The Vinten Peregrine Page
This has become a growing project since Roger Francis sent me the drawings further down the page.
The Vinten Peregrine was a failed experiment in camera crane technology. Designed to a BBC spec, it was delivered to Television Centre in 1965. The idea was to build a camera crane that would fit on the footprint of a Vinten ped, but have the range of a Mole (MPRC) crane and the flexibilty of a Vinten Heron. It was designed to carry a standard sized mid-sixties monochrome camera equipped with an Angenieux zoom. It lasted a very short time and was hardly used at all. I saw it demonstrated on Tomorrows World whilst I was still at school – and next saw it stored in the corner of the TC mechanical workshop, where mostly it stayed.
Why was it a failure? Well, take a large machine operated by clunky early sixties servos, give it enormous flexibilty of movement controlled by two people who are looking mostly at monitors low down in front of them, and you tend to have an clumsy and somewhat dangerous elephant in the crowd. And the fact that when left overnight in TC5 it made a big round dent in the floor didn’t help either. It was always going to make a comeback from storage, but it never did, and presumably was eventually broken up.
This is it, in a picture sent by Paul Ewing.
Before Paul sent the picture, I hunted the internet for one, and found an entry in the special collections of the University of Houston, Texas. A Dr. Tom Battin, an American pioneer of educational tv, had died in 1976, leaving a lot of his effects to the university. Near the bottom of the last box is a film – “The Vinten Peregrine Camera Crane BBC TV Enterprise, undated”.
I contacted Richard Dickerson at the library, who kindly loaned me a DVD copy of the film, and here it is. It appears to be a Vinten recut of the main BBC experimental session, a section of Macbeth, with director Michael Hayes providing a commentary. At the end there are credits, but in typical BBC fashion none for the camera crew. Given that in this particular case they are the only people who really matter, it’s quite astonishing from this distance in time, though not if you were there. So, after 43 years, I’d like to say that the cameraman was Stan Appel, and the tracker – who is seen more often in this – was John Cavacuiti.
John Cavacuiti remembers that first they went to Vinten’s factory in Bury St Edmond’s -
“I think we went up on the Wednesday morning the week before we were due in TC4 for the Macbeth exercise. We were shown around the factory and then spent the rest of that afternoon familiarising ourselves with the machine and its controls although the fact that we had the rather small ‘studio’ to ourselves with no mic booms and no key lights to contend with, and Reg King ambling around for us to follow, meant that it probably bore little relationship to what was to come the following week.
The Macbeth exercise itself was split into 3 ‘acts’ of about 20 minutes each, all of them shot single camera in a continuous take, with a cutaway to another camera between each ‘act’ to let us reposition. The morning was spent ‘blocking’ the action and moves, then after lunch, as far as I remember, without the benefit of a ‘run’, we recorded the 3 ‘acts’ as a continuous take. I think its fair to say that neither Stan or I were very happy with the result of that first take! We then reshot the whole thing with the other studio cameras recording our movements and this time we were happier with what we achieved.
A while later we were to use the Peregrine again on a Play for Today called Trotsky ~ The Ice Pick Murder. We spent the first morning’s rehearsal using it, however after the lunch break the steering drive shaft sheared and we finished the play with Stan on a pedestal having used a Heron for the bits we had rehearsed on the Peregrine. Incidently Cliff White used the first Ikegami hand held camera that we had seen as a ‘subjective’ camera on this play.
The Peregrine cameraman had a ‘normal’ zoom focus control [operated by his right hand] and that was about the only normal thing about the crane. To actually focus he used an 8” Peto Scott monitor, I hesitate to say ‘black and white’ because they were mostly different shades of grey. Of course the camera output was 405 lines. The zoom control was the normal Angenieu one where the whole grip rotated, anticlockwise to zoom out clockwise to zoom in. This was operated with the left hand which also operated the tilt servos with a position control that mimiced a normal pan bar . The same ‘pan bar’ also operated the pan controls BUT this was a pressure sensitive device, the more pressure you exerted the faster the pan and the ‘pan bar’ didn’t actually move in the horizontal direction. Thus the cameraman’s left hand moved up and down to tilt, twisted left & right to zoom and pushed or pulled against an imoveable bar in the horizontal plane to pan. After the Macbeth exercise I remember that Stan’s left hand was bleeding from the action of this pressure sensitive device.
