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The BBC's TV studios in London

(apart from TV Centre)

 

Broadcasting House (BBC)

Alexandra Palace (BBC) includes a brief mention of the OU studios in Milton Keynes

Lime Grove (Gaumont-British, Rank, BBC)

a very brief history of the early days of colour

Television Theatre (BBC)

King's Theatre, Hammersmith (BBC)

Golders Green Hippodrome (BBC)

Riverside Studios (early film days to BBC, Arts Centre, Riverside TV)

The Greenwood Theatre (BBC, Network One, The Greenwood, London Bridge)

The One Show studio, White City

Questors Theatre and Westminster Theatre

 

 

(BBC Elstree and studio M are covered on the ITV studios page)

(Ealing Studios are covered on the film studios page)

 

NB - I have where possible given the dimensions of the studios.  This can be a bit of a  minefield.  BBC studios, Fountain, Teddington, Riverside and even Pinewood TV have their plans drawn in metric 50:1 but for some reason The London Studios (LWT) still use the very similar 1/4 inch to the foot scale.  This slight but significant difference can cause problems if a set moves from one studio to another with plans of a different scale as it might not fit!

Also, for marketing purposes the size of a studio is often quoted wall to wall.  However, most of them have fire lanes running round each side so the available space for cameras and sets is somewhat smaller.  Where possible I have quoted sizes within firelanes and in feet or 'metric feet' where applicable.  This curious measurement was invented by the BBC and is 30cm in length.  (If you think back to your old school rulers, they had 12 inches on one side and 30cm, which is very slightly less, on the other.)  It does mean that a studio that is marked as 90 metric feet long is actually 88ft 6ins long.

Most TV studios have their length and width within the firelanes clearly marked along the walls and/or on the floor in feet or metric feet.  This enables the scene crew to put the set up exactly where it was drawn on the designer's plan.  This very useful facility is never seen on film stages which, incidentally, are always still measured in feet and inches.

 

Broadcasting House (and Portland Place)

For many years Broadcasting House (BH) was the home of radio - and Television Centre the home of television.  Of course things are different now and BH has many TV studios (used for news and weather) and TV Centre - the best designed, best equipped television studio centre in the country - was destroyed by ill-informed discredited overpaid managers, many of whom have now left the corporation.  (*long pause whilst blood pressure subsides*)  Anyway, a long time ago there was a small TV studio at Broadcasting House.  More than one actually, at different times.

The first studio opened on 22nd August 1932, believe it or not.  It was studio BB and was the home of the BBC's experimental television broadcasts using Baird's 30-line system.  The picture and sound were transmitted on different frequencies and were picked up by engineers and enthusiasts all over northern Europe.  At first, the BBC were extremely sniffy about all this television nonsense and didn't want anything to do with it.  Then, after more than 1,000 TV sets had been sold and Baird had proved he was onto something they suddenly declared that they should be the ones in charge, not him.  They asked him for all the equipment needed to equip their studio and without paying Baird's company a penny proceeded to take over the experimental broadcasts.

According to Roger Beckwith's excellent history of BH website, Studio BB was 29 x 18 ft and was unusual in being of double height, with a small balcony.  The main floor was at sub basement level.

Studio BB, soon after it originally opened and before the TV experiments began.

In February 1934 the BBC's TV experiments were moved up the road to a larger studio in 16 Portland Place where the broadcasts continued.  Studio BB was then used by Henry Hall and the BBC Dance Orchestra for many Empire Service broadcasts.  (That must have been a tight squeeze!)  It was later renamed S1.

By then, Baird himself had moved on and was working on a much more sophisticated 120-line system as well as other developments.  He would be constructing a studio centre of his own at Crystal Palace by 1933 and commenced broadcasts within a couple of years using a 180-line system.  Meanwhile, for reasons of their own,  the BBC plodded on with his original 30-line cameras until 1935, the year before their new studios opened at Alexandra Palace.  A bit like the RAF continuing to flight-test Sopwith Camels in the days of the Spitfire.

 

Ken Banwell informs me that Portland Place was also the home of a later TV studio around 1960.  It was used as a news studio and was in the church hall where the record library was built later.  It was used for interviews and was equipped with 2 Peto Scott vidicon cameras.  In 1963 this closed and was replaced with a brand new studio (only 30ft x 20ft) in the basement of the newly built extension to Broadcasting House.

This new BH studio was equipped with 3 EMI Vidicon cameras - one of which was remote controlled and the other 2 were standard EMIs with fixed lenses.  (It was colourised in 1970.)  The studio was intended for interviews and news broadcasts but it also had another rather surprising use.

Astonishingly, It was used for Top of the Pops.  Not the whole show, naturally, but it seems that they could just about fit one group in it - rather like Pres B was used for Whistle Test.  The main show came from Manchester from 1964 - 1967 and to simplify the routing of the signal it was fed from Manchester to BH and then to the transmission suite at TV Centre.  The BH studio appeared as the 'source' for TOTP to the presentation controller.

Some groups were unable or unwilling to make the journey north (enthusiasts for MediaCity Salford please note) so they performed in this tiny studio as an insert into the main live programme.  The show changed presenter from week to week (I think there were three or four original regulars from memory) and the following week's presenter usually did a piece to camera at the end of the show from BH.

Clearly, there wasn't much room to have a fancy set or lighting - according to Ken Banwell you could always tell the BH performances by the fixed gobo projected on the wall.  Lovely.  He also says that it was a very fast turnaround between the regional news inserts between 18.00 and 18.30 and the insert into Top of the Pops.

The studio remained in use for 'down the line' interviews for some years, closing in 1986.

 

Broadcasting House in 2013.  The original BH at the centre bottom of the photo represents perhaps one fifth of the size of the present building, which cost over 1 billion pounds.  Television Centre had 8 medium/large production TV studios plus several smaller ones and a number of news and weather studios.  New BH on the other hand contains no television production studios - only small ones suitable for news and weather.  New BH cost over 1 billion pounds to build.  Television Centre was packed with all the latest HD technology but was sold for only £200m.

The 1963 extension to BH, in which the old TV studio had been located, was demolished in 2003 to make way for a new, very smart building which was completed in 2011.  It cost over £1bn.  That's one thousand milllion pounds.  Television Centre was sold for £200m.  Compare and contrast.

New BH became operational in March 2013, when BBC News and the weather department moved here from TV Centre, and the World Service from Bush House.  The Egton Wing or Peel Wing opened in 2006 and contains TV Studios for the BBC's Arabic and Persian television services.  The BBC London TV studio was also temporarily based in the Peel Wing before moving into another part of NBH.  The One Show moved here from White City in January 2014.

The building was intended primarily for news and weather.  However, long before it opened the BBC board of management decided to send several other departments there too.  The building is therefore very crowded with very few dedicated offices - almost everyone has to 'hot desk' which is understandably very unpopular.  If only they had moved to TV Centre there would have been plenty of room for everyone.

The weather is presented much of the time from a position on a balcony above the newsroom floor.  Unlike a proper TV studio there is a lot of ambient noise from the journalists below who quite unreasonably do not wish to talk quietly during weather forecasts.  This apparently was not a problem that had been foreseen.  The sound quality on weather forecasts therefore proved to be a bit of an issue.  Experiments were carried out with various solutions - in the end it was thought best to have the presenter wear a mic on a head-mounted boom so it looks as though they are performing in a West End musical.  Part of the problem is that the BBC News department is unwilling to employ craft operators to carry out sound mixing but is convinced that automated systems (computers) can do the job just as well and a great deal cheaper.

 

There are currently 22 radio studios plus the BBC Radio Theatre that has on rare occasions been used to record music concerts and other events for TV.

The TV studios in New BH are currently (April 2014) as follows:

34D - BBC Arabic TV

44D - BBC Arabic TV

54D - BBC Persian TV

A - green screen studio - HARDtalk, Newswatch, News at 9, News summary

B - Andrew Marr Show, Sunday Politics, Newsnight, BBC World News programmes including GMT, Impact, Global and Focus on Africa

C - BBC News and World News - News at 5, The Film Review, Newsday, World News Today, Business Edition

D - BBC London News

E - News at 1, 6, 9 (weekends), 10, Weekend News, News Channel, Dateline London

F - 60 Seconds

G - Weather (greenscreen)

H - Weather (greenscreen)

J - Weather - large plasma in newsroom

K - multipurpose - similar design to L (see below) but on the 2nd floor and half the size.  It has a greenscreen or view of newsroom and capable of a 1 + 2 interview but has only 1 camera permanently rigged.  Due to being open plan with no walls it is, I am told, an annoying source of disturbance to those trying to work nearby.  Used by technology show Click using their own cameras.  World Service's Tech Tent use K with extra cameras added.

L - This is the 5th floor 'Multiplatform Production Area'.  This 'studio' helpfully has no walls either which I am told is like studio K in that it provides constant irritation to nearby production teams and studio crews alike.  It is basically converted office space with all the attendant problems of a very low grid.  It has 3 cameras and a set with a hard area and a soft area.  This 'studio' is used for BBC Swahili and BBC Russian programmes.  The soft area is occasionally used for a BBC Arabic discussion show and BBC News Channel's Meet the Author.  It has also hosted Talking Business for World News.

M - CSO studio for World Service TV.  Controlled by L's gallery so when in use L cannot operate.  With a single camera it provides bulletins in various languages.

P - CSO studio, never used as a studio so often taken over as a temporary edit suite or for storage.

V - The One Show - in the area on the ground floor of the Peel Wing originally designed to be used as a BBC shop.  BBC London was based here for a while.

...plus the newsroom is used for several programmes including Reporters, Click and Points of View

 

 

In December 2013 it was reported in the press that the BBC would be spending a further 'half a million pounds' on New BH, refurbishing the sixth and seventh floors after complaints from staff.  According to reports, they are to be made 'more creative and vibrant'.  The reports also said that witty signs indicating 'streets' are to be placed around the building helping staff to find their way round.  Areas will apparently be named after well-known television programmes - none of which were of course made in this building.  Viewers of the excellent sitcom W1A will be familiar with this kind of nonsense.

Decisions like this are a gift to the Daily Mail but seriously annoy television programme makers too, who are having to use over-priced studios that are not half as good as the lost ones at TV Centre.  Margaret Hodge is quoted as saying 'None of us get everything right when we move into a new building but spending money on what sound like questionable improvements is inappropriate when money is tight.'

I gather that World Service was originally allocated the 6th floor as well as the 5th.  When it was decided to move 'Vision' from TVC, World Service was bumped (and squashed) onto the 5th floor only.  However, half the WS radio studios remain scattered throughout the 6th floor.  There was originally going to be a second 'Multiplatform Production Area' on the 6th floor like the one on the 5th floor.  All the cabling was installed between what was to be the gallery (now the BBC3 controller's desk) and a wallbox in the middle of what is now the 6th floor office (near the BBC2 controller's meeting room).  I am told that there is a chronic shortage of studio space in NBH but the chances of those controllers giving up their desk space is zero.  There is after all an even greater chronic shortage of desks.

For an in-depth and scarily accurate view of life in New BH I can do no better than recommend watching the excellent sitcom W1A.

 

 

 

Alexandra Palace

Of course, everyone in the industry knows (or certainly ought to know) that the first regular 'high definition' television broadcasts in the world came from Ally Pally.  The building is enormous with various halls and rooms and even a 2000-seat Victorian theatre that has been dark for decades.  Well - almost.  On 2nd July 2004 the first performance for 70 years took place in front of an audience of 200 - the structure of the auditorium being considered too unsafe for any more people to be allowed in.  In 2010 the theatre was sadly closed to the public again because of safety issues but some work has now been done so visits can be made.  Wonderful news - there are plans to restore the theatre and bring it back into use in 2017.

 

AP was built in 1875 as a 'palace of entertainment' for the people.  (An earlier construction had been destroyed by fire in 1873, only sixteen days after it had been moved to this site from Kensington.)  The BBC took over the north wing of the building in 1936 and created two studios on the first floor - A and B.  The rooms were originally designed as banqueting halls or function rooms.  Studio A began broadcasting in 405 lines using the Marconi-EMI system and B in Baird's 240 lines in November 1936.  The TV broadcasts used the different standards on alternate weeks.

Studio A in the early daysThe camera is an Emitron.

The studios were 70 x 30 feet, so a reasonable length but rather narrow.  Each had a separate control room and nearby were dressing rooms and a band room.  It was planned that the terrace outside would also be used for performances and the cameras could be taken down in a lift and out via a concrete ramp.  High shots would come from the balcony just outside the studios.  These local 'OB's' happened on many occasions.

I mention the lift, but designer Richard Greenough recalls that when he joined in 1948 there was no lift - the scenery had to be hauled up by rope from the ground through a trap door.  He says the lift was installed a couple of years later.

The transmitter mast was built on the north tower of the building and remains a landmark.  Curiously, the tower is faced with windows of a completely different style from the rest of the building.  One assumes that the BBC just went ahead and restyled it to make it look more 'modern'.  Of course, compared with the Victorian splendour of the rest of the architecture it sticks out like a sore thumb.  So much for planning permission.

The cutaway above was published soon after the studios opened.  Click on it for an enlarged version. 

The two studios are on the top floor - the EMI-Marconi one (A) on the right.  It had a lighting bridge across the middle.  There were two 'stages' - the theatrical kind - one at each end of the studio, about 24ft square, with two sets of drapes around each - one dark, one light to ring the changes.  Follow spots lit the artists from the bridge in the centre of the studio.

The Baird studio (B) used a single camera mounted in the 'bay window' arrangement seen above.  The performance stages in that studio were placed across the studio and in the corners diagonally opposite the camera position.  The camera could be panned from one stage to another but not on shot - this was a relatively slow and complex procedure due to the size of the camera and all its associated equipment.

There was also a curious little room called the 'Baird Spotlight studio' that used a kind of fixed camera to take a midshot of a presenter.  This was used for continuity announcements or for 'talks'.  The presenter was not lit using conventional lighting but their head was scanned by a flying spot.  The reflected light was picked up by a photoelectric cell.  Thus, from the presenter's point of view they were sitting completely in the dark and had to memorise any announcements without being able to refer to notes.  Obviously autocue was many years in the future!  The Baird system was of course black and white but because of its poor resolution and its tendency to pick up certain colours better than others, the presenters also had to wear macabre coloured make-up designs so their faces were visible on screen.

Both TV systems had rooms with telecine machines enabling films to be broadcast.

Astonishingly, almost the whole ground floor was occupied with the transmitters and coolers.  How the electromagnetic radiation didn't affect the electronics only a few feet above is a bit of a mystery.  The signal was fed via enormous cables to the aerials on the mast.  They look like thick black pipes on this drawing.

 

 

Baird is usually credited as the inventor of television but his system was of a lower resolution than the EMI system and very unwieldy.  It was also rather unreliable in use.  Studio B mainly used a technique called the Intermediate Film System.  This involved a single fixed film camera that took a wideshot of the 'stage'.  The film passed out of the camera and immediately into a chemical bath - using cyanide - that developed the image.  This image was then scanned using a flying spot system and turned into a television signal.  This process took just under a minute to achieve.  The sound was recorded onto the 17.5mm film using the com-opt technique - thereby maintaining lip sync.  No close-ups were possible and in fact you couldn't even cut between cameras as there was only one in use.  However, some use was also made of an electronic camera developed by the American inventor, Philo Farnsworth, but it was found to be rather insensitive.

Not surprisingly, studio A's electronically scanned EMI-Marconi 405-line system with its moveable Emitron cameras and clearer pictures was preferred and the Baird system was abandoned after only three months, ending in February 1937 - both studios thereafter being equipped with 405-line cameras.  In fact, shortly before the decision was made, Baird's Crystal Palace base had been destroyed in a major fire in December 1936 when he lost all his spares.  Thus the poor man really was unlucky.  However, his development work continued for another eight years and he produced a system for broadcasting TV newsreels to cinemas and even a 3D high definition colour system.

The story of Baird's Crystal Palace studios is covered in the 'Independent Studios' section on this website.

Above - the 'bay window' in studio B which housed Baird's Intermediate Film Camera.  Below is the camera itself.  You can see that this was not exactly something that could be tracked easily around the studio floor.  It was also of course very noisy - hence placing it behind glass.  Probably a good idea anyway with cyanide fumes wafting around.

Below is an example of one of the Emitron cameras in studio A.  Mounted on a simple wheeled dolly it could be moved in and out to adjust the shot - and there were 3 of them so cuts could be made live on a vision mixer.  The contrast between the two systems was considerable.  The photo below was taken in 1946 but the cameras were basically the same as in 1936.

 

You might think that I am suggesting that Baird was not the father of television after all and that all his work was wasted.  Not so.  Through his life's work he proved that it was possible to create and maintain a television service.  True, without his work it is probable that others around the world would have come up with their systems but it is arguable whether EMI and Marconi would have worked so hard on their system without the local competition from Baird. 

There is an interesting little story relating to Marconi's involvement here.  Baird recalls in his memoirs that back in 1923, when he was beginning his television experiments, he went to the manager of the Marconi company.  The gentleman, a fellow Scot, was asked if his firm would consider providing support.  He was curtly told that Marconi had "no interest whatsoever" in television.  Clearly, something made the company change its mind as in 1934 Marconi went on to forge a strong link with EMI.  However, this cooperation didn't last long and within a short time the companies were great rivals again when they began to market competing television cameras.  A rivalry that lasted until both ceased camera manufacture several decades later.

So, arguably because of Baird the UK was in the lead in the development and provision of a television service.  A lead that was to last for decades.

 

It was clear even in the early days of television that these two small studios were insufficient for a full television service.  The old Victorian theatre within the building, which had not been used for years, was acquired by the BBC and detailed technical plans were drawn up as to how it might become studio C.  In the meantime it was used as a rehearsal room and to store scenery.  However, history intervened and all plans were put on hold for many years.  Studio C was never built at AP - the BBC's designs for expansion would eventually be made elsewhere.

Above - the Victorian theatre being used as a scenery store.  It does seem extraordinary that this space was never converted into a studio.  What is not clear from this photo is how large the theatre is.  It really is impressive and the stage too is huge.  It bears comparison with many of the big West End stages.  The understage machinery is particularly interesting - all the old Victorian lifts and traps are still there.  Below, a photo I took on a visit in April 2014.  The poor state of the plasterwork is clear to see but the roof had been made sound and the floor too was safe to walk on.  The theatre is to be fully restored and brought back into use, reopening in 2017.

 

On 1st September 1939 the BBC ceased television broadcasting.  Although the instruction had gone out to close down at noon it seems that an OB from 'Radiolympia' overran and this was followed, believe it or not, by a Mickey Mouse cartoon which began at 12.05.  Perhaps those on duty wanted to delay the closedown for as long as possible.  Mickey's Gala Premiere was thus the last television programme broadcast in Britain for seven years.  There was no closing announcement - just a test card for a quarter of an hour, then nothing.  The transmitter was switched off at 12.35 pm.  The studio doors were locked and the staff moved on to new careers in the services or working in radar.

When the Second World War broke out, television broadcasts ceased as it was feared that the German air force would use the transmission signals from its tower as a navigational aid.  In fact, ironically, it was used for quite the opposite purpose...

 

Nothing to do with television studios but a fascinating story none the less...

From the beginning of the war the Luftwaffe had used systems employing radio beams to enable bombers to find their targets.  The first, 'Knickebein', was relatively easy to jam.  The second, X-apparatus or 'Wotan I', proved more difficult and before effective countermeasures were in place it was used for targeting the terrible raid on Coventry, amongst other towns and cities.  By the end of 1940 this too had been beaten by the British intelligence services.  A new, more complex system was therefore anticipated and sure enough, it duly arrived.

Early in 1941 the Luftwaffe began to use a new bombing and navigational guidance system called Y-apparatus or 'Wotan II'.  It employed a transmitting station on the Cherbourg peninsula that broadcast a signal down a narrow beam on a particular frequency.  The beam was to be aimed directly at the target for that night.  The lead aircraft in the formation flying along the beam received the signal and rebroadcast it on a slightly different frequency.  This was picked up at the Wotan II station and the position of the aircraft determined by the time delay.  Thus the bomber could be given a signal at precisely the right moment to release its bombs.

As luck would have it, the frequencies used were within those covered by the Alexandra Palace transmitter.  The message went out to call back BBC engineers who could fire up the transmitter again and they were found in the nick of time.  Thanks to some excellent intelligence, countermeasures were in place ready for the first night the system was used operationally by the Germans.  The signal rebroadcast from the aircraft was picked up at Swain's Lane receiving station and sent along cables running through various tubes and tunnels to AP.  It was converted back to the same frequency used by the Wotan II transmitter and broadcast by the powerful television transmitter.  Thus the aircraft received the same signal twice.  This was then of course rebroadcast back to Swain's Lane, thence to AP, then back to the aircraft and so on and so on.

W C Pafford.  This gentleman was the Engineer in Charge of AP during the Second World War.  He was thus the man who took charge of the jamming of the Luftwaffe navigational signals.

On the first few nights the AP transmitter was used at low power simply to confuse the Germans - who assumed that their equipment was faulty.  Later it was turned up in strength and the system howled round like a badly set PA system - rendering the whole thing useless.  What is striking is that the AP transmitter, although only intended to provide television pictures to the London area was sufficiently powerful to cover the whole of southern England for this alternative clandestine purpose!  It is perhaps worth pointing out that although the tower is only 300 feet high, the building itself is on a hill more than 300 feet above sea level. 

Thus for a while, many towns and cities all over Britain were spared destruction at night.  Odd to think that if the BBC had not begun its regular television broadcasts in 1936 then thousands more civilian lives might have been lost in the war.  Who says television never did anybody any good!

 

These are the plans of studios A and B including the set for a musical comedy called Bob's Your Uncle.  The set was designed by Richard Greenough, who was kind enough to pass the plans to me, and the show was transmitted on 13th August 1949.

Note that at that time studio A had access to a little more floorspace through three arches.  It wasn't much but designers were able to make clever use of it in their set designs.  In the cutaway drawing shown above, dated 1936, this area through the arches is an open terrace and the arches are part of the main wall of the building, so the terrace must have been bricked in to give additional floor space some time after the studio opened.

In later years these arches were blocked off again and the area behind became used for production offices.

The black object taking up floorspace in studio B was the electrical switch panel.  Was there really nowhere else that could have been located?

click on the plans to see them in higher resolution

Geraldo and his orchestra performing on the night transmission was restored from AP on 7th June 1946.

Note how narrow the studio was.  Only 30 feet from wall to wall. 

 

TV broadcasting returned in 1946 and both studios were busy producing live television again.  Oh - and by the way, the continuity announcer didn't say 'as I was saying when we were so rudely interrupted' as the urban myth would have it.  It's a nice story but completely untrue.  She actually said 'Good afternoon everybody.  How are you?  Do you remember me, Jasmine Bligh?'  Boring but true.

The country was financially on its knees and could hardly justify such frivolities as television but it was felt that it was important for two reasons.  Firstly, to raise morale and secondly to provide a market for electronic manufacturers who could export their television sets to the USA and other emerging markets.  Companies like EMI, Marconi and Pye could also draw upon their wartime research to develop new television cameras, transmitters and other equipment.  From this time and for the next forty years, British television equipment would be found in studios all over the world and a valuable source of export income to the UK.

Barry Learoyd, a set designer at work.  The tiny studios placed great demands on designers to make the maximum use of the space.

The boat shapes represent camera dollies.  The designer had to allow sufficient space for them to manoevre.

These two studios produced 100 plays a year as well as all the other types of programme day in day out.

Richard Greenough was one of the set designers working at AP in the post war period.  One of his memories is that when he designed a set for a play which took place in a magistrate's court they had a problem getting close-ups of the magistrate.  The cameras had one fixed lens so any change of view was achieved by tracking the camera in or out.  However, the court furniture made this impossible, so he had to incorporate another desk for the magistrate with nothing in front of it to the side of the main set.  The flat behind him was of course identical to the other position.  When another camera was cut up, the actor nipped across the studio to sit in the other chair ready for his close-up.  At the rehearsed moment, he dashed back so a wide shot of the court could be taken.  This happened several times throughout the play.  Remember - all of this was live so you can imagine the possible disaster if the actor made his move at the wrong moment!  Below is the photo from Richard's scrap book showing the two chairs:

Richard remembers the challenges he and and his colleagues faced, working on so many productions and with these early generation cameras...

'There was a workshop for constructing scenery, and for the painters who wallpapered and painted the sets.  Scenic artists painted backcloths on paint frames.  Although the transmitted picture would be in black and white, scenery was painted in colour.  There were two main reasons for this.  The first because if  actors were in an all grey set, they would find it very depressing.  In a set with colour they would give a much better performance.  This was particularly true in Light Entertainment.  The other reason was that it was assumed that one day television would be in colour  and scenic artists who had been trained to use colour would lose their skills if they always had to work in tones of grey.  The designers had to choose colours for their tonal value and, if they wanted a contrast, not to put two different colours with the same tonal value next to each other.  Red was not much used as, although it is an exciting colour to the the eye, it came out as a rather dark grey.  Orange (Tangerine) worked much better.  Shades of Khaki were pleasant and it was easier to predict what shade they would come out on the screen.  Large areas of black and white were not used as the cameras could not cope with such a great contrast.  For this reason, white shirts were not used.  They were dyed in a weak solution of coffee which could easily be washed out afterwards.

There was a large stock of scenery, flats, doors, windows, balustrades etc., which could be arranged in many ways, new pieces being made as required and re-decorated for every show.  There was a number of stock sets such as the Georgian set and Oak Panel set which were in units of walls, doors and so on.  The scenery was mostly stored in the Alexandra Palace Theatre, which had not been used as a theatre for many years, and also in many other areas.'

 

In the early years, by today's standards the television images were relatively soft and the screens they were displayed on at home were quite small - usually no more than 9 inches diagonal.  Only a couple of inches bigger than the iPad you may be reading this on in fact.  Place your tablet 2 or 3 metres away and you'll get an idea of what watching TV was like in those days.

This did have some advantages in that studio sets did not have to have quite the finish and fine detail of today's scenery.  Some 'cheating' was also possible.  For example, see the photo below with a cigarette stall used in a scene from London Town, a magazine programme about stories from the capital.  The items displayed on the shelves and the adverts are simply photographs, taken from the real thing.  Sometimes, large prints of photos were used as backings.  Later, when the BBC moved to the bigger studios at Lime Grove, the designers were able to employ moving backgrounds as there was room to have film projectors behind screens.

London Town

part of the set designed by Richard Greenough

Despite the technical limitations of the system, the sets were often of very high quality and finish.  This, of course, gave everyone involved some good training for when cameras became sharper and television screens bigger, which was only a few years away.  By the 1950s, all the camera and TV manufacturers were working hard to develop better and better equipment and there were improvements to the picture quality almost month by month.  By the time ITV was launched in 1955 the live pictures being produced by the new companies and of course by the BBC were remarkably good.

The picture below gives a sense of a typical comedy or drama studio set from 1949 - certainly as good as you would see on any professional theatre stage at the time.  It is in fact from a musical comedy and is also drawn on the studio plans shown above in this section.  This set was in studio B, although there was another set in studio A for the other act of the show.  The orchestra was also in A.  There had to be an interval during the transmission when the performers, crew and production team moved down the corridor to the other studio.  Large scale productions involving both studios were not uncommon.

Bob's Your Uncle

set designed by Richard Greenough

 

The range of programming that came from these two little studios at AP is astonishing.  Most was of very high quality with some of the best actors, musicians and dancers in the country.  One of the high spots of 1948 was the Paris Lido Show - a spectacular involving the cast and crew of one of France's premier cabaret shows, brought all the way to London and crammed into studio A.  According to the Daily Mail...

'The whole cabaret company, totalling 66 with dressers, hairdressers, stage manager and stage staff, had been flown over from Paris, lock, stock and curves for the biggest and costliest show the BBC has ever imported (transport apart it cost £1000).

Viewers saw the glamour and glitter of Paris night-life brought right into their homes - plus a little extra something that the BBC made the show-girls wear above the waist.

In the interests of British decorum, the four French semi-nudes became demi-semi-nudes by adding discreet scarves and sundry strips of material to what, for argument's sake, you might call their dresses.'

