How Early Pioneering Television Crews Succeeded in Bringing Colour Into Our Homes

The talents of early day pioneers are not always recognised or celebrated, and this is arguably the case of the early TV engineers and crew responsible for bringing the first colour programmes to our TV screens back in the late 60s.

A young David Attenborough as Controller of BBC2 in the mid-60s was determined to beat the Germans in the race to fully launch colour television, so he ambitiously promised a colour service starting with Wimbledon on 1st July 1967. It was a great success and history was made even though there were, in fact, only 4 colour cameras in operation at the time! Given that most homes still only had black and white television sets, these cameras had to be able to broadcast in black and white as well as in colour. This all presented a considerable technical challenge for the engineers and cameramen of the day!

ADAPT sets out to better understand television technology and the processes by which it was made in the past. So, in 2016/7 we reunited some of the original cameramen from that historic Wimbledon event, along with other ex-BBC crew from those early heroic years, with much of the original kit, including two of the first- generation colour cameras and a semi-restored ex-BBC outside broadcast truck known as North 3, all from the late 1960s.

The veteran crew, made up of 18 men (and one woman) rather miraculously recreated a live outside sports broadcast to show us how it was done in those early pioneering days. Their efforts were filmed and are currently being edited. All of this footage will all be made available online (for free), with highlights being released on the BBC History website for the first time to coincide with the BBC’s 50th anniversary of a regular colour service.

It was an ambitious mission to say the least, gathering a full line up of mostly retired outside broadcast crew with the expectation that some, if not all, might actually remember the kit they habitually used 30-40 years ago, and more importantly, would ideally make it all work again!

Ken Osbourn on camera at Wimbledon July 1967

It transpired that the real challenge was locating predominantly obsolete kit from dusty lockups, cubby holes and the fierce clutches of collectors, with the faint hope that it might just be made operational. We knew this venture was ambitious at best – and many ex-crew initially thought we were insane! Our first real glimmer of hope appeared with Steve Harris, collector and owner of the lovingly restored ex-BBC outside Broadcast truck North 3 unit. Luckily, he was up for the challenge!

What followed was several months of hard toil as Steve and his team with their trusty soldering irons working tirelessly around the clock, along with a fair few roped in ex-BBC engineers who traversed the country to help out. Each of them was committed to rejuvenating ancient machinery- like an old one inch Videotape recorder, and two first generation colour cameras: an EMI 2001 and a Pye PC80, along with all the associated cabling, connectors, sound kit and monitors.

One engineering crisis followed as brief signs of life in one piece of kit would quickly be followed by another part dying. By the end, the team deserved medals for sheer determination and patience.

OB Truck – North 3, a Type 2 Colour mobile control room (MCR)

When North 3 finally pulled into the filming location in Wales, it was to an uproar of cheers from the veterans who only half believed it would actually make it! To our surprise, the crew then revealed they each still had a master key in their possession, that allowed them to enter any BBC outside broadcast truck-including North 3! Seeing the joy on their faces when they actually stepped back inside was priceless!

As they re-familiarised themselves with the craft of their past, we filmed and witnessed these incredible pioneers quickly fall back into role. They seemed to dig deep and use every engineering trick in the book replacing boards on the old cameras, supplemented connectors, rigging up a temporary talkback and all the while fixing faults on old hefty G101 cables. Toughest of all, they were faced with driving two different types of first generation colour tube cameras, both around 50 years old. One favoured the London EMI 2001, and the other, the northern workhorse Pye PC80. It took every ounce of ingenuity to get these behemoths up and running, and perhaps the greatest challenge of all came during the complex task of lining them up. For the vision engineers and cameramen, this process brought back painful memories of the many difficult hours spent during those first years of colour. With new red, green and blue tubes added to cameras, the cameramen and vision engineers needed to work in tight teams to perfectly align the tubes to achieve pictures with the right colour balance. The process took up to two hours per camera, and with at least four cameras at most outside broadcast events, this was a time-consuming job! 38 years since he had seen the EMI 2001, cameraman Robin Sutherland took a while to find the correct dials, but with the help of vision supervisor John Coupe, finally got there.

