Lighting Director, Director of On The Air Ltd, and owner of North 3
Steve Harris is a life long enthusiast, collector, and restorer of television equipment, and is the mastermind behind the restoration of North 3. After working as a studio engineer and later a lighting director for HTV (now ITV Wales and West), Steve went on to launch his company On The Air, which rents and sells vintage radio and television equipment, as well as running a museum dedicated to UK broadcasting technology from 1994-2000.
In 2009, Steve took on his biggest project yet when he added former BBC outside broadcast truck “North 3” to his collection. The BBC began decommissioning Type 2 scanners, such as North 3, in the early 1980s. Some were sold to broadcasters in other countries while others were scrapped or converted for other uses. However, three examples remained intact, in the UK and over the years Steve developed an ambition to acquire and restore one of these surviving examples.
In 1997, Steve was presented with an opportunity to acquire a decommissioned Type 2 truck when the former North 1 was advertised for sale in Rye. However, upon inspecting North 1, it was decided that it was just too badly damaged to be a viable restoration project.
Steve explained: “It was in a terrible state, having been outside in a yard for more than 20 years, in a salty climate near Rye with windows open. The engine was seized, the inside was corroded, birds and mice having made nests inside the equipment racks!”
A few months after this disappointment came a second chance when the owner of another Type 2 colour mobile control room, North 3, contacted Steve. After years spent stored in an aircraft hangar in Devon, North 3 was itself in a poor state too, but to everyone’s surprise, the engine started first time with just the help of a new battery. The temptation was too much to resist and in 2009, Steve arranged for North 3 to transported to his base near Chester.
The first challenge was getting the truck itself functioning and on the road. Steve worked with teams of specialists to repair corrosion, free the brakes, and complete the many other jobs needed to revive a nearly 50 year old vehicle. Eventually, in late 2009, North 3 completed its first successful road test. Steve then turned his attention to the equipment inside the truck, painstakingly fault-finding, mending, and reviving the ageing electronics to a working condition.
By the time the ADAPT project first contacted Steve, the vision mixer, monitors, and racks of control units had mostly been restored and the EMI 2001 and Pye PC-80 cameras, rescued from the North 1 scanner, were “on the verge” of being functional. However, there was still a major task to be completed to bring all the individual bits of equipment together and keep them working for an entire outside shoot. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Steve, along with Steve Jones, an engineer who has worked with him on North 3 for many years, spend long days battling to get everything ready for the spring of 2016. Despite the scale of this arduous and frustrating task, in May 2016, North 3 arrived at Northop Hall ready to be put to work just as it had 40 years ago.
Without enthusiasts, collectors, and restorers like Steve, projects such as ADAPT’s outside broadcast recreation would not be possible and much of this fascinating and important history would be lost to the scrapyard.