Opening TC1, TC7, TC6

The final part of this phase of the construction of Television Centre was the completion and fitting out of studios 1, 7 and 6 – in that order.  This would finish the building as it was initially designed.  Further expansion along the spur was in the concept phase only and no detailed plans existed at that time. 

 

TC1  opened on 15th April 1964.  (I seem to remember watching a Blue Peter special from that studio on the day or very soon afterwards.)  It was of course equipped with monochrome cameras (EMI 201s) and would have to wait until 1968 before it was colourised using EMI 2001 cameras.  The BBC boasted at the time that it was the largest television studio in Europe although actually Associated-Rediffusion’s studio 5 at Wembley was much larger at about 13,400 sq ft gross when it had its huge dividing doors open.

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The newly opened TC1 with the opening production of BBC2 – Kiss Me Kate. Except it wasn’t of course, as TV Centre was blacked out by a power cut on the night – 20th April 1964 – so it went out a few days later. In fact, Play School became the opening programme, coming from Riverside Studios the following morning.

 

The studio is 10,800 sq ft gross or 100 x 88 metric feet between firelanes and its size has proved immensely useful for all kinds of productions.

Originally it was going to have a section of the floor that could have been lowered with motors.  The official BBC book about the Centre published in 1960 states ‘A pit is provided, fifty feet long by thirty feet wide which can be filled with water and will have above it a sectional floor that can descend to a maximum depth of 7 ft 6 ins.’  The idea went away before it was built but that part of the studio apparently still has a different maximum weight loading from the rest.  I can’t think what kind of television production would safely be able to make use of a tank containing thousands of gallons of water and in the event I suppose others couldn’t either.  I imagine that the problem of how to make the join in the floor so perfect that cameras could track over it without any disturbance to the picture also proved to be a bit of a headache.  It does indicate though that at the time of designing the building, cost was almost irrelevant and all they wanted were the best possible studios with the best possible facilities.

 

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Whilst exploring the basement in May 2015 during the reconstruction of the facilities, I came upon this.  It is the wall of the old tank beneath TC1. The room behind is being turned into a dressing room but the thickness of the concrete wall, originally designed to contain thousands of tons of water, is clear to see.  That is the studio floor above.

 

TC1 was used often throughout the ’70s and ’80s for major dramas and operas.  Most of the BBC Shakespeares were recorded in here – using very expensive elaborate sets.  These were like mini feature films shot on video over several days.  I was privileged to work on several of them as a lowly camera assistant, sometimes being allowed to take the occasional static mid-shot.  Every month there was a major drama shot in the studio – mostly under the Play of the Month or Performance strand.  Operas were also recorded in the studio – the orchestra was in another studio with a televised link of the conductor on monitors all round the set.  The last drama series made in TC1 was probably  The House of Eliott  in 1994 and the last single play recorded here was probably Henry IV Part 1 in 1995.

 

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The Beggar’s Opera – directed by Jonathan Miller in 1982.  Lighting by Dennis Channon.  An impressive set by David Myerscough-Jones, typical of those that were regularly seen in TC1 in the ’70s and ’80s.  That’s Ron Green on the front of the Nike crane.
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One of the most celebrated programmes to come out of TC1 – I Claudius.  This picture was taken in 1976.  I can be fairly certain of that as I am the cable-basher on the far right of the frame.  (And that was a serious cable to bash, I can tell you.)  This series was the first I worked on when joining the BBC and I assumed at the time that the rest of my career would be spent working on programmes just like this one.  Ah well.
 The others in the photo are Patrick Stewart as Sejanus, Ian Perry on the camera and in the white T-shirt – Herby Wise, the director.
Note the closeness of the camera to the actors.  It was often much nearer.  The technique of fluid camerawork with the ped always on the move and operating on a wide lens close to the action was pioneered by Jim Atkinson, senior cameraman of crew 5.  It was similar to today’s use of hand-held or Steadycam mounted cameras and was arguably 30 years ahead of its time.
This technique of actors ‘finding the lens’ as the camera develops its shot around the set was wickedly and hilariously parodied by Paul Whitehouse and Harry Enfield in their comedy review of the history of BBC2 (Harry and Paul’s Story of the Twos) which went out in April 2014.  Not many will have got the joke but I certainly did.
photo by Dave Edwards/BBC