Director Geoff Wilson in BBC outside broadcast unit 1969

Meanwhile, the veteran sound crew were making half-century old microphones work so as to record a commentator and two darts players, plus the all-important sound of a dart hitting a board. They were also lining up title music to play in live, while director Geoff Wilson focused on familiarizing himself with a bank of monitors and mixers so he could not only direct cameras but live mix the match too! With all 18 veterans working as a tight knit team, driven by their professionalism and sheer determination to pull off the mission, it made for a mesmerising watch. And proof indeed that proper training in television pays!

After just 24 hours together, it was as if the years rolled back to the late 60s. Director Geoff Wilson’s ‘Stand-by’, ‘Roll VT’ and ‘Action’ created excitement and nostalgia in equal measure. Geoff successfully led his crew to record an astonishing 20-minute period-feel darts match complete with Letraset captions for the opening and end titles and credits. Both of the 50-year old cameras behaved and delivered pictures, though given that they have not worked since, it all felt rather miraculous!

As this is a celebration of our pioneering crew and their incredible achievement, I’ll say less about our own technical challenges behind the scenes except to share a couple of points. Given the small spaces of the OB truck and with so many areas and veteran crew to cover, I decided to shoot the event as a fixed rig 14-camera shoot. In order to fully capture the approach, decisions and processes involved, we chose to record all crew activity from the moment of reunion with old kit, through rigging, rehearsing, and on to recording and finally reflections on it all. For Adapt, this inevitably resulted in an enormous amount of filmed footage, in fact 11 Terabytes worth (over 300 hours!) which we are still grappling with in the edit. Ironically, after just a couple of days back at the job following a 30 to 40-year hiatus, our veteran crew manage to achieve a 20-minute recording of a ready to broadcast live mixed show complete with titles and music!

Amanda Murphy directing from the Adapt video village

Perhaps we should have also turned over the task of our recording to the veteran crew, as no doubt they would have delivered the very same piece within a few days! Here’s to fabulous BBC training and to learning from such talented trailblazers!

And to a wonderful 50th Wimbledon this year where I will have a much greater appreciation of the greenness of the grass and the feeling of closeness to the game colour brought us.

 

FURTHER INFORMATION

For more information about the ADAPT television history project, follow the project on Twitter at www.twitter.com/adaptTV

This footage was recorded in May 2016 as part of the ADAPT project, which investigates the history of British television production technologies.

A veteran television crew was reunited with a restored outside broadcast truck originally commission by the BBC in the late 1960s.

The crew used the restored cameras, microphones, and vision mixing desks to record a darts tournament in the style of a 1970s television production.

The event was recorded from multiple angles by a “fixed rig” of miniature video cameras.

The restored outside broadcast vehicle, North 3, is a Type II Colour Mobile Control Room. It has been brought back to life by Steve Harris. For more information about North 3 visit http://www.vintageradio.co.uk/htm/tvprojects2.htm

Produced By: Amanda Murphy

Edited By:  Lisa Forrest & Dominic Clarke

For ADAPT

 

VETERAN TV CREW

Director: Geoff Wilson

Engineering Manager: Ron Clare

Vision Supervisors: Roger Neale, John Coupe

Vision Engineers: Bill Baldock, Peter Foster

Cameras: Dave Taylor, Robin Sutherland, Rex Palmer

Lighting Director: Steve Harris

VT: Ian Rutter

Sound Supervisor: Doug Whitaker

Sound Assistants: Ken Osbourn, Dave Howard

PA: Jane Whitmore

Chief Rigger: Bob Parry

Additional help of: Steve Jones & Brian Summers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC Four’s ‘Television’s Opening Night: How the Box was Born’

On 2nd November 1936 the BBC miraculously broadcast its first official television show live, an event that changed the world forever. In a documentary celebrating 80 years of television (Television’s Opening Night: How the Box was Born, BBC Four, November 2nd 2016), the producers ‘recreated’ that show in a mission that proved just as challenging and hair-raising as back in the day.

In their attempt to restage the broadcast, two teams raced to represent both the mechanical ‘Flying Spot’ contraption built by Scottish engineer and inventor, John Logie Baird and Electronic Emitron cameras of this time. With no surviving camera from the era to lay their hands on the team embarked on the nigh impossible mission of rebuilding cameras themselves. The team led by Dr. Hugh Hunt, (Senior Lecturer in the Department of Engineering in Cambridge) and Danielle George (Professor in the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Manchester), had just over 6 weeks to the anniversary to come up with something that resembled the 1936 show complete with orchestra, contortionists, dancers and singers like Adele Dixon who opened the original show. Clearly they needed a feat of engineering to be able to record it in some sort of fashion that reflected the technological challenges of the day.