Of course, not every production hit the spot and some actors had difficulties working in this strange new medium.  There were cameras involved so it was something like working in the world of cinema, except of course it was completely different in that the whole show was performed live from beginning to end with no breaks.  Rehearsals were short so hitting marks and remembering lines were skills that not every actor found easy.  Richard Greenough recalls...

'If an actor "dried", i.e. forgot his lines, the assistant floor manager had a cut key for the sound.  He (or she) would press this, cutting out the sound, then shout the line to the actor, then restore the sound and the actor would hopefully carry on and the audience at home would not notice except for no sound for a few seconds.  However, Nancy Price, who by this time was a very old actress, was in "White Oaks", a play she had performed many times in the theatre.  She dried early on in the play and never managed to pick up her lines, so the rest of the cast fed her the lines by saying, "You do want to do this, Grandma", to which she replied, "Yes" or "No", and as she was playing a hundred year old lady, nobody noticed.'

Directors (or 'producers' as they were then called) became ever more ambitious with their productions.  After all, they were truly breaking new ground and there were no rules - beyond the natural rules of what was acceptable for the BBC to transmit.  Occasionally, they bit off more than they could chew.  Here's another memory from Richard Greenough...

"Carissima" was a far more complicated show than "Bob's Your Uncle".  The orchestra was at the back end of Studio A, and the music piped to Studio B as required.  There were several set changes in each studio as there was not room to have them all up at once.  The show was in both studios for two days, building the sets and rehearsing on the first day and rehearsing and transmitting live in the evening on the second day.  This meant that no other programme could be done live for those two days.  All went very well for the first day and half way through the next, until the director realised he had not left time to rehearse the last quarter.  Some sets by this time had not been put up.  It was decided that the show should not be cancelled and so it went ahead live at the scheduled time.  The first three quarters were very good but the last quarter left a great deal to be desired with artists peeping round the set in vision and not knowing if they were on or off camera. 

I have myself worked on the occasional sitcom in recent years where the studio audience is being held outside because we still haven't finished rehearsing all the scenes in the show - but at least we didn't have to do it completely unrehearsed and live.  What a nightmare!

 

 

As soon as broadcasting resumed after the war it was clear that more studios would be required, so in 1949 the BBC took over some film studios in Lime Grove, Shepherds Bush whilst they began to plan their own purpose-built Television Centre.  However, programme making continued at AP for the next few years whilst the stages at Lime Grove were converted into studios.

Television was slow to be taken up by the public - mostly due to the cost of TV sets.  It is widely acknowledged that the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953 was the turning point.  This OB was the first time many people saw television.  Many sets were sold leading up to it - specifically so that people could watch the ceremony - and people with televisions invited friends and neighbours in to watch.  Immediately afterwards, sales of TV sets soared and additional transmitters up and down the country brought television to a greater part of the population.

One of the most famous dramas to come from AP was the sci-fi thriller The Quatermass Experiment.  This was transmitted live on Saturday nights from July 18 to August 26, 1953.  In fact, the first two episodes were simultaneously telerecorded - using the improvised system that had been built for the coronation.  Sadly, the picture quality was poor and there were said to be questions asked about artists' contracts (some things never change) and the remaining episodes were not recorded. 

Ian Hillson has pointed out the following, regarding later telerecordings made here...

Because Equity used to insist that any film recording could only be made of a repeat performance - when everyone re-assembled and did it again that is - this gave rise to the AP shift system of working the weekend and then the following Thurs/Fri.  All the rest of the two week shift was day on/day off.

Until 1955 "any telerecording made could only be viewed privately on BBC premises and not transmitted."

 

Of course, why telerecord the first two Quatermass episodes at all?  According to Andrew Pixley's collectors' booklet that accompanies the recent DVD release, there seem to be two possible reasons.  One is that the director Rudolph Cartier was keen to have some material to use for recaps and trailers, and the other is that the sale of the serial had provisionally been agreed with the CBC in Canada.  For whatever reason, only episodes 1 and 2 have survived and can still be seen.

It seems that very few if any programmes were subsequently telerecorded here although the practice did increase in later years at Lime Grove and Riverside and even for a few years at Television Centre, when that opened.  However, in the early years it was the live 'repeat' that was recorded - as described above.

Quatermass was arguably the first mass audience drama serial to be transmitted on television and had the nation gripped.

newspaper clippings thanks to Richard Greenough

 

 

In 1956, once Lime Grove was fully open and programme making had transferred there, one studio at AP became the base for BBC TV news.  The other was already being used for early experiments in colour TV  (The first 405 line test colour broadcasts began in October 1955.)  The colour experiments moved to studio H at Lime Grove in 1958. 

A drama being shot at AP using a Marconi 3 x 3inch Image Orthicon colour camera in the mid '50s.  Possibly the largest television camera ever made, they were nicknamed 'coffins'.  Their complexity made them highly unstable and difficult to line up but when working properly are said to have produced surprisingly good pictures.  These cameras were a copy under license of the RCA TK-41.

 

Above is a very young Judith Chalmers (of course) looking charming as ever.  This photo was probably taken a year or two after the one above.  The camera is now a Marconi BD848 - superficially similar but this version had several modifications and improvements over the TK-41.  Note that it for example had only one cable.  It is based on technology from the MkIV monochrome camera whilst the one above used MkIII technology in the CCU.  A later version of the BD848 with a more angular casing would be used at Lime Grove for further experiments in studio H.

 

 

Later, both studios at AP were used for news when BBC2 started up in 1964.  Roger Tone has sent me this amusing little story concerning Robert Dougall, one of the BBC's best known - and clearly unflappable - newsreaders of the day...

'Bob Dougall was reading a piece to camera in studio B (the one with the remote control cameras, so there was only Bob, the floor manager and myself present).  With no warning, as far as Bob was concerned, there were several quite loud bangs followed by a final crash that must have been audible over the mic.  Bob never twitched while this was going on.  When he got to the end of the item he looked at the camera with the ghost of a smile on his face and said "Viewers may be a little concerned at the noise.  Don't worry, it was only the 'please be silent' notice falling off the wall."  This board was about 5 or 6 feet long and a couple of feet tall, and was normally about 12 feet from the floor above the lighting gantry.'

Another well-known newsreader of the day was Richard Baker.  Here he is sitting amid the jumble of studio B in 1967.  Chris Ellis points out that the tiny chair in front of Mr Baker was the tele-prompter operator's seat.  (This was the predecessor to Autocue.)  The prompter is in front of the main camera on a white stand.  The prompter was small and ran a typed script behind a magnifying glass.  The operator typed this up prior to the news and kept pace with the newsreader as he read the script.  Back up paper scripts are on the floor!

Two remotely controlled cameras are just visible, looked after by an engineer on the studio floor in case of problems.  Chris informs me that the Studio would switch from 405 to 625 lines for BBC2 transmissions and that the studio monitors had coloured lights to remind them not to go on air using the wrong standard.

photo thanks to Chris Ellis

John Edmonds in studio B - early 1968.  Who needs a huge expensive set when a pair of Strand Pattern 23s and a couple of home-made gobos will do just as well!

thanks to Roger Wilson

 

 

Studio A became one of the first of the BBC's colour-equipped studios when it had Marconi MkVII cameras installed in February 1968.  These later made the move to the new purpose-built news studios in TV Centre in September 1969.  Roger Wilson has pointed out that BBC2's Newsroom, which went out at 7.30pm, was not only a full 30 minute slot but was also the first news bulletin in colour.  The first transmission was in March 1968.  Apparently, those working on this show were a bit peeved about all the publicity for the first ITN News at Ten which was a couple of months later - as they were claiming to be the first half hour news programme.  If you took into account the commercials, this programme was not only first but also longer.  These things do matter to some people.

Ian Hillson has contacted me and he recalls...

'...Studio A had the Marconi MkVII (3 off, brand new!) for Newsroom, News on Two, News Review, Westminster, etc., (plus a black and white EMI 201 for the newsreader shot on the lunchtime BBC1 news which we also did, to give that soggy vidicon look that the punters were so used to!)

Studio B did the rest of the monochrome BBC1 weekday transmissions (including Town And Around, the SE opt-out) using four remote controlled EMI 201s. When we left there in 1969 the studio still had the glass booth (complete with water supply) for Baird's intermediate film camera in-situ half way along the south wall....'

'...I was at, and involved in, the last news from Alexandra Palace on Friday 19 September 1969.  In fact, I've probably closed more TV studios than anyone else in the Beeb - Lime Grove, TV Theatre, the Greenwood, you name it.  I wonder if they'll invite me back in 2013 to close TVC for them?'

 

Ian also recalls an event during the final news transmission that a certain individual has almost certainly tried to forget.  It seems that the occasion had been celebrated by the crew spending a perfectly understandable amount of time and money in the BBC Club during the day.  Now, as we all know - some can hold their liquor better than others.  The vision mixer - whom Ian refuses to name - was perhaps not what you might call an experienced drinker.  I'll let Ian tell the story...

'...The last news on BBC2 from AP was marked (!) by the vision mixer - not me - being sick over the buttons as the opening music ran, after previously celebrating too much (with the rest of us) down the Club beforehand.  It was not noticeable on output - that is when he found the camera one button for the newsreader, under said pile of sick.  The director looked a bit worried at the time, I'm told....'

 

Since it was the last day, once can't help wondering if anyone bothered to clear it all up before the next incumbents moved in.  I have been contacted by Roger Tone and Roger Wilson, both of whom were also in the gallery that fateful night of Friday 19th September 1969.  They have confirmed the story.  Apparently, the guilty party subsequently went on to become a very well-respected engineer with Channel 4.  Tea-total, no doubt.  Don't worry sir, your secret is safe with me.

 

 

 

In the spring of the following year, the Open University took over the studios at AP and began making programmes - the first ones were transmitted in January 1971.  Studio A was equipped with monochrome cameras (and possibly a new vision mixer) together with associated telecine and videotape facilities.  In the spring of 1975 the studio was colourised with three, plus one spare, Link 110 cameras. 

Following the colourising of the studio it was equipped as follows:

  • A 50 channel Strand 2-preset lighting console.

  • 74 5kW dimmers with a maximum load of only 60kW!  (A peak demand of 70kW 'may be tolerated')

  • 24 motorised lighting hoists with barrels 4ft, 6ft and 10ft long depending on their position in the studio

  • a BBC EP5/502 8 channel 2-bank vision mixer

  • a colour caption scanner for 35mm slides

  • an inlay desk with monochrome camera for video effects including CSO

  • a DK4/501 sound desk with 2 groups of 7 channels each

  • an 'episcope' in a separate room.  This was a rostrum camera with a vertically mounted Link 110 used to produce recordings of the various graphics that often featured in OU programmes.  It was sited in the area previously occupied by the old Baird Spotlight studio.

  • One Cintel 16mm colour telecine machine.  (Cintel had its roots in Baird's original company - one of his great achievements was the design of telecine machines, so his technology lived on at AP.)

  • Three Ampex VR 2000B 2-inch VTR machines (a fourth was added later)

The videotape area was contained within a prefabricated building on the floor of the nearby exhibition hall.  There was a fire during 1980, shortly before the BBC left, in which the exhibition hall was badly damaged but the BBC wing was left relatively unscathed.  Following the fire the telecine and slide scanner were moved into studio B for the last few months.  John Aizlewood was there at the time and recalls that they must have produced the last flying spot pictures from the old Baird studio!

The last actual programme made in B was probably a news bulletin in 1969, shortly before the news department moved to Television Centre.  However, Graeme Wall informs me that the studio was also used by the OU to produce animations for OU programmes...

'We used to wheel a Pye Mk 6 in from Studio A and the animation would be done by doing assembly edits on an Ampex Quad VT, advancing the edit point a frame or two at a time.  Took forever.  That was around 1972.'

 

I remember working in studio A on two or three days as a young and inexperienced cameraman in the late 1970s.  Some of us based at TV Centre worked at AP from time to time as 'sick and holiday relief'.  I think I was sent there as a bit of training - and for the experience of seeing something rather different from the Centre.  It was indeed a world unto itself and in many ways it felt as though one had gone back decades.  This studio had become the home of awkward-looking bearded presenters wearing sports jackets standing in front of beige Hessian backings.  Marvellous stuff!

These programmes made for the OU were broadcast at all kinds of odd times and shown on BBC2.  They were effectively televised lectures given by university professors and other experts and were not intended for 'normal' viewers.  Unless you owned one of those new-fangled VHS recorders you had to get up very early or stay up very late to watch them.  Let's be honest, some of the presenters were not exactly television naturals and so these programmes became the butt of jokes from various comedians.  However, they did enable thousands of ordinary folk who were holding down a job or looking after kids or caring for someone to have a similar experience to students at a conventional university and gain a degree that otherwise would have been impossible for them to achieve. 

Some of the programmes made for the OU did gain a wider audience.  For example, I remember seeing an outstanding production of Waiting for Godot with Max Wall and Leo McKern recorded in 1970 - it was repeated in peak time on BBC2.

 

A photocopy of a floor plan issued by the BBC in 1975.  The drawing shows how each area was used during the Open University years.

It's interesting to compare it with the cutaway shown at the top of this section and the studio plan from 1949.  You can see how the arches in studio A had been bricked in again to form space for production offices.

 

The images below were kindly sent to me by John Aizlewood, who took them on the last day of operation - 3rd July 1981.  The last actual programme was a Nationwide OB with live links back to Lime Grove.

Studio A as it was just after the final programme was made in 1981.  The camera is looking toward the gallery end of the studio.  It seems extraordinary that all those hundreds of plays and light entertainment programmes came live from this incredibly cramped room between 1936 and 1956 (with a pause for the war.)

studio A looking in the other direction.  The scene dock door opens onto the corridor and the studio equipment store is on the opposite side.

studio A's gallery in 1981.  This shared production with lighting and vision control.  The high tech acoustic absorbing wall treatment was in fact hundreds of Peek Freans biscuit tins screwed to the wall.

studio B in 1981.  Its dilapidated state was apparent even then - when it was being used for props storage. 

 

The following photos were taken by Nigel Finnis on the last day of the BBC's occupation.  I hope he won't mind me reproducing them here.  All the equipment has been stripped - including the lighting hoists and already everything is looking sad and very old.

The scenery loading bay.  The original transmitter hall was on the right on the ground floor.

A deserted studio A

studio A again

studio A PCR.  The door in the corner led through to the studio.

studio B

The apparatus room for studio B - within the bricked up colonnade next to the studio

 

 

The BBC's lease ended in 1981.  The Open University moved their operations to Milton Keynes.

 

The new Open University Production Centre in the Perry Building, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes began making programmes on 29th September 1981.  They used purpose-built studios designed and operated by BBC staff.  The new centre had two TV studios - studio 1 was 3,600 sq ft and studio 2 was 1,098 sq ft.  Studio 1 was equipped with the four Link 110 cameras taken from Ally Pally and the control rooms were sensibly on the ground floor (designers of MediaCity please note!).  Studio 2 operated on a 'drive-in' basis - using the OU's outside broadcast truck and cameras for facilities.  Studio 1 had a saturated lighting grid with 45 motorised hoists and dual-source Kahoutek luminaires on sprung pantographs and studio 2 a simpler system with tracking pantographs.

Studio 1 was occasionally used for non-OU BBC regional and national productions.  One was Primetime - in fact it was a daytime show aimed at a retired audience and presented by David Jacobs.  He is said to have told the crew that the studio was the finest he had ever worked in throughout his entire 40 years in broadcasting.  What a charmer!

The studio was also used on the odd occasion for inserts into Noel Edmonds' House Party - and live inserts into Children in Need came from here in 1985 and 1987.  Margot Hayhoe remembers that when she was running a drama training course inthe mid '90s they had to use the MK studio as no other was available.

 

OUPC studio 1

with thanks to Harvey Pope

The centre was very well equipped with graphics and editing facilities as you might expect with the type of technical programmes they often made.  There were also two sound studios.

John McCafferty has confirmed that studio 1 closed in December 1991.  However, studio 2 continued in use for a few years for simple single-camera inserts and interviews etc.  Studio 1 was mothballed for a couple of years but was then turned into a conference room.

 

The last OU course-based television programme made by the BBC was broadcast in December 2006.  These days, OU programmes are made as co-productions with the BBC and are part of the normal package of science, history and arts documentaries and feature programmes shown on BBC1, BBC2 and BBC4.  Typical examples are Stargazing Live, Andrew Marr's History of the World, Coast, Airport Live, An Hour to Save Your Life, Light and Dark, Iceland Foods: Life in the Freezer Cabinet, Bang Goes the Theory and Brits Who Built the Modern World.  Some might say that the BBC should be making these sort of programmes anyway without any OU involvement.  Others might wonder whether the intellectual rigour behind some of them is quite as demanding as the old course-based programmes the OU used to make.  I couldn't possibly comment.

 

 

 

 

 

The studios at AP are still empty and are looked after by a trust.  However, there has been very little money available to maintain the building and the BBC areas are in varying structural condition.  An account of a recent visit is rather depressing:

Studio A is said to be relatively sound and a few items are displayed in it.  The control room for A is, however, revealing signs of decay.  This gets progressively worse the further down the building you go.  The ceiling of Studio B has fallen in - revealing the roof space.  The Baird 'Spotlight' studio has signs of rain and pigeon damage and plaster has fallen off the walls in several of the rooms and spaces.  Some small rooms off studio B are apparently very bad - with rotten wood and rain dripping in. 

This photo of studio B was taken in 2000 by Robert Alexander.  It shows the sorry state of the building that must surely be even worse by now.  We are looking towards the wall that had Baird's original 'bay window' camera mounting.  It is the same view as the photo above, taken in 1981.  I wonder who removed the staircase - and why?

 

Tony Carter took this picture in 2005 with his mobile phone.  Apparently everything was very damp with rain getting in through the roof.  The floor was unsafe so he was not able to walk along the corridor any further than this.

To the left can be seen the dock door to Studio A. The suspended ceiling has long gone revealing the original light fittings.

 

 

 

What next?

In 1900 Ally Pally was given to the people of London in trust for all time by Act of Parliament.  However, for most of the early part of the 21st century the ownership and future of Alexandra Palace was something of a minefield to say the least.  The building is owned by a trust.  However, the trustees are not independent but happen to be the current councillors of Haringey Council so some potential conflict here. 

A few years ago the trust (or more accurately, officers working for the local council) decided to sell the building to a leisure company, who apparently did not plan to preserve the TV studios.  Local people claimed that decisions over the sale were not being taken as a charity operating in the best interests of the building and the people of London but as a way of saving money for the council.

According to the 'Save Ally Pally' website...

 

'...In 1900 it literally became the People's Palace because by Act of Parliament it was given to the people of London, with its Park, in trust for all time.

That was threatened by a proposal by officials of Haringey council, the current trustee, and the Palace management to dispose of the whole building to a commercial developer, Firoka Ltd., lock, stock and barrel.

Since one single council, Haringey, took over the charity in 1980, important decisions have in practice been mostly made by Alexandra Palace's senior paid officers, not the elected trustees - who have now been largely reduced to rubber-stampers of already made decisions.  For twenty years, the Palace has been run as if it were a commercial exhibition business and conference centre set in a municipal park, and the charitable aspects have been quietly sidelined.

Senior council officers, and senior Palace management, through their lawyer, represented to the councillors and the charity commission that Ally Pally charitable trust would be insolvent but for council support, and has never balanced its books in living memory, so the whole building should be disposed of.  They also claimed that the developer's commercial activities (including a casino) would still be "charitable in a modern sense" and should be free of all that red tape.  But the truth is out there - and it's a little ... different.

To get their consent for the sale, the councillors and charity commission were solemnly assured by the charity's solicitor that "this is a charity which has not, within living memory, ever balanced its books".  This idea was repeated again and again - even getting as far as a Parliamentary committee.  Great soundbite; only trouble is it's complete bunkum.  According to the real audited accounts, the charity has, both before it was transferred to Haringey and after, made surpluses.'

 

The sale was delayed by the various legal challenges that were made over a number of years.  However, curiously, it seems that Firoka were permitted to manage the building for some eight months, allegedly running up a loss of £3m for the charity.  The protesting continued and many people signed a petition.  The Save Ally Pally campaign went to the High Court to ask that the decision to permit the sale be overturned.  Fortunately they were successful and the building now remains under the ownership of the trustees - who of course still happen to be Haringey Council.  However, there does seem to have been a change of heart and the councillors are now at last taking their responsibilities seriously.  The council officers who planned the sell-off have been replaced and the Palace has a new manager - Duncan Wilson - who it seems has extensive experience of running historic buildings.  So - well done indeed to the organisers of the Save Ally Pally campaign!

 

Great news!  In May 2013 it was announced that a large amount of money has been set aside by the Lottery Heritage Fund to preserve the areas of Ally Pally that are currently run down.  The redevelopment will include the renovation of the Victorian theatre and the refurbishment of the studios.  A TV heritage museum will be created, which is wonderful news.  Well done to all those who worked so hard to make this happen.  Detailed plans are being drawn up and the final decision on funding will be taken in the summer of 2014 but this is very likely to be given.  The whole project is expected to be complete by 2017.

 

The old BBC wing at Alexandra Palace in 2005.  The transmitter mast is still in use - as a local relay for TV broadcasts and a DAB radio transmitter.

 

 

 

Lime Grove

Of all the TV studio centres in London this was one of the most loved.  It was a higgledy-piggledy rabbit warren of corridors, staircases, fire escapes and studios, apparently piled on each other in random order.  When I worked there in the late 70's and 80's it seemed a dark and mysterious place with locked rooms, old gallery suites and other areas that had clearly once been used for this or that but were now either empty or about to be converted into some other use.  You could easily get lost but the place seemed magical and full of hidden secrets. 

It was also the setting for the acclaimed BBC drama The Hour ('11, '12) which concerned a fictional current affairs programme in 1956.  Sadly, the studios themselves were long gone when they filmed it.

Of course, its history went right back to the earliest days of film making as these extraordinary photographs show...

The glass stage built in Lime Grove in 1914

with thanks to Nigel Finnis and Arthur Dungate

The stage seen from the other end of the street.  Its size can be judged by the houses either side.  The ones to the right are still there.  Those on the left were demolished when the studios were rebuilt and expanded.

with thanks to Nigel Finnis and Arthur Dungate

 

Inside the stage.  I must confess to being mystified by what look like early versions of spacelights hanging above the tables.  I thought they only used natural light in those days but possibly it was supplemented by electric light.

On the other hand, maybe this is a comedy film and they were gunge drop tanks!

with thanks to Nigel Finnis and Arthur Dungate

 

 

The film years...

The original film studios were opened in 1914 by the Gaumont Film Company.  The site was previously owned by a railway company.  Lime Grove was originally a cul-de-sac leading up to this industrial area.  Later, when the film studios were built, the road was continued to meet with Brookland Road at the Goldhawk Road end.  This is how the studios ended up looking somewhat out of place in what was otherwise a residential road.

When first built, the studios consisted of the large glazed stage seen above with ancillary buildings behind.  The stage floor was at first floor level with workshops beneath.  It was 90ft x 40ft x 20ft high with an end section 30ft high. 

In 1917 they decided that relying on daylight was not really practical in England (especially in winter) so the glass was blacked out and Westminster arcs and Boardman northlights were installed.

In 1927 a block was completed to the left of the stage with workshops and offices.  Two years later, the glass walls were boarded up in and the studio became a sound stage.  However, the site was then completely redeveloped - re-opening on 29th June 1932.   The original stage was demolished and a new two-block building was completed by the company (now known as 'Gaumont-British'), divided by the smaller building that had served the original glass stage.  In order to fit as many sound stages as possible onto the relatively small site some were built above each other and a long, narrow stage was constructed within the centre block.

The stages and theatres were numbered differently from the way the BBC later named them.  For clarity, I shall refer to them by their BBC letters but just for the record - here is a table indicating how they were originally numbered:

Gaumont-British

BBC

stage 1 (dubbing theatre)

theatre 1

stage 2

studio H

stage 3

studio G

stage 4

studio F

stage 5

studio D

stage 6

studio E

theatre A

theatre 3

theatre B

theatre 2

theatre C

theatre 4

The BBC chose to use letters, rather than numbers - following on from studios 'A' and 'B' at Alexandra Palace.  One might assume that the absence of 'C' was due to the pre-war plan to convert the theatre at AP into a studio.  Apparently not.  A memo dated 1950 from the Senior Superintendent Engineer, Television explains that there was to be no studio 'C' at Lime Grove.  This was to avoid any confusion between the control room of 'C' and the planned 'Central Control Room' which would be known in BBC parlance as the CCR.  He can't have had much faith in his staff.  It's hard to imagine quite how the CCR could ever have been confused with a studio control room but there we are.  Thanks to his foresight no doubt countless disasters were avoided.

Oddly, the BBC altered the order of studio numbering - not just replacing letters for numbers.  There appears to be no logical reason for doing this, except that the BBC's letters go more or less from left to right across the building whereas the Gaumont-British numbers went from right to left.  Clearly, as ever the BBC knew best.

 

 

The use of numbers rather than letters to 'name' TV studios seems to have begun around 1955.  Prior to that, the studios at AP and here at the Grove were given letters as was the norm with most film stages at the time.  In 1955 Rediffusion named their studios using numbers at Television House and Wembley, and the BBC followed the fashion at Riverside in 1956 with R1 and R2 and then of course at TVC with TC1 - TC8.  Granada used (even) numbers from 1956 and ABC also used numbers at Teddington from 1959 but curiously, ATV continued with the original film stage letters at their Elstree studios in 1960.

Even today, most London TV studios have numbers whilst most film stages have letters.  However, in the regions it was the norm for the main TV studio in a centre to be called 'A'. 

The only current film studio that I can think of that uses numbers for its stages is Elstree Studios, which opened after reconstructon in 1948.  Actually, just remembered - Twickenham with stages 1, 2 and 3.  Pinewood and Shepperton of course use letters.  Maybe there has never been a logical pattern, just the whim of the studio's owner.

 

 

The image above shows the studios shortly after rebuilding.  The block in the centre was built in 1927 - originally housing facilities to support the glass stage.  This was adapted to contain stage 3 (studio G).  The block on the left was completed in 1932 and the right hand block in 1933, replacing the original glass stage.

The North Block on the left had F at first floor level and D and E at fourth floor level above it.  The South Block on the right was not as deep as the North Block - its depth was the same as the old glass stage.   H was at first floor level in this block with the viewing theatres above it.  Behind this were a couple of other buildings which connected at basement level - in the BBC's day they became the Presentation Block and the East Block.  All very confusing!  Behind all this was an open area - 'Smith's Yard' - that led to a low building that later contained the BBC Club.  We could all eventually find our way there but the route to and from the studio was often interesting.

The flat roof of the North Block was intended to provide space for outdoor filming in the absence of a back lot although how often this was actually occupied during the film years is not recorded.  It was, however, used by the BBC for Percy Thrower's Gardening Club.  Much of the show came from a studio set but apparently a full garden including a greenhouse was built up there for some filmed sequences.  It's a wonder it didn't all blow away!

The BBC added G's production galleries above the main entrance in the centre and on top of that at fourth floor level was a rather ugly bridge linking the two blocks.  The Gaumont-British logo on the face of the north block was still visible during the long years of BBC occupation.

 

I wondered for a while how the picture above could have been taken in such a narrow street.  Danny Popkin had the answer - apparently such photographs are produced by a special camera with a swinging lens that rotates as the camera itself is tracked along the road.  It seems that such cameras were very popular in the '20s and '30s.  Fancy that!

 

The roof of the north block soon after construction.  Actually, it might have made quite a useful car park, although the queues for the lift would have become a bit annoying.

thanks to www.gaumont-british.co.uk

So - on the first floor of the North Block was the largest stage - stage 4 (studio F), which was 11,500 sq ft and 136ft x 85ft.  It had a  tank in its floor that in the BBC's day would become yet another room on the floor below.  F was never converted into a television studio by the BBC but was used as a scenery store.  In the '80's a mezzanine was built in it to construct production offices for Breakfast Time.  It is perhaps surprising that it was never converted to be used as a studio rather than, say, studio G.  It was actually bigger than TC1 would be and its space would have been incredibly useful on many productions.

