ADAPTing to social media television

Previous blog posts by my Adapt colleague, Professor James Bennett, on our social media  research project have focused on ‘Social Media in the Television Workplace’ and social media’s impact on the production of live TV. This post shifts our focus from The Voice, as a ‘shiny floor show’ with social production by a discrete digital unit, to draw on our subsequent ethnographic observations of Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch gallery team, 1)The observation was undertaken by Dr Niki Strange on Sunday 13 November 2016 and in particular the modus operandi of their Digital Content Manager. Her role and responsibilities, and the attendant tools and technologies deployed in their service, evidence various adaptations to live television production. As I set out below, this work is increasing integrated into the production processes, timelines and expectations of live TV, but nevertheless somehow remains in a liminal space: both within and beyond television’s previous production boundaries.

Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch is a magazine and cooking show that goes out live between 09.30-12.30 on Sunday mornings on Channel 4 and has been running since 2012. Hosted by Tim Lovejoy and Simon Rimmer it features guest interviews, cookery demonstrations, food and drink features and music performances and video promos.

In terms of its digital presence, there’s a website, serving as a repository for the weekly recipes, previous shows on-demand and the weekly Spotify playlist; accounts on Twitter (@SundayBrunchC4, 313,000 followers), Instagram (42,800 followers), Facebook (114,888 likes). 2)Statistics as of 8th February 2018 It is considered to have one of the most successful social media brands of all Channel 4’s shows. 3)Source – Sunday Brunch Executive Producer, i/v 32, 2016, Adapt Social Media Project In what follows I map those social media activities into three, overlapping, modes: format and related content derivation; promotion; and audience engagement.

Format and related content derivation

During an interview that pre-dates the ethnographic work, the show’s Executive Producer 4)As above described how the production team uses social media to both solicit content for the formatted segments of live show (e.g. call outs for photos, videos along a weekly theme) and as a source of content in and of itself (often tweets, photographs, videos posted on the above platforms by viewers reacting to the show’s on-air content, which could then be integrated into the live show ‘on the fly’.) She spoke of the innovative speed and scale with which this process of viewer content solicitation – itself an established format convention of TV magazine shows – now takes place, due to the proliferation of smart phones and social media platforms and applications and their increasing integration into TV production’s technical array.

I witnessed this in practice as Sunday Brunch’s Digital Content Manager 5)i/v 37, 2016 juggled various devices, social media accounts and aggregation apps, to content manage both pre-scripted and reactive items. Guests, cookery demos, music performances and unexpected or amusing moments were captured by her sprinting from the gallery to the studio to grab shots on her own smart phone, which were then instantly captioned and uploaded to Twitter, Instagram or Facebook using this or another device. Alongside this her role involved the constant surveillance of the show’s numerous social media timelines for viewer responses to format calls for materials (mainly photos) and also unsolicited reactions to the show which could nonetheless be responded to with a reply, retweet or, perhaps most prized of all, inclusion in the live show. Any ‘influencer’ interest – such as a viewing celebrity, or one of the guests, referencing the show on social – was re-tweeted to extend the show’s reach to that person’s own network of social followers.


This connects to the second goal of the show’s use of social media – that of promotion. In our interview the Executive Producer spoke of how ‘the ultimate drive is to grow awareness, get re-tweets and new followers and build the show’s brand’ and that social media is considered a vehicle for amplifying the chatty, irreverent tone of voice of the show both during and beyond live transmission. This could be by replying or re-tweeting viewers’ tweets, responding to questions posed, or by commenting on broader pop culture and topical events in the show’s ‘voice’ to maintain a presence in social media timelines outside of TX. In the latter case, this would be at the discretion of the Executive Producer and Digital Content Manager, using their personal devices in their domestic spaces and/or on the move: thus extending the times and spaces of TV production’s workplace.

This promotional aspect to the show’s use of social media was exemplified by the Digital Content Manager’s tweets to build anticipation and awareness among its social followers for the show’s tx at 9.30 with tweets from 7am ‘to signal we’re awake’ 6)i/v 37, 2016 (see fig 1.) and to announce the show’s liveness (as well as intention to mine ‘the conversation’ on its social feed for possible content therein (see fig 2.))


fig 1


fig 2

Audience engagement

Finally, and leading on from the two aspects of content solicitation and promotion/brand extension above, the show’s Executive Producer spoke of social media in terms of highly prized audience interaction and engagement. As well as being a means to build viewer loyalty and a sense of intimacy with the show, she talks of this as a source of professional reward and pride, with social media offering members of production teams access to near instantaneous (though clearly partial) feedback on viewers’ enjoyment (and also, it must be noted, displeasure). I witnessed firsthand how, with social media enabling production teams on live shows to gain viewer ‘feedback’ on items, there is a temptation to ‘check-in’ from the gallery during a live transmission. Both the Executive Producer and Director were using their own devices to see how certain segments had fared with viewers, taking any criticism hard but with a policy not to respond.