The latter is something we on the Adapt project are familiar with! Our entire research project is centered on recreating television events of the past to understand something of the challenges, trials and tribulations behind the scenes that drove what ended up on screen. Rather than building our own versions of cameras and kit and running it ourselves, our particular project relies on locating and somehow reviving old (often obsolete) kit, and recruiting veteran TV crews to work it all, doing the exact job they once did over 30-40 years ago. So we pick up from around the 1960s when, after a fair bit of digging around, man and remnants of machine from the period, can actually still be found!

As I sit here editing our vast amounts of footage from a fixed rig recreation of an early 1970s BBC outside broadcast, all those hairy moments feel very familiar! Images that rattle and shake, tubes that look like they may blow up at any minute, lights that could burn even from afar, searching for a location reminiscent of the period where you can actually get 50 kilo cameras in etc.

We didn’t quite have performing contortionists, though the 22 strong OB crew most in their 70s and 80s may argue that it felt that way when squeezed into the old Type 2 outside broadcast truck! We didn’t have a broadcast deadline to hit, but given the cost and the mission, we did create our own deadlines. Over the 3-day shoot we worked to a final day 3pm rehearsal and a 4pm ‘as live’ broadcast of our very entertaining (but very much of the day) 1970s-style darts tournament. This was all recorded on the hefty tube cameras –an EMI 2001 and Pye PC 80. The images are extraordinary!

ADAPT BBC4 Blogpost Picture 3         ADAPT BBC4 Blogpost Picture 4

Where the BBC Four documentary had The Gadget Show presenter, Dallas Campbell standing in for Lesley Mitchell (the actor turned radio announcer who made history in November 1936), we at Adapt had darts commentator John Gwynne bringing to life the kind of sports OBs that were BBC bread and butter in the 70s. Our restored ‘North 3’ outside broadcast filmed Grandstand, Wimbledon, football, rugby, Open golf – all the live sport that was typical Saturday viewing in most homes in Britain. For us it was a toughly fought darts match between the Griffiths brothers, with our Letraset captions and caption camera recording the score.

It was, of course, the engineers and technical crews who were the pioneers here; the real stars of the show, getting sound and image out of totally unpredictable, cumbersome and troublesome TV technology; building from scratch or adapting as they went, with soldering irons and 2ft-wide cables at the ready so it all looked smooth and trouble free as it transmitted live to audiences (the ‘lookers-in as they were once called). We owe so much to these guys (and they were sadly mostly men back then), as we now very much take for granted our 24/7 onslaught of digital imagery coming at us from every device.

Thanks to BBC Four, the Logie Baird story and the tech race of the day that led to that very first broadcast in 1936 has been brilliantly shared. The documentary can be found on BBC iPlayer until 2nd December 2016 or Learning On Screen’s Box of Broadcasts (BoB).

ADAPT TV: Recreating a 1970s OB

The following post was originally published  as an article in the August 2016 edition of Zerb, the journal of the GTC.

In May, following a similar exercise on film, an ambitious project to recreate an early 1970s outside broadcast, using authentic gear from the period operated by ‘veteran’ crew members who had worked with it the first time round (including GTC members Rex Palmer and Robin Sutherland on camera) successfully came to fruition. The digital producer for the project is former ‘Big Brother’ producer Amanda Murphy, who explains how it all happened.

ADAPT is a research project funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and based at Royal Holloway University of London. The project’s aim is to film veteran television crews from the 1960s onwards as they are reunited with old, often obsolete kit they once worked with. Through these reunions, the project attempts to demonstrate how and why TV was made the way it was in the past.

We opted to start with the 1960s and 1970s as we realised it would be almost impossible to find folks from much earlier to take part. So, after a successful shoot last year, on which we reunited a 16mm film crew with Arriflex and Éclair NPR cameras, we moved keenly on to the challenge of recreating an early 1970s OB. We wanted to capture something of an era when huge swathes of live TV were broadcast via OB: from hours of Grandstand on a Saturday afternoon, through live football and rugby, Wimbledon, the Open golf, to live entertainment shows such as The Good Old Days and It’s a Knockout. This was an amazingly pioneering time, when the challenges involved the arrival of colour TV, and extraordinarily cumbersome and often rather temperamental equipment.