Above it on the fourth floor were the stages that became studios D and E.  Wall to wall - stage 5 (D) was about 5,300 sq ft - 82ft x 65ft at its maximum and stage 6 (E) was about 4,000 sq ft and an irregularly shaped 70ft x 64ft at its maximum.  Once D had its firelanes added by the BBC it became 73 x 55ft but with several bites out of that for the control rooms and doorways.

In the centre between the main blocks was stage 3 (G), a 6000 sq ft long, narrow space about 112ft x 54ft wall to wall at its widest.  This studio was an elongated 'L' shape with a bite taken out of one corner for the goods lift.  However, once the BBC added fire lanes all round, it was only 34 or 35 feet wide for much of its length which became very limiting.  In the South Block, stage 2 (studio H) was about 3,000 sq ft and about 40ft x 70ft plus an extra little bit in one corner.  It was on the first floor with viewing theatres above it.  G and H were connected by a soundproof door in one corner of each studio.

 

There is an excellent website at www.gaumont-british.co.uk that includes the original specifications for the studios including these quite interesting facts...

 

dressing rooms - 49 with accommodation for 600 people

fresh air supply - 14 tons per hour

generators - 6, weighing 8 tons each

generated power - 1 megawatt, or 1.5 megawatts over half an hour

fire prevention - 3,000 sprinkler heads with 6 miles of pipe

laboratory output capacity - 2,000,000 feet of film per week

total floor area of the 5 stages - 90,000 square feet

For those of an electrical bent - if you'll pardon the expression - the following might be of some interest...

'The overhead lighting is suspended from trollies on a system of runways across the ceiling, enabling lamps to be concentrated and banked as required. The upper gallery is also served from the lift for transporting the large sun-arcs, which weigh nearly half a ton, and the lower gallery has a trolley system for quick manipulation of lamps.  All electrical apparatus for lighting and power is controlled from switchboards on the floor and galleries.  The ordinary lighting of the buildings, offices, dressing rooms, etc., in fact everything over and beyond the stages has necessitated the use of ten miles of cable and two miles of steel conduits. The cables which supply the current to the various stages weigh over fifteen tons.  The great changes which have been brought about in electrical equipment are demonstrated in the fact that whereas in the early days of production six lamps were in use on the floor, now over 300 are needed. These vary from 500 to 5,000 watts for incandescent lighting, and from 25 to 150 amperes for arc lighting.'

Whew!

A lighting bridge suspended from the grid with arcs and electrician during 1933.  I don't remember Nationwide being lit quite like this.  The film was Britannia of Billingsgate.  No, me neither.

image from the BFI stills library

 

The Gaumont British website also includes some photos of the stages taken soon after construction, in a pristine state that they were never to see again!  Those BBC staffers who worked there might just be able to recognise them...

stage 4 - later to be called studio F by the BBC.  The covered-over tank (48ft x 20ft x 10ft deep)  is very noticeable in the centre of the floor

with thanks to www.gaumont-british.co.uk

stage 5 - later to become studio D.  Compare it with the photo later in this section when the BBC first started using it.  In that picture the end wall has been altered quite a bit with doors added and of course the control rooms were built at first floor level.  The grid too is different - in this picture there appear to be catwalks running the length of the stage.  In the BBC's day the runway beams were fixed tight to the ceiling giving more working height.  Later, motorised lighting hoists were fitted. 

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that the walls in these photos don't appear to have any sound-deadening material on them.  The actors must have sounded as though they were standing in a bathroom in those early movies.  In the BBC's time the walls were covered with chicken wire and hessian, behind which one hopes was rockwool or something similar and not asbestos.  However...what do you think?  Whether it was in the walls or not, certainly asbestos was said to have been used all over the building, which was one reason why the studios ultimately had to close.

with thanks to www.gaumont-british.co.uk

stage 6 - which became studio E - home of Nationwide, Grandstand and Breakfast Time

with thanks to www.gaumont-british.co.uk

 

The studios made many successful films including Hitchcock's The 39 Steps in 1935.  Jessie Matthews was a big star at the time and most of her films were made here.  She was worked very hard by the studio, often begining at 06.30 and sometimes not finishing till 3.00am.  She collapsed from nervous exhaustion during the shooting of Evergreen.  The studio's sympathetic answer was to have a bed in the corner of the stage so she could rest between shots.  They certainly knew how to look after their stars in those days.

It is worth mentioning that as well as a number of pretty ropey 'quota quickies', Lime Grove also produced a fair number of classics of the British cinema in the '30s and '40s.  There are too many to list here but almost all the stars of British cinema must have worked here at some point and many highly-regarded films were produced.

However, by 1937 Gaumont-British were in financial crisis and had to close Lime Grove, concentrating their film making at their Gainsborough studios in Islington - a converted railway power-house.  Later, when war broke out in 1939 it was considered that the Islington studios were dangerous as they had a huge chimney attached to the building that might come crashing down on them if a bomb landed nearby.  Thus during the war Lime Grove became the home of Gainsborough Films, making many popular historical romances and wartime propaganda films such as We Dive at Dawn.

20th Century Fox had closed their studios in Wembley (later, they would become the home of Associated-Rediffusion TV) and they leased studio space at Lime Grove making films like HG Wells' story Kipps, starring Michael Redgrave and directed by Carol Reed.  This leasing agreement ran out in 1942. 

In 1939 J Arthur Rank became chairman of Gaumont-British and in 1942 the studios came under the ownership of the Rank Organisation, thus becoming part of that immense empire.  However, that company too was in deep financial trouble by the end of the 1940s and in 1949 Rank sold off everything except Pinewood in order to keep that studio going.  All the contents were auctioned off in October 1949 and on the last day of the auction it was announced that the BBC had bought the studios.  Curiously, some three months previously the BBC had said they were not interested in purchasing Lime Grove.

At the time, there was speculation that this was some sort of partnership between Rank and the BBC with both organisations keen to explore the possibility of making films using television methods.  The BBC had certainly been developing their 'telerecording' system of recording television pictures on film but the results were technically barely good enough at the time to transmit to tiny television sets, let alone blow up on a cinema screen.  In fact, Rank probably had no such arrangement with the BBC but he was certainly keen to see if he could make his films as cheaply as television plays.  In fact, within a year, HDF at Highbury studios would be using high definition cameras to attempt to achieve just this and Rank had a finger in that pie too.

Nigel Finnis kindly sent me this photo of a plan he rescued from the Grove shortly before it was demolished.  It shows the basement level in the North Block, which was also the ground floor in the rest of the building.  Even the basement level didn't line up from one building to the next!

Studios F, G and H were on the floor above.

You can get some idea of the labyrinthine nature of the building from this plan.

click on it to see it in higher resolution

 

The BBC years...

Thus in November 1949 Lime Grove Studios were bought by the BBC as a 'temporary measure' until their new Television Centre was ready.  They paid £230,000.  The first show was broadcast from here in May 1950 and ultimately the BBC stayed for 42 years. 

There were four main production studios here which are detailed below.  However, two other areas on the site were almost as interesting and just as productive.  The first was known as studio P

In 1953 the presentation department for BBC TV transferred from Alexandra Palace and the small studio they used was given that designation.   It was 560 sq ft and a little over 20ft square.  It was originally equipped with two Pye P.E.S. Photicon cameras and a 'Type A' sound desk.  Although it was primarily used for continuity links with an in-vision announcer, it was for a while the home of a magazine programme called Highlight.  There were three regular interviewers - Cliff Michelmore, Geoffrey Johnson Smith and Derek Hart.  These three went on to become the presenters of the highly successful Tonight programme which began broadcasting in February 1957 from the Viking studio in Kensington - known by the BBC as 'studio M'.  That programme eventually transferred to one of the main studios in Lime Grove.

Incidentally - studio P contained an in-vision clock which was a model of Big Ben.  This was naturally known as 'Little Ben.'

This small studio was the only one available when Prime Minister Anthony Eden transmitted Britain's first ever Ministerial Broadcast (August  8, 1956). This was a rallying cry against Egypt's President Nasser who had the previous month nationalised the Suez Canal and against whom Eden was about to take Britain to war.  Eden appears to have been somewhat stressed out or perhaps unwell on the day of the broadcast.  He cursed the 'communists' at the BBC for the long walk to the studio which involved him having to climb several concrete staircases, for the fact the studio was stiflingly hot and because he believed they were deliberately shining lights in his eyes.  There are politicians today who believe much the same.

This little continuity studio was referred to by all at Lime Grove as 'studio PP.'  The story went that Brigitte Bardot was being interviewed on an edition of Highlight and was asked about her pets.  She said she had a dog and a little monkey who was very naughty as he 'went pee-pee all over her flat'.  In 1950s Britain this was highly controversial language and not at all the kind of expression to be heard on the BBC.  I wonder what they would have made of Jerry Springer the Opera.

Studio P closed in 1961 when Pres A opened at TV Centre and the area was converted to a film transfer area.

Studio P - the presentation studio - in the early 1950s.  The young lady in the foreground is Sylvia Peters - a very popular continuity announcer in those days.

Sylvia was brought out of retirement in 2013 to present the BBC's re-broadcast of the Coronation, which they transmitted as it originally happened on BBC4 on June 1st.  She had also presented the original broadcast back in 1953.

 

We shall come to the main studios shortly but first, another of those curiously unique BBC activities that found a home at Lime Grove.  As part of their public service remit, the corporation realised that it had to create children's TV programmes too.  These may now seem rather quaint and naiive but they were hugely popular at the time and were made with immense care by the small department involved.

Children's programmes frequently involved puppets back in the '50s so the department soon attracted a group of expert sculptors, designers, puppeteers and story writers.  At first, they had no base as such but in 1955 they were given a tin shed in Smith's Yard as their home.  Within this building, plays involving marionettes were rehearsed and then transferred into one of the studios where they were transmitted live.  In fact, this tradition of puppetry had started some years earlier at Alexandra Palace.  Muffin the Mule had begun there and then transferred to Lime Grove.  He was, as it happens, one of the acts in the first programme to be transmitted from the Grove.

Andy Pandy ('50-'57) was another favourite.  This famous character was created prior to the tin shed being taken over by the puppet department.  He was the invention of Freda Lingstrom who wrote the scripts with Maria Bird, who also wrote the music.  The first programme was transmitted live from studio D on June 20th 1950.  Audrey Atterby was the puppeteer who remembers the first transmission as being something of a disaster involving tangled strings.  Apparently she went home and had a little weep.  Bless.  However, more programmes were made, all transmitted live, until somebody realised that if they were filmed they could be repeated.  It wasn't just the Teletubbies who knew that toddlers love to see things over and over again.  So twenty-six fifteen minute episodes were filmed on 16mm.

Andy Pandy.

The puppeteers are Martin Granger and Audrey Atterby and looking on are Maria Bird and Janet Ferber.

Martin and his wife Heather Granger went on to work on the sci-fi puppet series Space Patrol made by Roberta Leigh in 1962.  Rather different from Andy Pandy.

photo by Peter H Jones, gratefully copied from Jocelyn Lukins book, 'The Fantasy Factory, Lime Grove Studios'.

The same team went on to make Bill and Ben.  Twenty-six of these were made - most were filmed at Lime Grove but some were apparently made at Alexandra Palace and also rather curiously at Kingswood Warren, the BBC's engineering research establishment.  Rag, Tag and Bobtail ('53-'55) - my personal favourite as a discerning toddler, in case you were interested - was filmed here too and from 1955 when the tin shed was available, another famous series - The Woodentops ('55-'58) - was rehearsed in it and possibly filmed in there too.

Studio E became the home of 'The Puppet Theatre' which was a generic series that included Toytown and Rubovia Legends.  These were transmitted live so sadly we have no record of them now.  They were written and produced by Gordon Murray, who later left the BBC to make the Trumptonshire series of animated stories.

Incidentally, E was the home of Captain Pugwash (1957-1966), a classic children's (?) programme that used cut-out painted paper and cardboard animated captions rather than puppets.  They were written by John Ryan and produced by Gordon Murray.  Although later made in colour on film (from 1974), the 86 original 5-minute shows were shot live with the studio's cameras.  Several old-time cameramen still recall hilarious episodes involving Seaman Stains, Master Bates, Roger the cabin boy and several other dubious characters who may or may not have existed.  Urban myth or truth?  I've no idea.

Andrew Brownfoot designed and made scenery for some of the puppet shows made at Lime Grove.  There is an interesting website called Trumptonshire Web at www.t-web.co.uk/trump_ab.htm where he describes his early career and I hope he and the webmaster won't mind me quoting a section of it here...

 

'Down the centre of the Tin Shed a long puppeteer's bridge made of Dexion spanned three puppet stages, so the scenery could be set up for an entire play.  When the transmission day arrived, the entire set up would be taken down, moved to a TV studio and re-erected ready for camera rehearsals, and finally at 5pm the programme would be transmitted.  Tele-recording had not been developed at that time and so everything went out live, including a few embarrassing moments when things went wrong.  Puppets would get entangled with each other or with the scenery, which during Beauty and the Beast I remember, fell over and then was picked up by a giant hairy arm of the floor manager in full view of the transmitting camera!'

 

It is perhaps somewhat surprising that following Andy Pandy, Bill and Ben, The Woodentops and Rag Tag and Bobtail, the BBC didn't carry on filming children's puppet series so they could be repeated.  Picture Book too was on film and was shown over and over again as part of the Monday to Friday pattern of Watch With Mother to several generations of children throughout the '50s and '60s.  Apart from a few editions of Muffin the Mule, these were the only children's series of that era to be preserved on film.  All the rest went out live so are lost for ever.

 

 

The main production studios - the 50s and 60s...

From 1950 Lime Grove quickly established itself as the hub of BBC television and its four main production studios created thousands of hours of drama, entertainment, children's programmes, sport and current affairs for the next forty odd years.

To the left is a plan showing how studios D and E were situated on the fourth floor of the North Building.  Interestingly, the plan of the first Dr Who - shown further below - is rather different in several details indicating that various changes were made between 1950 and 1963 - the control rooms extending further into the studio.

Below it is a plan indicating the layout of studios on the first floor.  The largest stage, called F by the BBC, was never used as a studio but its position is shown on this drawing.  It was directly beneath studios D and E.

The plans are not shown in the same scale here - studio G was about the same length as D and E together.  The tiny squares on the plans are 12 inch feet.

 

click on the lower plan to see it in greater resolution.

thanks to Richard Greenough for the plans

 

Studio D opened on 21st May 1950, equipped with three ex Tel-OBs CPS Emitron Mk 1 cameras - a fourth was added later.  D was mostly used at first for children's programmes.  Studio G came into service later that year on 23 December 1950 with four Pye Photicons, being used mostly for light entertainment programmes.  Then in February 1952 Studio H was commissioned with CPS Emitrons and used for talks programmes.  Finally Studio E opened on 21st August 1953 with four Marconi Mk III Image-Orthicon cameras.  (Actually not quite - the Mk IIIs were not ready in time so apparently Mk Ib camera heads were used with the Mk III CCUs for the first few months.)

With several manufacturers all producing cameras in those days it is perhaps not surprising that the BBC hedged its bets by ordering different makes for different studios.  Each camera type had its strengths and weaknesses but often these were very much down to personal preference.  A memo from a senior engineer (the same one who wished to avoid using the name studio 'C') explains that the reason why D was equipped with CPS Emitrons was that they were the least satisfactory of the cameras used by OBs, and that OBs had been allowed to buy a new set of Pye cameras as long as the redundant CPS gear was diverted to studio use.  

A series of tests took place in July/Aug 1950, moving several shows from B at Alexandra Palace to H at Lime Grove, which had been temporarily fitted with Marconi image-orthicons to test them out.  Cecil McGivern thought that CPS Emitrons gave the best pictures under ideal conditions, but when conditions were less than ideal (which was most of the time - he noted the infamous 'peel' and that captions in CPS studios had to be written in green), Pyes were more consistent.  He apparently hated the Marconi I/Os, and said they were very 'unsubtle' compared to the CPS cameras.  This anti-Marconi attitude amongst some BBC engineers seems to crop up time and again over a surprisingly long period.

Late in 1956 studio D had its cameras replaced with CPS Emitron Mk3 cameras.  These were in turn replaced early in 1965 with 625-line EMI 203 Image Orthicon cameras (Bill Jenkin recalls operting the old cameras in January and when he returned from a course at Wood Norton in June they had been replaced by the EMIs.)

Studio E had its Marconis replaced with CPS Emitron Mk3s in 1959 and in 1964 these were replaced with 625-line EMI 203s.  Studio G had its Photicon cameras replaced with CPS Emitron Mk3s in 1956 and then EMI 203s in 1964.  H probably had its original cameras replaced in the late 50s but in 1964 it became the BBC's experimental colour studio and was equipped with Marconi BD848 colour cameras - more on this below.

Studio D - shortly before opening as a TV studio in 1950.  Obviously there wasn't much call for subtle lighting in those days!  Clive Gulliver informs me that these lighting units were known as 'Hewitt banks.'

Note the bare grid.  Lights were suspended and adjusted using ropes with block and tackle.  It would be about another ten years before motorised lighting bars were installed.  At 83x64 feet, this was a huge improvement on the space available compared with the 70x30ft studios at Alexandra Palace.

The same studio shortly afterwards with a programme being made.

I think it must have been the boom op's first day.  I'm sure he got the hang of it eventually. 

Must have been a gripping show.  Every member of the crew is looking in any direction except the one they should be.

Billy Bunter being made in D.  Despite the sledgehammer lights, this does look pretty subtle lighting.

thanks to Alan McIntosh

Another drama in D.  How they avoided boom shadows from those small very steep, frontal softlights is a mystery.

The cameras in all these photos are CPS Emitron Mk 1s.  The design dated from 1947.  These cameras were replaced in 1956 by CPS Emitron Mk 3s, which helps to date these photos.

The production gallery of D - known then as 'vision control.'

D's sound gallery. This must have been very soon after opening - only three cameras.

thanks to Alan McIntosh

 

Although it opened as the home of Children's TV, studio D soon specialised in drama.  This famously included the first Dr Who episode, which was broadcast on November 23, 1963.  There had been a non-TX pilot made a few weeks earlier but this was considered to have several problems - partly the script, partly performances.  The character of the doctor was modified, as was his granddaughter Susan and another pilot was made.  This was as rare then as it is now!  The first episode was eventually recorded but only a handful of edits were allowed for cost reasons so most of it was 'as live'.  When it went out it had a modestly successful reception by critics and audience.  However, the figures were lower than expected but this was probably because Kennedy had been assassinated the day before.  The BBC again did something unprecedented - they transmitted the same episode the following week.  This time, millions watched.

The first story was set in the stone age and frankly was a little dull.  Audiences began to fall off and the show looked as though it would be axed.  However, the next storyline involved the Daleks - and the rest is history.

The sound gallery of studio D in 1964.  Through the window the distinctive pattern of the Tardis walls can clearly be seen!

with thanks to Jonathan Sellers, who grabbed this frame from an old documentary about the making of the show. 

 

A very good drama about the making of the first Dr Who series was broadcast on BBC2 in November 2013 called An Adventure in Space and Time.  It suggested that studio D was considered a poor studio and very small.  That's a little unfair.  It was of course smaller than TC3 and TC4 which were both open by then but it was a reasonable size and was used by many dramas of the period.  It was in fact about 73 x 55ft within firelanes.  The play also implied that the set remained standing in the studio for the whole series and was rehearsed on during the week.  In fact, that's very unlikely.  Like all programmes at the time it would have been rehearsed in a church hall and only moved into the studio for 1 day each week.  It's pretty certain that the set was built and lit overnight or possibly the day before, the episode was camera rehearsed during the day and it was recorded over a couple of hours or less in the evening - which makes the result on screen even more impressive.


Director Waris Hussein's plan for the first episode of Dr Who. Waris has coloured the cameras to help identify them.  Part of the director's job was to ensure that each camera could move from one set to the next without crossing another camera's cable and therefore tangling them up.  Often, directors used a plan and put objects like pepper pots on the paper, sellotaped to a piece of string running back to the point on the wall where the camera would be plugged in.  They would then move the 'cameras' round the studio plan, scene by scene, ensuring that all the shots they had scripted could be achieved without tangling the cables.  This is less necessary now as current lightweight optical fibre cables can simply be thrown over other cameras or unplugged and plugged back in again.  Up until the 1980s, camera cables were thick, heavy, and the cameras could never be unplugged.  The skill of multicamera TV directors was - and still is - quite extraordinary.

Click on the plan to see in more detail.

I found this image being shared on Facebook but I'd like to thank Waris for posting it somewhere on the Internet!

 

 

Studio E has very little information about it from this period.  However, Keith Rodgerson has informed me that there was a show actually named after the studio.  He reckons that a children's programme in the late '50s in a pre-Blue Peter mould was called Studio E and was presented by Vera McKechnie.  The opening title shot involved her travelling up in the old cage lift and walking into the studio.

Keith worked in the dubbing theatre in the early '70s and occasionally explored the more remote corners of the building on weekends when things were a little quieter.  (I used to do exactly the same at TV Centre.)  He tells me that he found a strange door near the film archive vaults on top of a fire escape and upon opening the door found a dark little room full of heating pipes which had apparently been regularly polished and gleamed like the Crown Jewels. Somebody apparently saw it as their role in life to keep those pipes clean and shiny.  Only the BBC could employ somebody who felt that their contribution to the greatest broadcasting organisation in the world was to make sure that the pipes were shiny.  I genuinely think that's great - so stuff you Daily Mail!

 

Most photos of the Grove seem to have been taken in the other three studios.  Studio E was used for children's programmes including the various puppet shows but of course housed many other types of programming too.

Panorama moved round the studios, depending on which one was available that week so this may well be studio E.  That's the great Richard Dimbleby in the light suit of course.  The cameras are CPS Emitron Mk3s.

 

 

Studio G was the BBC's largest studio for several years, producing all kinds of light entertainment, music and drama.  Even when Riverside 1 opened in 1956, it had a similar floor area (although a very different shape) so both studios continued to be very important until TC3 was ready in 1960.  Richard Greenough recalls...

'I designed the first show out of  Studio G.  This was Gala Variety, which included Tommy Cooper, on the 23rd December 1950, directed by Michael Mills.  His P.A. was Yvonne Littlewood, who went on to be a light entertainment producer and director in her own right.

The next show in this studio, which I also designed, on the 26th December 1950, and repeated on the 1st January 1951, was Cinderella, with Jack Hulbert, Sally Ann Howes and Kathy Moody (Lady Grade), produced by Walton Anderson.'

Quatermass II, the follow-up to the highly successful The Quatermass Experiment, was made in G.  It was transmitted live with filmed inserts on Saturday evenings from October 22 to November 26, 1955 and was also telerecorded enabling repeats to be shown.  The opening of the alien 'pod' was achieved using a small plaster model on a grass-covered table.  A live Pye Photicon took a close-up of smoke puffing out, thanks to the floor manager blowing cigarette smoke up a pipe into the pod.  Who needs CGI?

 

Studio G in 1955.  Now that's what I call entertainment!

In those days there were no motorised lighting bars.  Every lamp had to be rigged and set using block and tackle.

 

The long, narrow studio G.  Although it was 104 ft long within firelanes, it was only 34 feet wide for much of its length.  These are real feet, not 30cm metric feet.  This studio was incidentally rather similar in size and shape to the combined studios 4 and 5 in the Sky Studios building that opened in 2011.

with thanks to Richard Greenough, whose set design can be seen on the plan.  Note the back-projection screen at the bottom, with the projector reflecting its image in a giant mirror to gain the necessary distance.  I'm surprised to see that both projector and mirror were planned to be set in the firelane!

 

 

Mike Du Boulay has sent me some reminiscences of this studio...

'...I enjoyed working in G because it had "racks" on studio floor level.  Did 30 Minute Theatre, Hereward The Wake, Dr. Who etc., there.  Loved the old CPS Emitron's pictures.  I remember upstairs in the production gallery they installed the first Fernseh special effects box fed directly into the vision mixer.  It had a set of wee "chocolate" looking chips that you plugged in to generate the type of wipe you wanted.  The electronic effects device stopped our trips to central stores at the TV Centre to pickup the "barn-door" wipe contraption that you physically placed in  light path of Inlay/Overlay desks found in each control room.

Imagine having to "book" a wipe !  The early years indeed.'

 

In July 1956 the first series of Hancock's Half Hour was made in studio G.  The studio was quite the wrong shape to make a sitcom.  The sets were spread along one long wall but because the studio was so narrow there was only room for four rows of audience seats.  Even then, there was insufficient space to get a decent wideshot, the sets were so close to the audience.  Very sensibly, the subsequent series were made at Riverside. 

Other programmes made in G during the '60s include Music For You with Eric Robinson, Sportsview, Science and Man, Viewpoint, Blue Peter, A Tale of Two Cities, Juke Box Jury, Hereward The Wake and 30 Minute Theatre.  In other words - a bit of everything.

This same studio was visited by Maurice Dale on November 11th 1967.  He was just a lad at the time but with a keen interest in television and had persuaded the BBC to let him see a rehearsal and recording of Dee Time.  He has written to me with a fascinating account of how the rehearsals went.  It seems that guests Kathy Kirby and Gene Pitney were polite, professional and everything went very well.  Maurice remembers Patrick Troughton coming into the studio, dressed in full Dr Who gear, to watch Gene Pitney rehearse.  Things didn't go quite so smoothly towards the end of the morning he recalls, when Shirley Bassey arrived for her run-through.  There were, it seems, quite a few changes that she wanted to the way she was being shot and lit.  He has told me quite a few details which I had better not repeat here but I'm sure you get the picture.

Maurice had been to see various shows being recorded at Teddington and Wembley so he knew what other studios looked like but he was not very impressed with the appearance of Lime Grove G...

'My impression of it was that they could have done Steptoe and Son there without any need to build a set.  The sound proofing for the walls had the look of old sacks held up in place with somebody's old wire netting from a disused chicken run.  Over to the right a tap on the wall dripped down into an open drain.  The phone above the tap flashed in hope that someone would answer and a man emptied a teapot into the drain.'

Maurice also recalls the same evening when he joined the studio audience.  They were herded round the back of the building and he was astonished at what happened next.  He writes...

'Where we were in location to the studio I couldn't tell as all seemed utterly confusing.  Following like sheep we were instructed to climb a ladder which led up to a door in the wall.  The door itself flapped violently in the wind and crashed against people as they tried to enter what appeared to be like some dark satanic mill.  Just where we were I don't know.  There was so little light and if you lost sight of the person in front of you, well you might never have been seen again.'

This may seem rather unlikely a scenario if you have never been to Lime Grove but believe me - he describes it perfectly.  The 'ladder' was almost certainly one of the rickety iron fire escape staircases.  I assume that someone had decided to bring the audience in through the fire escape rather than via the maze of corridors and staircases inside the building.  Incidentally - he does go on to say that Miss Bassey's performance of Hey Big Spender for the recording of the show was 'outstanding.'

 

TOTP in studio G in the late '60s.  Still black and white cameras of course although the one on the Heron dolly does at least have a zoom lens.  Note the lighting bars with a rig mostly of 2K fresnels.  G was never equipped with dual-source luminaires, although D and E were - in the early 1970s.

Photo above thanks to Mike Baker

Below - the great Ron Green on TOTP in G.

Studio G was the home of Top of the Pops for several years from 1967.  Of course, other programmes continued to be made here too.  According to engineer Peter Harris it had 'the hottest, dirtiest apparatus room in the universe.' 

It had opened in 1951 with 4 Pye Photicon cameras.  These were replaced in 1956 with CPS Emitrons and in 1964 with EMI 203/9 625-line cameras.

Studio G was used to cover for studios E and D respectively during 1970 when they were being colourised.  After that, for a few years it didn't actually close - it just gently faded away.  For a while it was used occasionally as a training studio.  It was then officially closed around 1972 although the equipment remained installed. 