In the case of Sunday Brunch, then, my observations illustrate that the addition of the role of Digital Content Manager within the gallery production team evidences social media’s impact on television production practice. This role requires new skills (capturing behind-the-scenes live on mobile devices and instantly sharing; surveilling multiple social media feeds; cultivating tone of voice in ancillary platforms), adaptation of existing production methods (such as the movement from viewer phone/text-in to hash-tagging and @-replies) and of technologies (the integration of the smartphone; the adaptation of gallery space). Social media, in the case of this show, is seen to be fundamental to the live format, with key features relying on content sourced, wrangled across platforms, captioned and integrated quickly and easily. In addition, it is used as a promotional tool to enmesh and extend the show’s profile within and across communities of interest. Finally, social media function as the sites for ‘conversation’ and exchange between the producers and viewers, of content and opinion. However, the Digital Content Producer position discussed here is in many ways liminal: called upon to traverse the ‘lives’ of the show across platforms, she is both voice of the show, and commentator on it. These shifts point to the increasing ubiquity of social media as a part of television’s producer’s work worlds, but at the same time that the significance, and practicalities, of social media activations for television are still something being very much adapted to.


Dr Niki Strange is a research fellow on the Adapt Social Media Project, based at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is also a business and innovation strategist for creative media companies.

This blog was originally posted on Critical Studies in Television Online. The original can be found at:


1. The observation was undertaken by Dr Niki Strange on Sunday 13 November 2016
2. Statistics as of 8th February 2018
3. Source – Sunday Brunch Executive Producer, i/v 32, 2016, Adapt Social Media Project
4. As above
5. i/v 37, 2016
6. i/v 37, 2016

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).

Initial Findings from ADAPT/PACT Social Media Survey

The ADAPT Social Media team (Dr James Bennett & Dr Niki Strange) is currently partnering with PACT (Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television) in its investigation into Social Media and its impact on UK TV production. On 7th September the first of two surveys was launched via the PACT website, aiming to shed light on how new business models, revenue streams and job roles are emerging in the sector and should help indies to understand the economic and creative implications for their businesses. The survey will be repeated in September 2017 to track developments and identify trends, and its findings will be supplemented by focus groups and one to one interviews with key television industry figures over the next 2 years.

After closing on 23rd September 2017 we were delighted to have received 180 responses from TV companies across the UK and Republic of Ireland. The survey was not limited to PACT members and respondents ranged from micro businesses to superindies, and encompassed those working in a wide range of production genres.

Initial findings have now been published on the PACT website, including the following insights:

Social media has led to new revenue streams for a quarter of respondents                        A quarter of total respondents said that Social Media has led to new revenue streams for their company, with YouTube ad revenue being the most cited. Other sources included merchandising sales from Facebook, show-related apps, social media data leading to publishing deals and brand extensions and digital commissions.  However the vast majority of the companies benefitting from these new revenue streams were medium to large companies (50 employees or more)

Just over half of respondents felt formal ‘social media for TV’ training needed
Just over half of all respondents indicated that employees had either attended short courses or had experienced ‘on the job’ training.  Nearly half of all respondent companies stated that no one at the company had any social media training whatsoever with less than 10% holding a relevant degree.  As a result, 51% thought  that formal ‘social media for TV ’ training was needed, particularly around production of assets, managing digital engagement campaigns around TV, branding, organic vs paid social media, and dashboards/analytics analysis. Given that 33% also had experienced ethical and compliance issues around social media for TV, training in that area could be welcome too.

How social media is resourced and managed
In the majority of cases, both programme-related and general company social media is funded from company overheads, with broadcasters representing the least likely source of funds for social media activity. This applied across the board to micro businesses, SMEs and large companies. However there was a contrast between large and small businesses in terms of who undertook social media activities.   Companies of 50 employees or more tend to have dedicated social media managers undertaking company and production specific social media work. SMEs and micro businesses tend to entrust production-related social media work to junior staff members first and foremost, with company owners taking the lead on social media work related to the company and its promotions more generally. Producer/Directors also often play a significant role in social media activation for TV shows but less so for company social media work.