 

North 3

North 3 - Type 2 Colour Mobile Control Room (MCR)
North 3 – Type 2 Colour Mobile Control Room (MCR)

In our search for working vintage OB trucks, I heard about North 3 – a Type 2 Colour mobile control room (MCR), which Steve Harris had rescued from a sad and rusty retirement in an aircraft hangar. So, project leader Professor John Ellis and I travelled up to meet Steve in Hawarden, near Chester, where he and the truck are based.

I’m not sure whether it was Steve’s passion for North 3, which he had clearly so lovingly restored, or the fact that we had hacked all the way up to his outpost in Hawarden, but we committed there and then to coaxing this rather complex beast of engineering back into use for our project!

Since sport was the bread-and-butter of these Type 2 OBs, our goal was to mount and record a small darts tournament. As we couldn’t broadcast this live (as was mostly done in the day) we would record the event using the old cameras onto a 1” VTR. The idea was to emulate as closely as possible the practical production of a sport OB of the 1970s.

But little did I realise then just how ambitious this would turn out to be. First I had to find and recruit a full OB crew (a 16 to 20-strong team, most of whom would be in their 70s, scattered all over the country and busy in their retirements). Then there was the sheer difficulty of getting the various complex areas of the truck to work… racks of monitors; vision engineer controls so that colour matching of the cameras and riding the aperture could take place; the sound desk not long cleared of bird’s nests, on which the tracks would need to be mixed; the director’s vision-mixing desk so that he/she could cut from one camera to another; talkback; comms. Then there was the small issue of the OB cameras!

 

EMI 2001 and Pye PC80s

Dave Taylor with Pye PC80
Dave Taylor with Pye PC80

Those who worked with, or know of, 1970s OB units will remember two particular cameras from that era – the Londonfavoured EMI 2001 and the often Northern-based Pye PC80. North 3 (which was Manchester-based in its final years with the BBC) was designed for the PC80. These cameras were huge, cumbersome old colour-tube cameras that weighed around 50kg and generally had to be carried by four men (as it invariably was then) on a stretcher.

These cameras were temperamental, even in their prime, needing hours of line-up to get the ‘right’ colour read from the tubes and, even then, they would ‘drift’, necessitating frequent line-up checks and tweaks. So, powering these back up 30 to 40 years later was going to be a rather unpredictable exercise. Would they work again? We really didn’t know.

Fast forward a few months to when Steve Harris, along with Steve Jones, an engineer who has worked with him on North 3 for many years, would spend many long days and nights trying to get these beasts up and running. I received a daily stream of emails, which left me often baffled and not a little alarmed: “There’s scan failure… +150 and +525 2K multiturn pots were o/c at the slider – they measured 2K fine at the ends but wouldn’t adjust.” Along with notes such as: “Irregular bursts of twitching, align bad, zoom demand not working, and not tried viewfinder […] As regards progress on the EMI…there seems to be a constant stream of faults… I suspected a new fault on the monitor board […] a partly black screen that moved up and down erratically […] viewfinder is working but has 2 hum bars which are a bit of a mystery, they crawl slowly up the raster just slightly out of lock.”

At this point I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as we’d now started to commit serious research project money to this. At one point, Steve updated me: “The biggest problem is the camera lenses. The 2001 zoom is sticky, it works on and off but will sometimes jam and has to be taken out and freed by hand… On the PC80 we had one with a jammed zoom but iris is OK; the other was the reverse – the iris would move but was lumpy and sticky. We could live with all that but yesterday the zoom stopped working. We don’t have the info on it.”

 

Shooting the shoot

Meanwhile, I was in discussions with Martin Riley of production company Lion Eyes, BAFTA nominee for shows like Peter Kay’s Car Share, over how many cameras we would need to film the proceedings. It had become clear we couldn’t fit camera operators inside North 3 at the same time as a full veteran OB crew, given the compact operational areas.

Technical crew for the veteran OB

  • Director: Geoff Wilson
  • Engineering manager: Ron Clare
  • PA: Jane Whitmore
  • Vision supervisors: Roger Neal, John Coupe
  • Vision engineers: Bill Baldock, Peter Foster
  • Cameramen: Rex Palmer, Robin Sutherland, Dave Taylor
  • Rigger: Bob Parry Sound supervisor: Doug Whitaker
  • Sound engineers: Ken Osbourne, Dave Howard
  • Lighting director: Steve Harris
  • VT engineer: Ian Rutter
  • North 3 engineers: Steve Jones, Brian Summers 

The truck presented all sorts of challenges: space constraints, given that an OB crew and racks of kit would fill almost every inch of it; mounting limitations, as it was an old truck and we had to be careful not to damage it; the need for cameras that could record continuously throughout the day so that we didn’t interrupt our veterans at work; decent lens options; and distance from the hotel where we would set up our ‘video village’ so that we could cable the cameras to recorders. All this had to be achieved on a tight budget as this was an academic research project.