However, due to some industrial action at TVC affecting setting and striking scenery in that building it was coaxed back into action once again in 1974 for a Blue Peter.  (This date has been confirmed by a sound assistant and cameraman who both worked on the show.)  Apparently, towards the end of transmission a puff of smoke was seen in the apparatus room and the pictures went to black.  The show ended with sound only and the studio was never used again.  I remember exploring the deserted floor and the old control rooms in 1976 soon after first joining the Beeb and rather spooky it was too.

It is thought that late in the 1970s a film dubbing suite was built on the studio floor.

During the 1980s the floor was taken over by the BBC's Studio Capital Projects Department (SCPD).  These were the people who designed and installed the refurb of each studio in turn, either specifying equipment from manufacturers or even making it themselves.  To check that it would all work, a mock-up of each studio gallery and apparatus room was built and all the equipment installed and tested before dismantling it and fitting it in the actual studio.  Quite extraordinary.  You can imagine how many months this all took and how much it must have cost.  Nowadays of course, everything is bought off the shelf and studios are refitted in a matter of weeks. 

One day in 1984, intrepid vision mixer Ian Trill went exploring and took the photograph below.  It's a long exposure photo - it was much darker than it appears.  It is taken from gantry level, looking down onto the ceiling of the SCPD 'cage' where they were working on their next studio refurb.  The studio floor is thus about 10 feet lower than the surface we can see.  He says he was particularly taken by the ghostly expanse of the old studio looming above the rooms below.  On a later occasion he returned and climbed a ladder into the roof - he found himself in a huge space with a pitched roof, full of cables.  These were the countless miles of video cable that looped back and forth, ensuring that the distance of every cable from every source to and from the studios in the building was the same length so they were 'timed' perfectly.  Creepily, at the far end of the space, in the dark ahead was a lit-up equipment bay, gently humming.  Shades of Quatermass indeed!

 

 

Studio H, which opened in 1952, was the smallest of the production studios at the Grove.  Initially it was used for 'talks' programmes and the first Grandstand came from here in 1958 but before then it was the home of The Grove Family, which ran from 1954 - 1957.  This was the BBC's first soap, although not at all like EastEnders.  It was very firmly rooted in the studio and could hardly be described as a heavy drama, relying instead on the petty squabbles of ordinary family life.  Nevertheless, it was very popular and ran solidly for three years until the exhausted scriptwriters, father and son Michael and Roland Pertwee, very bravely asked for a short break.  Instead, to their surprise and considerable disappointment the BBC closed down the series altogether.

Other programmes used the studio too of course - including Tonight and schools programmes.  However, by 1964 the BBC had decided that it was no longer needed for general programming as several studios at TV Centre were now open so it was converted into the experimental colour studio.  Much of the colour equipment was moved here from Alexandra Palace and several years of tests began.

John Winn has written to me - he worked for Marconi's Colour Camera Development Group and tells me that they updated the two colour cameras the BBC owned to the latest spec.  This was based on some cameras they had built for a 'Smith, Kline and French' OB unit which was used for medical training purposes.

studio H was 60' x 30' 6" within firelanes - although as can be seen, there was an odd extra little area near the main door.

click on the plan to see it in greater resolution

with thanks to Richard Greenough

The three images above show various colour experimental tests.  The top and centre photos are definitely in studio H at Lime Grove.  The top photo was taken in 1965.  Ron Green is operating in the bottom one - possibly in studio H but the sign behind indicates that it may have been an OB.  Very curious since Ron was a studio cameraman and to my knowledge the BBC did not have a colour OB unit at this time.  The camera is a Marconi BD848.  The camera seen in all these photos is the later version of the 848.  One source states that they were also known by Marconi as the B3200.  These came out in 1962 and were the last Image Orthicon colour camera made by Marconi before they brought out the MkVII in 1965.

 

 

 

Colour...

Studio H was the BBC's experimental colour studio - using huge Marconi BD848 colour cameras needing vast amounts of light to make them work - around 4000 lux as opposed to the 600 - 800 lux then in normal use (as it is today).  Their distinctive shape and size led to them being nicknamed  'the coffins'.  The BBC used three versions of this camera - at Ally Pally they first used the Marconi copy of the RCA TK-41 - this had 3 cables running from it to the CCU.  Then came the BD848, with a single cable, a fixed viewfinder and rounded casing, then the version seen here with a more angular casing.

The cameras utilised three 3-inch image-orthicon tubes and were said to be very unstable.  Every slight tweak of a control would rotate the image slightly causing a lack of colour registration.  According to contemporary accounts they took hours to stabilize but even then continued to drift gently.  Each camera was connected to a six-foot high rack of electronics full of glowing valves.  Nevertheless, this was cutting edge technology for the time which relied upon the ingenious design of the Marconi engineers and the dedication of the BBC engineers - often working into the small hours.

Despite the shortcomings of the technology, these cameras could produce surprisingly good pictures and the latest version of them was in fact used by Intertel, a company making programmes in colour for the US market, from 1964.  I have seen surprisingly good pictures from them that were used to record Sunday Night at the London Palladium.

It's worth quoting part of an email sent to me by John Winn who worked for Marconi on the early colour cameras to get a sense of how ground-breaking the technology was in those days:

'In 1961 I joined Broadcasting Division's new Colour Camera Development Group working on updates to the 3 x 3" Image Orthicon (IO) cameras.  We also updated the two BBC 3 x 3" IOs which had been built before the Smith Kline and French ones.  We built a lash-up 3 x 4½" colour camera.  Now that was the biggest camera ever.  Beautiful pictures.  We did all sorts of lash-ups of various tube arrangements including a combination of 4½ IO and 3 x Vidicons.  Design started on that when the Plumbicon arrived making everything a lot smaller and a Plumbicon was soon exchanged for the IO.  We tried two tube YRB with a Plumbicon and I think a Vidicon with half size R and B one above the other, scanned alternatively with a PAL receiver delay line filling in the missing line.  Didn't work too well as diagonals and moving images didn't work.  We eventually came with the MkVII and I was CCU operator for all its early demonstrations in the UK and USA.'

 

After closedown on one or two evenings each week a short colour film would be shown on BBCtv and then a programme would come live from H.  This might be a simple music show, a magazine programme or even a little drama.  It would be broadcast around midnight from the Crystal Palace transmitter to be received by a few dozen engineers and specially selected BBC production types who would observe the results and make critical judgements.  All production departments were involved in these tests - design, make-up, wardrobe.  Everyone needed to see how this new world would affect them.

At first, the pictures were broadcast using the American NTSC system and the number of picture lines was only 405.  It was at the time assumed that NTSC would be adopted in the UK.  From 1962 test transmissions began in 625-lines on the UHF band, using the three competing colour systems - NTSC, SECAM and PAL.  After a few years, the German system PAL was adopted as the UK standard.

Issues such as compatibility with existing black and white sets were tested.  From the production point of view, a huge amount of data was generated to do with colours that did or did not work well when used in scenery, costumes and graphics.  The effect of closely patterned shirts, jackets or ties causing moiré patterns or shimmering on screen was established, which still affects us today. 

Lighting too was examined - particularly the effect of using dimmers (which cause lamps to go yellower when dimmed down or bluer when faded up brighter.)  Thus camera line-up procedures were established, using a light on a chart that was set at 70% on the dimmer.  Using this system the studio lights could be faded up to full and the blueness would just be tolerable - and faded down but only as far as 50%.  Any lower than that and the yellowness was considered technically unacceptable.  (Things are rather different now and for a desired effect LDs frequently use lights faded very low or add coloured filters to make them look warmer.)

The result of all these years of experimentation was a generously proportioned rulebook on what was and was not acceptable when working in colour.  Every producer was issued with one.  It affected set designers, costume and make-up, graphic design and lighting.

Even the cameras themselves were involved.  Those carrying out the experiments seemed to dislike any strong or primary colours.  This was partly because the system at the time transmitted such colours poorly and the stronger the colour, the 'noisier' it was on the screen.  As Ian Hillson has quite rightly pointed out to me...

'...The lowest common demominator was the noisiest thing in the chain - in this case, the camera tube.  With primary colours you had signal output from only one tube, but noise from all three.  Secondary colours weren't much better with signal from two tubes but noise from three.'

Such artefacts were made worse by the early generation of VTR machines.  However, one does sense that there was an element of what was considered 'good taste' involved and pastel colours and subtle tints were clearly seen as being far more 'BBC' than brash reds, blues and yellows.  Back in the early 1960s, colour TV in the US was so poor that their NTSC system (National Television Standards Committee) became known as 'Never Twice the Same Color.'  Faces on American TV were the most extraordinary range of reds, greens and oranges.  The BBC were determined to avoid such things when they began their own colour service.  (Astonishingly, the US persevered with this old inaccurate colour system and low-res 525 line pictures well into the 21st century.  It was only around 2005 that digital HD TV really began to take off there but the old system is still widely used.)

Thus the engineers devised an electronic matrix within the camera that suppressed such excesses and concentrated on reproducing the most accurate skin tones.  This BBC matrix was fitted in all colour cameras that the corporation bought from the 1960s right up to the Thomsons that were purchased in the 1990s.  A very similar matrix was also fitted to the cameras of ABC and Rediffusion (and later Thames) but not to the Philips cameras of ATV.  Hence, their LE programmes often seemed more colourful and (dare I suggest) garish than anyone else's.

In the late 1990s it became more fashionable to light music shows and gameshows with strong colour.  Automated lights (Vari-lites, Macs etc) were capable of producing a range of saturated colours with their dichroic filters that hadn't been seen before.  On the studio floor, to the eye the colour of the lighting on the scenery looked rich and warm but on screen certain colours looked thin and desaturated.  Other studios - in particular those at LWT - had cameras that were not by then fitted with the matrix.  Lighting directors became so frustrated at not being able to reproduce colours accurately in BBC studios that the Thomson cameras at Television Centre were modified to include a switchable 'EBU' matrix.  From the day these were installed, almost every light entertainment programme was made using this system and the BBC matrix fell out of favour.  It is no longer fitted to the Sony cameras equipping any of the BBC's studios.

Going back to the first days of broadcast colour - there is an argument that possibly too much data was generated by the studio H experiments.  By the time colour began - using the superior PAL system with 625 lines - there was hardly any strong colour to be seen on screen for many years.  Even on Top of the Pops the performers were lit with bright white light and a few pastel coloured filters were fixed to 5Ks in the background.

The colour experiments in H came to an end around 1966.  Experimental transmissions of programmes like Late Night Line-Up were broadcast in 1966 from Pres B at TVC using three different cameras.  The following summer BBC2 officially went colour with Wimbledon using an OB unit equipped with Philips PC60 Plumbicon cameras.  Two OB units were equipped with PC60s that year and other suitable OBs were covered in colour, such as the Trooping of the Colour - obviously - and a trickle of studio shows in colour started to come out of TC6 and TC8.

By December 1967 the colour service on BBC2 had officially begun.

 

I had a Saturday job working in an electrical retailer at the time and can still remember the thrill of seeing the green grass in those first Wimbledon broadcasts.  Hard to imagine if you have grown up with colour TV but if you spent your whole childhood only seeing black and white television then to see your first colour TV was quite something.  Naturally, the one colour set in the shop was not actually for sale.  You had to place an order in those days and might receive one six months later if you were lucky.  The cost too was very high - about £400, which I suppose would be the equivalent of almost ten times that much today.  In other words, about the price of a very good quality large plasma screen in 2005.  It was quite a while before we had our first colour TV at home!

 

 

 

 

In 1967, studio H was converted into a sound only recording studio.  It was known as the Television Music Studio (TMS) and became busy recording everything from theme tunes to backing tracks for variety shows.  Previously the dubbing theatre at Riverside had been used for this work.

image thanks to the rech-ops website

This picture shows Bob Foley at the mixing desk in the control room of the TMS.  Nick Way reckons that's Rob Miles gram opping in the background and who am I to doubt him?

This photo was originally in this section, as I believed it showed the control room of the TMS at Lime Grove.  However, after a year or so I was informed that I had made a schoolboy error and it was in fact the control room of the replacement music studio at TVC.

I have now been told by Gary Clarke that I was right in the first place!  This is indeed the Grove's TMS.  He says

'it looks similar to the new one at TC because the equipment was moved.  A new sound desk came some years later (a Neve Capricorn, one of the worlds first fully digital multitrack desks).  The real difference is that sound bays shown on the back wall were at the back of the room in the new studio and there are windows through to the isolation rooms where the tape rack is.'

Anyone disagree?  I'm past caring, frankly.

 

Lime Grove became the home of many classic TV shows over its forty year history.  Several long-running series began here in the '50s and '60s including What's My Line? (from '51), Sooty (from '52), Panorama (from '53), Dixon of Dock Green (from '55), This Is Your Life (from '55), The Sky at Night (from '57), Blue Peter (from '58), Grandstand (from '58), Steptoe and Son (from '62) Dr Who (from '63), and Britain's first soap, the Grove Family ('54-'57) - named after the road the studios were located in.  (Bizarrely, the official BBC history website states that this was made at Alexandra Palace.) 

Blue Peter, incidentally, was originally commissioned for just seven weeks and each programme only ran for 15 minutes.  It was then increased to thirty minutes and adopted a regular pattern of studio G on Mondays and D on Thursdays before moving to various studios at TV Centre and occasionally Riverside Studios in the mid '60s.  Finally it was moved to a much smaller studio than any of these in Salford in 2011.  That would never have happened under Biddy Baxter!

Tonight - the highly popular tea-time current affairs programme moved to the Grove in 1960.  It ran from 1957-1965, with the first three years coming from Marconi's Viking Studio in Kensington.  As something of a contrast, as mentioned above, Top of the Pops transferred to the Grove in 1967 after its first three years in Manchester.

Many dramas were made here too, including a brilliantly shocking version of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four ('54).  It was transmitted live on a Sunday night and repeated - again live - four days later.  This second broadcast drew the largest TV audience since the coronation.  The Newcomers was a popular bi-weekly soap that ran from 1965 to 1969 - mostly made in studio D.

Ian Dow has sent me a couple of recollections of his time at the Grove...

'A memory I have of Lime Grove was as a maintenance engineer.  I was called to repair the echo chamber by sound.  This really was a chamber, none of your digital rubbish.  It was an old air raid shelter with a speaker at one end, and a mic at the other.  I descended the stairs into the shelter, in the dark, as the lights didn't appear to work.  Although it was summer, I found that my legs were getting very cold.  My mate passed me a torch and I discovered that the reason for the failure was that the shelter was flooded with 2 foot of water - which I was standing in, wearing me best trousers!

A strange design feature of Lime Grove was the common Apparatus Room for D & E. The two sets of CCUs met in the middle, and some SCPD man with a sense of symmetry had made one a mirror image of the other - so in D they ran right to left, and in E left to right (or vice-versa...).  If you moved studios and suddenly had to switch off a camera for replugging, there was a very high chance you got the wrong one!'

 

 

Telerecording

As is mentioned elsewhere on this website, recording programmes on videotape did not begin until 1958 with Rediffusion at Wembley and 1959 with ABC at Teddington.  The BBC also bought its first Ampex machine in the autumn of 1958 and installed it at Lime Grove.  This immediately made their own experimental machine - known as VERA - obsolete.  That was very clever for its day but rather impractical, with huge spools rotating at the terrifying rate of 200 inches-per-second and a maximum recording time of only 15 minutes.

Even when recording on videotape was technically possible it was slow to be adopted due to the very high cost of the machines and the tape.  It was the high cost of videotape that was the reason for all those classic programmes from the '60s and '70s being wiped so the tapes could be re-used.

Therefore, from 1948 - when the BBC resumed broadcasting after the war - up until the early 1970s believe it or not, there was a BBC telerecording department hard at work recording programmes on film.

Telerecording simply consisted of a 16mm or 35mm camera pointing at a TV monitor and filming the programme.  Except of course it wasn't simple at all.  Because TV cameras and monitors scan the image with a dot of light going from top to bottom in 405 (later 625) lines, simply trying to photograph that onto a frame of film would not produce a useable image.  It took years of research and development to make it work acceptably.  Even then the result did not look as clear and sharp as the original TV picture and was only in monochrome. 

However, by the end of the '60s the film recording was astonishingly sharp enough for engineers working forty years later to resolve the coded colour sub-carrier dots hidden in the detail of each picture of an episode of Dad's Army.  This  was digitally scanned frame by frame and the colour restored to the picture by a very clever computer program that read and decoded the dots.  It was broadcast on BBC1 in December 2008 to considerable acclaim.  Now that is clever!

Lime Grove had a busy telerecording area that Garth Nicholson recalls...

'At Lime Grove we had 35mm machines on the second floor using a 'stored field' technique to get round the fact that it was physically impossible to pull the film frame down during the frame blanking period. These machines were located behind the area where the Corporation carried on its 405 line colour TV tests  - left over from Alexandra Palace days.  The more up to date 16mm quick pull down machines and 35mm rapid pull down machines were located on the ground floor behind the hospitality suites adjacent to the rooms where the original ill fated BBC Videotape machine VERA (vision electronic recording apparatus) was located. To conclude the VERA stuff those machines were killed stone dead by the introduction of the AMPEX videotape machine (VT) - these new VT machines being located on the first floor in the Telecine area. I sweated down there many hours like a troglodyte in the dingy safe light existence with poor air conditioning. Then the TV Centre became 'live' for us.'

 

 

 

The '70s onwards...

With G and H closed, Studios D and E were the home of several long-running programmes during the '70s and '80s.  These included Nationwide ('69-'83), Newsnight (from '80), Breakfast Time (from '83), The Late Show (from '88) and even Kilroy (from '87) was here, to coin a phrase.

These two studios were the only ones converted to colour with EMI 2001 cameras - in 1970. They were replaced with Link 110s in 1981 and 1982 respectively.  The 1981 refurbishment of studio D also included the first example of a Grass Valley vision mixer in a BBC production studio - a 1600/3F.  Its fancy wipes and effects were made full use of by Chock-A-Block - a popular children's series that occupied the studio straight after the refurb.  The show was made by Michael Cole and featured 'Chockabloke' Fred Harris and 'Chockagirl' Carol Leader.  It was highly innovative in its use of colourful graphics.

 

For all of the 70s and into the 80s studio E was used on weekdays for Nationwide (from Sep '69 - Aug '83) and on Saturdays for Grandstand.  As mentioned above, E became colour equipped in 1970.  Actually, not quite.  E's camera 5 was a black and white vidicon that was used for racing captions during Grandstand.  Many a happy hour was spent by camera 5 operators in the corner of the studio - me included - having a nice quiet day whilst watching a young John McCririck (for it was he) rushing round the studio floor shouting at all and sundry because the racing results weren't ready to be shown.  Highly entertaining.

In those days captions were made by hand.  They were painted by graphic artists in white lettering on black card about 12 x 9 inches.  The cards were slotted into a six-sided drum that was rotated manually in front of camera 5.  All we cameramen had to do was sip our tea and look as if we were focusing it occasionally.  Happy days.

Imagine my surprise at discovering a photograph of the actual wooden drum described above!  I remember the gentleman shown here and always admired his skill at painting the names and numbers so swiftly and yet so beautifully.  This would have been during the late '70s - early '80s.  I seem to remember about three of these graphic artists - all in their senior years - but sadly I never knew their names.

This image was gratefully lifted from the Grandstand page on the BBC's website.  I don't believe it is there now so I'm glad I took it whilst I could.

 

There was another programme that made much use of the skills of a graphic artist - The Sky at Night.  The show began in April 1957 and is still the longest-running regularly broadcast television series in the world.  (It can now be found on BBC4 and is still just as informative and entertaining.)  It used whatever studio was available for its monthly broadcast - the set usually consisting of a black floor, some black drapes, a couple of chairs and maybe a PBU (photo blow-up) or two.  In those days the programme used some beautifully designed captions that animated and revealed objects and lettering.  These employed a complex system of sliding strips of black paper and card and were designed by one Alfred Wurmser.  Any form of animating captions were thus often called "wurmsers" back in the Lime Grove days...

Patrick Moore's autobiography includes a reference and I hope he won't mind me copying a part of it...

'In pursuit of "props" we went to see Alfred Wurmser, a charming Viennese who lived in Goldhawk Road. He had a dog named Till, half-Alsatian and half-wolf, who weighed about a ton but was under the strange delusion that he was a lap-dog. Alfred made moving diagrams out of cardboard, and he soon became enthusiastic, so that we continued to use the "wurmsers" until he decided to return to his native Austria.  The original title of our programme was to be Star Map, but we changed it to The Sky at Night almost at once - to make sure that the new title went into the Radio Times.'

A technical managers' plan of the curiously shaped studio E.  70 ft x 64 ft wall to wall.  (61 x 56 ft max. within firelanes).  The lighting bars were 18ft 6ins above the floor in case you were interested. 

The area at the bottom left had the control rooms over - so was supported by the pillars shown.  This space was used for camera 5 and its black and white captions.

For Grandstand, the camera crew had to rig banks of monitors in the set which would appear behind David Coleman, Frank Bough or Des Lynham.  There is a very funny French and Saunders sketch where they play extras sitting at one of the desks behind the presenter.  However, the assistants seen in the background on the real show, typing scripts or collating football scores, genuinely were doing actual jobs. 

The Nationwide logo.  This was known by the production as the 'mandala.'  Don't ask.  The closing titles consisted of this logo spinning on a bit of grainy old telecine whilst the chirpy brass theme tune rang out.  Small dogs danced in front of the telly up and down the country while this happened.   We know this because every two or three years there would be an item on what the nation's pets did whilst the Nationwide theme tune was playing.   Each show ended with the PA counting down to the 'mandala.'  Newcomers to the show had no idea what was going on.

Nationwide had a set that was perversely almost impossible to use without catching cameras in shot at least once a week.  There were two interview areas - one upstage of the other and for the cameras to move between the two without seeing them being dragged from one set to the other involved incredible timing and a great deal of luck.  The cameras were very heavy and unwieldy as they had the first generation of autocue fitted to them.  These were huge and prevented the camera from tilting down beyond only a few degrees without the autocue monitor hitting the camera ped.  The autocue hoods protruded about two feet in front of the camera and were painted a striking shade of pale blue which meant that if you did accidentally catch a camera in shot - boy did you notice it.

 

In January 1983 Breakfast Time began in E and ran until October 1989.  (In 1988 it transferred to TV Centre).  Its immediate success surprised nearly everyone - not least the owners of TV-am.  Introduced by Frank Bough, it made celebrities of people like Selina Scott, Russell Grant, Francis Wilson and of course sports presenter David Icke.  Grandstand moved to TC2 around this time.

Studio E production gallery during Breakfast Time.

thanks to Gary Richardson

 

D was used in the seventies and 80s for shows like 24 Hours and Midweek but I remember working on several children's programmes in that studio too.  Back in the 70s and 80s, Whistle Test sometimes came from D.  Newsnight was based there too for a while and I remember spending hours as a cameraman hanging about doing nothing and trying not to get too tipsy before the evening transmission - which could sometimes be surprisingly hairy!

 

No history of the BBC's studios - especially Lime Grove - would be complete without a mention of Mother.  Mother was the name by which everyone (including MPs) knew Joan Marsden MBE.  She was a highly regarded floor manager who worked mostly on current affairs programmes and everyone held her in high regard - especially politicians.  Nobody would dare disobey any instruction from her - even prime ministers.  However, she was no dragon - she actually had a keen sense of humour - it was just that everyone, including royalty, knew that she was in charge and could cope with any emergency on a live show.  She was a floor manager between 1960 and 1979 and worked on all the main current affairs shows including Panorama and of course general elections.  Peter Neill (thanks to the tech-ops website) recalls the occasion when a director asked what the interesting pattern was on camera 2.  Mother replied 'I think he's pointing at my bum.'  She was wearing a tweed skirt.  However, being the kind of gal she was, she stood still during the closing credits, allowing her nether regions to become the background to the roller.  Mother died in 2004, aged 84.

Geoff Posner has sent me a recollection of the time he worked as floor assistant on 24 Hours...

'One day, the programme started with [let's just call the highly regarded, now deceased presenter 'LK'] opening the programme and then the whole of the rest of it was one long filmed item, coming back to LK at the end.  Now my job on this show used to be to get from the production office 4 chicken legs and a glass with three fingers of whisky in it.  I soon learned that three fingers referred to a horizontal measure, and not to dipping three fingers into it.  Anyway, LK (and I therefore) was able to have four glasses of the stuff during the filmed item.  When Mother cued him to say goodnight, he leant forward to put the glass down and fell on the floor, having to say his goodnight from there.  I read Mother's Log afterwards and she described the programme as "V. Hairy".'

 

 

There was a big shake-up in news and current affairs during the early 1980s.  They were merged to form one department and Lime Grove became the BBC's 'Topical Production Centre.'  For the first time they had their own staff, separate from Television Centre.  (Previously, the studios at Lime Grove had been treated as no different, crew-wise, from any at TV Centre.)  Several TV Centre camera and sound staff took the plunge and moved to Lime Grove on a permanent basis - working in the studios and receiving training to become location camera crews making current affairs programmes that were based at Lime Grove.  'Topical' programmes made here at this time included Newsnight, The Money Programme, London Plus, Breakfast Time and Watchdog.

John Constable has reminded me that some time later the name of Lime Grove changed to the LGCAPC.  This was considered to be an improvement on 'TPC' (of course!) and stood for 'Lime Grove Current Affairs Production Centre.'

In 1988 everything changed again and the existing Lime Grove crews were reabsorbed into the BBC's News department around the time Breakfast Time, Newsnight, Newsround (which was never at LG) and Watchdog moved into TC2.  That studio was suitably equipped for current affairs after its stint as the main sports studio (all those lines and comms in and out of the studio were perfect for current affairs).  At the same time TC5 was refurbished to become the new sports studio.

 

Lime Grove then continued for a while using crews from TV Centre again.  Kilroy, which had begun in 1987, moved from D to E - until the Grove was closed.  (After that, the show moved briefly to TC6, then to Teddington, then from 1999-2002 to studio A at BBC Elstree Centre, then back to Teddington until the programme's closure in 2004.  As if anybody cares.)  A brand new daily arts programme was created known as The Late Show.  It was broadcast on most weeknights from D on BBC2.

The Late Show introduced several new presenters and gave an opportunity to new directors too - who were encouraged to forget the tired old ways of doing things and try 'experimental' methods of shooting interviews.  Ho hum.  I well remember an occasion when a new director instructed every camera to crab left each time it was cut up.  About a minute into the interview all the cameras were jammed on one side of the set and he couldn't understand why he didn't have a shot of the interviewer.  There was much shouting on talkback but it didn't really help.

The show was a great opportunity for the younger crew members to get some useful training so there was lots of 'acting up' and the senior operators often went home.  That's how things were in those days.  I gained quite a bit of lighting experience.  I was a lighting vision supervisor (console operator) at the time but the LD was usually happy to let me have a go.  If it all went horribly wrong I could simply say it was 'art'. 

One show involved my illuminating a tumbler of water on a glass shelf which was fixed to a white flat.  This was apparently an art installation called 'Oak Tree' and had been on display in a London gallery until shortly before.  Believe it or not there was a security guard there to make sure nobody stole it.  We soon realised that we could make this glass of water look quite different depending on the way it was lit and shot.  The designer didn't have any guidance as to how to mount the glass shelf so agonies were gone through choosing the exact spot on the flat.  Then of course, how much water to put in it?  Full or half full?  Fizzy or flat?  Then my problem was how to light it?  Soft light or hard?  From above or the side?  How many shadows?  One?  Two?  None?  White light or coloured?  I did wonder quite who was having the last laugh at the time.  Still, it kept us pretty busy for an hour or two one rainy afternoon. 

No doubt this particular artwork was the climax to months or years of strenuous intellectual and artistic rigour leading to the final product, and our lame efforts to present it on television were probably greeted with dismay by the artist.

When LG closed The Late Show transferred to TC7 at TV Centre for a few more years and eventually led to Later With Jules and Late Review.

 

 

The studios were closed in 1991.  The last programme made here was an edition of The Late Show from D.  Actually, not quite.  Ian Hillson recalls...

'...We actually closed Lime Grove twice - the last Late Show from Studio D on 14th June 1991, and then just to make sure, we all trooped back the following Monday and closed it all over again by recording stuff for a Peggy Ashcroft obit.'

