Alan Muhley started his career at the BBC in 1956 in the studios at Lime Grove. There, Alan worked initially as part of a small fast acting documentary unit in Smiths Yard. Designed as a quickly dispatched three-car team, this unit made programmes such as Panorama, Tonight, and other regular documentary series. Alan first entered the Film Department temporarily as holiday relief but soon made the move permanent. Continuing his work as a gaffer, he would work on a range of programmes including Colditz, Smiley’s People, and The Two Ronnies.
As a gaffer, Alan primarily used a designated ‘one man kit’ when lighting on location. This kit consisted of four 750 watt tungsten lights known as ‘redheads’, a 2000 watt tungsten lamp known as a blonde, and an assortment of different filters, clips, and stands. Along with this equipment, gaffers would often be armed with a range of mobile generators because there was often no access to mains electricity when working in remote areas. Even when power was available, standard outlets could not be relied upon to supply the necessary power for the entire lighting rig and so it was crucial to carry a back up supply.
When on location the work of a gaffer involved far more than just setting up lights. Alan’s work required considerable skill to match the additional lighting to the scene and environment. Using judgement and experience, gaffers used a range of filters, identified by numbers, to adapt the ‘temperature’ of the incandescent or tungsten lights to work with the scene’s natural lighting. Lighting could be made ‘warmer’ or ‘cooler’ depending on the circumstances.
In addition to these standard lights, when lighting interviews, gaffers would often make use of an small light known as an Inky Dinky, which was used to smooth the subject’s skin and give a bright twinkle to their eye. Working with the camera operator to establish the shot and composition, the work of the gaffer was essential in acquiring high quality picture on 16mm film.
Alan remembers that during his time at Television Film Studios variety was an ever present feature of the work of film crews. Whilst some gaffers informally specialised in certain types of programme, the majority worked across every aspect of film production. This meant that a crew could finish a big budget primetime drama on Friday and be assigned to a schools programme the following Monday. Very few weeks were ever alike when working for the Film Department.