We settled on Marshall minicams. Given the area we had to cover and the size of the OB crew, we went for 12 (seven in the truck, one for the commentary area, four in the event room) and three recorders, which would allowing us to record all 12 streams plus our feed in three quad split-screens giving a multi-camera perspective of the entire event. Being able to see simultaneously what various technicians were doing and how people and machines worked together was key to the project.

 

Modern recording tech spec

•12 Marshall CV502 MB Pro minicams: 1/3” CMOS sensor and output 1920 x 1080 HD video via HDSDI; powered by 12V DC and draw a miniscule 150ma. Tiny form factor: 2.4 x 2.2 x 1.8”; weight 160g.

• Fed to 3 custom decks, each recording 5 streams HD at Pro Res 422 (HQ) onto a single high-speed SSD; this allowed recording of 12 individual cameras and 3 quad splits to give an overview of the action.

• Sound was recorded with 16 radio mics plus a selection of ambient mics, resulting in 24 audio tracks including the programme feed from the OB truck.

• The output of the OB truck was recorded on a DSR50 DVCAM, enabling the composite signal from the truck as well as the analogue audio feed to be recorded dgitally.

• All recorders (both audio and video) were timecode locked.

• Monitoring was on three 24” broadcast-quality monitors, each displaying a different quad split at 1920 x 1080 25p.

 

“It was fascinating to be part of the team getting these big old cameras working again.” – Rex Palmer

 

Would it work?

Months turned into weeks and then – with just 10 days to go before the first day of filming – the problems really started to pile up. The 1” VTR we had hoped to record on was still stuck in a dusty cupboard and we had to find 1” engineers (Ian Rutter and Brian Collinson) to help get this back up and running after many years of inactivity (plus an enormous tail-lift van to move and house it). But we did receive some good news from Steve about the EMI 2001: “I have a couple of OCPs I found in the shed at home (mice have eaten the plastic indicator lenses but otherwise OK) and connected one up. Amazingly it works! So we can rack it.” With just a week to go, a few issues remained: we had no cue lights for some of the cameras and no talkback to speak of. More worryingly, the electrician warned us that the 32-amp outlet the hotel had put in especially for our shoot might well knock the entire hotel’s electrical system offline, and so we needed an electrician and maintenance man to install another outlet for our use.

In comparison with Steve Harris and Steve Jones’ daily ‘two steps forward, three steps back’ experience, my mammoth mission of finding and recruiting an OB crew seemed less tough. Once I began to contact the potential crew members, via countless emails and telephone calls, this became a pleasure. Meanwhile, local producer Kate Brown joined our team and almost had to move into the location at Northop Hall to resolve an array of daily logistical issues. We had decided on a darts match as a manageable subject for the OB and Kate found and secured darts commentator John Gwynne and professional darts players Glyn and Mark Griffiths.

“It was great to see the restored scanner looking pristine and having the chance to operate an EMI 2001 again after nearly 40 years.” – Robin Sutherland

Most magical was watching some of television’s great pioneers in action. This group of men (and one woman), now in their 60s, 70s and even 80s, all fell back into their roles using the lingo and nicknames from all those years before, working together as a team dedicated to achieving our mad mission. There was no ‘It can’t be done’ about it – that simply isn’t in this generation of TV makers’ vocabulary; by hook or by crook they would achieve it. Watching this unfold was one of the most inspiring moments of my filming career. Now we face the task of watching and editing the 11TB – that’s 2350 DVDs worth – of data we have generated. Over the months to come, we will edit the footage, making as much of it as possible available on YouTube, in the hope that future generations will better understand how television was made in the past.

Bringing “North 3” back to life for a unique experiment in outside broadcast time-travel

Amanda Murphy – Digital Producer, ADAPT

Back in November last year, Professor John Ellis and I travelled up north to meet with Steve Harris, owner of a restored outside broadcast (OB) truck used in the 1960s and 1970s to broadcast much of the BBC’s live sport (including Grandstand) and all sorts of events from royal weddings and funerals, The Good Old Days and It’s A Knockout – not to mention golf, tennis, footie and racing fixtures every week.