 

Major light entertainment shows used it too of course, notably The Two Ronnies and occasionally Morecambe and Wise as well as the show nobody speaks of – The Black and White Minstrel Show – which inexplicably continued to be made right up until 1978.  It has however not been a popular studio with some comedians – they feel its internal volume dissipates laughter and audience reaction.  I lit a series of  Shooting Stars  in TC1 in 2002 and Vic and Bob hated it.  However, some episodes of Fawlty Towers were recorded in it and I lit I’m Alan Partridge in this studio in 2002. (The series set in his house and caravan.)

The studio was always the home of General Elections – its huge size enabling impressive sets to be built that ITN could never hope to compete with.  Over the decades the studio was fitted out with all kinds of connectivity – hundreds of phone lines, video and audio inputs and computer links.  All this was ripped out and re-installed in BBC Elstree D at huge expense in 2013, ready for the next General Election.  (That £200m they sold it for keeps looking less and less like a good deal doesn’t it?)

Blue Peter was also an occasional user of the studio.  Its set was designed such that it could fit in any of the studios.  It was moved around TVC into whichever studio was empty on that day. When it happened to be in TC1 they usually made the most of it and had large demonstrations of dancers or radio controlled cars or anything that could use all the space.  The Christmas edition almost always came from TC1 – the scene dock doors were opened and the Salvation Army Band and hundreds of choristers marched in.  Sadly, in their tiny studio two floors up in Salford’s MediaCity, such things are no longer possible.

 

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Leonard Bernstein and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in TC1 in 1982.
This was a recorded rehearsal of Elgar’s Enigma Variations – the actual concert was the following evening in the Royal Festival Hall.  The many hours of rehearsal were all recorded and later televised in an Omnibus special.
I was thrilled to discover this photo in a book – you’ll have to take my word for it but I was the cameraman hidden behind one of the musicians deep within the orchestra on the left of this photo.  This was one of the most extraordinary days I have spent in television.  Experiencing a master conductor guiding one of the world’s best orchestras in how he wished that familiar piece of music to be played was a rare privilege.
Incidentally, I don’t think he and the orchestra got on terribly well (which made great TV).  He wanted Nimrod played much slower than they were used to performing it and they all got quite cross with each other.

 

In 1988 the studio was closed for a major refit.  The galleries were all completely rebuilt – lighting and sound swapping to the opposite sides of the production gallery.  The opportunity was taken to remove all the asbestos in the studio – the wall panels were removed and new ones fitted.  It was decided to close Television Theatre at this time and TC1 would become its replacement.  New retractable audience seating was installed and a lobby was built at first floor level allowing audiences to enter the studio at the top of the seating rostra.  The seating was built on wall 2 – one of the long walls rather than wall 1, where it had always been set before.  This was in my view a mistake.  What resulted was a wide, shallow floor area for sets, with lots of wasted space either side of the fan-shaped seating block.  All this work took a great deal of time and the studio did not reopen until January 1991.

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Two contrasting examples of light entertainment in TC1 – above, Morecambe and Wise (with Glenda Jackson) in 1971 (that’s Ian Ridley on the front of the Nike crane) and two decades later, Noel’s House Party. Looks like this photo was taken during a meal break under house lights. No more Nike or Mole cranes in the 1990s. They had been replaced with Technocranes and Jimmy Jibs.

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Noel’s House Party  was a regular booking from 1991 – 1999 but other shows such as the Wogan show and National Lottery Stars used it too.

