me to preview Hickstead and the show jumping. Without thinking I switched the crash box to OS2 and both of us, watching the preview monitor, saw that nothing was going on at Hickstead either, just an empty arena and sticks, no horses and little or no spectators. Suddenly I realised that I had cut from Telecine to the OB and quickly switched back again. Ginge immediately twigged, and shouted “Did you just cut that up there?” pointing violently at the TX monitor.
At which, whoever was Sound Supervisor came through on the intercom, I hope it wasn’t Chick Anthony but I think it was and said, “You’ve just cut away from the film and missed the knockout” and looking up at the boxing film we could see that one of the boxers was lying flat out on the mat being counted out. Supposedly, according to Chick and I think it is what happened, I cut to an empty show-jumping course at Hickstead at the moment one boxer delivered his upper cut knockout punch.
Ginge turned to me and repeated Chick’s words in his own way, “You f…ing cut off the f…ing knockout, you f…ing moron!” and punched me across the front of my chest with his right arm, knocking me back off my chair. “Get Out!” he screamed, “You’re f…ing fired.” I was quite surprised at the turn of events, a veritable scrap and GBH attack on my person in the gallery and struggled to my feet and slunk to the back of the control room, to be immediately replaced by Jim Stephens who was the second VM on duty on Grandstand that day. I took no more part in the proceedings that day and Jim also cursed me, because he had to mix the whole show without a break.
As Bryan Cowgill notoriously fired most of his production team every week, especially the poor PAs who had to watch output and make notes of every move, every incident, every goal or score and the time. If they got it wrong they were fired, and I was no exception, and I was not scheduled to work on Grandstand for some weeks. Eventually I did come back and regained some respect and friendship again with Ginge. Later this heritage of screaming, firing, bad language and fisticuffs in the gallery passed on to the likes of Sam Leach, Brian Venner (Beever), Alan Hart and others.
Remind me to relate the story of The European Skating Championships from Ljubljana which involved all four of the mentioned sports production tyros.
Oh just because I mentioned interview boards above with Bruce, the best story about attachment boards I have ever known happened to a guy who was applying for a permanent job as a Senior AP in Light Entertainment having done the job for some years .
This chap who had applied for a Senior Assistant Producer, went into the board room to meet his interview panel. There were Head and Assistant Head of Department, his Personnel officer and his assistant, Appointments chaps and all manner of serried ranks of management. But Colin did not have the right attitude!! He slouched in his chair and when asked poignant questions about why he wanted the job and why he would be suitable, he sneered and was very apathetic, indifferent and listless. As this attitude continued for some minutes with all the questions, the chairman of the board, an appointments chappie, had to ask Colin why he was behaving in this manner, and whether he thought his disposition was conducive to getting the job! Did he think his mood was worthy of being a senior AP?
He replied in the greatest possible way ever, “I should f…ing think not!” he sneered standing, “I got the rejection slip for this board this morning” and he threw the offending memo onto the table in front of them all, especially in front of his personnel officer who had signed ‘the apology for not being accepted this time’.
The confusion that ensued as Colin marched out of the interview room would have been priceless to have seen. As he said later, the board was rigged, and they had decided on who was getting the job well before the interviews, and pre-prepared the memos of rejection. The personnel’s secretary (let’s blame the secretary and fire her!) had put them in internal envelopes and inadvertently sent his off via internal post too early, way too early. Colin had read his rejection for the job he was to attend in the afternoon, when he had opened the internal missive in his postbox, when he had first arrived in the morning. He was brilliant to have kept it to himself until that priceless moment in the board room.
He was later given a bit of a sop and ended up in an office job with a better promotion in order to keep quiet about it, which obviously he didn’t.
Why was it that the BBC organisation, with its 23,000 staff, needed a whole department of personnel, with over 100 separate personnel officers who themselves had a personnel officer only dealing with them, whereas Fords at Dagenham with similar workforce only had one! She actually came from Fords to work as personnel to Studio Management.
Enough from me for the moment.
I hope others will add their reminiscences and anecdotes. I have too many, but if you wish more from me, days of ABS, ACTT, Huw Wheldon, 625, Colour familiarisation, Slaving studios, free purple hearts, Producer’s choice, Chromakey, CSO, EIEIO etc. etc. I will oblige.
Clive Doig (BBC 1958-1980 = 22/25yrs long-service award = 1/9 in monetary terms) (Freelance 1980 – date, possibly just still pretending not to be retired)