This “colour mobile control room” (CMCR), now lovingly restored by Steve, had a number of names over the years having worked in London (as LO5) and ultimately as North 3 on its last broadcast leg in Manchester. We were considering filming this CMCR, bringing it back in action for the ADAPT project, which is all about ‘hands on history’ as a way to understand a bit more about why TV was made the way it was in the past.

Here’s John in Steve’s scanner on our recce when we were both slightly oblivious as to what the coming months may bring…!
Here’s John in Steve’s scanner on our recce when we were both slightly oblivious as to what the coming months may bring!

Five months later, we are less than a week away from actually filming what has turned into a rather massive event. I have to say, cranking up an OB from this era has proven to be just a bit more hairy and challenging that any of us might have imagined! Even in their prime, with countless electronic interfaces and miles of cabling, these vehicles needed constant maintenance from an army of skilled engineers. Today, even after years of painstaking restoration, North 3’s reliability cannot be guaranteed.

With the help of Steve Jones, one of North 3’s original engineers, Steve Harris took on the task of wrangling two seriously old cameras – a 50lb EMI 2001 (mostly found in the London OBs) and a Phillips/ Pye PC80 (the workhorse of the North) to get them back to full working order, A sample of some of the many emails exchanged between myself and the two Steves gives a sense of just how ambitious this project has become!

In one email to me, Steve reports:

 Talk of ‘black mush’ , something not right with the readings on the HV+ rails and the 150 volt supply.”

(I don’t fully understand this either.)  After a long page of problems with the EMI 2001, Steve then says:

‘ on to the PC 80 saga’

 Then, within days, I hear of:

 Irregular bursts of twitching on everything including scan fail light and relay chattering’

While Steve Harris fights the technical gremlins, I turn my attention to trying to recruit a team of more than 20 people to operate this unit. First stop is a fun, and classically boozy, OB reunion event where I corner a few keen types and start to build a team. Cameraman Rex Palmer, engineer Brian Summers (a fellow enthusiast, who has his own TV camera museum) are recruited – we are on a roll. Of course, finding vision supervisors and engineers, sound engineers, a VT engineer, and riggers who are still around proves  hard work: these men are now in their 70s and 80s. (I jumped for joy the day I found rigger Bob Parry known lovingly by the others as one of the notorious Parry Brothers and who has just had his 82nd birthday).

Amidst golf trips and lunches and holidays abroad, I managed to juggle the schedules, say yes to a number of wives, dogs and visiting relatives from Australia, and it started to look like a full team. It consists of 18 men and one woman. The wonderful sounding Jane Whitmore will take the role of PA (production assistant) – one of the very few roles for women at the time. Jane, rather like a Countdown host, is a top mathematician which was key for live television as keeping time and the show to length was entirely down to her!

Wanting to represent the bread-and-butter work of the Type 2 OB, we make the decision to film a small ‘sports’ event.  Given the number of not so young folks and the sheer amount and weight of old kit we opt for the safety and relative reliability of an indoor venue (a hotel function space close to where Steve Harris keeps North 3 so not far to travel it, space to park and rig it and close enough for those inevitable trips back and forth to his workshop!).

north3_5After much debate particularly over music and arts versus a sports fixture, we settle on the glamorous event of darts. We manage to bag John Gywnne to come and commentate and now we are all getting excited about scoring a 180 and puffing smoke and pushing pints around to make it all as atmospheric as it was in the day!

Back to Steve’s emails and new concerns are raised over finding enough lengths of old camera cable. The problem is that it weighs so much it only exists in short lengths, and much of it has been scrapped because of the value of the copper wire inside. We also discuss coaxing one of Steve’s hefty 1” VT recorders from storage, where it has been since being rescued from New Broadcasting House in Manchester the day before the demolition men moved in. We are rather optimistically hoping it may record the event for us.

“Is that ‘we’ ‘me’?” Steve Harris reminds us over and over. We help as much as we can, even sending up some extra pairs of engineering hands to help, but it really does fall to the two Steves and their soldering irons and manuals to solve engineering problem after engineering problem!