In the last few years before the building’s closing it came into its own with popular shows like Strictly Come Dancing, ‘Maria’, ‘Joseph’ and ‘Nancy’, Let Me Entertain You, Last Choir Standing, Maestro and the audition phase of The Voice.  These big spectacular productions simply won’t fit into any other London TV studio except for Fountain at Wembley (now sadly closed) and latterly, the George Lucas stage at Elstree, LH2 and ITV Bovingdon.  For many years TC1 enabled the BBC to present shows that were visually second to none.  Its final show in 2013 was a special in which Miranda Hart interviewed Bruce Forsyth and was recorded on 25th March.

 

 

The studio reopened at the end of August 2017 following another major refit.  The audience seating was removed and the upper access for audiences is no more.  There is now a continuous run of new seating all along wall 2 that pulls out to reveal an impressive 600 seats but still leaves a huge floor area available – much more than the previous seating gave and a greater area than TLS studio 1 had.

The original intention was to ‘lock and leave’.  In other words, mothball the studio until the planned reopening date of 2015.  However, this proved impractical for various reasons.  The wall boxes were all been replaced as the cables leading to them had been cut by the contractors so all the wiring is new too.  New dimmers were fitted.  Well, not exactly new – they are the ones from TC6 and TC8 and were about 15 years old but seem to work well.  There are now half the number of dimmers that the studio used to have.  The theory is that most entertainment shows use LED and moving lights so the number of tungsten lamps in use is less than it was in years gone by.

The sound, production and lighting galleries were all completely stripped in 2013 and the kit went to the George Lucas stage at Elstree.  New 4K kit and cameras were purchased and installed in 2017.  The lighting data control system has been described to me by the technicians I work with as the best in any studio and I gather the sound department are equally impressed with their installation.

When it reopened at the end of August 2017, TC1 was effectively a brand new studio – the best equipped in the UK.  I was lucky enough to work on one of the first shows back in – The Russell Howard Hour – which occupied the studio every Monday and Tuesday from early September to Christmas.  I found the studio facilities superb.  It was very odd to be working there again.  Inside the studio itself it all looked very, very familiar – like being back home – but once through any of the doors, the corridors and all the rooms surrounding the studio were completely new. All around the Studioworks corner of the site, building work was was of course still going on.

Andy James was project manager for BBC Studioworks so he deserves a great deal of credit for the success of the refit.

 

 

 

 

TC7  was almost exactly the same design as TC2 and TC5 (and also with long lighting bars) although it was a couple of feet longer.  According to the SMPTE Journal it opened on 4th July 1965. It was originally due to open in ’62, then ’63, then ’64.  Confusingly (and incorrectly), according to the 1963 BBC Handbook it opened in 1962 but an IEE publication, ‘The BBC Television Centre and its Technical Facilities’, dated May 1962, states that ‘TC7, as well as TC1 and TC6, will be gradually equipped and brought into service during 1963 and 1964.’  In fact, TC6 did not come into service until 1967 so that was postponed too.

Its design was very similar to the first four studios and the equipment fit was also along the same lines.  It originally had black and white Marconi Mk IV cameras and was the first studio at TVC to be converted from b/w to colour (TC6 and TC8 opened in colour), being equipped with EMI 2001s.  TC7 became the third colour studio at TVC, opening on 4th May 1968, after a short working up period.   (This info from BBC Engineering Division document ‘Technical Description TC7’, dated June 1968).

 

Play School moved here from Riverside and was based in this studio for many years, providing excellent training opportunities for young cameramen and boom ops and not so young trainee lighting directors.  For many years I kept in my garage a set of colour filters dating from the late 1980s that I carefully cut out and stapled together to create a very interesting underwater effect around the cyclorama end of the studio.  The director said she was very impressed but I think she was just being kind.

 

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The lighting grid in TC7 photographed on Jan 1st 2013.
The photo was kindly sent to me by Joe Godwin who noted that those lights had illuminated many an edition of Going Live that he directed in 1993.  Indeed, I was responsible for deciding where those lights would be pointed on many an edition of the same show.
If you’re wondering what happened to all the lights – they were sold to dock10, the company that runs the studios at MediaCity in Salford, and they now hang from the grid in studio HQ1.  I used some of them to light a show myself in 2019.  Funny old world.