Significant contrast in social media platform usage according to genre
The respondents were given a range of platforms and asked to choose the ones they used most frequently for general company and for TV specific social media work.  In both areas, Twitter was used, on average, marginally more frequently than Facebook, with YouTube, Vimeo and Instagram ranking as being used regularly. Snapchat, Periscope and Vine tend to be used less frequently and when they are, it’s for TV related social media work rather than general company promotions.  There was a significant contrast in platform usage according to genre, with Instagram and Snapchat favoured on drama productions over factual, and Facebook used most often on entertainment shows. Repeating the survey in 2017 will enable the research team to further track indicative usage of platforms across a specific time period.

Broader research conclusions encompassing all the responses (including one to one interviews and focus groups conducted with indies, broadcasters, platforms, and social agencies) will be published in 2018 as an industry white paper.

A 16mm Film Crew Prepares… Commentary on the complex process of getting a simple interview

On 13 May 2015, ADAPT invited five television professionals from the BBC’s former Ealing film department to reproduce a standard filming set-up, using the technologies that were available to them between the mid-1960s and 1980s. The day provided an example of a team of skilled professionals recalling in practice how they went about their work.

Their activities were recorded on four video cameras, and have been edited as linear accounts now on YouTube. It is recommended to watch the short single screen edited version of the 24 minutes from the arrival of the crew on set. This analysis is a detailed examination of how the crew work together in setting up an interview in a simulated home interior. It takes the crew 24 minutes from their arrival to the moment that the interviewee is seated, ready to be interviewed. This analysis refers constantly to short extracts from the four screen version on YouTube, which can be called up to show the specific actions and exchanges.

This ‘simulation’ or ‘reconstruction’ reveals the complexities of obtaining even the simplest piece of television documentary (an interview consisting of a person sitting in a chair answering questions from off camera) in the period from around 1962 to the late 1980s.

The standard BBC filming crew of the time consisted of six people, so our participants were: a cameraman – there were no camerawomen at the BBC at that time – (David Whitson), a camera assistant (John Adderley), a sound recordist (Bill Chesneau), an electrician (Alan Muhley), a director (Ray Sutcliffe), and a PA or continuity ‘girl’ (Alex Branson) who was unable to attend at the last minute and was interviewed later. Her role is to document the filming and deal with logistics. The crew have an efficient and established division of labour, each responsible for specific items of equipment and specific actions. Infringements of this division have to be acknowledged and dealt with.


The task that this team will carry out is the filming of an interview with a male (‘the Professor’) seated in a chair in his ‘home’, which is actually a studio set dressed appropriately. To expedite this task, appropriate equipment has been provided and is already arranged at the edge of the set. As they remark, they would normally have had to spend some time offloading this from their cars or vans.

The equipment consists of a 16mm film camera and tripods; a number of lights with stands, filters etc; a Nagra quarter inch sound recorder with microphones and stands. Camera and sound are recorded separately and will be brought back together in post-production. The colour film being used requires more light than is available in a domestic interior.

The equipment being used requires considerable maintenance and preparation, and has limitations which define how the work can take place. Each item of machinery makes particular demands on the situation, the people and on the other equipment. The work to prepare for the interview breaks down into a number of functions:

  1. Survey and arrange the space to enable the filming
  2. Decide filming strategy (camera position, film stock, lighting, sound recording)
  3. Set up camera in position
  4. Discuss lighting plan and install lights accordingly
  5. Load camera magazine with film and place it back on the camera body
  6. Select and set up microphone
  7. Test all equipment to ensure that it is running
  8. Ensure that camera and sound tape are running at exactly the same speed through the use of a sync pulse
  9. Ensure that the film is properly identified in picture (clapperboard)
  10. Bring the interviewee into the space once this preparatory work is finished.

This complex process takes the team just 24 minutes, including delays for solving incidental problems. As they carry out the task, they provide explanations or contextual comments about what they are doing. Except at one moment, these comments are secondary to achieving the professional goal that has been set them.

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.

“Getting it going and keeping it going”: on-the-road maintenance of colour television outside broadcasts

The Maintainers, a blog about “maintenance, infrastructure, repair, and the myriad forms of labor and expertise that sustain our human-built world” currently features a guest post by ADAPT postdoctoral researcher Nick Hall:

“My modest – and probably not very original – suggestion here is that museums are excellent preservers of artefacts, but not very good preservers of maintenance. That is where the value of restorers and enthusiasts like Steve Harris becomes most obviously evident. Through the act of restoration, they preserve maintenance activities. You cannot bring an outside broadcast truck back to life without repeating the many everyday tasks – lubrication, soldering, replacing worn parts – which characterised the artefact’s original life. Some museums restore and operate some of their artefacts (for example: the Science Museum owns trains which sometimes run on the mainlines) – but regular restoration and operation of artefacts is the exception, not the rule, in the museum context.”