On 26th August 1991, a month after the studios were closed forever, the BBC transmitted a special day of programming called The Lime Grove Story featuring examples of the many programmes and films that had been made at Lime Grove in its 76 years as a place of film and television production.

The studios had acquired an extraordinary history as film studios for thirty-four years and television studios for forty-two years.  After the BBC left, the buildings were demolished, the rubble used as hardcore for the widening of the M25, and a small housing estate now occupies the site.  The roads are named after the film companies that once used the studios but no physical record of the BBC's work in Lime Grove remains.  I suppose nobody would want to live in a road called Quatermass Court or Steptoe Street.

Incidentally - a couple of people  have written to me informing me that the building was in fact riddled with asbestos.  This had to be dealt with by a specialist company prior to the demolition.  The cost of sanitising it whilst the building was in place would apparently have been far too great - hence, despite opposition from some quarters, demolition was the only option.  But - let's be honest - sad as it was, the studios had come to the end of their useful life.  Nobody ever said that about Television Centre.  At least, nobody who ever worked there.

 

 

 

Television Theatre

Early days in Television Theatre.  In later years the proscenium arch and side boxes were always hidden behind scenery as the stage was built right out into the auditorium.

I reckon these are Pye Photicon cameras.  Anyone disagree?

I'm told by Roger Brunskill that the cameraman with his back to us is Dave Thomson and who am I to argue?

In the early 1950s TV light entertainment was very much based on the variety shows that still occupied theatres up and down the country.  It made sense therefore for the BBC to take over the ownership of a theatre where they could televise the popular variety stage acts of the day.  Just round the corner from Lime Grove was the Empire, Shepherds Bush - a grand old theatre designed by Frank Matcham and built for Oswald Stoll in 1903.  It had been very successful in its day - hosting many stars of the music hall era and staging weekly variety performances and revues until the early 1950s.  However, it is a big theatre and it was becoming more difficult to attract audiences large enough to fill it.

According to BBC files, they had been looking at purchasing either the Empire or the King's Theatre Hammersmith.  The King's was in better condition but was only leasehold.  The Empire was freehold and much closer to Lime Grove and the proposed TV Centre in Wood Lane.  The King's was also a good deal cheaper, at £85,000 but they bought the Empire for £120,000 - having negotiated a reduction from the asking price of £150,000.

The BBC bought it in 1953, opening in October with Variety Parade, starring Max Bygraves and the Tiller Girls.  Within a very short time its stage and auditorium had become a familiar sight on the nation's screens.  Early regular shows included What's My Line?, The Black and White Minstrel Show and The Billy Cotton Band Show.  This show ran from 1956 - 1968 under various names with its line-up of regular performers (Kathy Kay, Russ Conway, Alan Breeze, Mrs Mills, Ted Rogers, Roy Hudd etc.) and guest stars like Tom Jones and Cliff Richard, hosted by the old wartime bandleader with his catchphrase call 'wakey-waaaaakey!'  (There is an extraordinary 8mm film available to view on www.tech-ops.co.uk/page107.html.  It was filmed unofficially in TV Theatre by one of the camera crew during rehearsals and is well worth a look.)

The theatre in 1955.  The stage is to our left, the main auditorium to our right.  The orchestra pit has been covered over to increase the depth of the stage so the band has moved to the camera right stalls.  The camera dolly in the foreground is on the narrow central tracking platform that extended forward from the stage.

Later, the space occupied here by the musicians was also filled in and they moved to a band room built under the balcony seen on the right of this picture.

Note the beautiful plasterwork on the front of the dress circle.  Later this would all be hidden behind fashionable grey-painted plywood   Very attractive it was too I'm sure.

with thanks to Bernie Newnham for Photoshop work above and beyond the call of duty!

In December 1953 a music show was made here, with Ray Martin and his orchestra.  This featured a large string section, which had a similar sound to that of Mantovani.  This was normally achieved by placing a microphone close to the violins and playing the sound into an echo chamber, the reverberation being added back into the mix.  At TV Theatre there was no echo chamber so the upper circle Gents toilet was used instead.  Everything went well except for a strange random hissing noise noticed by the sound supervisor from time to time.  After some intensive technical investigation it was discovered that the cistern for the urinals was going off automatically every ten minutes or so and this was contributing to the musical effect.  It is not recorded whether Ray Martin's orchestra made use of this added depth to their performance henceforth as a regular feature.

This Is Your Life.  A regular Television Theatre booking.  Several things to mention here:  The show began in 1955 - the first edition was presented by Ralph Edwards, who was also the presenter of the original American version.  The first victim was Eamonn Andrews, who regularly presented the second show onwards up to 1964 with the BBC.  It was revived by Thames from 1969.  I'm guessing that this photo may be from the first edition as Eamonn Andrews (on the right) does not appear to be the presenter.  Note the set!!!  I remember my Nana having curtains like that in her kitchen.  Clearly, they weren't expecting any wideshots to be taken.  Also, note the guests sitting very awkwardly on chairs that are clearly too low for comfort and decorum.  Say what you like about the Golden Age of Television, production values have certainly improved a little since.

 

Perhaps most famously, from 1955 - 1984 the building regularly reverberated to the deafening screams of children as the words 'It's Friday night, it's five to five and it's Crackerjack' were heard.  Each generation of children grew up with their favourite presenters including Eamonn Andrews, Michael Aspel, Leslie Crowther, Peter Glaze, Ed Stewart, Bernie Clifton, Don Maclean, Stu Francis and the Crankies.  The Basil Brush Show was also a popular kids show that ran from 1968 - 1980 although some of these series were made at TV Centre.

Juke Box Jury was a user of TV Theatre from 1959-1967.  The guest panel and host David Jacobs were on the stage of course but each week the audience in the left stalls featured prominently as the cameras slowly panned across them trying to look interested in the record that was being played. 

From the early sixties to the mid eighties - this was the period of light entertainment shows headed by popular performers of the day such as Cilla Black, Lulu, Petula Clarke, Nana Mouskouri, Shirley Bassey, Cliff Richard and Val Doonican, who made his Val Doonican Music Show each year from 1964-1985.  Many of the hosts of these variety shows seemed to appear regularly as guests on each other's programmes.  Often singers performed whilst young dancers gyrated around them in bizarre choreographic styles that were considered 'with it.'  One of these dance troupes was called 'The Young Generation' and extraordinary as it may seem now, they became so popular that they ended up with a series in their own right.  Their choreographer was Nigel Lithgoe - who went on to become a TV director/producer and later, head of light entertainment at LWT.  To most of the public of course, he became infamous as a judge on Popstars.

 

Many of these classic light entertainment spectaculars were produced and directed by Stewart Morris.  Stewart was hugely respected by everyone who worked with him.  He took no prisoners when directing and had a reputation of knowing everyone's job better than they knew it themselves.  I remember him stopping one recording because the second trumpet in the band had played the wrong note.  Woe betide the console operator who didn't fade out the singer's backlight so it could still be seen on the studio floor as the crane pulled out and if the crane swinger caught a follow spot shadow on the artist then he was in very serious trouble indeed. 

Stewart would always use the same camera crew - Ron Green's crew 7 - the same sound supervisor - Hughie Barker - and the same lighting director - Dickie Higham.  Most of the shots were taken on cameras 1 - 4 but on some shows he often liked camera 5 to hunt for unscripted shots.  There was of course no room for a 5th camera so it had to dodge about and grab what it could.  If the cameraman was forced out of the way then he got a bollocking for not trying hard enough. 

There is a well-viewed example of camera talkback during Stewart's direction of a Eurovision Song Contest on YouTube which is worth a watch if you haven't already.  Apocryphal stories about him directing include...

...a camera going into a close up of Shirley Bassey and Stewart shouting "Too tight" at which point camera 2 crash-zoomed in and he screamed "No - too tight not two tight!!!!" 

That one may or may not be true but one cameraman I shan't mention recalls the following non-typical conversation where someone actually got the better of him for once...

Stewart: Stay with her two!  (the artist sliding down a rope, in close up, not very smoothly)

cameraman: It's a really tricky shot Stewart.

Stewart: Surely not to a man of your calibre, Peter!

cameraman: That's how I know it's a tricky shot.

Stewart: (pause)  There's no answer to that.

You may have noticed the slight giveaway with the name there.  

Stewart Morris really was a one-off and I don't think we have seen the like of his talent since.  I lit his last studio show - Michael Ball's Song For Europe in 1992.  It was my first really big LE show as lighting director and I was utterly terrified - not least having worked with Stewart many times before as a camera assistant, crane swinger, racks operator and console op.  I was expecting him to make my life hell but apart from a couple of well-judged remarks he was utterly charming.

Sadly, Stewart died on January 10th, 2009.  Have a look at the tribute page on the tech-ops.co.uk website for a few typical stories.  He was a bully and sometimes completely unreasonable in his demands.  He was also highly innovative and made everyone stretch themselves to heights they never knew they could reach.  We will not see his like again, more's the pity.

 

 

A high spot of the early '70s was when The Osmonds made a special for BBCtv in Television Theatre.  The building was under siege as thousands of pubescent girls surrounded it, spilling onto Shepherds Bush Green and preventing anyone from entering or exiting for the entire day.  Those who were there talk about it in hushed tones like the survivors of a terrible accident or natural disaster.

Of course, TV Theatre was also the home of the Generation Game from 1971-1981, at first with Bruce Forsyth and then Larry Grayson.  In 1984 the Wogan show began broadcasting live three nights a week and this occupied the studio on weekdays right up to its closure in 1991.  On Sundays for much of the year during the eighties That's Life! had a regular booking.  Other programmes such as Whistle Test also used the stage as a studio from time to time.

A typical light entertainment show being recorded in the Theatre during the 1970s.  This shows nicely how the lighting rig extended right over the old stalls area.  Interesting to see they are using booms rather than radiomics!

above - The Generation Game in rehearsal.  That's Ian Perry on the camera in the middle.  I'm afraid I don't recognise the cameraman on the Mole or the bearded gent sporting the smart flares.  Any clues anyone?

 

The snap below - also of The Gen Game - was grabbed by Geoff Hawkes.  It shows how small the stage was - the magic of television (and 50 degree lenses) made it seem much bigger.

Note camera 2 in the stalls, camera 1 on the end of a Mole crane and camera 3 on a ped to its right.

with thanks to the tech-ops website

 

below - The Old Grey Whistle Test at TVT - with an audience, which was unusual for that show.  The band is Tom Petty and the Heartbeakers and the year 1978.  Due to its simple, back to basics shooting style, all the cameras are on peds on the stage here.  The Mole crane can be seen parked in the background.  Behind the camera on the right of this image you can just make out the audience in the stalls.  The other side of the auditorium on the left is taken up with the band room and general studio clutter.

Of course, the theatre is now a popular venue for rock bands performing in London.

 

 

At first in 1953 the Theatre was operated as an OB.  After a few weeks some Pye Photicon cameras - ex Lime Grove - were installed but the Theatre was still crewed by the OB department.  These cameras were not as sensitive as the OB image orthicon ones and extra lighting was required.  This was powered by two generators parked alongside the theatre - connected to a row of floodlamps suspended between the dress circle and upper circle.  Clearly, subtle lighting was not a requirement in those days.

When the BBC first moved in the building was adapted for TV use with only minimal alterations.  Many changes would take place over subsequent years.  The proscenium arch is only 31 feet wide and the stage only 30 feet deep so initially it was extended downstage over the orchestra pit to give more space.  On camera right of the theatre the stalls up to the front of the dress circle were turned into a new orchestra pit.  An extension to the stage about six feet wide was constructed forward from its centre into the stalls to accommodate a camera dolly.  Apart from this camera, the rest were static and positioned around the theatre on tripods.

It seems likely that the theatre underwent two major refurbishments during its life.  These both meant closure of at least a year.  The first was from May 1956 - July 1957 and involved the installation of motorised lighting bars, the filling in of the stalls on camera right to extend the stage level forward and the construction of a band room beneath the dress circle on camera right.  New Marconi Mk III image orthicon cameras were also purchased.  Thus, lighting levels could return to a sensible level and lighting directors (not that they were called that then) could be more creative.  Camera development was moving at a pace in those years and the Marconis were replaced with Pye Mk 5 cameras in the early 1960s.

The stage was extended further into the auditorium to about 20 feet downstage of the pros arch.  The rest of the auditorium on the left side of the theatre was occupied with audience seats.

The centre tracking line was invariably occupied by a camera crane or motorised dolly - from the late '60s usually an MPRC 'Mole' crane.  The crane had a protective steel bar around the cameraman's head to prevent him from being decapitated by the dress circle during over-enthusiastic track-outs.  The Mole could track back to beneath the dress circle to give wide shots of the whole stage (with the band room on the right and the audience about three feet lower on the left.)  By panning left the camera could take shots of the stalls audience and by craning up and looking back could also take shots of the audience sitting in the dress circle.

Above the dress circle was the upper circle.  This was hardly ever occupied by studio audiences - only for very rare specials with a major star.  The view of the stage from the upper circle was terrible - obstructed by lights and speakers.  Even if the first few rows were very occasionally used, the rear part of that circle was blocked off by soundproof screens and the seats there never used.

Following the 1957 refurb the lighting gallery was positioned on the camera left side of the theatre in the dress circle.  The production and sound galleries and the apparatus room were squeezed in a row behind the stage.  From this time the Theatre was treated as another studio and crewed by staff based at Lime Grove and Television Centre.

 

During the first major refurbishment, production was transferred to the King's Theatre Hammersmith - see the section below for more info on that venue.

Looking across the theatre stalls from left to right much as the previous photo.  The area previously occupied by the orchestra is now built up to stage level and the ornamental plasterwork on the circle front is hidden behind planks of grey painted wood.

This picture was taken on 8th December 1964 and shows Tim Healy and Dave Lawson of crew 4 on a motorised Vinten.  In later years this dolly was replaced with an MPRC Mole crane.

The show was probably a gameshow called First Impressions

Photo by Geoff Fletcher.  With thanks to Dave Lawson and the tech-ops website.

 

 

 

The next major refurb of Television Theatre began in 1968.  It included an extension to the theatre about ten feet wide along the right side of the building, cantilevered out from the first floor.  The production and sound galleries were moved into it along with the apparatus room, air conditioning plant and a tea bar on the top floor. The studio was also 'colourised' at this time and was equipped with EMI 2001s.  (These were replaced with Link 125s about ten years later.)

The lighting gallery moved across the theatre to camera right in the dress circle to bring it closer to the apparatus room.  The console operator (VS) sat next to a window that overlooked the auditorium with a reasonable view of the stage.  The window could slide open which was very handy during lighting sessions when the LD was on the floor and could shout up to him - and of course he could shout back!  This was one studio where radios were not essential.

By the end of the 1960s the lighting rig had been transformed.  Along the front of the upper circle was a row of beamlights fitted behind beaded glass that spread the light and effectively formed a large softlight filling the whole stage.  These were devised by Ken Ackerman so were known by all as the 'Ackers' lights.  All over the auditorium were motorised bars - the beautiful plaster ceiling having had ugly holes punched in it for the supporting cables. Onstage, lights hung from motorised 'double tiered' bars so that some lamps could be focused onto the set or cyc whilst others shone downstage as backlights.  There were positions all over the balconies and auditorium where lamps could be mounted.  When the theatre reopened in 1969 it was a superbly equipped venue and had one of the first Thorn Q-File computer lighting consoles.

Shows were transmitted live from TV Theatre in the early years but by the 1970s were mostly recorded on VT machines at Lime Grove - just round the corner (eg That's Life!), or at TV Centre - the cables running under the road a few hundred yards along Shepherds Bush Green and up Wood Lane.  Of course, Wogan was transmitted live - or at least, each week 2 out of 3 of them were.

During the second major refurb, production was transferred to the Golders Green Hippodrome.  See the section below for more info on that venue.

Above is the rather cramped lighting gallery following the 1968 refurb.  It remained pretty much the same right up to the closure of the theatre in 1991.  To the left of this photo was the sliding glass window looking into the auditorium.  The photographer is sitting in the lighting vision supervisor's (console op's) chair.  To the right sat the lighting director and to his right the vision operator (racks).  I sat in all three of these chairs between 1985 and 1991.  The console is a Thorn Q-File.  Above can be seen a geographic mimic of the studio with tiny low voltage lights indicating which dimmers are being driven.

To the right is a drawing of Television Theatre as issued to technical managers in 1982.  The letters in squares are camera points, the numbers in circles - wall boxes.

The diagonal line that seems to indicate the downstage edge of the stage on camera right is simply the edge of the floorpaint.  All that area on the downstage camera right was at the same level as the stage.

The dotted line indicating the circle front is certainly not to scale.  It was much wider across the auditorium.

 

 

In its day the Television Theatre on Shepherds Bush Green was a wonderful place to work and produced some of the nation's favourite shows.  I was lucky enough to work there at various times as crane tracker, crane swinger, cameraman, vision operator (racks), vision supervisor (console op) and for a couple of years as LD on a few Wogan shows.  For a theatre lover like myself I really appreciated the unique mix of theatre and TV in that lovely old building.  My claim to fame is that I was the first LD to use Vari-lites there in May 1991, a few months before the theatre was closed.  I was lighting a Wogan show with MC Hammer as the main guest.  His record company wanted his performance to look spectacular so paid for extra lighting.  I was told to spend as much as I wanted!  I filled every available space with Vari-lite VL1s, 8-lights, PARcans, aeros, howie battens and anything else I could think of.  I have no idea what it looked like but it certainly wasn't the Billy Cotton Band Show.

One little anecdote to end with.  Nigel Southworth has written to me - he was a 21 year old security guard at the Theatre in the late '80s.  He often had to do the night shift where he was of course expected to patrol the building guarding against intruders.  Unfortunately, he had to move on as he managed to lose the keys to the building for a whole week.  They were eventually found down the back of the sofa in Mr Wogan's dressing room.  He admits after all these years that one morning he woke up on the sofa in a bit of a daze - 'clueless and keyless'.

Sadly it all had to end when thanks to the great cutbacks at the beginning of the nineties it was decided to close the Theatre along with a number of other BBC premises.  The last show was made there in 1991.  TC1 at Television Centre was 'upgraded' with new audience rostra and improved entrance for the audience to give it more of a theatrical feel (really?) and the Wogan show moved up the road.  The new weekly version of the show only lasted a few months and Mr W moved back to a very successful career in radio.

 

Of course, the theatre itself still exists and is now a very popular venue for live music.  The auditorium has been redecorated - the 1960s plywood cladding round the front of the circle removed to reveal Matcham's glorious plasterwork, the band room demolished and and the upper circle reopened.  The stage has been restored to its former shape and size, with a soundproof 'box' built within it to reduce disturbance to neighbours.  However, above the roof of the box the BBC lighting bars dangle uselessly and the old wall boxes are still there, connected to sound and vision control rooms that are long gone. 

In March 1997 part of Comic Relief was broadcast from the Shepherds Bush Empire and it was unrecognisable.  It looked huge (and beautiful!) and indicated perhaps that with a bit of imagination - and money - it might yet have had an extended life as a unique TV studio specialising in televising music and comedy.  Graham Rimmington was the lighting director for that event and he has written to me with an amusing little story to round off the history of this studio that shows how quickly things become misunderstood or forgotten...

'...Although not used, the front of house lighting bars still existed as it was deemed too expensive to remove the mechanics.  The house electrician said that they would like to use the bars but rigging was a problem as the bars would only come down to 7 ft from the floor.  This of course was where the stop switches had been set to give the 3ft dead for rigging when the extended apron was in place.  He did not realise this and thought that the BBC rigged from ladders!'

 

 

 

During the 1956/57 refurbishment of Television Theatre, production moved to the King's Theatre, Hammersmith

This theatre was another old music hall that had been built in 1902 and had an original capacity of around 1,500.  The theatre was to be found in Hammersmith Road, on the corner with Rowan Road, W14.  The BBC took it over in 1954 and it was put on the market by them in 1958, selling it the following year.

Mike Jones has kindly informed me that a competition that sounds very much like a cross between the Eurovision Song Contest and The X-Factor took place in 1956.  It had the catchy title of Festival of British Popular Songs and the final was transmitted from here on 22nd October.  The winning song was 'Everybody Falls in Love With Someone' and was sung by Dennis Lotis - a useful fact for the next pub quiz?  Shirley Abicaire came second - no doubt sporting her zither.

A couple of other shows made here were Great Scott it's Maynard starring Terry Scott and Bill Maynard and at least one edition of This Is Your Life in December 1956.

The theatre was demolished in 1963.

The cast and crew of A Festival of Popular British Songs - made in the King's Theatre on October 22nd 1956.  Not exactly the Brits is it?  The Daily Mail ran an article the following day where they printed this photo and expressed outrage at the number of people involved in making what to them was a very ordinary programme and how much it had cost.  Apparently, the average cost of making a programme at that time was £2,675 per hour.  No wonder the Mail was furious!

photo thanks to Maurice Fleischer

Note the similar layout of camera positions at the Kings Theatre to Television Theatre.  The programme shown here is unknown.  Any ideas?

 

 

 

During the second major refurb of Television Theatre in 1968/'69 production moved to The Golders Green Hippodrome

The Hippodrome was built in 1913 by Bertie Crewe and became a successful touring theatre, rather than a music hall as all London's other TV theatres were.  Its capacity was about 1,500.  For a number of years it was famous amongst other things for its annual pantomime.

Oddly, there is no mention of it in any BBC Handbook - however, it was in their possession by 1968.  It was converted into a TV studio with a capacity of 700 - very large for a studio but of course less than half its original capacity.  The stalls floor was levelled and control rooms built beneath the first balcony.  The upper section of the fly tower and part of the wings were converted into a rehearsal room, band room, offices and air conditioning plant.

It is astonishing how much money was spent on the building in making these conversions if the intention was only to provide a short-term replacement for Television Theatre.  Possibly they thought that both would continue in use for some time, or maybe money in those days was no object.  (I suspect the latter.) 

Series and one-off specials made at Golders Green included The Monday Show, Dee Time, The Val Doonican Show, Basil Brush, Crackerjack, Ken Dodd, Rolf Harris with The Young Generation, Lulu, Cliff (with Olivia Newton John), Dusty Springfield, Scott Walker, Topol and Cilla.  Phew!  Those certainly were the golden years of BBC light entertainment.

A typical LE show in Golders Green - with the great Roy Castle

thanks to Chris Jones and the tech ops website

Ron Green on the Mole

thanks to Chris Jones and the tech ops website

Golders Green saw all the big names in front of (and behind) the camera – Producer/directors like Stewart Morris, Michael Hurll, John Ammonds, Yvonne Littlewood and Johnnie Stewart, and lighting directors like Dickie Higham and Ritchie Richardson were regulars – plus all the top LE crews.  Bob Marsland – later to become a celebrated Nationwide director, started life as a racks op at Golders Green, and some of the big names in LE in future decades were humble floor assistants in those days.

Chris Jones - ex-Golders Green studio engineer - has written to me with his recollections...

 

'...The cameras were Pye Mk 6's out of an old scanner which was disemboweled and the parts installed around the theatre.  Shift 2 always reckoned they produced the best mono studio pictures in the business.  This was achieved firstly by regularly ordering large numbers of enormously expensive Image Orthicon camera tubes from the valve engineer at TC on the basis that they were a long way away and there could be an emergency.  The junior shift engineer and the TA would then run the tubes up in the spare camera and select the finest ones, ‘rejecting’ all the others back to TC with trifling and scarcely discernible ‘faults’ for  issue to other less finicky engineering crews.  Having harvested the best of the BBC’s stock of camera tubes, they would then introduce cunning, secret, and entirely unofficial variations to the standard camera lineup procedure.  Since no other studio in London had Pye Mk 6's (they were bought by the BBC as an OB camera, and it hadn’t occurred to Studio Engineering Department to ask the OB people how to work them) there was no-one to argue, and to the delight of the vision staff, the system actually produced extremely clean pictures with bright crisp highlights that were ideal for the style of LE lighting then in fashion.  To this day one can pick out ‘Golders Green’ pictures in old black and white compilation shows. 

Oddly, a new camera tube really was needed in a hurry one Saturday night, when Camera 1 (mounted on a Mole Crane with Val Doonican seated on a ‘flying chair’ in the form of a sleigh for the live Christmas spectacular) went down completely during the pre-transmission audience warmup.  Producer John Ammonds gamely ploughed on with the warmup while a frantic engineering crew changed every unit in the camera head and CCU and the camera crew rigged a new cable.  When nothing worked it was decided as a last resort to try a new camera tube and – bingo – success!  In those days getting a picture out of a camera was a bit of a dark art, involving adjusting numerous knobs on the CCU, but with a sweating Bob Newton at the controls the camera was finally tweaked in as the show hit the air, with the shift TA (me) walking alongside frantically screwing the various replacement units back in as it tracked in through a set of chimney pots surmounted by Gojo’s (remember them?) dressed as scantily clad mother Christmases for the opening shot of the show to the delight of the audience (and the considerable surprise of Mr Doonican).

 

There was a big semicircular Pye sound desk in the sound gallery operated by the likes of the famous Adrian Bishop-Laggett and his peers - and lighting, racks and engineering lived in the old stalls bar.  The actual electronics for the vision mixer was in a rack by the Racks Op’s feet, and on many a cold winter's morning only the patient application of a hairdryer borrowed from makeup would get a signal out of it.

There was one outgoing circuit, and one incoming.  Shows were mostly live - with somewhat hairy ‘up the line’ inserts from TC for titles, pre-records, and the infamous live inserts into the Cilla shows from one of the day’s MOTD scanners after a hasty re-rig in some suburban street near the match ground - or recorded remotely at TC or the Grove.  When the circuits disappeared in a flooded manhole somewhere between TC and the green one weekend a van with a VT machine and a magnificent radio links truck appeared, plus a substantial hoist to get the dish up above Golders Green, but despite our best efforts we weren’t allowed to keep it.'

 

 

For a year or two Golders Green continued in use even when Television Theatre was back in service and was used amongst other things for a regular chat show (The Monday Show???).

In 1972 it became a radio studio and was particularly popular as a concert venue for all kinds of music.   Many top rock bands played there and recorded sessions for Radio1 - especially for John Peel's show.  The earliest I can trace is Queen in September 1973. 

The Sight and Sound In Concert series used the Hippodrome as a unique TV and radio venue using an OB unit.  The show was made in 1977 and 1978 - every Thursday during the series, performances by the latest up-and-coming bands were recorded and the concert transmitted on Radio1 and BBC2.  In those old analogue days it was possible to transmit the programme on both networks and for the high quality stereo sound on the radio to be in perfect sync with the pictures.

In more recent years the Hippodrome was the home of the BBC Concert Orchestra - the large stalls area providing plenty of room as can be seen below.

The Hippodrome in 1984 during its radio studio days.

photo by John Talbot-Jones

with thanks to Roger Beckwith

The BBC announced its intention to leave the theatre in 2003.  In August 2004, radio comedy and other audience shows moved to the concert hall in Broadcasting House and the Concert Orchestra now performs at the Royal Festival Hall and various venues around the country.

During 2004 the theatre was visited by the Save London's Theatres Campaign and they rather optimistically noted that the building was in 'generally quite good condition.'  However, there had been some damage to the plasterwork in the auditorium.  They were nevertheless impressed to see that a partial ceiling collapse had been repaired by the BBC at considerable cost.  (All those Sight and Sound concerts rattling the decorative mouldings, no doubt.) 

Since then, it does seem that the theatre's condition must have deteriorated rapidly as more recent descriptions were not at all good.  In fact, even in 2004 it was put on English Heritage's list of buildings at risk.

Once the BBC closed it, the future of the Hippodrome became very uncertain.  They put it up for sale in December 2004 but there were no buyers.  There was a strong local campaign to see it retained as a theatre but the cost of restoring it and repairing it was deterring potential purchasers.  Perhaps understandably, the BBC intended to make as much money as possible from its sale but Barnet Borough Council refused an application to partially redevelop the site to include flats, commercial outlets and offices, and gave the BBC two years to find an appropriate buyer.