 

TC7 was used in later years for The Late Show, after it moved from Lime Grove, although of course dozens of other relatively small scale shows including panel games like Call My Bluff, childrens’ programmes such as Bodger and Badger and cookery programmes with Delia Smith and other less memorable personalities used this studio.  The original three series of Vic and Bob’s Shooting Stars from 1995 to 1997 also came from here.  In 2002 it moved to TC1, which was quite a contrast.

 

From 1976, each Saturday TC7 was given over to live kids’ TV – starting with  Multi-Coloured Swap Shop until 1982 when it was succeeded by Saturday Superstore, then Going Live and finally  Live and Kicking.  After a couple of series L&K moved to TC6 in 1997 – officially only occupying the same floor area as TC7 but, surprise surprise, the set gradually stretched over the years until it almost filled that studio.

 

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A typical production gallery in the late ’60s – in this case TC7.  PA on the left, then director, then vision mixer. Confusingly, the vision mixer is also the name of the equipment he or she operates.
Until the 1980s all TVC’s studios had the BBC-designed 2-bank system with 8 inputs – each with a fader and button beneath.  This was a totally different operating philosophy from the commercially designed mixers (switchers) in use everywhere else in the world.
Nowadays, all BBC studios use the same vision mixers as in other studios – usually made by Grass Valley, Sony or Thomson.

 

I have been sent an anecdote by Mike Renshall relating to BBC vision mixers, similar to the one above. They could generate fancy ‘wipes’ by using a plug-in module – these were kept in a small flight case by the studio engineers.  The pattern of the wipe was illustrated on the cartridge that you plugged in for the desired effect.  Mike was a trainee engineer, working in TC5, when…

 

‘…one day a vision mixer lady came into the back room and asked me (a young trainee on my own) for the ‘box of 100 wipes’.  I of course didn’t know then that this referred to the plug-in wipe modules for the BBC EP5/512 vision mixer (the one with the two quadrant faders on the mixer top and the ‘clunk click’ channel buttons) so offered her.. er.. a box of Kimwipes. How embarrassing!’

 

From 1997-2013, TC7 was part of the BBC News empire.  Each weekday Breakfast came from here, followed by Working Lunch, Newsround and Newsnight.  In the latter years The Six o’Clock News came from this studio too.   At weekends it was the home of Frost on Sunday which was replaced by the Andrew Marr Show.  A very busy little studio indeed.

 

Richard Holland has written to me, recalling an occasion in 2003 when one afternoon he heard the rushing of water – he was a studio engineer and years of training and experience had taught him that this was not a good sound.  Floods of water were pouring in through the roof of the apparatus room.  He moved swiftly to shut down all the equipment before an electrical short made things even more exciting.  It transpired that guttering on the roof had not been cleared and the resulting pool had found an alternative means of escape.  The studio was unusable for the rest of the day but it was back in action for the next day’s Breakfast.  In the meantime,  Newsround was moved to TC11, followed by its normal show Liquid News, followed by Newsnight.  Despite the fact that the set was entirely different, thanks to putting some suitable graphics on the screens, most viewers probably didn’t notice a thing.  I’d say that’s a typical example of the people working in TV Centre rising to the occasion and overcoming a disaster with little fuss so the show can go on.

 

In 2013 this rather sad poem was posted on the production gallery wall:

 

Stop all the studio clocks, cut off the gallery phones,

Prevent the journalists from barking about a juicy bone,

Silence the signature tune and with muffled wipe bong

Bring out the TC7 end credits & let the mourners come.

Let boom cameras circle, whirring overhead,

Framing the double-wall inset the message ‘TC7 Is Dead’.

Put red W1 lanyards around the necks of the crew

While NBH security guys admit only the few.

TC7 was our North, our South, our East, our West,

Our Working Lunch and our AM Sunday best,

Our Newsround, our Newsnight, our HardTalk, our song;

We thought TC7 would last forever: We were wrong.

The lights are not wanted now: Put out them all;

Pack up the set and dismantle the Barco wall;

Pour away the Breakfast Tea and sweep up the floor.

