Stories 6

Diaries by Bernard Newnham

All cameramen keep diaries, because it’s the only way they know when they are working in a very irregular lifestyle. I stopped being a cameraman in 1977 – 25 years ago as I write – but I still have all the diaries from my 11 years in tech-ops.

On the rare occasions I look at them I always regret that I wasn’t any kind of Samuel Peyps. The days just have a programme title and a studio. For instance, on 22nd to the 24th November 1967 I was in TC3 working on a Wednesday Play. That’s it – I know no more. The 20 year old me had no idea that the Wednesday Play would later be regarded as a milestone in the development of British television.

Of course, for tech-ops anoraks, the date and place tell a lot about the technical aspects of the production. It would have been shot in black and white on six Marconi MK4 cameras, probably all with turret lenses – except perhaps for poor old camera 6, who may have been lumbered with a large Angenieux zoom lens with a dodgy “quick start” servo. Camera one may have been on a Mole crane, or if unlucky a Mk1 Heron – the one without the pedals, and some poor tracker would have suffered the whole three days trying to hit very accurate marks with the machine from hell!

The play would have been rehearsed for most of the three days, and recorded in scene-sized or larger chunks on tape or 35mm film. Video tape machines were the earliest VR1000 2-inch type, and any editing would require physical cutting of the tape. If the production decided to do this, it had to actually buy the tape from VT, so most tried not to (and that’s the way much valuable archive was lost). This particular drama probably could have afforded it, but they might have preferred to cut 35mm film instead. One of the jobs of junior chaps like me was to go down to the studio during recording line-up, and uncap a camera and turn off the orbitting so that film recording could set up. I used the time practicing crabbing and craning in the hope that some perspicacious senior cameraman would notice a genius – but either I wasn’t or they weren’t, generally.

Picking another arbitrary date from an arbitrary diary – TC3 28th September 1970 1130-2215, followed by 29th Sept 1000-2230. A typical two day drama schedule. By now, three years on, TC3 is colour, with EMI 2001 cameras – the best of studio colour cameras and in use for 20 or more years. The drama was Jude the Obscure, with Robert Powell, newly a star from Doomwatch, as Jude. The crew had done all of Doomwatch, so we were all good friends, but as the drama became gloomier each episode, so even cheerful people like Robert became ratty. A high – or low – point came with the nude scene. We’d been working up to this for a couple of episodes, and the actress really didn’t want to do it. When the time came, the atmosphere was electric – she was only going to do it once, and those of us involved were incredibly nervous. My colleague on the next camera over had to track in past her. It was fine on rehearsals, but when she finally got her top off on tape, he crashed loudly into the bed and the shot wobbled badly. That’s the way it stayed. We all have our embarrassing moments, and I was glad that one wasn’t mine!

I only opened two pages in the diaries, and there are around 4000. Each one sparks memories of the time when television was the daily centre of our culture – and we were there!

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I thought of trying to write an intro to this next piece to explain what “Pres A and B” were and other relevant stuff to help visitors, but I’ve decided not to – if you weren’t there you won’t understand what this is all about – you just need to understand that once upon a time, making tv was such fun….

From Mike Cotton…

I’m sure you remember the procession of Sound people sent to mix in Pres, I did my share and also volunteered to stay in Pres B for quite a while. It was the only chance we had of mixing music then.

It was hard work on one’s own but great fun. I even chatted to Paul MaCartney when he was in the gallery sitting next to me watching his then girl friend Jane Asher being interviewed. My daughter was disgusted I didn’t get his autograph! Then there was Kiri Te Kanawa in her early days – couldn’t get the microphone far enough away to avoid overload – no such things as attenuators then.

Fanny Craddock standing on her BK6 (lanyard mic) and the mic falling onto the floor and all the standby stand mic picked up was her thumping hell out of a chicken. Being accused of racism (jokingly I hope) by Larry Adler. I’d recorded a backing track with the musicians without him being there and on transmission played the last section in after his solo in the wrong place! I was given signed copies of two “Hollies” albums after a 1/2 hour show directed by Steve Turner – I hoped this would not be counted as Payola.