Interested parties included the Central School of Ballet and a Danish dance company but in March 2007 a short term lease was taken out by the El Shaddai International Christian Group, who wished to turn the theatre into a place of worship.  A change of use was agreed by the local council and it is now used regularly as a church by this organisation.  The ownership of the building then passed to El Shaddai and they carried out the repairs and renovations necessary to restore and preserve it.

The Hippodrome appeared on BBC2 again in December 2013 as the El Shaddai Church was the venue for the gospel round of Gareth Malone's workplace choir contest Sing While You Work.  The building looked great and the choirs sounded fantastic!

 

 

 

Riverside Studios

The film years...

Riverside Studios is on the north bank of the Thames near Hammersmith bridge.  It began life as an industrial building in the 1800s.  In 1903, it was bought by 'Gwynnes', an engineering and foundry works specialising in manufacturing water pumps. The company was taken over in 1927 by Foster & Co, developers of the first tanks - who subsequently moved to Lincoln in 1930.

The present studio areas were originally open-sided constructions supported on a steel frame.  Later, walls were built, windows added and the whole area enclosed.  Along Crisp Road was a row of tiny cottages and between them and the large sheds was a three-storey Victorian warehouse/office building which still forms part of the studio site.

In 1933 Triumph Films bought the site and converted it into a relatively compact film studio complex with two stages (1 - 105 x 75ft and 2 - 80 x 60ft) a large dubbing theatre and various other supporting areas.  The internal walls of the cottages were knocked out to create a workshop area.

To form the larger stage a wall and steel columns had to be demolished between the two 'sheds'.  A box truss was inserted into the roof structure to support the area where the two roofs joined.  The roof line at this point is thus relatively complex and drainage can very occasionally be a problem in heavy downpours.  In the summer of 2005 I saw the rain come pouring in during a particularly spectacular storm.

 

Following construction there was a short period of modestly successful film-making but around 1937 it was bought by Julius Hagen, the owner of Twickenham Studios, with the idea of using Riverside as an overflow for making quota quickies.  However, by 1939 his company had gone into liquidation.  The studios were purchased by famous song and dance man Jack Buchanan, although he did not appear in any films made here.  Around this time the site was known as 'Hammersmith Studios.'

One source states that the studios were 'bursting with activity' during the war.  In fact John Logie Baird's son (apologies for name-dropping) Malcolm Baird has written to inform me that The Mancunian Film Corporation used them to make Lancashire comedies including Somewhere in the Camp (1942), Somewhere on Leave (1942) Somewhere in Civvies (1943)  [I spot a 'Carry on' trend here]  and Demobbed (1944).  This company presumably rented the premises from Jack Buchanan.  After the war, Mancunian moved to a cheaper studio in Manchester and continued to make the same sort of films until the late 1950s.  Their films were apparently aimed purely at the north west market and only shown in cinemas in that region.  According to present day reviewers the 'B' movies made by Mancunian were pretty grim.  In fact I am informed that the Manchester studio they used was the converted church the BBC later occupied and used as its TV studio.  The one Top of the Pops first began in.

Despite the previous account, another historical source claims that for most of the war the studios were hardly used, except for a little overflow work from other places - such as the model work for One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing.  (I can recommend the DVD - the model of the German town being bombed is very realistic.  It must have been huge!)  Towards the end of the war and into the post-war period some well-regarded films were made here such as The Seventh Veil, which filled British cinemas for no less than ten years. 

 

In 1944-45, none other than John Logie Baird was taken on by Jack Buchanan as a consultant to Hammersmith Studios working on a 'cinema television' project.   This was an invention of Baird's that would enable live TV to be transmitted to cinemas where it would be shown on a large screen.  We take this sort of thing for granted now, with boxing matches, operas and West End plays being shown live in cinemas, but in those days the idea was revolutionary.  Sadly for Baird, it was not taken up by the industry at this time except in an experimental way.

However, in the astonishing way that these things sometimes happen - 63 years later, on 8th March 2008 the BBC held a live screening of a rugby match at Riverside Studios.  The unique aspect of this was that it was in 3-D and was the first live 3-D high definition screening of a sporting event via satellite in the world.  Three camera rigs using pairs of Sony HDC-950 cameras were used.  The audience viewed the screen with lightweight 3-D glasses and the result was said to be 'a true immersive like-being-there sensation.'  Just before he died in 1946, Baird had been working on all these technologies - 3-D television, high definition television and large screen TV for displaying sport in cinemas.  It is astonishing that it was over sixty years before the work he started was eventually adopted.  I wonder how many of those involved realised the siginificance of holding that experiment in these studios!

In 1948 Jack Buchanan sold the studios to the new owners of Twickenham Studios - Alliance Films.  The two sites provided sufficient studio space for a number of successful movies.  The period from about 1945-1954 was the most productive in Riverside's history.  However, the decline in film-making affected these studios like all others.  In the early 1950s studio time began to be hired by the BBC film unit and by the end of 1954 movie-making had ended here.  The last film made at Riverside was Father Brown, starring Alec Guinness.

 

 

The BBC years...

In 1954 the BBC took over ownership and decided to convert the two stages into TV studios.  Studio 1 was to be a replacement for each of the Lime Grove Studios as they were taken out of service for refurbishment and upgrading with the latest equipment.  Studio 2 would simply become additional studio space.  However, the studios would also form an experimental test bed for the design of Television Centre.  The layout of galleries and the suspension, dimming and control of lighting - all of these were tried out at Riverside.

Riverside in the late 1950s following the BBC alterations.  The three parts of the building can clearly be seen.  In the foreground the ugly concrete and brick BBC addition, behind that the original Victorian warehouse and beyond that the end of one of the old storage sheds, modified during the Triumph Films days to become the stages and dubbing theatre.

Considerable alterations were made to the buildings.  The row of cottages along Crisp Road were demolished and an ugly box-shaped construction was erected which on the ground floor contained a workshop and scenery dock, dressing rooms and a boiler room with a ventilation plant above.

In the arts centre years the workshop and scene dock area became 'studio 3' - a small studio theatre - and the rest of the space now forms the arts centre foyer and coffee bar.  In fact, in 2006 studio 3 actually became a television studio when it was adapted to be used for C4's weekend show T4.

Click on the image below to see an enlarged view and a plan of the first floor.

The plan shows Riverside studios following the BBC's rebuilding work.  Crisp Road runs along the left of the picture and the river runs along the right boundary.  The large dubbing theatre is on the first floor so is not indicated here.  Those who know Riverside as it is now will notice several differences.  The block on the left is now occupied by the foyer and coffee bar at the top and studio 3 at the bottom.  In the centre, the area above studio 2 on this plan is now the bar/restaurant.  In this picture it is shown being occupied by various rooms including a band room and the dimmer rooms.  The supporting three pillars along the dimmer room wall are now a feature of the bar area.

A Google Earth image of Riverside Studios in 2006.  The two big 'sheds' dominate the site.  The complex roof-line over studio 1 can clearly be seen.  The large flat-roofed area top centre was the dubbing theatre - now the cinema.

The two studios were named R1 and R2.  R1 is 6,000 sq ft gross which is approx 68 x 65 metric feet within firelanes.  R2 is 4,400 sq ft gross or about 62 x 52 metric feet within firelanes.  The conversion of studio 2 was relatively simple.  It was within the structure of one of the original sheds and the roof steels were considered strong enough to support the proposed lighting grid.  The roof is thus a complex web of old original steel supports dating from when the roof was first constructed, some (one assumes) from its time as a film stage and below all that the huge red-painted I-beams installed by the BBC.  The weight of all that lot must be collossal - before you hang anything on it.

Studio 2's control rooms were constructed within the warehouse building that joins the studio.  Windows of course were installed as in those days a clear view of the studio floor from the control rooms was considered essential.

The control room windows of R1 from the studio floor.  They can still be seen but are now boarded up.  There is no exit below them any more.

Studio 1 was much more of a problem.  The control rooms at first floor level would have to occupy some of the space within the existing film stage but would be extended outwards through the stage wall to the site boundary.  Dressing rooms and make-up areas would be built beneath them.  However, the roof construction was not strong enough to support the TV lighting grid so a separate ground supported structure was designed.  This would not impose any load on the roof steels which would remain an entirely separate construction.

A section through R1.  The box girder can be seen in the roof where the dividing wall between the old sheds used to be.  The control room suite extends beyond the original wall to the site boundary with the ventilation plant above.

Huge pits had to be dug to form the foundations for the steel supports.  Many problems were encountered - partly through having to clear buried iron and steel waste from the old foundry days and partly due to the close proximity of the river.  Looking back, it seems extraordinary that so much effort went into creating a studio that was always intended to be temporary.  Nobody back then would have imagined that the studios would still be producing television programmes up to 2014.

R1's 'vision control room'.  Or production control room as we would now call it.  Nobody knew whether it was best to put the monitors over the window or have them in a stack on the wall with the window to one side - so they tried it both ways in each studio.

Above - the gallery suite of R1.  We are in the sound control room - through the window is the 'vision control' room and beyond is the apparatus room.  ' So where is the lighting gallery?' you may ask.  There wasn't one.  The console was in the apparatus room in this studio along with all the racks controls.  The lighting designer (not that he was called that) however, sat in the vision control room near the director.  Very curious.

When the galleries were rebuilt in more recent years the lighting gallery occupied the area that was formerly the sound gallery, the PCR was more or less the same and the sound gallery and green room took up the space that was formerly the apparatus room.  A corridor linking the rooms ran next to the studio wall.  The blocked up window was behind the wall in the lighting gallery - to be honest, it might have been quite handy on occasions if that had been opened up again!

 

'Vision control' in R2.  In this studio the monitor stack was to the side of the window, which proved to be a better arrangement so was adopted in all the new studios at TV Centre.

 

The lighting grid was for its day revolutionary.  79 motorised hoists were installed in R1, 62 in R2.  These consisted of a aluminium bar, 8ft 8ins in length (why that exact length?) with the ends 2 feet apart from the next hoist.  They were spaced across the studio 6 feet apart.  The normal rig was 4 lamps - two 2K fresnels and two 'scoops.'  These were round softlights specially developed for the purpose.  The 2Ks too were specially ordered as they had to be much lighter in weight than the previous very sturdy model in normal film and TV use.  It was also possible to hang another bar a few feet below the lights.  This was said to be for additional lights or scenery.  Hard to see quite how that would have worked.

The hoists were all removed after the BBC left the site but their fixing points can still be seen in the grids of both studios.  The frame and pulleys for one of them is directly in front of the theatre lighting control position on the gantry in Studio 2 and (as I noted whilst working on a show in January 2010) a label proudly displays the fact that it was made in Cardiff.  I was informed recently that a lot of metalwork including the copper from the hoist motors was allegedly stripped out of these studios during the time the building was owned by Hammersmith council but before it reopened as an arts centre.  It would appear that this was not done with the official knowledge of the council.  The fact that the council's refuse depot was sited next door was of course purely coincidental.

Long bars similar to this were duly installed in the first five studios at TV Centre (TC2, TC3, TC4, TC5, TC7) having proved their worth here at Riverside.  They were also installed in studios D, E and G at Lime Grove and at TV Theatre as each of those were refurbished in the late '50s/early '60s.

 

There were several types of dimmers available at the time.  It was not known which was the most suitable for TV use so R1 was fitted with 166 variable resistor and auto-transformer dimmers, remotely controlled by an electro-magnetic clutch system.  R2 was fitted with 96 electronic xenon thyratron dimmers.  Both studios had a Strand type 'C' console enabling a limited form of recording and recalling lighting states.  Perhaps surprisingly, the old resistor dimmers were preferred and the first four studios at TV Centre (TC2 - TC5) were duly fitted with these.

The best position for the lighting console was not agreed by all in those days.  Some felt it should be in the 'vision' gallery which is where the director and vision mixer sat.  Others felt it should be in the apparatus room where the vision operator racked the cameras.  Clearly, the lighting affects the camera exposure so arguably it made sense for the two operators to sit side by side (as is current practise.)  However, in those days there was no lighting director - the lighting was the responsibility of the Technical Operations Manager (TOM).  He sat close to the director in the 'vision' gallery so one can understand why he would want to have the console operator nearby rather than on the end of a phone!  The experimental solution at Riverside was to have the console in the apparatus room in R1 and in the production (or 'vision') gallery in R2.

 

In fact, when Television Centre opened in 1960 neither arrangement was adopted but a dedicated 'lighting and vision control' room was created where the console op ('lighting and vision control supervisor') and the racks op ('vision operator') sat together, sharing a bank of monitors.  It was the TOM who had to move - coming out of the production gallery and sitting where he should have been all the time - between the two operators.  This meant that his assistant now sat in the production gallery and was given the responsibility for organising the technical aspects of the programme.  He became known as a 'Technical Manager 2' (TM2).  The TOM became a 'TM1' and was solely responsible for the lighting design.  Around 1980 the TM1 post was renamed 'lighting director.'

 

 

The studios were fitted with Marconi Mk III cameras.  There were 4 cameras in R1 and only 3 in R2.  Each studio had an MPRC Mole crane and a Vinten Heron dolly as well as the usual Vinten HP peds.  R2 opened on 4th June 1956 and R1 on 25th September 1956.  In their day these were the most technically advanced studios in the country - and considering that the BBC had wide resources for R&D in those days - possibly the most advanced in the world. 

The original cameras were in turn replaced with Pye Mk5 cameras in the early 1960s.  In some people's opinion, for picture quality these were the best cameras of their generation.  However - they were not loved by everyone.  Mitch Mitchell sent me his opinion...

'...PYE cameras - I operated them down at Riverside in its BBC days - the main problem with those motorised turrets was that the relay or switch would jam and the lens would keep rotating thus making the camera unuseable.  It happened to me a few times but once ON AIR on something called The Paradise Makers - some sort of spy thriller thing - can't remember much about it but it is burnt into my memory because of the PYEs.  They were hellish slow too - we all preferred the Marconi Mk IV or the green EMI.'

 

Popular programmes made here included Six-Five Special, Z-Cars, Dixon of Dock Green and Dr WhoSix-Five Special began in 1957 and was was a live music show with artists playing mostly rock-'n-roll and skiffle.  It started at Lime Grove - shortly afterwards transferring to Riverside.  The show was produced by Jack Good and was the first in the world to feature music aimed at teenagers.  Bizarrely it was also a magazine programme, so would cut from a song with Marty Wilde or Tommy Steele rocking in the studio to a worthy item on film about rock climbing in the Lake District.  It was therefore an odd mixture of TOTP and Blue Peter before anyone had thought of either of those programmes.  It was one of the first programmes to break the BBC's 'toddlers truce'.  This was a gap in broadcasting between 6.00pm and 7.00pm that had enabled parents to put their children to bed.  Extraordinary.  (Of course these days CBeebies is still transmitting right up to 7.00pm.)

Dixon of Dock Green

Unmissable viewing in its day, it went out at 6.30 on a Saturday evening, attracting audiences of around 14 million in 1961.  It ran from 1955 - 1976, most of the early series being made here at Riverside and transmitted live.

It always began with a filmed sequence of PC George Dixon  (played by Jack Warner, seen centre of this photo) in a street at night, walking up to the camera, gently saluting and saying the immortal words "Evenin' all."  He'd then have a chat with us about the latest case he'd been working on.  They then cut to the live studio for the rest of the episode.

Jack Warner was the ripe old age of 80 when the final episode was recorded at TV Centre in 1976.

this photo is from the collection of the late Ron Green and is gratefully copied from www.tech-ops.co.uk

Six-Five Special.

This photo shows a  CPS Emitron Mk3 10764  camera.  The problem is that these cameras were almost certainly not in use at Riverside.  However - it does seem that the show began its life at Lime Grove so that is almost certainly where this picture was taken.  You might wonder why this picture is therefore being shown here, rather than in the Lime Grove section and I would say that that was a very good question to ask.

I am informed by John Liffen that the guy in the Fez is Don Lang, trombone player and leader of his group, the ‘Frantic Five’. They were, in fact, the programme’s house band.  Many thanks to John for that but - why a fez???  OK, it was good enough for Tommy Cooper.

 

Six-Five Special had a regular house band whose members included several well-known musicians.  They would, it is said, go to the pub over the road after the dress run and only return as they saw the opening titles roll on the pub's TV  They would often go back to the pub during the show if there was a performance or an item on film when they were not required to play and continue their pint, returning to the studio just in time for the next song when they were needed.  This would sometimes happen two or three times during the show.  The director would phone any notes to the pub if required.  Now that's class.

In fact, the pub ('The Chancellor's') was in such regular use by artists and studio crews that the landlord had a sign mounted on the door saying 'studio 3' in BBC lettering.  The pub is still there - I lit a location sketch for Russell Howard's Good News there in May 2013.  It looked like nothing much had changed for several decades, with the walls proudly displaying photos of the various TV stars who had performed in the studios over the road.

A nicely turned-out Crew 16 - the cream of the BBC's camera and sound talent - waiting for opening time outside 'studio 3' some time in 1967.

(Wasn't that the year of flower power, long hair and everyone wearing kaftans and beads?  No sign of such fripperies here.  Looks more like 1957.)

With thanks to the tech-ops website and Roger Bunce.  (Sorry chaps)

Mike Du Boulay also has fond memories of The Chancellors...

'...It's amazing how music of the day triggers my memory.  Whenever I hear "I Can't Get No Satisfaction," by the Stones I think of the pub across the road from Riverside...Riverside 3 !  I was in on the taping of "Hey You Get Off Of My Cloud" and "Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown" again by the Stones.  These were fun times.'

 

Some programmes recalled by Derek Donoghue include Alma Cogan, It's Magic (David Nixon), Charlie Drake, Off the Record, Solo for Canary (6 part drama) and  A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by Rudolf Cartier. 

Mike Du Boulay worked on the following at Riverside in 1965...

Muses With Milligan (R2), A 'Three Day Play' (R1), The Sky At Night (R2), Take It Or Leave It (R2), Anatomy Of A Film (R2), Mogul (R1), The Roy Kinnear Show (R1).  Mogul was a popular glossy drama series about an oil company that ran for some time in the sixties.

Brian Cuff has also reminded me that the popular series Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School was made here.  The show ran from 1952 to 1961 (49 episodes) so early series must have come from Lime Grove.

Ivan Burgess recalls meeting an ex-engineer called Lionel Morris at Riverside some years after the Beeb left...

'...It was the one time that Lionel really came alive.  I remember him telling me that the reason that PC (Later Sergeant) Dixon always started off on film on the steps of Dock Green Police Station was because they had to clear Six-Five Special before they started the live drama in the adjacent studio.

When VT recording did come in, he told me of an embarrassing evening when they could not record Oscar Peterson at the Centre for an edition of Jazz 625.  The VT operators made the mistake of thinking the programme was originating in 625 when Riverside was still running on 405.'

You need to read the second paragraph a couple of times to follow the mistake the VT engineers back at TV Centre understandably made!

 

During the '60s Blue Peter mostly came from Lime Grove or one of the black and white studios at TVC but towards the end of the decade it was often made here at Riverside.  I have been told that the famous elephant incident occurred here but it seems more likely that it took place at Lime Grove.  However - Peter Harris recalls a programme with a pig that sounds almost as chaotic...

'...I remember one Blue Peter with a pig in the studio, which squealed at PPM-busting level every time they tried to “interview” it, and made a dash for the darkest part of the studio (occupied by the cameras, floor monitors and booms and thus most of the crew.)  They had to light the whole studio area in the end, and I still remember the sight of an AFM taking this pig for a walk along the tow-path to tire it out before transmission.'

Blue Peter was probably the last live programme to be made here by the BBC - around March 1970.  In fact, all programmes were transmitted live from Riverside during the early years including the dramas that were rehearsed during the day and performed in the evening.  Some were performed 'as live' but telerecorded on film by a camera looking at a monitor.  This is how we still have some recordings of these early shows although most have sadly been lost for ever.

 

There are many crew anecdotes about mishaps during live performances of Z-Cars including cameras in shot, actors pushing cameras out of the way with their feet and inevitably the back projection (BP) for the car scenes running out.  More than once the BP film continued to play when the vehicle was supposed to be stationary and an actor stepped out of the car - seemingly whilst travelling at high speed (the actor attempting to cover the gaff with a 'don't bother to stop - I'll jump out here!')  Apparently rehearsals were not taken particularly seriously, with much larking about from the actors and playing practical jokes on each other.  The camera crew often found that the positions of the actors in the live performance were not quite what they had been expecting, which made for a terrifying half hour for any inexperienced cameramen.

Z-Cars was live from 1962-1965 and was one of the last live dramas made by the BBC.  Later series were recorded - it ran until 1978, the last few series being made at TV Centre.  It was hugely popular and ran for 799 episodes.

Roderick Stewart has sent me a couple of recollections...

'...The programme they were making on my very first day was Playschool, in monochrome of course (Pye image orthicon cameras with motorised turret lenses), the presenters being Brian Cant and Valerie Pitts.  (Ms Pitts later became Lady Valerie Solti when she married the conductor Sir Georg Solti).  I also remember Z-Cars, because it was the first time I'd ever seen half a motor car on springs with a BP screen behind it and couldn't believe at first it was that crude. There wasn't even any glass in any of the windows, and everything in Newtown Police Station was very roughly painted in matte emulsion!

I recall the canteen with fondness because although it was built to service two working studios, on empty days there would be just two or three engineers in the whole building.  On those days the canteen would have a staff of one young lady, who would simply phone us mid afternoon to ask us what we wanted for tea, and then phone us again later to tell us when it was ready.  Service like that is rare.'

 

The third in the very popular Quatermass series was made at Riverside.  (The previous two were made at AP and Lime Grove respectively.)  Quatermass and the Pit went out on Monday evenings from December 22, 1958 to January 26, 1959 - live with pre-filmed scenes shot at Ealing and on location.  This was the first major show to be filmed at Ealing after the BBC took it over as the base for its film department.  The series was also telerecorded and at the time was the BBC's most expensive production ever.

 

Several drama series were made at Riverside throughout the BBC’s residence.  Several episodes of the first five series of Dr Who, starring William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, came from here, and it is said that Dr Who shared his police box Tardis with Dixon of Dock Green, also shot at the studios.  Hmmm.  Maybe.

A corner of a 1966 plan of Dr Who episode - Tenth Planet.  The set in the corner of the studio is a Cyberman spaceship.  Obviously.

The three symbols above represent the following:  2A is a Mole camera crane, A3 is a sound boom and 3A is a camera ped.  These positions were worked out by the director for each set so that the cables did not have to cross each other when moving between sets and get tangled up.

In all BBC studios 'wall 1' is the wall which has the control rooms behind it.  The others follow in clockwise direction.  Thus the wall at the bottom of the plan is wall 4.

Recent users of Riverside will notice that the main door from the present bar did not exist in the BBC days.  It is currently situated in the bottom left of this plan.  The new doorway replaces the fire exit shown here on Wall 1 which has since been bricked up.

plan thanks to David Harper

 

R1 and R2 were and still are separated by large doors. These were occasionally opened for major dramas linking the two studios.  Roger Brunskill recalls that 'in the late fifties or very early sixties a western called A Town Has Turned To Dust starring Rod Steiger was transmitted from Riverside.  The typical wild western street ran through these dividing doors.'  According to the IMDb, this play was made in 1958 and was part of the 'Playhouse 90' series.  If this is the same show (and surely it must be) it was directed by John Frankenheimer and its cast included William Shatner.  The rest of the series appear to have been made in the US by CBS so why this one was made at Riverside by the BBC is a mystery.  Extraordinary.

A Town Has Turned to Dust - in R1 and R2.  I am assured by Roger Brunskill that the man with his hands in his pockets walking away from us is Rod Steiger.  From his body language he doesn't look too keen that Hammersmith turned out to be in drizzly old London, not Arizona.  He's probably just off to sack his agent.

The crane foreground right is a Baby Transantlantic - hired in for the show from a film grip company.  It has two seats - the second one would be used by the focus-puller when a film camera was used.  In the television industry the focus is 'pulled' by the operator - even using today's high definition cameras.

 

As well as being the base for much of the BBC's drama it also became the home of one of the most successful sitcoms ever - Hancock's Half Hour.  This series also starred Sid James, who had appeared in at least one film made here before the days of television.  More than 500 editions of Play School were shot at Riverside before it moved to TC7 at TV Centre in 1968.  I have been sent a nice bit of background to the show by Malcolm C Walker, its first director...

'...We started Playschool there (I was its first director) and I was unused to studio operations in London having come from Current Affairs and Sport in Scotland.  The first drama came when I started to talk about lenses in inches rather than degrees.  OBs in Scotland had always dealt in inches.  The second was that coming from OBs I was used to cameramen offering shots.  Shotlists were a total novelty to me.  So on morning one I was a tad demoralised when all the cameras stayed facing down to the floor and not a shot was to be seen.  However, one learned quickly, and within a short time we developed a mixture of shotlisted material and offered shots which seemed to work!

The business of going ’through’ the assorted windows was required by the producer to be a complete surprise to the presenters and so it was always left to the Heron crane to make the fateful decision.  Bets were placed in the gallery and as director I made enough for regular pints.  Maybe that was my downfall as a children’s director as after a few months I was shipped off to Bristol to start another childrens prog and for a degree of rehabilitation!!'

 

 

Soon after BBC2 opened in 1964 it was decided to broadcast an alternative to sport on Saturday afternoons.  This show, transmitted from Riverside, was known as Open House and as its title suggests it was an arts show with a very broad remit.  Amongst its many guests were the Beatles and the Rolling Stones - although sadly not on the same show.  Now that would have been worth watching.  It is interesting though how going right back to Six-Five Special the studios have often been the home of contemporary music programmes.  Even after the BBC officially left, they were used for a while to make several editions of The Old Grey Whistle Test, and a youth culture show called Riverside - both using an OB truck for facilities.  In 2001, for a few months Top of the Pops was recorded in Studio 1 after the show left Elstree, again using an OB unit.  The 2013 Christmas TOTP was recorded here, as TV Centre was of course closed.  As we will see, this musical tradition has continued to the present.

 

I have concentrated on the studios themselves above for obvious reasons but Brian Cuff has asked me to mention the two Mechau flying spot telecine machines that were on site.  He reckons that these were situated in a small 'foyer' at the top of a flight of stairs.  Intended to be used for playing-in filmed inserts into studio productions, he admits that they probably weren't used that much and TK machines playing down the line from Lime Grove were probably used in preference.  Anyway - job done, they are now included!

 

The original lighting rig in R1.  Two 2Ks and two scoops on each bar.

As can be seen here - the rig was modified for each production.

The Strand Type 'C' lighting console in studio 2.  This was in a corner of the vision control room or production gallery as we would now call it.

On Sundays the gentleman played the church organ.  Sorry, I've already done that joke.

R2 during the BBC days.  After many years of other activities this studio returned to regular TV use in September 2013.

 

When exactly did the studios close and the BBC leave?...

The precise date, or even the year when the BBC left Riverside has proved to be one of those puzzles that has occupied far too much of my time writing this website.  During the 1960s Riverside is not mentioned in the annual BBC handbooks except obliquely.  Thus, they might state that there are 8 studios in Television Centre plus 'a television theatre and six further major production studios in the London area.'  Of the six, one assumes 4 at Lime Grove and 2 at Riverside.  Most annual handbooks also give a list of the total number of BBC studios in London.  This figure of 15 continues up to the 1971 book - so refers back to 1970. 

Riverside's own excellent history page on its website doesn't give a year of leaving but states that the BBC made programmes there for 15 years.  Programme making began in 1956 so that seems to suggest 1970 too.  However, that site also says that the BBC left in the 'early 1970s.'

 

Mitch Mitchell has dug up his old diaries and discovered that up until 13th September 1967 he was working on Z-Cars regularly in R1.  After that he has a few entries for staff training days in R1 up to December 1969 but no 'real' programmes.  Following that date he has no entry for that studio.  Jackanory and Playschool shared a studio day in R2 until 13th July 1968 when he worked on Play School in TC7.  However - Jackanory continued in R2 until at least 10th Oct 1968.