For nothing now can ever come from here… anymore.

 

Please email me if you know the author.  He or she definitely deserves a credit.

 

 

On a slightly lighter note, I was sent this story about the final day in TC7 by Martin Rider…

 

‘I was the news DOM during the last 6 O’clock news from TC7.  I received a call late afternoon from the lighting console op.  She was stuck on the A40 due to a traffic incident and knew she would not make it to TVC in time for transmission.  I hurriedly made my way to the schedulers office and explained the plight.  There was a problem.  TC7 had an old school lighting console and nobody on site knew how to operate it.  I think we’re talking about 5pm now.  All of a sudden, a lady busily working at her computer in the office declares, ‘I was a lighting op years ago before I started this job’.  ‘Do you think you can still operate it? I asked.  ‘I should think so’ she proclaimed.  I walked with her to the gallery, she got herself familiarised and nailed the final broadcast.  I locked up TC7 the next day opening it up briefly for a last visit from Noel Edmonds and Philip Schofield.  Happy days.’

 

Great to note that both console ops in the story were women.  There are a few working in TV lighting but not enough!

 

 

 

Back in the early ’60s the ‘works block’ was also finished on the east side of the site.  This was topped with a 13-storey office block – the East Tower – which was completed in 1964.  Although built at the same time as the rest of the main block it was not part of the original design and does not appear on any of the early models or drawings.  It seems like an afterthought and looked quite out of place with the rest of the site. Its materials did not match those used on the other buildings and its design was typical of the type of bland office block of the period which seems surprising, given the unique nature and high quality of the design of the rest of TV Centre. 

For the final couple of decades it was occupied mostly by the Children’s department.  The production office for  Live and Kicking was on the top floor I seem to remember – I had the great pleasure of lighting that and previously Going Live for a few months each year for most of the 1990s.  Children’s even had a couple of very basically equipped small studios in the building which were used for Newsround and CBBC continuity.  The Children’s department left the East Tower during 2011.  It was demolished in 2016.

 

 

 

TC6  is an interesting case.  At the time the shell of the studio was built it was intended to install dividing doors and two sets of galleries.  It was therefore rotated through 90 degrees compared with all the other studios and had its long wall running along the scenery runway.  The idea of being able to split it was abandoned before the studio was fitted out.  The lighting bars in TC6 were slightly further apart along the centre line because the grid was designed to make allowance for the doors that were never fitted.  Because this studio was ‘sideways on’ people occasionally described it as being long and narrow.  In fact it was the same width as TC3 at 70 metric feet and only two feet longer than the other medium studios at 92 metric feet.

The opening of TC6 was delayed until 1967 so that it could become the BBC’s first colour studio.  BBC2 began to transmit some OBs and films in colour from July of that year.  The first production made in this studio was Once More With Felix starring Julie Felix. (Remember her? Just me then.)  In December a ‘full’ colour service began – although inevitably there were a few programmes that were still monochrome.

 

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Once More With Felix.  The first programme made in colour in TC6. Looks fab doesn’t it.  In those days they used fairy lights rather than Varilites.  (Sorry.)  You can actually see these lights in action on a clip of Leonard Cohen (who was a guest on this show) on YouTube.  Don’t watch if you can’t take too much excitement.
Note the cardboard lens hoods.  The real ones had not yet arrived. Also note the grey floor and brown cyc.
In the late ’60s following years of experiments at AP and studio H at Lime Grove the BBC had drawn up a book of rules as to what was and was not acceptable to transmit in colour.  It was almost as though they didn’t want too much colour on screen as it might alarm the viewer.  Hence, for the first few years the most popular colour for cycloramas and scenery in general was brown.  Lovely.

 

In the on-line reminiscences of his career, Dick McCarthy recalls TC6 opening in September 1967.  The earliest confirmed date I can find is a programme with the unlikely name of Hand Me My Sword, Smith which was recorded on 12th September, so the Julie Felix show must have been recorded before then, earlier in the month.