All those times down in Hospitality – Tom Corcoran had a wheeze of pouring the sherry away and filling it up with Whisky as they only replaced empty bottles. Unfortunately after a couple of such escapades they gave us a different trolly so some poor sherry drinking person had a shock. One evening I was asked to entertain a pop group in B205 until the studio was ready. The group didn’t turn up but I had to check the contents to see they were potable. I only ever got stopped once on the journey home, I was driving a Land Rover at the time, for one of the side lights not working. How ever did we survive unscathed in those days before the breathaliser and how do you explain getting home at 5 in the morning having spent the night in VT watching “City Varieties 100th edition”, at least thats what it was labelled!

The only sour note came when **** (if you were there, you can insert appropriate name. B.) heard that “Humph” was going to play and insisted on mixing it. I don’t think he had ever worked so hard with the primitive facilities we had available – no limiters and echo room 2 if we were lucky and what microphones weren’t in use down below.

Pres A……..

I think the scariest bit was down to Pat Hubbard. In order to release the “Voice” he got us to record the VT sound and then add the OOV to it and then VT would record in sound only the composite sound track. It involved getting the pip at -4 synced up. The only item I missed in the years I was up there was when “Daniel Christianson” (Ray Moore under an assumed name so that he could be paid as freelance whilst still having a BBC staff job. B) and I were sent off the bar. We returned to see the transmission lights going out and Pat Hubbard saying ” don’t worry, I’ve done the sound before” It was Christmas time after all.

I never could work out how one camerman did the late weather.They threatened to make me do it one night. One night we recorded the sound of the late weather on the tape machine and got Jack Scott to review the VT (“Was it OK? Jack”) and played the sound in with a slight delay. He didn’t even notice it. He towed a huge caravan round Scotland with a Morris 1100. Bert Food used to amuse us with his days on weather ships in the Atlantic and how they nearly claimed salvage on an abandoned ship.

Dick Graham, another regular OOV voice, could speak backwards and on replaying forwards it sounded quite reasonable. He even managed to carry on when we put his own sound from the replay head of the recording tape machine back to his headphones. He used to regale us with tales of “Dwoil Flunking” (don’t ask) at village fetes. Putting network sound onto the studio speakers took some getting use to and a degree of trust on both sides so that the weather man didn’t jump the gun and cause a late fade and we didn’t fade up before the hand over had finished. Deaf aids, what are they?

Who was the director who started his trail for the forthcoming attactions with a close up of the word “TURD” and came out in seies of zooms to reveal the full SaTURDday. I think he got sent to Manchester as them upstairs didn’t appreciate it. He also insisted on having the series “British Empire” called “Brutish Empire”. Pehaps he came from the antipodes. Film ‘xx and “call me Chuck” Heston.

Some people resented having to work in Pres, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time up there, apart from Christmas time. I still have some of the (audio) tapes after, heaven forbid, 35 years (and it don’t seem a day too long. Sorry, wrong song) The AP shift pattern meant I could “dig” with the Museum of London all over Roman Brentford on days off , and on those days when “B” wasn’t wanted until 1600, were spent digging and then a quick shower and off to work. I did this for about 7 years off and on.

The enforced STO course I went on was spent drawing Roman Pottery and small finds for publication and I even managed to pass with 66% without any work at all which was more than some of those who sweated over the exam (We SA1s were incumbents whose posts had been uprgaded and didn’t need to pass but had to go to satisfy the requirements) The vision lads did tell me to answer the vision questions with “PAL corrects errors in hue at the expense of saturation” and “Second shelf operation cures moire patterning”, what ever that means. The other memory is of Graham Wilkinson only exceeding 100mph going uphill on the M40 and passing cups of coffee between vehicles going at high speeds.

Don’t tell the grandchildren!

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