Bob Buckler's diaries go a bit further.  He has some Blue Peters in R1 in December 1969 and into January 1970.  The last is 15th Jan.  I have incidentally heard a story that Biddy Baxter, famous editor of BP, objected to the extra cost of using colour studios so she kept Blue Peter in black and white for as long as possible.  Eventually, her budget was increased and the show went into colour.  (BBC1 officially went colour in November 1969 but BP remained in black and white for several years after that.)

Bob's diaries for R2 have a Jackanory on 14th November 1968.  After that he has some training days - the last being 28th Feb '69.  Studio engineer Peter Harris reckons that when he was posted to Riverside in October 1969 only R1 and the music studio were working.  He believes that the studios ceased operations in March 1970.

 

Roger Neal - a vision supervisor in BBC OBs - recalled an ice show that was made here in colour using drive-in facilities in the late 1960s.  This has been confirmed by sound supervisor, John Holmes.  The programme was called International Ice Cabaret and was recorded in R1.  A stage was built, flooded up to 2" and then frozen and the studio was used for nothing else during the run.  Terry Hughes was the director (he went on to direct Golden Girls in the US) and the show was introduced by Ray Allen and his vent puppet "Lord Charles".  It probably ran for about a dozen shows.

Interestingly, this series is listed as being broadcast in October 1968 and was probably recorded in June/July of  that year.  John recalls that the studios had been empty for a few months before and studio 2's equipment had been dismantled.  This doesn't quite tally with Bob Buckler's diary mentioned above or Mitch Mitchell's diary - which has Jackanory in R2 in October '68.  However - John recalls that the canteen was closed so they all went to the Chancellor's just across the road.  Did an OB crew need an excuse?

Roger Prior also worked on the Ice Show.  He recalls that the crew went to great lengths to arrange for a feed of a drama being made at TV Centre to be sent to their viewfinders.  The drama was called Nana and was apparently incredibly bawdy.  (Nana was made in 1968 so that confirms the year.)  Apparently every BBC region and OB around the country had also asked for a feed of the studio which stretched the resources of CAR at TVC considerably.  The solution at the Riverside OB to avoid rolling pictures was to synchronise the scanner to TC5.  Roger recalls that in the other studio the Gemini cameras were in storage.  More on these below.

Some time later, Bernie Davis remembers working on refurbing a couple of old OB scanners (MCR 15 and 16) that were going to be sold to Greek TV.  They were parked in one of the studios and the year was probably 1972.  The studios were apparently being used for equipment storage at the time.

 

Anyway, this all seems to suggest that R1 and R2 ceased making broadcast programmes in 1970 and 1968 respectively.  I am told that during 1969 there was a strike over extra pay for working in colour.  This caused a backlog of work which it is said led to R1 being kept open for longer than had originally been planned.

After the studios themselves had closed, the site did remain in use for some time as an inject and co-ordination point for the annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race - thanks to the many permanent lines to TVC with video, audio and comms circuits in both directions.  Its terrace provided an excellent location for a camera with fine views up and down the Thames.

What is perhaps surprising is that the building seems to have remained in BBC hands long after programme-making had ceased there.  Eventually they were taken over by the local council.

 

 

An interesting development related to Riverside around April 1968 was known by some as the 'Gemini Project.'  However, officially it was called 'Video Film Recording' (VFR) and Keith G Palmer has written to let me know that he worked on the project and never heard it called anything other than VFR.   It was an experiment using combined film and TV cameras rather like those used at the Granville, Ewarts Studios and the French system hired in to make the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus at Intertel's Wembley studio in the same year.  Rediffusion and ATV also carried out experiments with similar systems.  It seems that the BBC were interested in trying out this technique too - thus ending up with a colour 35mm filmed programme by using television multicamera techniques.

The cameras at Riverside were 35mm Arriflex with Siemens vidicons looking through the lens.  Unfortunately, from the outset there were staff problems - the electricians wanted 'film rates' which were not forthcoming.  Apparently Strand Lighting were eventually asked to provide a crew who set the whole thing up 'with a man and a boy.'  Other working practice issues became apparent - with the studio engineers insisting that they make exposure adjustments which had to be done under the instruction of another specialist engineer who was part of the VFR project.  He was not allowed to touch the controls himself.

 

Apparently several versions of an edition of Troubleshooters were filmed - but not with the original cast - and the results were said to be excellent.  They were filmed on Eastmancolor stock.

According to the then Head of Engineering, Television Service - the plan was to carry out 'full scale tests of the production and operational techniques involved.'  Following the tests the system was to be installed in TC4 early in 1969.  Of course, this never happened.

It is said by some that the system was unreliable and in some way difficult for the cameramen - although quite what those difficulties were is hard to establish.  There are various rumours of smearing images from the vidicon tubes giving focus errors and problems with running up the film camera prior to it being cut up.  Keith Palmer disagrees - he says that the results were excellent.  What seems most likely is that the issue of film vs TV working practices and resulting payment for the crew was a can of worms that simply wasn't worth opening in the end.

One might wonder what the point was of trying to develop ways of shooting multicamera 35mm film when multicamera colour video could be recorded very successfully on videotape.  The answer is that this system appeared to solve two problems.  Firstly, programmes that were likely to require a lot of editing were much easier to make on film, as videotape was at the time very difficult and very expensive to edit.  Secondly, around the late '60s/early '70s, standards converters were of very poor quality.  US networks were reluctant to accept programmes that had been made in 625-line PAL and converted to 525-line NTSC.  A 35mm colour film, however, could be played in a telecine machine anywhere in the world - or even shown in a cinema.

 

Incidentally - a similar system using three 35mm cameras had been developed in the US many years before and was how sitcoms like I Love Lucy ('51-'57) and Sergeant Bilko ('55-'59) had been filmed.  The technique was still in use in America for filming some studio-based sitcoms right up to around 2010.  (HD Digital video cameras are now almost always used.)  It was briefly resurrected at Teddington in this country for the first series of Lenny Henry's sitcom Chef! ('93) but subsequent series were made on videotape.

To read a BBC weekly information sheet or 'WIS' dated 10th April 1968 that describes the Gemini project - click here!

If you were involved in these experiments I'd love to hear more.

This advertisement was published in Kemp's Film and TV Directory of 1967.  Clearly, it wasn't a BBC invention but was marketed by Rank.

The film camera (upside down) is an Auricon - popular in those days as a newsgathering camera as it also recorded optical sound.  One assumes that was not the idea in this role.  The camera is a Marconi Mk IV but the advert claims that the system can be made to work with any TV camera.  I gather that the BBC system used cameras with vidicon tubes as they required very little light.  Clearly, by splitting the light path to two cameras there is a considerable reduction in the amount of light reaching each one.

A system involving splitting the image to two cameras simultaneously was also used at Ewarts Studios.  However, they used Image Orthicon tubes which meant that the studio had to be lit to very high levels.

 

 

It seems likely that the building was owned by the BBC until some time around 1974.  By the time the corporation quietly slipped away from Riverside they had removed most of the television equipment and the studios became the property of Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

 

The Arts Centre Years...

In 1975 it was decided to turn Riverside Studios into an arts centre and they were leased to a trust.  After some refurbishment and the removal of a number of internal walls including the old dimmer rooms to form a bar area the studios were used as theatres and rehearsal spaces.  The first theatre season began in 1978 when Peter Gill became artistic director.  The dubbing theatre had been converted into a very nice cinema in 1976.  After refurbishment in 1987 it began to operate as a successful repertory cinema and quickly became highly regarded by film buffs.  It still enjoys this reputation.

In 2011 I had the privilege of lighting a production in studio 2 directed by Peter Gill.  It was subsequently transmitted on Sky Arts as part of their Performance strand.  He was an extraordinary man - elderly of course but still with great energy, passion and attention to detail - who showed great patience working with a relatively inexperienced cast.  He encouraged some extraordinary performances from them.

Incidentally, the dubbing theatre had been used during the forties and fifties to record the background music for many films, not just those made here.  A BBC technician found several scores including that for The Cruel Sea behind the cinema screen one day during the late 1950s.  The room was said to have an excellent acoustic and continued to be used as a music recording studio by the BBC until they left.

During the eighties and right up to 2012 when the Arts Council grant was removed, Riverside Studios developed a reputation for staging highly regarded innovative theatrical and dance productions.  The studio environment lent itself to a 'black box' style of production that was a complement to the more conventional facilities in the West End or at the National.  International theatre and dance companies were also welcomed here on a regular basis. 

A critically acclaimed production of Sondheim's musical Company was recorded here as an OB for the BBC in the late eighties in Studio 1. 

Some TV production also continued from time to time in Studio 2.  A conscious effort had been made to market that studio to television companies.  Obviously, without fully equipped galleries, cameras and permanently installed TV lighting it was difficult to attract much regular work.

However, some programmes were made here from time to time, using OB scanners for facilities.  The Biko Inquest was made for C4 in 1984, starring and directed by Albert Finney.  Ian Dow recalls working on a Parkinson in R2 during 1979, The Old Grey Whistle Test in Jan '82 and in the autumn of 1983 a 'yoof' series appropriately called Riverside.  (Oddly, series 2 and 3 were made elsewhere but kept the same name.)  I have also been told by Glenn Aylett that Peter Powell hosted a pop series around 1982/83 - I wonder if this may have actually been the Riverside series, although he isn't credited as hosting that show on the IMDb.  In 1987 a National Youth Theatre production - The Ragged Child - was recorded as an OB.  Bernie Davis recalls that the chief electrician at the time was Darryl Noad.  He went on to become a succesful TV lighting director in later years.

Mark Mumford has written to me.  He worked on the electrics team at Riverside in the 1980s.  They were struggling at the time to build a decent stock of house equipment.  Somebody heard that the Talk of the Town nightclub in Leicester Square was being refurbished and a load of perfectly good kit was being skipped.  Dave Richardson - at the time chief electrician at Riverside - managed to purchase at a very reasonable price a number of dimmer racks which were subsequently cannibalised to build 3 or 4 racks for studio 2.  These remained in use here for many years.  Mark also reckons that's where the Galaxy for studio 1 came from via a circuitous route.

 

In 1993 William Burdett-Coutts took over as artistic director.  The centre closed for six months in 1994 for major refurbishment, including a new entrance and foyer area.  Riverside Studios had developed severe financial problems and amongst many changes the new director decided to market Studio 1 as a TV studio once again.  Studio 2 became the primary theatre space.  He hoped the larger studio would prove more attractive to television companies. 

The show that put Riverside back on the television map was Chris Evans' Channel 4 show TFI Friday which ran from 1995 to December 2000.  The production used an OB unit for its technical facilities.  The 'bar' in which he held his interviews was one of the old BBC control rooms in Studio 1.  The guests would perform in the main studio, then scramble up the old metal staircase through the gallery door to meet Evans.  The little cast-iron framed window with its view overlooking the river was there until 2003 when it was replaced with a very boring white double-glazed unit.  It's odd sitting in the green room that occupies that space now with its posh sofas and smart pictures on the walls to imagine that this was the same grotty old room that was the focal point of that iconic show for so many years.

 

Riverside TV Studios...

The studios have continued to be used as an arts centre right up to the present day but in 2002 the administration of Studio 1 was taken over by a small company named 'Riverside TV Studios.'  At first, they carried out a basic refurb of the facilities - with most of the equipment coming from the Lock Keeper's Cottages and associated studio in Bow which had previously been the home of Planet 24's C4 show, The Big Breakfast.  (The BB ended on 29th March 2002.)  Throughout July/August lorries trundled between Bow Locks and Hammersmith and the R1 floor was completely covered with stuff.  Everything was taken - even the doors and toilets at Riverside had previously been at Bow.  However, the Big Breakfast cameras and Digibetas were sold.  I mentioned that everything was taken from Bow but apparently the sign for dressing room 3 was lost somewhere en-route.  Thus there is no dressing room 3 at Riverside now.  Don't believe me?  It's true.

R1 reopened under Riverside TV in November 2002.  The initial fitup was something of a compromise with some bits left unfinished - it was mostly basic infrastructure and at first comparatively few shows were made.  The studio is approximately 6,000 sq ft - about 68 x 65 metric feet within firelanes so not as large as most medium studios but big enough for many types of comedy, entertainmnent and music shows.  It can seat an audience of around 300 and looks very good on screen.

I was there in August 2003 lighting a commercial which was supposed to look like a TV gameshow.  I do remember that technically things were pretty basic back then.  However, what did stick in the memory was that the place nearly burnt down.  I don't think I can be personally held to account - however, the strong smell of burning was for a while blamed on 'something to do with the lighting.'  At least, until someone went into the scene dock and saw flames pouring out of the waste container.  We all left the building and witnessed a dramatic scene with firemen, hoses, all the trimmings.  An hour later and we were back at work.  It transpired that the caterers had thrown away the little oil heaters that kept our lunch warm whilst they were still hot.  Ah well, it could have been much worse and if it hadn't been for someone wondering where the strange smell was coming from it's quite possible that the studios would not exist today.

 

Later in 2003 a major upgrade came about when Riverside secured the CD-UK/SMTV contract.  This led to a considerable investment in sound facilities and the purchase of Digibeta VTR's.  R2 was also cabled back to R1's galleries.  The analogue sound desk installed in R1 at this time was unique.  It was a Drake desk, but only a prototype and one production model were ever made - TV-am had one in Studio B and Planet bought the other for Bow.  Riverside took both and fused them together to make a 48ch desk.

The old BBC control rooms in R1 were rebuilt and fully equipped and seven Sony E-10 digital widescreen cameras installed.  Interestingly, none of the present control rooms has a view of the studio through the windows.  Quite a contrast to the BBC days when this was considered absolutely essential.

 

An attempt was also made to install a lighting grid using scaffold pipes linking the main steel beams supporting a number of sprung pantographs for the lights.  Unfortunately, due to the limits of the studio construction it is not as flexible as those found in most TV studios and rigging can be very time-consuming.  The old BBC motorised bars are now sadly missed by some!  Interestingly, Studio 2 does have a motorised bar system that was fitted a few years ago with bars that span the whole studio, running along the steel runway beams enabling them to be positioned wherever they are needed.

Once R1 became a fully-fledged TV studio once again, regular shows included CD-UK and the trendy BBC2 cooking show Full On Food.  Both these programmes sometimes featured the old brick wall that is a unique characteristic of this studio.  It takes light very well and provides an attractive and cost-free backing to a set.  (Quite when the acoustic padding was removed from the studio walls is a bit of a mystery but is likely to have been during the early arts centre days - possibly in order to help give the studio a bit more life to the actors' voices.)

In 2004 whilst the hoists in TC2 at TV Centre were being maintained, the set for CBBC show X-Change had to be removed for a month or two.  The programme moved to R1 and many of the transmissions took place on the Riverside terrace.

 

Studio 1 continued to have its facilities upgraded.  In 2006 it was fitted with a new studio floor and it received improvements to the air conditioning, replacement vision/audio router, digital sound throughout and 6-channel EVS hard disk video server.

I understand that the TV company works very closely with the arts centre management so that occasionally R1 has been used as a theatre or rehearsal space.  Similarly, R2 has been used as a TV studio when required.  Programmes made in R2 were controlled from studio 1's galleries.  In January 2010 I was asked to relight Simon Callow's excellent one-man Dickens show, Mr Chops and Dr Marigold, for TV.  The cameras were simply wheeled in from R1 and a matinee and evening performance recorded with a normal paying theatre audience.  The resulting recording was thus available to be offered to TV channels like Sky Arts and BBC4 and a DVD was made at minimum cost.  No other theatre in London can do that!  (Well, except perhaps for the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, which has its own cameras and TV facilities.)

The last edition of SM-TV, when Ant and Dec returned for a final show, came from Studio 2.

 

In 2006 an interesting development took place.  There is now an R3!  Not the Chancellor's pub but an actual TV studio.  The workshop area next to the foyer that had been turned into a small studio theatre in 1994 became available to be used occasionally by Riverside TV.  The studio is 43 x 38ft wall to wall.  Early in 2006, Channel 4's T4 and Popworld programmes relocated to Riverside.  Initially R1 was too busy for T4 presentation links so Studio 3 was turned into a TV studio.  A considerable amount of money was spent on sound-proofing the studio due to its roadside location and a new TV floor was laid.  The studio now has 20 electric lighting hoists and retractable audience seating for 156.  It can be controlled from Studio 1's gallery or via an OB scanner parked outside.  It is still mostly used as a studio theatre or rehearsal room but it was occasionally used for recording Richard Hammond's links for the BBC's Total Wipeout in 2010, 2011 and 2012 when studio 1 was busy.

the 'new' Studio 3

with thanks to the Riverside TV website

 

Riverside is a very pleasant place to work.  The arts centre atmosphere gives it a unique quality amongst studios, and the age and history of the building enhance its attraction.  CD-UK occupied the main studio on and off for much of the year from 2003-2006 and in 2005 Bremner, Bird and Fortune moved here from Fountain.  Each year from 2006 Studio 1 has been used for the Apprentice - 'You're Fired' discussion show that follows each edition of the popular docu-soap.  Other shows have included Re:Covered for BBC3, The Nokia Green Room for C4, Showbiz Poker for Challenge TV, Russell Howard's Good News for BBC3, Celebrity Juice for ITV2, Lee Nelson's Well Good Show for BBC3, Derren Brown's 'Lottery prediction' for C4 and That Sunday Night Show with Adrian Chiles for ITV1.

An example of Riverside's continued relevance as a TV studio centre was sent to me by Duncan Stewart.  He pointed out that on Saturday 1st April 2006, simultaneously BBC2 transmitted The Mighty Truck of Stuff live from R1, ITV1 transmitted the pre-recorded CD-UK also from R1 and Channel 4 transmitted Popworld from R3. Not bad for a 50 yr old facility.

 

 

This old building will sadly not be with us for much longer - redevelopment plans have been in discussion for a number of years.  In the meantime the existing facilities have been undergoing some improvements recently.  The bar was redecorated in the autumn of 2010 - and very smart it looks too.  Studio 1 had a new floor laid and was updated with HD infrastructure, receiving 6 new Sony 1500R HD cameras in March 2011.  The production gallery was refurbished early in 2012.

And as for the slightly dodgy Galaxy lighting console - this was going to be replaced by a brand new desk but frankly most console ops still prefer the Galaxy.  Fortunately, when Barcud Derwen closed down their north Wales studio in 2010 their Galaxy ended up on eBay - and Riverside bought it - so much of the console is now Welsh... and working perfectly.

A big disappointment came in March 2011 when the Arts Council announced its future funding plans.  Riverside Studios lost all its annual grant of around half a million pounds which was a huge surprise to many.  This means that Riverside can no longer originate its own theatrical productions - however it has continued to be a venue staging touring plays, music, comedy and dance and the cinema of course remains.  The lack of a grant has not affected Riverside TV Ltd. as this is a separate company operating within the arts centre.

Studio 1 has continued to attract plenty of bookings including That Sunday Night Show, Celebrity Juice, Russell Howard's Good News, Total Wipeout links, Lee Nelson's Well Good Show, The Apprentice: You're Fired, Sweat the Small Stuff and from the autumn of 2013 moving from the closed down TV Centre - Never Mind The Buzzcocks.  C4's The Last Leg is also a regular booking.

 

In April 2013 it was announced that studio 2 would be returned to use as a fully equipped TV studio.  The old BBC galleries which for decades have been mostly used for storage or meeting rooms have been refurbished and equipped with all the latest HD kit.

Studio 2 has been equipped with 5 Sony HXC-100 HD cameras but of course all the cameras and other kit from studio 1 are available to supplement as and when necessary.  The studio is about three-quarters the size of studio 1 and is ideal for panel shows, stand-up shows, quizzes etc.  It can seat around 250 and still have plenty of useful floor space left.  Riverside have had to turn away a lot of work in recent years and the demand has increased hugely with the closure of TV Centre.  Studio 2 can't be compared in size or facilities to the studios that have been lost at TVC but it will help to alleviate the desperate shortage of studios since TVC closed.  Riverside are intending that studio 1 will see shows that use the space on the same day each week for a number of weeks whilst studio 2 will mostly be for shows that book blocks of two or three weeks or more at a time.  However, this is not a hard and fast rule and obviously having two studios to offer gives them much more flexibility.

Studio 2 closed as a fully equipped TV studio in 1968 and reopened for business in September 2013.  Excellent news!

 

Future plans...

During 2009 and 2010 the trustees of Riverside Studios negotiated with the owners of the derelict office block next door in cooperation with the local council on a plan to redevelop both sites.  The idea was to demolish both buildings and replace them with one containing flats, cafes, bars, a riverside walk and so on but also incorporating brand new versions of all the facilities currently found at Riverside including at least one purpose-built medium sized TV studio.  For one reason or another, at the last hurdle the plans fell through. 

However, discussions on a modified plan for the redevelopment quietly continued and an announcement was made in November 2011 that investment had been found to redevelop the two sites and build a new arts centre along with TV studios, cafes, flats etc.  Unfortunately, the plans were still not agreed by all the parties involved so Riverside TV continued to operate in the old building - busier than ever.

The negotiations went on until at the end of August 2013 a scheme had finally been agreed.  Planning permission was granted just before Christmas 2013.  The old centre will probably close some time between late summer and the end of 2014 (yet to be confirmed) and it and the office block next door will be demolished.  A new arts and TV centre will emerge which will contain a slightly larger TV studio 1, a TV studio 2 with similar area to the old one, a studio 3 for live theatre of similar size to the old one and a new cinema.  There will be a very large restaurant/bar area and flats on the upper floors (which of course will pay for all this.)

It will be sad to see this old building go but it's great news that at least somebody thinks it's worth investing in new TV studios in the centre of the capital city!

The ground floor of the new Riverside, according to the planning application.  The river is on the left with a public walkway along the river front.  Crisp Road is on the right - doors to the scene dock open onto this road.  The main public entrance is at the top, near the existing boat slipway which will be upgraded and landscaped. 

From this plan it seems that studio 1 will be about 75 x 70 metric feet within firelanes and studio 2 about 75 x 50 metric feet within firelanes.  Studio 1 will thus be about 7 feet longer and 5 feet wider than the old R1.  Studio 3 is intended as an arts venue, not a TV studio but any of the studios could be used for public performance or indeed as a TV studio.  There will be 2 control gallery suites on the first floor.  There will be a cinema and some parking in the basement - mostly for residents of the flats.

The cafe/lobby area is very large indeed!  To get a sense of scale, remember that the whole existing Riverside Studios building is roughly half this building's size as it includes the office block next door and the roadway between the two buildings.

 

 

 

The Greenwood Theatre

 

The BBC moved into this theatre, situated in the grounds of Guy's hospital near London Bridge station, in 1979.  The first programme was made here on 23rd September.  However, there are several mysteries surrounding the Greenwood: 

Firstly, what is a fully equipped theatre doing in the grounds of a hospital?  

Secondly, when a hospital trust has spent a considerable sum building it, why lease it to the BBC and let them knock it about as only the BBC can, only three or four years after it was built? 

Thirdly, why did the BBC acquire yet another studio in London when they had plenty of space at TV Centre, Lime Grove and TV Theatre? 

Fourthly, with the BBC having spent a fortune equipping yet another studio, why did it remain relatively unused for most of the ten years it was part of their inventory and why did they not cut their losses and leave it sooner?  After all, in 1984 they gained four more large studios when they took over ATV's Elstree studios.  Why did they not leave the Greenwood then and transfer its equipment into one of those studios?

I can only guess at some of these questions - but to take them in turn...

There is of course the old story that a wealthy benefactor, grateful for the care he received at Guy's Hospital, left a fortune in his will to be spent on 'a new theatre'.  A dim and rather literally-minded lawyer is said to have taken him at his word and instructed the hospital authorities to go ahead and have it built when of course what the old gentleman had in mind was a theatre of the operating kind.  There are people who actually seem to believe this story and I suppose it is somewhat amusing but even an old cynic like me can't quite bring myself to swallow it whole.  In fact, I have discovered that the truth is more prosiac.

The theatre was built in 1975 and was indeed largely paid for by a benefactor - Sir James Mantle Greenwood (1902-1969), chairman of James Greenwood Advertising Ltd.  In fact his portrait hangs in the foyer.  The building was designed as a lecture theatre (Guy's is a teaching hospital and is part of the Kings College London university campus.)  There were flip-up writing tables in the seat armrests, the sound gallery was originally a translators' booth and the production gallery had been a projection room.  However - it was also equipped with a fly tower and full theatre lighting facilities.  Backstage was space for storing scenery and a number of dressing-rooms.  It was originally hoped to stage professional productions there in the evenings - attracting the city workers just over the river.  The profits from this use would help the hospital's funding.  Sadly, of course, theatres seldom make big profits so this income was never realised.

Thus, the hospital was rather keen to see another source of revenue generated by the theatre.  Against this background, the story goes that one of the hospital trustees happened to be at a dinner party along with a senior manager of the BBC - probably Bill Cotton.  (If the following story sounds a little unlikely, let us not forget that things at the Corporation were done rather differently back then.)  Apparently, the man from Guy's asked Bill if he had any ideas how they could generate some income from the theatre.  Bill is said to have replied that the BBC could certainly make use of it for a year and on a handshake the BBC took it over.  Thus the lease was initially for twelve months and then extended on a rolling monthly basis with a year's notice on either side. 

The background to this rather surprising 'purchase' of a studio is that apparently Bill Cotton was trying to persuade Michael Parkinson to do a nightly weekday chat show, rather than just his Saturday show.  There was no available studio at TV Centre (due to asbestos removal) and Bill realised that The Greenwood fitted the bill perfectly, being in central London and close to the West End where guests could be found relatively easily.  However, it turned out that Mr Parkinson was not too keen on doing that many shows and in the end agreed to just one more - on Wednesdays.

Thus the BBC were left with a studio and only one regular booking.  The story goes that Question Time was therefore created for the Greenwood.  In fact of course the venue was ideal - close to Westminster and with an auditorium that looked good on camera.  This programme occupied the Greenwood one day a week for most of the year from September 1979 - 1990 when it moved briefly to TV Centre and then to various studios around the country. 

I have been told an interesting little anecdote about this programme by Peter Neill, a sound assistant who worked regularly at the studio. 

'When the audience filed in to take their seats they were directed to fill the auditorium from the front. After a few weeks of this it was noted that when it came to the recording, the most vociferous always seemed to be at the back. Someone suggested that maybe the quiet ones were the first to take their seats, while the more vocal ones were discussing things over the coffee and sandwiches until the last minute. It was decided to let them choose their own seats and see what happened.  The auditorium filled from the back and the best participants were then usually found within good camera and boom range.'

One of the many sets used over the years for Question Time (after the BBC had left the Greenwood, as it happens.)  It was taken in 1997 and was a special with prospective future Prime Minister,Tony Blair.

The other regular occupant of the Greenwood in the early years was Russell Harty.  In fact, his show began at the Greenwood some weeks before Michael Parkinson's Wednesday show.  He was brought to the BBC from a successful career at LWT where his chat shows had built a regular audience.  His series ran on BBC2 from 1980-1983 and then transferred to BBC1 from '83-'84.  His style and indeed his guests were individual and although never a mainstream performer he was very popular in a niche audience kind of way.  Of course, everyone has seen the 'Grace Jones Incident' but there was far more to his show than that kind of thing.  Sadly, he died of hepatitis in 1988.

There were one or two other shows that used the studio but after the first few years it was never particularly busy.  The schedule in the early eighties looked something like this:

Tuesday - Russell Harty (he recorded a Thursday show in Manchester)

Wednesday - Parkinson (Saturday from TV Centre)

Thursday - Question Time

Friday - A succession of chat shows - notably Friday Night, Saturday Morning - a recorded open-ended show which finished when it finished, being transmitted later that evening as the last programme before BBC2 closed down for the night.  This was usually presented by Ned Sherrin but also had a number of guest presenters including, famously, Harold Wilson.

 

It is difficult to trace many other shows that were made here - particularly after Russell Harty's shows ended.  One source said that Call My Bluff may have been made at the Greenwood, another mentions Face the Music and yet another a single Jackanory series.  There was also - lest we forget - a Roland Rat series. 