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The first single play was No Such Thing as a Vampire, which was probably in the studio from September 13th.  It was directed by Paddy Russell.  Recalling the occasion in 1998 she wrote ‘Being the very first colour production made by the BBC [well, nearly], I vividly recollect the corrections needed to colour balance the new studio cameras.  My comments to the Technical Operations Manager that faces in Transylvania did go green occasionally was not appreciated!’ She continued, ‘With No Such Thing as a Vampire the frequent stops to adjust the colour balance made it all the more difficult for the cast to get up to pitch again.  I also recall an inordinately long camera line-up at the beginning – ninety minutes I think it was!’

Producer Harry Moore’s principal concern was said to be the lack of maneuverability of the new colour Marconi cameras, which he feared would severely restrict the range of shots available to his directors.  He felt that his staff were used to the flexibility of the more lightweight monochrome cameras and that under the new conditions the visual scope of the colour plays would bear little difference to the early studio recordings of the 1950s.

Sadly, no recordings still exist of this milestone in TV history for us to make a judgement.

Of course, costume drama was a perfect subject for colour and the first series made in TC6 was Vanity Fair, starring Susan Hampshire.  This began recording in October 1967.  Another drama made in TC6 was Portrait of a Lady.

 

TC6 was designed as a drama studio with TC8 specialising in entertainment and comedy.  One or two cameramen also recall working in TC7 around 1968 with Marconi MK VII cameras but all the BBC engineering documents and press reports are clear that only TC6 and TC8 were operating at the time.  However, the three studios did share a common apparatus room so it is possible that on occasions TC7 was used by rolling some cameras through from one of the other studios.  TC7 officially reopened as a colour studio in May 1968 with EMI 2001s.  These three studios would provide many of the new programmes made in colour for BBC2 from the autumn of 1967 well into 1968 when TC1 was colourised.  TC3 and TC4 followed in 1969 and 1970 respectively.

TC6, 7 and 8 were all intended to open in 1967 with colour cameras to support the new service on BBC2.  This was complicated by the change of mind over the cameras – so Marconis were installed in 6 and 8 only but within a few months they were replaced by EMI 2001s after TC7 had opened with these cameras.  As mentioned above, it was also decided that these three studios would share a common apparatus room but this proved to be a bit of a nightmare for the studio engineers to operate.  After a few years, walls were built and each studio had its own separate area and dedicated engineers like all the other studios.

Roderick Stewart has written to me with an amusing anecdote…

 

‘Studios TC6, 7 and 8 did indeed have a combined apparatus room as you describe, but by the time I worked there, they’d already put up Marley blinds to separate the areas belonging to each studio, because the original plan was not as practical as they’d thought.  There was a common monitoring desk (known as the “Magic desk”) which had been included with the intention of checking colour consistency between the three studios, but it was hardly used, and eventually dismantled, though one of the control panels was so integrated with the workings of other equipment that we couldn’t disconnect it, so we just buried it under the floorboards where it could sometimes be seen glowing through the cracks between them.  It probably puzzled whoever eventually dismantled the studios for their next refurbishment.’

 

One other item of interest about these three studios – they were initially designed to be dual 525 and 625-line capable.  This came as a surprise to me when I discovered it as I would have thought that exporting BBC programmes to the US was not a high priority in those days – unlike ATV at Elstree.  However, I have been informed by one of the engineers responsible for the installation that TC6 did indeed make at least one programme in 525-line NTSC which was subsequently converted to 625-line PAL by the BBC’s standards converter.  The programme was a play – Charley’s Aunt – starring Danny La Rue and made in 1969.  Apparently, at the time the studios were designed there were no 625-525 standards converters, only ones converting from the US standard.  (625-525 standards converters came a little later.)  Thus, to make a programme for export to the US you had to make it in 525 lines.  It also seems that one current affairs programme for the USA came out of TVC for the London contributions and was made in 525-line NTSC.