Read the full post at The Maintainers.

Bringing “North 3” back to life: fixed rig meets bygone tech in a behind-the-scenes timewarp

A team of television historians will travel back in time as they bring a vintage BBC outside broadcast truck back to life in North Wales, using the latest fixed-rig multi-camera technology to show how television was made in a bygone era.

Working with Flintshire-based broadcasting history enthusiast Steve Harris, the team from Royal Holloway University of London will reunite veteran cameramen, directors and engineers with North 3, a restored colour mobile control room dating from the late 1960s.

In order to capture the complicated action taking place within a busy outside broadcast truck, the event will be filmed using a fixed rig of 12 cameras, installed by production company Lion Eyes.

The aim is to capture every flick of a switch, push of a button and slide of a fader as the veteran crew of cameramen and technicians – most of them now in the 70s and 80s – return to work in an OB vehicle that’s long been consigned to history.

North 3, a Type 2 BBC Colour Mobile Control Room, travelled the length and breadth of the country during the 1970s, relaying live footage of Royal Ascot, The Open from St Andrews and the Royal Variety Performance from the London Palladium.

It ended its life with the BBC in the early 1980s, and spent several decades decaying at an airfield in Devon, before being rescued and restored by Hawarden-based television historian Steve Harris.

Now ADAPT’s researchers from Royal Holloway are using their European Research Council funding to embark on a hugely ambitious “hands on” history event during which a full outside broadcast crew will be re-united with the restored vehicle to recreate a 1970s sports television production.

The experiment, which will take place next week (May 17, 18, 19) will be the first time that anyone has attempted to see the restored North 3 operational and staffed by its original crew. The vehicle, an analogue ancestor of today’s digital satellite outside broadcast trucks, is the only survivor of its type in working order.

Working with Steve Harris, the team from Royal Holloway have located a team of former outside broadcast camera operators and engineers. For first time in several decades, they will be reunited with North 3 and re-live the experiences of their earlier careers.

Using restored 1970s television technology, the team will record a darts match and conduct interviews with former television production personnel. The multi-angle exercise will help the Royal Holloway team, led by Prof John Ellis of the college’s Media Arts department, to learn more about how television was made in the 1970s and 1980s.

Prof Ellis said: “Television has seen vast technological changes since the 1960s, and some of the greatest changes have taken place in outside broadcasts. Our work with North 3 will help to document technologies and ways of working from the heroic age of television, which are now at risk of being forgotten.”

Digital producer Amanda Murphy, who is organising and directing the event, said: “We were battling with how to cover a 20-strong veteran crew in the rather tight space of the old Type 2 OB, so Martin’s fixed rig solution is ideal.

“It means we get coverage of all the different units at work simultaneously. Most importantly, we can step back and intervene far less than we would in traditional TV documentary filming allowing this re-united crew to fully engage in the experience of working with this OB and old restored kit for the first time in decades.”

The complexity of the event means that it will not be open to the public, but footage and interviews from the event will be uploaded to YouTube during the week.

Notes to Editors

  • Press photographers and video journalists are welcome to visit the location by prior arrangement.
  • North 3 and the team will be at Northop Hall Hotel, Hawarden on May 17, 18, and 19. Interviews can be arranged with Steve Harris, the project leader Prof John Ellis, and the producer Amanda Murphy.
  • For further information and to organise photo opportunities / interviews, please email Nick Hall –

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.

TV & Social Media: Inside/Outside Television Production?


I’ve spent the past time I’ve had on the project trawling through the BBC Internet blog on topics to do with innovation and social media. So I thought I’d share a few observations from the 73 posts on Innovation (the most tagged entry: I’ve not read them all, just those that connect to social media) and the 12 on Social Media.

Firstly, it’s worth noting that all of the blog posts on the BBC Internet blog about social media at the Corporation are at least 2 years old. Rather than suggesting that this means social media is no longer important – it indicates how much it has become part of the routine of production.

One of these, from 2013, points to BBC Academy produced materials dealing with the relationship between TV, online and social. An interesting interview with Steven Green, Crimewatch Assistant Content Producer, provides some insight on how social media is integrated into, and changing, television production.