The tracker had 5 controls to choose from in order to place the camera in the appropriate position plus a brake. The elevation was controlled by a positional control positioned between the cameraman and tracker and operated by the tracker’s left hand. It was mentioned that this could be operated by either operator but we found that the cameraman had more than enough to do! This control was pulled back to crane up and pushed forward to crane down. In order to try and minimise the backlash of the arm a torque was built in so that it required quite an effort to crane up and down, which was fine, However the same lever had another control on the top to rotate the whole crane around the base, anticlock to jib left and clokwise to jib right, and this was a velocity control and was quite ‘touchy’. Thus if you had a quick crane up you had to be very careful that you didn’t jib as well. The steering was power driven and 1 to 1, you turned the steering wheel 10 degrees, you steered 10 degrees, a bit like old MG sports cars, I believe. There were also 3 footpedals, a brake and two ‘traction controls’ with accelerator type actions. If you wanted to go one way you pushed one of them if you wanted to go 180 degrees the other way you pushed the other, unless of course you had steered into a position through more than 180 degrees then the actions were reversed! Thank goodness for the brake! There was an arrow to help keep you on the right track but as most of the time you were trying to make sure that the head was in the right place and trying to avoid the lights and booms it was a bit out of the eyeline.”
Stan Appel sent this picture of John at work. Stan is hidden by the arm -
On the Macbeth exercise the cameraman high up on the grid was Mike Minchin, who says –
“I can add a little to the information, as I was on the crew that day. I was up on the gantry with a zoom, so quite a lot of the Vinten film, as you see it, were my shots. After the 4 hour rehearsal, which was primarily concerned with the actors and Stan and John (and lighting and sound), we did 2 passes of the piece. The first was solely Camera One’s output, the other was for the rest of us to watch the Peregrin. No double feed recordings in those days! On the watching pass, as I remember, we were virtually undirected, having seen the rehearsal and the principal take, and I have a distinct feeling that we were trying to put the boot in, showing when the crane itself created little awkwardnesses. As the film commentary says, Stan and John (who was a fully qualified cameraman by then) had spent quite a time in Norfolk getting to know the beast, yet there were moments where things were not really co-ordinated.
I think the biggest problem with the machine was that the controls used Vinten’s hydraulic systems, and (as we knew already by then) the Heron was no joy to operate for the same reason. The next problem was the specification that the Peregrin’s base should be the same diameter as a pedestal. The film shows that, while technically keeping to that spec, the upper body overhung by quite a bit. If the spec had allowed for a larger base, then maybe there would have been less of a problem with it sinkng into the studio floor. As it was, again as the film demonstrates, there was still a need for plenty of space around the crane. ”
Doug Coldwell worked as tracker on some of the development of the Peregrine –
“In January 1965 Stan and I spent 2 or 3 days at Vinten’s factory in Bury St.Edmunds, Suffolk. I think that this was the first time that operators had been let loose on the beast. It was set up in a small studio where I suspect that the photo was taken. The only camera channel that the BBC could spare was a CPS Emitron so that was what Vinten had to work with. They had somehow put an Angenieux/Evershed zoom on the camera as the Evershed bit was part of the rig. At this time there were problems sourcing sufficiently strong hard rubber wheels so solid alloy wheels had been temporarily fitted. A few sheets of plywood were laid to protect the floor and limit our excursions.
As Mike mentioned the technology was Heron based with a large 3 phase powered hydraulic accumulator supplying pressure to most of the moving parts although I’m not sure about the pan and tilt of the camera. I believe that this motor may have been in the counterweight bucket. The controls were quite sensitive and responsive unlike the Heron of that time. Underneath and concentric with the steering wheel was a large pointer to indicate the direction that the wheels faced. This was very important as when the crane was rotated on its base you and the steering wheel went with it and soon became disorientated.
Between the cameraman and tracker seats was a large joystick type lever, forward and back for down and up of the jib. On top of this stick was a sprung knob ( rather like a zoom control ) that twisted through 45 degrees each way and rotated the whole on its base. The inertia of several tons of metal and operators meant that starting and stopping the rotation was accompanied by a fair amount of arm whip and best avoided for in vision work. The rotate/elevate could therefore be controlled by tracker or cameraman depending who had less to do at the time. In practise I found that all my attention was taken by manoeuvring the crane around the studio and that the cameraman spent all his time hanging on to shots on the end of a whipping arm.
During our stay at Vintens the Tech. Ops. bigwigs came to visit and we showed what the Peregrine was capable of. I remember Frank Clarkson asking what I thought and me replying in the best diplomatic fashion that a 19 year old was capable of. He seemed sympathetic.”
…and here are the design drawings for the Peregrine sent by Roger Francis, which started all this.
So there it is, the Vinten Peregrine – if anyone has anything more to say, just let me know.