Architectural model of Pebble Mill

D0120_John Madin












Photo, Model, February 1962. This digital resource is available under a Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 3.0 license, with kind permission of the Birmingham & Five Counties Architectural Association Trust, thanks to the Architectus project (part of the Jisc Content Programme 2011-13). 

This architectural model dates from 1962. John Madin was the architect for BBC Pebble Mill, and his practice was based on the Hagley Road. Notice that behind the office block is the helix car park and outside broadcast garage, which was never built. Apparently Birmingham City Council had insisted on ample car parking provision in giving the building planning permission. I understand that it wasn’t built due to costs, at a time when the BBC was being hard hit by ITV, and when the Licence Fee wasn’t increasing much.

Link 125 cameras

Link 125 camera on Pebble Mill at One

Link 125 camera on Pebble Mill at One













Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission. Thanks to floor manager, Eurwyn Jones, foreground in this photo, for sharing it.

The photo shows the Link 125 cameras during a rehearsal with cook Michael Smith, on Pebble Mill at One, circa 1981.

The Link 125 cameras replaced the EMI 2001 cameras, which were extremely popular with cameramen. The Links did not enjoy the same popularity.

The following comments were left on the Pebble Mill Facebook group about the camera:

Keith Brook: ‘Luckily for me I left before the Links came in. My ex-colleagues told me how bad they were and how difficult it was to focus. If you wound up the peaking, the camera noise became a white fog over the whole viewfinder. If you turned it down, the focus was likely to be soft, but you couldn’t tell. Engineers chose cameras and cameramen had to make do with what they were given. Despite far, far better cameras being available from Japanese manufacturers, the BBC had decided to ‘do the patriotic thing’ and use a British company. Fortunately, the Links didn’t last long.’

Matthew Skill: ‘The patriotic thing being to use a camera company that hadn’t been around that long compared to the real camera-makers…? And then to eventually indirectly/inadvertently drive same late-comer company to the wall as it tried to satisfy BBC requirements for a ‘modern’ studio camera (130) to replace the 110s and 125s. A curious tale all round….’

Stuart Gandy: ‘That’s certainly true what Keith says about the Links. After the crispness of the 2001’s, they never seemed sharp. There was also an odd condition that could happen that resulted in a strange slight loss of focus in the middle of the screen, which became known as the ‘teardrop’, because of its shape. The cause was never fully explained, but I think adjusting the registration controls fixed it – for a while. Even now, I remember the words of the late Mike Lee, when he would come across the line up area and say quietly, ‘we’ve got a teardrop’.’

Studio Operations (part 3) – Ray Lee

'All Creatures Great and Small' set in Studio A. Photo by Tim Savage

‘All Creatures Great and Small’ set in Studio A. Photo by Tim Savage













Studio and camera usage

Studio A was the main drama studio, and at least initially had network drama bookings most of the time. The main drama booking days were Sun/Mon and Wed/Thurs  for usually Rehearse day 1 and Record day 2, allowing for set and light on Tuesday and Saturday and sometimes a quick booking on a Friday. Studio B was used every weekday evening for Midlands Today, and briefly on a Saturday for the sport report, and on a Sunday for either Farming (the forerunner of Countryfile) and/or the Asian network programme “New Life”. Farming went out at lunchtime on a Sunday, and “New Life” was recorded on a Sunday afternoon/early evening.

Pebble Mill at One used the cameras from Studio B on  Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, as normally Studio A was in use for Drama. Studio A cameras were used on Tuesdays and Fridays when there were not normally drama bookings. If there were gaps in the bookings Studio A cameras were used in preference, as there was then an extra camera available. At that time Studio A had a complement of 4 cameras and a hot spare, whereas Studio B had just 3 cameras. In the earliest days the camera control unit (CCU) for one of the cameras was shared between Studio B and Studio A, which involved major re-cabling after Pebble Mill at One. By the time I moved to Studio ops, an additional CCU had been acquired, so this chore was no longer necessary. There was one additional camera and CCU in the back room of TAR, this was the “maintenance channel” and was used to repair faulty modules, and circuit boards. It was rare for it to be fully functional, and occasionally it was a case of checking whether the module or circuit board that had gone faulty in one of the studio cameras was better or worse than the one in the maintenance channel, or which might be quicker to repair! The cameras needed constant cosseting to get the best out of them, but when working well produced pictures that even against today’s cameras were very good.

Later on a further camera was obtained for Studio B which was permanently rigged in the presentation annex, meaning that there were always 3 cameras available in the studio area, and the practise of wheeling one into presentation for the end of Midlands Today was no longer needed.

Ray Lee


Developments at Pebble Mill 1984


Eng inf 1984:5 PP Studio B PP








































Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission.

Thanks to Peter Poole for sharing these pages about technical developments, including a new dubbing and sypher suite, and Studio B control room refurbishment, at Pebble Mill in the internal BBC Engineering Newsletter from 1984/5.

The following information was added on the Pebble Mill Facebook group:

Keith Brook: ‘The original 1/4″ location sound was transferred onto special 16mm separate magnetic, sep-mag, film. Now, the film and the sound were the same ‘size’ and could be edited together by the film editor. If it was drama, for example, you’d end up with a complete film and dialogue track but minus the music, sound effects, wild-track and so on. You would them make a second, or third, sep-mag track that had the music, effects and so on, all in the right places but with extra lead-in and lead-out.

Dubbing was where you took that 16mm film, its matching 16mm dialogue track, the other tracks and put them on a huge machine that kept everything in sync. You would then run the whole lot through a sound mixer onto a final track, fading the effects in and out according to a dubbing script that matched the frame counter.

SYPHER was a video system and is a BBC acronym for ‘SYnchronous Post-production using Helical-scan video and Eight-track Recorder’. Essentially, it worked like film-dubbing, but the 8-track sound machine was kept in sync with the video player by time code rather than mechanically as in film. Again, once you had the dialogue track and all the other bits in the right places, you would have a final ‘dub’ where you put it all together onto the audio track of the video recorder. The clever bit with SYPHER was the motorised faders on the sound desk which, again using timecode, would remember their settings at each moment during the final dub.’

Stuart Gandy: ‘Good memories of those times. This was during a period of 3 – 4 years of major refurbishment of the studio and VT areas. From the vision viewpoint in the studios , it was the change from the stalwart EMI 2001 cameras to the Link 125.’

Midlands Report














Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission.

Midlands Report was a regional opt out programme. It latest around 30 minutes, and usually took the form of a presenter led documentary on local issues.

Thanks to VT editor, Ian Collins, for making this title still available.