Green discusses how the BBC’s Automatic Page System generates a programme page once a show is confirmed in the schedule, marking the start of social media work around the programme: sending out a “Tweet to link back to this page”.

But what’s particularly interesting is the way in which he describes the process he’s involved in and his place in the production team:

We use a number of content management systems (CMS): iBroadcast, iSite. With those production tools we can get video and text and images from the team and process them and put them on the site. I work closely with an edit assistant who will basically export it from avid to a flip factory that will then convert it into a format that I can then use. … On the day of the live programme, that is when I am at my busiest … I will be working hard getting everything there, checking everything and also checking responses. There is obviously now people talking about the programme on Twitter, and so I’ll be looking at that and passing that on to the production team

Green positions himself as somehow outside of the production team: being handed material to deal and convert for social/online use, and returning material back to the ‘production team’ for them to utilize.

Taking a wider view of the way the BBC talk about social media on the BBC Internet blog, this is indicative of a wider trend. Those people with a responsible for social media tend to sit outside the television production team – working as engineers, researchers, product managers, audience analysts within the Future Media division. This is a division I’ve noted before in my work on multiplatform. The fact it continues to exist and may have even become routinized to those producers who are more closely aligned – in terms of physicality, timing and content – might suggest how television integration of social media’s into production might be described as axillary: inside/outside?

James Bennett is Head of Media Arts, Royal Holloway, University of London

A first look at footage from our 16mm television filming simulation

In May, the ADAPT project filmed its first full-scale simulation: an historical re-enactment experiment designed to reunite television film production veterans with old equipment, in order to better understand how television was made in the past.

We assembled a team of retired television production professionals, all of whom – at one stage in their career – had worked from the BBC’s Television Film Studios in Ealing. With the help of equipment collector and camera operator John Adderley, we borrowed hundreds of kilograms of cameras and sound recording equipment, along with all the lighting and cables necessary to recreate the technological conditions of 1960s television film production.

Amanda Murphy, who produced the event, wrote in detail about this experiment on this website a few weeks ago:

I blink in disbelief at having pulled this off…as near 90 year old 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!

Now we face a challenge almost as substantial as bringing together this team and providing them with working examples of obsolete equipment. As Amanda noted last month:

Now for one of the biggest challenges of the project- making sense of and editing the footage! […] For ADAPT I’ve got to wade through 1TB of material… that’s around 15 hours of footage with seven 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.

We have now started to make sense of all that footage, and we have begun to assemble it into sequences which we hope will be of use to historians of film and television. We’re pleased to be able to start releasing rush edits of some of the footage we shot back in May. These take two forms. Firstly, we are ready to share three bite-sized portions of the main filming event. These give a flavour of what we asked our veteran crew to do, and how they responded to our challenge.

In the first of these videos, you’ll see the crew preparing their equipment: loading film magazines, checking the focus of lenses, and synchronising sound recording equipment.

In the second clip, you’ll see what happens in the few minutes before their filming begins and after the “cut” is called. We asked our crew to film a short interview with our principal investigator, Prof. John Ellis. In this clip, we see the crew explain to John how they intend to film him, and make final preparations to roll the film and record sound. After the interview itself – which is not shown in this clip – the crew confer with each other in order to establish whether the various technologies operated correctly, and whether further shots need to be taken.

The third and final clip from the simulation shoot shows our crew filming in a different environment: outdoors, on the grounds of Royal Holloway, University of London. What we didn’t tell our crew in advance was just how tricky that would be: we positioned them next to a busy road and underneath Heathrow’s departure flightpath. Asking the crew to carry out an interview while motorbikes roared past and jets buzzed overhead was as close as we could get to recreating the conditions of a busy city.

In addition to these clips, we have also uploaded a ten-part playlist of clips from a filming session we carried out with lighting cameraman David Whitson and electrician (i.e. lighting expert) Alan Muhley. Our approach here was different: rather than ask David and Alan to use the old equipment, we simply filmed them handling it, while talking about their memories of using different types of lighting equipment. This is the first of several such ‘reunions’ between people and technologies: we will soon release similar playlists which document our participants’ memories of sound recording equipment and 16mm film cameras.

These clips are not fully contextualised yet. They are the rough, raw, products of our historical research. They are data, not findings. In time, we’ll be working on edited packages of material which will explain in detail how technologies and people worked together. Finally, we intend to release – to the fullest practical extent – our rushes, under a minimally restrictive Creative Commons licence, so that anyone can build upon, remix, and contest, the results of our research.

Nick Hall is a research officer in the Department of Media Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London.