Recollections of BBC engineering from 1922 to 1997
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Studio and Outside Broadcast Operations - Reminiscences

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Memories of operations at BBC South

By Pete Simpkin

There is a whole area of BBC engineering that so far is not featured in memory websites...the story of those of us in the Regional and sub regional studios in the 60s and 70s.  Although we were engineer trained we were also tech ops and we had the job of not only keeping these little studios running but also operating everything from studio cameras and sound to telecine and film processing by way of Radio studios and OBs and in some places responsible for house services including changing the soap and toilet rolls in the toilets!  In Southampton we were based in what had been bedrooms of the old South Western Hotel.  We at first occupied the second floor but eventually spread up and down to other floors.  We shared the premises with several Civil service departments ,and the Cunard Lines.
The original unattended studio set up with the legendary Sid Gore (my Mentor) at the controls
When the BBC decided to develop area local TV news in the early 60s we were appointed to turn the incredible beasts you see featured..the Marconi broadcast vidicon cameras.... from locked off unattended operation into fully movable production cameras.  Their lighting requirements were great and we had to learn focussing and tracking.....quiet lens swinging among other things and with two cameras in one studio and the third in another (radio) studio it made for exciting if not downright hairy operating conditions.  The very nature of a news operation meant things were often done with minimal rehearsal although setting and lighting were often possible in the late afternoon.  The Marconi cameras were self contained with a waveform monitor and 'racks' controls built in to the camera body although these functions were remoted to relieve the cameramen of that additional duty! The lower levels of lighting for the locked off situation had to be greatly increased as directors required not only presenters but also cameras to move about in the albeit very confined space of what had been a hotel bedroom!
Me with the Marconi vidicon camera no.1
The Engineer in charge obtained a zoon Angineux fixed speed remote controlled device that could be mounted on a camera, but needing the removal of the turret so this had to be booked in advance!

Sound, racks, production gallery and telecine all shared one adjacent room next door euphemistically called 'the gallery'..there was no VT or Telerecording available so everything was live.

On one occasion my camera caught fire and the newsreader was amazed to see the fireblanket routine being carried out in front of him as he read the news whilst the other camera was pushed into position in front of him and the main presenter hurried across to the radio studio across the corridor!  On another occasion I was attacked by a raven which had been brought in by a 'White Witch' for an interview on Hallo'een!  Swinging even small cameras from set to captions and back was quite an art and coordination by the operators and the directors who did their own mixing was paramount.

The bookable zoom lens on camera 1 with presenter Martin Muncaster in action.

We later moved to a larger studio downstairs and were equipped with state of the art EMI vidicons, still with lens turrets but motorised lens change...but although we now had three cameras in the same studio we only had two cameramen available which offered a whole new set of challenges and possibilities of disasters!  A front projection device was added to camera one, normally used for the presenters so the cameraman had slide changing and background picture brightness to add to the job.....often including 'hot', live slide changes!


Confrontation with an alien being (EiC Ken Nicholas lashed up a sound modulator so that our newsreader John Baker could appear as the Dalek voice!)
Among our other activities we ran a small radio studio and a larger talks one and an active Control Room.  The radio work consisted of many news operation including the VHF opt out of the Home Service, contributions to all network programmes, editions of whole programmes ranging from Woman's Hour, Nightride , the Daily story and on OBs church services and ship launches at the nearby shipyard and regular cricket and football OBs.

Nevertheless as Bernie Newnham has said elsewhere these were among the happiest days I spent during my career and it was something I missed when I moved on to Radio Production in Birmingham.


Me carrying out maintenance with S. Tel E Derek Leach adjusting the lighting (yes we did that too!)

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