By now, though, we’ve committing a date to it, committed a lot of very excited ex-crew and even a rather elaborate fixed rig of 12 cameras which is how we’ve decided to shoot it given the space limitations in the truck and the size of the crew! So, all in all, we’re in – and we’re in deep!

Luckily on the phone yesterday, engineering manager Ron Clare tells me, ‘Failing was just not an option … the show had to go out live and we were all dedicated as a team to make that happen’

north3_6Phew! Ron is on board and I’m banking on him to ‘make it happen’ along with director Geoff Wilson, vision supervisor Roger Neal and the incredibly talented bunch who have all kindly stepped forward for this. There are too many names to mention here but I’ll write about each of them and their over the next few weeks as I have a feeling this might be… eventful!

Amanda Murphy is Digital Producer on the ADAPT project.

Life-affirming filming with octogenarians from BBC Ealing Studios

Amanda Murphy – Digital Producer, ADAPT

I’ve worked in television for over 25 years since the mid 80’s having filmed with such varied folks from Hollywood greats like Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and Tony Curtis to the very first Big Brother contestants and Supernanny Jo Frost… but nothing has ever felt so life affirming and heart warming as the filming I‘ve just done for the ADAPT project with a group of seven utterly awesome (mainly) octogenarians who all once worked at BBC Ealing film studios.

We are focusing on 16mm filming on location for TV – so documentaries, topical current affairs shows like Man Alive and Chronicle as well as Play for Today along with a raft of 60’s and 70’s shows as the BBC film unit covered all programmes shot on film on location. Crews then had to be multi-skilled as they often had to shoot a drama one week and a schools programme or jungle based documentary the next.

So I blink in disbelief at having pulled this off…as Ray Sutcliffe (once editor of BBC flagship series, Chronicle) David Whitson cameraman (and DOP) looking boyish still in retirement (made Man Alive and series like The Voyage of Charles Darwin ) John Adderley acting as camera assistant (Tribal Eye, Man Alive) Alex Branson PA, Bill Chesneau on sound, John Hooper as sound assistant and Alan Muhley electrician, all walked into shot carrying the Éclair camera, magazines for loading film, a Nagra 3 sound recorder and an old DK25 boom, a hefty wooden camera tripod and various redheads and blonde lights from the era, it felt a bit like a Fellini film! The combined age of the crew was likely somewhere around 600 yet this seasoned crew from the 60’s and 70’s worked together like they’d just made a telly programme yesterday!

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And while I’ve got one eye on the participants as they join forces to film once again with a 16mm camera kit, I’ve got the other on our student crew from Royal Holloway University (where the Adapt project is based) who have been selected as they have shown exceptional talents on camera and sound but who are barely 20… and as I stand in the middle, both professionally and age wise, it’s one of those defining and memorable moments. Pivoting between the young learning from the old, learning from the young as I learn from both and feel blessed that I was given this great job as Digital Producer on the project!

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Everything about casting for, filming and even editing together material for the project has been so very different from my producing experience for TV – in an interesting and often deeply inspiring way.

The purpose of the ADAPT project run by Royal Holloway University of London (and funded by European Research Council over 5 years 2013-2018) is to pass on knowledge in a hands on history way about TV and how and why it was made the way it was – in a way that’s never been done before. Strangely non-one has ever reunited people with the kit they once worked with before – filming them as they rediscover, remember and then use that kit again.

I’d of course imagined that finding physically fit and able, yet elderly, former TV crew members with memories in tact might well be tough. But the casting experience was enlightening. I found myself meeting fabulously fit, extraordinarily capable and lucid folk who were fascinated by our Adapt project and keen to take part. All seemed to be going swimmingly well, especially after meeting the wonderful John Adderley who not only owned just the kind of old film cameras and kit we so desperately needed ( and working ones!), but is also so well connected, meaning I was now just a few phone calls away from many of the BBC Ealing studios lot. But then came the stream of calls and emails alerting me to upcoming skiing trips, cruises, sailing commitments and Russian language courses! After an action packed TV career, of course they were all out enjoying adventurous and travel filled retirements! I finally found some dates that worked for most though Producer/Director Ray Sutcliffe did say he might not make it back in time from his Adriatic cruise!