One programme made here was Private Lives, a chat show hosted by the actress Maria Aitken in which she invited some of her actor friends to bring along possessions which had a story attached. These were late afternoon recordings as most of the participants were in the West End in the evenings.  John Latus tells me that he worked on a panel show starring Tom O'Connor called I've Got a Secret ('84, '85).  Jonathan Gibbs has written to let me know that whilst a student at Guys he sat in the audience for an edition of Masterteam, hosted by Angela Rippon.  This daytime quiz series was recorded here in 1985, '86 and '87.

Masterteam.  The team captain on the left is Daphne Fowler - several years later to become one of the Eggheads.

with thanks to Daphne's website

Bernie Newnham recalls Star Memories - a series he directed in 1986:

'Star Memories was done at the Greenwood, because that was the only space available.  Although by today's standards completely forgettable, being a series of favourite clips from various celebs, it was quite a deal then as it was the first series that could actually do that. Up to then, Equity didn't allow anything older than two years to be shown, and then only twice. The influence of Mrs Thatcher on all things union got the rules changed, and this was the BBC's first chance to show anything in the library.  Of course, lots of stuff that should have been in the library wasn't, owing to being wiped.  On the one Star Memories VHS I have, Lenny Henry picked the clip of  Jimi Hendrix on the 1968 Lulu show  - when Jimi decided to do something different on the transmission to what he'd (sort of) rehearsed.  The Lulu series was P as B ('programme as broadcast') recorded and then soon wiped, but luckily a VT engineer used to make copies of rock material that he liked, and stashed the somewhat illegal 2" tapes under the flooring. And lots of very good old stuff came back from him.'

 

Whilst the studio was relatively busy during the early eighties its use tailed off as the years progressed.  By the end of the decade almost the only series regularly made there was Question Time.  I personally worked at the Greenwood on a handful of occasions - on a few Harty's and Question Times but it was always seen as something of an oddity - certainly a nice place to work and quite different from TVC or TV Theatre. 

It is hard to find anyone who can recall many other shows made here during the ten years of BBC occupation.  Some have mentioned a book quiz and a talk show with Irish writer Frank Delaney.  Susan Hill, writer of A Woman In Black is said to have possibly hosted a show.  Clare Francis, the solo sailor, also possibly presented a series.  Even Edna Healey, wife of politician Denis Healey is recalled having presented a programme on poetry.  However, memories are fickle and some of the above might have been guests on other shows or have been part of the Friday Night Saturday Morning strand.

Do contact me if you can rememember any other shows!

 

The somewhat cramped production gallery which was situated at the back of the auditorium.  The rather basic Cox vision mixer is in the foreground and in the background is the Thorn lighting console and then the racks controls.  The LD sat on a stool with his knees between the console op and vision operator (racks). 

photo thanks to Andrew Prince

There is a story concerning one particular LD - I couldn't possibly say who - who was renowned for his ability to take a discreet forty winks whilst balanced on his stool.  During one evening's recording of an especially dull Question Time after a particularly enjoyable dinner break in a local pub he completely nodded off.  So much so that he toppled off the stool, knocking the racks operator off his chair and onto the floor.  There were a few brief moments of rather oddly exposed pictures and normal service was quickly resumed.

When I visited in the summer of 2008 I was shown to the small room where the follow spot is now located.  The operator sits on a tall stool (seen below.)  It is my solemn belief that this is the actual stool from which H**** B***** toppled all those years ago.  You can see that it could have happened to anyone.

The control room in 2008.  All that remains of the TV days are the three power meters with their overload warning mounted on the wall on the left.  I doubt they come very close to overloading now with a couple of dozen 1kW spots.

 

Martin Kisner has written to me, reminding me of another use of the theatre during the BBC's occupation:

'...There was a clause written into the BBC lease that they were to allow the Guy's medical students use of the theatre for one or two weeks in the year.  This was rarely taken up but at least on one occasion it was.  The students wanted to put on a performance of Oh What a Lovely War, over two nights.  The BBC said OK, but if you want to use the lighting our staff must be present.

So it was that Andrew Dixon and myself became honoury medical students for the week.  He designed the lighting and I was the console op.  As I remember, because the Galaxy faced the monitor stack (of course) and away from the stage, we had to mount a camera to give us a wide shot of the stage.  I was then able to work off a monitor, just like telly.  We also put a follow spot in the gallery firing through the glass. 

I remember the after show party to which we were invited.  The directions were 'go down to the basement and take the first corridor past the mortuary'.  I don't think anybody would have been too disturbed by the partying that night.  I also recall thinking that the director, a medical student and future doctor, was a very talented bloke.  Perhaps a Jonathan Miller in the making.'

 

A final aside, courtesy of Peter Neill:

'...Trevor Neilson, the self-styled House Manager (what we called a Studio Supervisor in W12) kept a "Visitors' Book" which he endeavoured to get every visiting celeb to sign (and as you can imagine there were very many very big names over the years). Photocopied pages were displayed in the foyer, but the original must have been worth a fortune to an autograph collector.' 

In fact, having seen the above, Trevor wrote to me in February 2009 with a fascinating account of his years at the Greenwood.  There is too much to include all of it but here are some edited highlights...

 

'...My job was an unusual combination of front of house management - including meeting and greeting - and backstage safety and security.  In fact I had the rare privilege within the modern BBC of, to all intents and purposes, writing my own Job Description.  A curious result was that I never had an official title - I was simply a Studio Supervisor-on-loan.  On internal memos I sometimes called myself Theatre Supervisor - I wasn't of a BBC grade where I could call myself a manager.  However for simplicity's sake I sometimes introduced myself as the Front-of-House Manager when dealing with audiences and other folk outside the Corporation.

There was another, unofficial, title given me by the taxi drivers who waited outside the theatre to collect our guests after the show.  Often they would have to wait a very long time, at BBC expense of course, but even then some of them would get restless.  I'd take out plates of sandwiches and soft drinks from the Green Room to keep them happy.  I was chuffed to discover that their title for me was simply "The Man".

(A point of interest: one of the cabbies, a real East End old-timer, told me that the Greenwood was doomed to fail as a theatre because it didn't "face up west".  There is a tradition, he explained, that if a theatre isn't in the West End it can only hope to succeed if it is built to face towards the West End.  The Greenwood faced east.)'

'...The seats that were removed plus other furniture, fixtures and fittings as well as a lot of technical equipment from the original translators booth and the projectors (I think) were stored (piled up, really) in a corner of an old warehouse just a hundred metres or so along Weston Street.  I wouldn't like to know what sort of condition this stuff was in when the BBC gave up the theatre and it was restored to its original state.  Not my problem, I'm pleased to say.  (Perhaps by that time everybody forgot the stuff was there.)' 

I wonder if Guy's Hospital realised the above when they returned the theatre to its original use?!

'...The Greenwood had a theatre licence but we managed to have the requirement that the safety curtain be lowered in the presence of each audience waived; if something had gone with the mechanics and it refused to go back up it would have taken several able-bodied people a very long time to wind it into the flies manually.  This would really have been a disaster before, think about it, the live transmission of Harty.  Thus it was dropped and raised to an empty auditorium as near to audience admission time as possible, usually just before the last camera line-up of the day.

Any parts of the set that came downstage of the pros. arch had to designed with a break to allow the curtain to make full contact with the stage floor.  This sometimes created "artistic problems" but none that were insurmountable.

After a couple of years the owners allowed the theatre licence to lapse, thus doing away with any obligation to lower the curtain but at my urging this was not made widely known; sets were still designed around it and it was still operated on any day an audience was expected.  I felt that it was a useful discipline.'

I'll bet there are a few designers who would have loved to have known the above back then!

'...And then there was the night when Lord George-Brown was on the Question Time panel and one minute he was there and then next he'd gone.  Recording time was drawing closer and people began to worry.  Then I remembered that earlier he'd told me he knew this part of London well, having been born in Lambeth.  He also told me that he remembered a neighbourhood fish and chip shop from his childhood days and wondered if it was still there.  I knew it was, so after his disappearance I put two and two together and set a member of the production team and a policeman off in the right direction.  My guess was right: they ran into him coming back from the shop tucking into a portion of chips, and looking a little bit lost.  I wish I could say the chips were wrapped in the good old Tory Daily Telegraph but even in those days wrapping chips in newspapers was no longer done.  And in his defence he was not in a "tired and emotional" state that night.'

'...Harty had been at the Greenwood for some time before Parkinson came down to record his Wednesday shows there.  On the Tuesday before Michael's first show Russell Harty gave me a huge bouquet of flowers and a card in an envelope and asked me to make sure they were waiting in Dressing Room One when Michael arrived the next day.  Michael was somewhat taken aback by the flowers but I'll never forget the look on his face when he read the card.  It was beyond words.  Happily, it ended up as a huge grin from Michael followed by a loud chuckle.  He then put the card in his pocket and strolled away.  To this day I still wonder what was on that card.'

And as for the famous visitors' book....

'...I bought and paid for it out of my own money but I asked our visitors to sign it on BBC premises on BBC time so its ownership remains a moot point.  I left it behind when I came back to Television Centre and I have no idea what happened to it.  But I do know it inspired a similar book at the Television Theatre.  I wonder what ever happened to that?'

So the mystery remains!

 

 

A plan of the Greenwood as issued to BBC technical managers in 1982.

According to one source the studio floor area was said to be about 3000 sq ft.  However, the plan above indicates a somewhat smaller working area of roughly 2250 sq ft.  The theatre itself has a reasonably large stage with a pros arch width of 36ft.  Working depth upstage was 24ft 6ins and the apron extended the full width of the auditorium downstage about 25 ft until it reached the front row of the steeply-raked audience. 

The BBC laid a TV floor on the stage and apron area and added motorised FOH lighting bars across the width of the theatre.  Running up and down stage across the pros arch was a row of seven motorised bars.  Onstage there were and still are 30 counterweight bars.  About 200 dimmers were installed, controlling a large inventory of television lights.  A reasonably-sized, fully-equipped control room shared by production and lighting was built at the back of the auditorium.  Sound had a well-equipped gallery at the side of the auditorium in what originally was the translators' room for lectures.

 

For the first two or three years the cameras were old EMI 2001s from TV Centre - ex TC7.  By 1982 they had been replaced with Link 125s.

Incidentally, there were no VT machines locally.  A sound assistant wrote to me, recalling one night when they almost had to do Parkinson live because they lost the line to TC - a BT engineer hastily despatched to clear the fault found that a cleaner in an intermediate exchange had unplugged a DA so she could plug her Hoover in!

Initially, an old BBC OB scanner containing all the vision apparatus was positioned at the back of the theatre.  It was in fact L04 - an old type 2 CMCR.  I am told that it was parked in the space reserved for fire engines if they were called in an emergency.  Therefore, the studio engineers were presented with a large axe with which to sever the cables that were plugged to the vehicle.  They were then to drive the scanner away from the building as quickly as possible to make way for the fire brigade!  There was a standing instruction to fire up the vehicle's engine once a week to check that it still worked.  The scanner was replaced in 1984 with a purpose-built apparatus room backstage.  There is no record of what happened to the axe.

 

Mike Wood has written to me.  He was in the BBC's Studio Capital Projects Department (SCPD) that was given the job of fitting out the Greenwood with next to no money and with only 6 weeks on site to do all the work.  All the kit was begged and borrowed or brought forward from other contracts.  Bill Cotton insisted the studio would open on time and open on time it did.

He recalls that the siting of the dimmer racks was one of the problems - the only possible location being on the fly gallery, 35 feet up in the air.  Simply getting them up there was a feat in itself.  Access to the gantry was only via a very steeply sloping metal ladder.  Or was it a staircase?  Safety officers could not decide which it was (different regs applied) but in any case were not happy until a handrail was welded on.  Even then, Mike recalls that climbing it was extremely perilous!

Other interesting issues included the weight of the TV lights being far greater than the counterweight stage bars had been designed for.  The grid was deemed strong enough but to get enough weight in the counterweight cradle the iron weights had to partly be replaced with lead ones which were very expensive and of course highly nickable.  They were therefore loaded on the bottom of the cradle with cast iron weights on top.  Still fairly easily nicked but you'd need a lot more time and dedication.  Whatever happened to those after the TV studio days I wonder?  Are they still there.....?

Mike recalls the first Question Time.  Unfortunately the link to TVC was lost briefly at the beginning of the show so the opening titles and introductions had not been recorded.  This was only discovered after the camera crew had gone home.  The presenter and guests were fortunately still in hospitality so they were returned to their seats and the opening was re-recorded - with the SCPD engineers operating the cameras and other kit.  This was all kept highly secret - the union would definitely not have approved!

 

 

The studio was taken over in 1990 by a company called Network One Television.  They apparently took on the lease on condition that the Beeb left it equipped as it was. This was probably cheaper than decommissioning it, but possibly the Corporation didn't realise that they had to leave the two rather expensive Fisher booms - which I am told the new occupants promptly sold.

The driving force behind Network One were husband and wife John and Angela Beveridge.  They were an ex-BBC director and vision mixer respectively.  Desmond Wilcox was also associated with the company.  They owned the ex-TVS studio in Gillingham (now demolished) and a post-production facility in Greek Street.  The Greenwood was re-equipped with Sony BVP70  cameras and a new sound desk.  These were bought on the promise of a year-long booking by a new show fronted by Jonathan Ross.  This programme was a three-times weekly chat show for Channel 4 and was of course called Tonight with Jonathan Ross.  The show first aired on November 5th 1990.

Peter Orton, who directed the show, has confirmed that new cameras were purchased for the series - the old BBC Link 125s being well past their best.  He also recalls that on occasions the show ventured forth to rather more glamorous locations...

'...we did fifteen live shows of the strand from the Ed Sullivan theatre on Broadway, three as live from L.A. one on the beach, and four from the private pier of the Carlton hotel in Cannes, on a boat - two of which were live.'

Peter is still very much in demand - he directed the hugely successful Harry Hill's TV Burp.  He also directs Russell Howard's Good News and many other popular shows.

The Jonathan Ross show was very popular and was recommissioned for a further year but, perhaps surprisingly, Network One fell victim to tough times and went under.  However, Alba - the consumer electronics company - who had had a significant share in Network One now took over the studio and operated it (without the involvement of the Beveridges) as The GreenwoodTonight with Jonathan Ross continued successfully for about two and a half years in total, ending on May 1st, 1992.  Nirvana played on the show in 1991 - according to a website they allegedly trashed some of the set but they did pay for the damage!

The picture below is a still of the Jonathan Ross set in its second series and it shows quite well what a useful facility the Greenwood Theatre was.

Below is the same view in 2008.  You can see how the BBC had removed the first four rows of seats and extended the stage forward.  The exits either side were hidden behind the downstage side pieces of the set.  Every show had to hide these exits in a similar way.  The FOH lighting bars are still much as the BBC and London Bridge left them - although some of the trusses have been renewed.  The theatre's stock of lights is not quite as extensive now as it was in the TV days!

Incidentally - the walls were certainly not that striking shade of Jaffa Orange in the TV days.  From memory they were a fairly neutral buff colour.  Some student must have thought the place needed brightening up the same colour as his bedroom.

 

The Greenwood operated as a business for a few months after the Ross show ended and one or two other shows were made here.  However, possibly due to Alba's inexperience of marketing its facility to the TV industry, they failed to attract enough work and the company folded.  Most of the technical equipment was sold off.

 

The audience entrance in the London Bridge days

Shortly afterwards, John Beveridge returned to run the studio again - this time as London Bridge Studios. This was the company that looked after the Greenwood between 1992 and 1998.  The studio now operated as a drive-in using OB scanners for facilities.  Various programmes were made including several Question Times.  Tony Tyrer has written to me about his experience at London Bridge:

'...About 1992, after I'd left Thames to go freelance, I floor managed a few series of the Andrew Newton Experience (hypnotism shows almost identical to Paul McKenna's) at London Bridge Studios. They were for Sky, but produced by Thames in its dying days.  John Fisher was the exec prod.  We probably did quite a few things there, since I think Thames had some sort of ownership arrangement with them.  Scanner provided by Thames OB fleet, augmented by old Anglia vehicles.  (Thames and LWT joined up with Anglia to service a new Channel Four Racing contract, so there was a mix of equipment.)'

John Beveridge (for it is he) has kindly send me a few photos from the days he ran the Greenwood...

 

I visited the Greenwood in June 2008 - having been invited by Catherine Trigg, the theatre manager.  There is surprisingly little remaining evidence of the theatre's previous TV use but she does warm her feet in her office with a 'Thames' labelled electric heater that must have been left behind around 1992!

There are a few old photos on corridor walls and set plans in Catherine's office which usefully confirm the year some TV shows were made.  These include Jo Brand's Through the Cakehole ('94), The Andrew Newton Show ('94 - as mentioned above), The Pub Landlord's Late Lock-In (BBC - '97), Countdown 2000th edition (Yorkshire TV - '97), Jackanory (BBC - '97), Armstrong and Miller (C4 - '97) and Dimbleby (LWT '97).  She also has the last London Bridge stage door signing-in book which proves that the final shows to be recorded here were editions of Question Time during the spring and summer of 1998.  The last recording was on 18th June 1998 and the lease was handed over in September of that year.  No sign of Trevor Neilson's old visitor's book though!

If you have any more info about shows made at the Greenwood please let me know!

 

The above photo hangs in the Greenwood foyer (hence the reflections) and shows the making of Al Murray The Pub Landlord's Late Lock-In (1997).  This was the title of his 1996 Edinburgh Festival performance so was probably a televised version of that show.

Before we leave the Greenwood - there is an apocryphal story that has the ring of truth about it.  It seems that there was a secret tunnel that led from the basement of the nurses home next door to the basement of the Theatre.  In the middle of the night, at some time in the post-BBC years, a security guard found a group of nurses helping themselves from the bar.  Apparently this had been a regular occurence - although whether we are talking about a matter of days, weeks or years isn't known.  Isn't there an expression used in the catering trade that missing booze is 'for the angels'?  Ironically, I seem to remember a BBC series about nurses with that very title.

The auditorium as it is now.  Sunglasses are provided in the foyer.

In the summer of 1999 the theatre was refurbished and most of the remaining TV equipment removed.  When I say 'refurbished' - what I actually mean is that the stage was returned to its former shape, new seats were installed in the front four rows (see above), 15Amp lighting sockets replaced the television 32Amp ones and the walls of the auditorium were painted a startling shade of orange.  The motorised lighting bars over the auditorium do remain however and the red/blue TX/reh lights operate during lectures to prevent people entering and disturbing the proceedings.

The Greenwood is now operated by King's College London, who use it for its original intended purpose as a lecture theatre - mostly for the medical faculty.  It is also booked as a performance space for student, amateur and community productions and events.  I gather it is busy for most of the year with lectures during the day and performances in the evening.  It is probably the theatre with the largest stage and best technical facilities available for amateurs in central London.

There has been some talk in recent years about demolishing the theatre and building a medical facility on the site.  However, the theatre would have to be replaced - seating 450, it is the largest lecture space the college owns and is in heavy demand, not to mention the theatrical activity that is used by many community organisations as well as students.  Until a suitable replacement can be found, its future is therefore relatively secure - at least in the short to medium term.

 

 

 

The One Show Studio  BBC Media Village, White City

 

On 9th July 2007 The One Show began its regular weekday 7pm broadcasts on BBC1.  The show was created in an effort to bring back something along the lines of the good old days of Nationwide, which was made at Lime Grove between 1969 and 1983.  The One Show had been trialled for four weeks in the summer of 2006 where it was made in a temporary studio at The Mailbox, Birmingham using an OB unit provided by NEP Visions.

It was decided to make the regular series in London rather than Birmingham in order to attract as many well-known studio guests as possible.  However, the location inserts are usually made all over the UK except for London.  (An exception was the final live show from TV Centre on March 22, 2013 when Michael Grade informed the nation that it would cost £200m to bring the studios there up to HD standard, even though all six of the main studios were already fully HD equipped.  Hey ho.)

photo thanks to dgeezer and flickr.com

A room was chosen in the BBC's Media Village in White City in which to create a studio.  The building is located on ground previously occupied by the White City Stadium, used for the 1908 Olympics.  The Olympic rings are proudly displayed on the wall next to where the One Show studio was located and the finishing line is marked on the ground just a few metres from the studio windows.  For those who like useless facts, the studio was thus 26 miles and 385 yards (give or take a yard or two) from Windsor Castle.  The first modern marathon race was run in these Olympics - it began at the castle and ended in the stadium here, which was 26 miles on the roads plus 385 yards on the track.  Every marathon run since then has been the same length.  Fancy that. 

 

The BBC Media Village consisted of the original block - White City One (which opened in 1990 and the BBC vacated in March 2013) and a cluster of buildings behind it that opened in 2004.  The two most important were the Broadcast Centre, where Red Bee play out all the BBC and UKTV channels and the Media Centre which houses production offices for a number of programmes and BBC Worldwide.  A smaller building - the Energy Centre - links the Broadcast Centre with White City One and the One Show studio was located in this.  The Top Gear production office was also in this building - although the programme itself is recorded in a hangar at the old Dunsfold Aerodrome near Guildford.  Panorama was based at White City and for a while each programme began with Jeremy Vine standing outside the doorway to the building, the One Show studio window often seen in the shot.

Incidentally, from 2001 Watchdog was broadcast live from an office in White City One using an OB unit for technical facilities, then after a few years moved to an area on the ground floor of the internal atrium in the Media Centre.  Transmissions were occasionally disturbed by the sound of distant hoovering from an upper floor.  After all, as far as the cleaners were concerned, everyone had gone home.  Maybe partly because of the hoovering, Watchdog moved back to TV Centre in 2010.  (The 2013/2014 series are being made in The Hospital Club studio in Covent Garden since TVC is no more.)

 

The One Show studio was on the first floor and had windows overlooking a square that is on BBC land (although accessible to the public), enabling the occasional live item to be presented outdoors without having to obtain special permission or control large crowds of passers-by.  HMI lights were permanently mounted on the buildings to illuminate the Broadcast Centre and Media Centre, which were seen through the studio windows at night.

The studio was very small and only had normal office air conditioning so in order to prevent heat from the studio lights building up, LED fittings were chosen to light the set.  Keylights were originally MSR lamps but these were replaced in January 2013 with brand new Arri LED Fresnel lights.  All the lighting kit was supplied by ELP.

This photo shown nicely what a cramped space the studio really was.

photo thanks to ELP

Technical facilities were provided by SIS.  A fly-away gallery suite was installed in nearby rooms.  This evolved into something much more permanent.  In 2010 the studio was re-equipped to transmit in HD, using Sony HSC-300 cameras.

 

The original regular presenters in 2007 were Adrian Chiles and Myleene Klass, who was soon replaced by Christine Bleakley when she left to have a baby.

In April 2010 Chris Evans was appointed as the presenter of the Friday edition of the show in order to give it a more informal 'weekend starts here' feel.  (TFI Friday anyone?)  A few days later, Adrian Chiles announced that he was leaving the show and going to ITV to present Daybreak, ITV Football and That Sunday Night Show.  Jason Manford replaced him.

Christine Bleakley left about two months later and after a few temporary presenters was replaced by Alex Jones in July.  Meanwhile, Jason Manford left the show in August following stories in the press concerning his private life.   After alternating presenting duties with two or three other men, Matt Baker was booked as regular presenter in January 2011.

 

Although the studio was intended for one show - in fact The One Show - it was used occasionally for two other programmes during the day or at weekends.  Watchdog Daily was broadcast for four weeks on weekday mornings from November 12th 2012.

Film 2010 (then 2011, 2012 and 2013) was made in this studio.  It has been presented by Claudia Winkleman and Danny Leigh since October 2010.  The show is referred to as 'The Film Programme' within the BBC.  It began in 1971 and was recorded in BBC TV Centre Pres B.  Barry Norman was the well-known host for many years and it remained in that studio right up to its closure in 1996, after which it was made in the corner of various other studios at TVC.

Jonathan Ross took over as presenter in 1999.  The show was then made using single camera in a studio at the BBC's radio studios at Maida Vale.  This apparently was the room previously occupied by the Radiophonic Workshop, which had been disbanded in 1998.

 

In 2012 the BBC confirmed that as part of their 'Making Programmes Cheaply' - I'm so sorry, 'Delivering Quality First' policy they would be closing White City One in March 2013 and most of the other buildings in the Media Village over the following months.  They have retained ownership but are selling the various leases.  The One Show thus needed a new studio.  They were told they had to move (along with a great many others) to New Broadcasting House in central London.  The studio earmarked is on the ground floor and was previously used by BBC London.  They in turn are moving to a new basement studio in 2014.  The New BH studio has large windows (previously boarded up) looking onto the central courtyard as it was originally intended that this would be used as a BBC shop but never has been.

The last edition of The One Show came from this studio on December 20th 2013.  The show moved to New BH over Christmas.

 

Meanwhile, the Broadcast Centre has been retained and rebranded the 'BBC Broadcast Centre' since the closure of TV Centre.  Odd, since broadcasting the BBC's channels is carried out by Red Bee, a private company, who also transmit from here all the UKTV channels, BT Sport, ESPN and Channel 4 and all its spin-offs. 

The CCA, (Central Control Area) at TV Centre which for many years handled dozens of incoming and outgoing video and audio signals for transmission and recording was over many months during 2013 moved from TV Centre to the BBC Broadcast Centre which is of course only a few hundred yards down Wood Lane.  Some might question the logic of spending millions of pounds on this apparently pointless exercise but such things can only be understood by the enormous brains of senior BBC managers and their consultants.  We are not worthy to question such things.  However, some with simple minds might wonder whether the £200m raised from selling TVC seems quite such a good deal when all these extra costs are taken into account.

 

 

 

 

A small postscript...

Whilst not strictly within the remit of this website, it is perhaps worth recording that during the time of the 'three-day week' in the winter of '73/'74, the Questor's Theatre in Ealing was taken over by the BBC and used as a studio.  At least three live programmes were transmitted from here.  One, hosted by David Dimbleby, had Uri Geller as a guest.  It is said that this show was the first time that he demonstrated his famous spoon-bending trick on live TV.  Well I never. 

Thanks to Richard Broadhurst for this little gem.  Ian Dow has since added to it...

'...One of the cameramen cast doubts during the derig.  Uri asked for his car key, and bent it before his eyes.  He had to get a taxi home as he couldn't get it into the ignition!'

In fact, I'm told by Bob Scrivener that the BBC had used The Questors before this, in the late sixties.  There were at least two hour-long programmes screened on BBC2 called Something Special.  One featured Humphrey Littleton introducing some trad jazz and the other starred The Four Tops.

 

Yet another postscript...

Mark Mumford informs me that another theatre was taken over for a while and used as a temporary studio by the BBC.  This was the Westminster Theatre in Victoria.  He thinks this happened some time in the early to mid 1980s.  Serviced by an OB unit it became the home of shows like Parkinson, My Music and a show about music hall performers called The Old Boy Network with Frankie Howerd, Arthur Askey, Jack Warner and several others.  Alec Guinness was one of the guests on Parkinson - fresh from the latest Star Wars movie, so that would date it probably as 1983 when Return of the Jedi was released.  Initially, I assumed that this was because a number of studios had closed at TVC to remove asbestos but that happened in 1988.  Why this theatre had to be used is a bit of a mystery.  TC4 was undergoing a major refurb in 1983 so it's possible they simply ran out of studio space at a busy time of the year.

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright information:  As on the rest of this website - please do not use or ask permission to use any of these images in books or other publications or on TV programmes or commercially run websites.  Many of the illustrations are copyrighted by their respective copyright holders according to the original copyright or publication date as printed on the artwork or publication and are reproduced here for historical reference and research purposes.  If you do own the copyright to any image displayed here and wish it to be credited or removed, please contact me and I shall of course be happy to oblige.

 

 

An apology - firstly for all those errors which are almost certainly still sprinkled throughout the above.  I shall do my best to put them right when I discover them or when somebody contacts me with the facts!  Secondly - I am very aware that I have almost completely ignored sound in all my comments about studio equipment.  It's not that I'm not interested, rather that I am far better informed about cameras and lighting and frankly there is very little information out there about which sound mixer was installed in what studio and when.  That's my excuse anyway.

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