Interestingly, there were some problems using the 525 lines/60Hz system as the frequency sometime ‘beat’ with the studio lighting causing a flicker.  The lights were fed by normal 240 volt AC current which of course alternates at 50Hz.  ATV’s studios at Elstree apparently got round this by using a DC feed to their lighting, which therefore did not flicker.

 

Roderick Stewart has some more information on the 525-line capability of these studios…

 

‘There was one set of 525 line NTSC equipment which could in theory be assigned to any of the three studios at the flick of a switch, but I only ever saw it used twice, and each time it was a nightmare of clattering relays, followed by hours of diagnostics to trace which ones had stuck and which DC fuses had blown because the system hadn’t been used for years. Thinking about all the things that had to be switched, the pulse feeds to the cameras and encoders, RGB feeds from cameras to encoders, inputs to and RGBS outputs from rack mounted decoders to colour monitors, and feeds to a separate waveform monitor and vectorscope, it was amazing it ever worked at all.

Not only that but there was some relay logic intended as an interlock to prevent two studios from being assigned the 525 NTSC gear at the same time. If it had been necessary to switch it every day there might have been some sense in all this complication, but in reality it was more trouble than it was worth.’

 

TC1, TC6 and TC8 were designed with a new short lighting bar system with one dual-source luminaire on a rolling trolley on each bar. Each bar was only 4 feet long and spaced with their ends 3 feet apart.  (In TC1 this distance is 4 feet.)  Each row of bars was spaced four feet apart, rather than the 6 feet in ‘long bar’ studios.  This arrangement gave much greater flexibility to the lighting director.  Top light entertainment LD Dickie Higham used to have his own studio classification which baffled many a colleague (including me) until the penny dropped.  According to him, TC1, TC2, TC3 and TC8 were all ‘long bar studios.’  The rest were ‘short bar’ ones.  He was, of course, referring to the distance from the studio to the BBC Club.

 

 

The dual-source luminaires designed by Derek Lightbody (no, really) were first installed in TC6 and TC8 when they opened, then the rest of the studios at TVC, and D and E at Lime Grove.  There were even some at Television Theatre.  They were apparently seen as being more suitable for working in colour.  However, they were also a way of reducing rigging time and offering more flexibility to the lighting director.  They are commonly called ‘twisters’ by everybody in the industry except the BBC.  The ‘pointy’ end – with a fresnel lens and barndoors – was fitted with a 5kW lamp which had two filaments, each rated at 2½ kW.  You could use either or both filaments by using a pole-operated switch.  When the Link cameras were installed in the studios, these needed less light so the filament size changed to 1¼ and 2½ kW.   So far so good.

The ‘soft’ end wasn’t really, since the reflector was only about 18 inches square.  However, the original lanterns – called ‘Qwarts’ by Berkey, the manufacturer – were fitted with a very good eggcrate, giving excellent control over the spread of the beam.  Thus, they actually made very useful softened keylights and were employed as such on many dramas and sitcoms.

I shouldn’t really use the past tense as they are still in use in various studios – or at least later versions are.  The newer lanterns designed by Lee Colortran have soft ends with eggcrates giving less control over the spread but they are a bit softer.

 

Other manufacturers have also made their versions.  Beware the Kahoutek!  This monster attempted to use the same bulb for both ends and was a bit of a disaster.  The soft end is very hard and the complex mechanical system that spins the reflector round the bulb and twists the vanes of the eggcrate often jams.  Sadly it was to be found in a couple of the smaller studios at TVC.  Believe it or not this luminaire is named after a comet that promised astronomers a great show but when actually observed was a huge disappointment.  According to Wikipedia…

‘Because Comet Kohoutek fell far short of expectations its name became synonymous with spectacular duds.’

Who’d have though it?

Here’s one for the ‘you couldn’t make it up’ department…

In 2014, dock10 – the company that run the MediaCity studios in Salford – bought 85 of the ex-TVC Kahouteks from BBC Studios at a knock-down price to equip their flagship studio HQ1.  Which is either hilarious or tragic, depending on your point of view.  Frankly, whoever made that purchase can’t have spoken to many lighting directors.  (Dare I suggest, perhaps they should have read my comments on this website.)