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Lucky for me Ray did in fact make it, and I’m eternally grateful as under his direction, the newly reunited film crew most of whom had not seen each other for 20 years or more, proceeded to film with the Éclair camera and Nagra sound kit – using our specially created 1960’s domestic backdrop (thanks to the lovely Royal Holloway art department) to demonstrate how sync sound interviews were achieved back in the late 60s and how decisions were made around lighting, interviewing, filming establishing shots and exterior interview material for what would have been a key section of a documentary of its day made on 16mm film. Watching the professionalism of the crew all respectfully but efficiently supporting each other in their pursuit of best picture, best sound, best lighting, falling back into the language and etiquette of the past ‘ Is that redhead ok for you Dave?’ (Alan Muhley gaffer to cameraman David Whitson), ‘OK for sound Bill?’ (David Whitson to soundman Bill Chesneau), ‘mag loaded’ John Adderly, and most of all, witnessing these guys who have not made a TV programme for over 20 odd years, roll 8 minutes of 16mm film capturing at least 3 minutes of broadcast footage! That’s a ratio of less than 3:1 !

Now given that TV shoots today end up with around 100:1 ratio at least, it’s pretty extraordinary! ‘How on earth editors manage to make any sense of the footage today when there’s no PA on shoot and just acres and acres of the stuff as they just seem to shoot and shoot’ says David Whitson unable to fathom the lack of discipline with shooting since it all went digital,

Ironically for me, this is just what we are doing as we film them … filming!

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I come from the discipline of linear TV (mid 80’s it was all still linear) where programmes were pre-scripted and edits were pre approved from ‘paper edits’ and an edited programme never got changed by a commissioner (hard to imagine now!) but here we are for the project, filming almost continuously!

Which is partly why it is actually so very different from producing for TV for me…

The footage which is for the project’s use not for TV broadcast, has to serve a completely different purpose. It is ultimately for educational and research purposes and for academics, historians, media fans, students and telly addicts. As the focus is all about reuniting technicians with equipment they used to work with, the project is intrinsically interested in memory, thus dictating that the reunited crew have the time and freedom to allow memories to be reignited, memories of each other, of the way they worked together, the conditions under which they worked, memories of the kit whether they have or haven’t forgotten how to use it etc (‘Come to daddy’ says Dave Whitson when he first sees the Éclair camera).

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Me with the Éclair camera, yelling for someone to take it off my shoulder after just two, minutes it’s so damn heavy!

So, when filming I had to resist over producing them and getting them to demonstrate the way I wanted the kit demonstrating or to tell me the fabulous stories they had told me in the pub over a pint etc rather leaving them uninterrupted and with the freedom to feel the kit, to explore how it works, to engage and re-connect with each other… in short to allow their memories to be triggered through the hands on experience rather than from a lot of short sharp pokes at it from a producer like me!

This was clearly a challenge both to me personally (my instinct from producing format and feature shows is to get points across quickly and succinctly) and to our filming methods. I made the decision that the best way to cover the actions of up to 7 people moving around and a whole load of kit , was to shoot it all handheld so we could come to the action rather than expect any of it to come to us– and supplemented 2 hand held camera with 2 fixed cameras overhead to give us some general wide shots of the scene.

Our poor two camera guys Joe Burns and Zak Derkler who were brilliant, are probably still having massages having barely had a moment to put the cameras down. No gym for them for many weeks to come!

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I’m not quite sure I should say this, but I think our young crew tired well before our old crew who were so energized by the reunion and experience I think. Long after calling ‘cut’ they carried on sharing memories and playing with the kit, we kept having to pick up cameras and keep rolling!

Now for one of the biggest challenges of the project- making sense of and editing the footage!

Having encouraged the reunited film crew to indulge in memory and hands-on experience with the kit, the edit challenge is proving so very different to TV editing where short succinct sync bites and simple narrative rule! For Adapt I’ve got to wade through 1TB of material… that’s around 15 hours of footage with 7 people often talking all over each other, sometimes demonstrating sometimes ‘presenting’ to an imaginary audience, sometimes getting on with filming, sometimes explaining it, often using old familiar jargon, often walking off camera or asking for a chair or standing listening to others.

But as challenges go it’s a rather lovely challenge…

As I listen to those amazing stories… ‘we were so lucky to find a donkey at four in the morning in Cairo’ ( Alex Branson)

She called me by the way to let me know it was actually Luxor…

Amanda Murphy is Digital Producer on the ADAPT project.

The original version of this post incorrectly stated that Ray Sutcliffe is 90 years old. This is not the case and this post was edited on 21 December 2015 to correct this error.