 

I am told that one of the reasons the original Berkey lanterns were replaced in the 1980s was that a very useful material was allegedly used as insulation in their construction.  Yes – you guessed it – asbestos.  God only knows how much of the stuff was knocked out of them over the years whilst being beaten with a stick by enthusiastic electricians.  Let’s face it…we’re doomed.

 

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TV Centre probably in 1960. TC1 is built but not fitted out. TC8 has yet to be constructed.
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Ace cameraman and all round good egg Roger Bunce operating a Link 110 in TC6.  The play was something called Enchanted Castle apparently.  Note the painted floor – the scenic artists used to do some brilliantly effective floors in those days.  I believe this parquet effect was achieved using a sort of roller but other more organic effects were just as good.  To be honest, HD killed all that – you have to use real floors now on sitcoms (no multicamera drama remains in London except for EastEnders) – mostly vinyl floor coverings which cameramen hate as they slow the peds down.  The ped here is an old Vinten HP – a few of these were in use right up to the end of the ’80s until they were replaced gradually with Fulmars.
tvc 60s lighting gallery 450p
This is the lighting gallery of TC6 shortly after it first opened.  (This is of course when TC6’s galleries were on the first floor.)  Spot the orange filters on the black and white monitors in order to match them to the same ‘illuminant D’ white as the colour monitor.  This is a Strand ‘Type C’ console.  Interestingly – TC8, which opened only a few weeks later – had a Thorn Q-File (the first computer memory desk.)  Those horrible red chairs were still around in the 1970s I seem to remember.  Note the OCPs for 5 cameras plus a slide scanner and remote racking of telecine machines (no grading was done in those days – colour correction of film was all done on the fly.)  The thing that puzzles me though is – where did the TM1 (LD) sit?

 

Before leaving TC6 it is worth noting that from 1993 this was the only studio at the Centre to have its production, lighting and sound galleries at ground floor level.  They had previously been on the first floor like all the others but due to the layout of the studio being lengthways, an area was available on the ground floor that had previously been used as large make up and wardrobe rooms and a lighting preparation area.  A 14 month refit that also included the removal of the asbestos from the studio was used to make the move downstairs. 

This was the time when the studios were opening up to independent production companies.  TVC was now in direct competition for business with the ITV studios on the South Bank (TLS). Their galleries were on the ground floor which is very popular with directors, producers and lighting directors, who often have to make many trips to and from the studio floor.  Other studios around the country built since the 1980s also had galleries constructed at ground floor level.  The requirement to have windows looking out over the studio floor was no longer necessary.

TC6 did indeed prove to be very popular with many productions for this very reason.  Never Mind the Buzzcocks was one of a number of shows that found a home here.  All the more baffling then that when the new studios were built at BBC Glasgow and MediaCity in Salford, their galleries were placed an extraordinary 2 floors up at gantry level.  It is as if all the lessons learnt over decades of programme making were forgotten overnight and an unnecessary annoyance to production teams was introduced without a care.

In 2010, TC6 became the fourth studio at TVC to be converted at huge expense to HD.  It was also the first in the country to be 3D capable, all of which makes its completely unnecessary closure less than three years later all the more tragic.  Its final programme was, appropriately, an edition of Pointless in December 2012.

 

tvc tc6 demolition 450p

Here’s a really sad (criminal, actually) photo that I was in two minds about including.  The studio where Basil Fawlty said ‘Don’t mention the war’, where a remarkable drama about Bomber Harris was recorded and where Dennis Potter’s Pennies From Heaven was shot – it’s TC6 in its dying throes in 2015.

All the gantries, cyc tracks, lighting bars and other technical equipment have gone and the acoustic wall panels removed.  It looks much smaller here than it actually was but it does reveal one or two interesting features.  The position of the original control rooms at 1st floor level can be seen, blocked up with breeze blocks, and the visitors’ observation window is still in the corner.  No doubt during the demolition, senior BBC managers brought their families round to proudly show off the wanton destruction they had caused.