Flatpack Film Festival – Second City Firsts

A Touch of Eastern Promise

A Touch of Eastern Promise













The Flatpack Film Festival are going to be screening six 30 minute dramas made at Pebble Mill by the English Regions Drama Department, in April 2016 at the Midlands Arts Centre, Edgbaston:


During the 1970s, a key strength of the drama department at BBC Pebble Mill was its ability to unearth new talent; not just through flagships like Play For Today, but also the entry-point offered by the likes of Second City Firsts. Running from 1973 for ten series, this half-hour slot took a chance on a spectacular range of ‘regional talent’ including Willy Russell, Julie Walters, David Rudkin, Brian Glover and many others. Just as importantly, it offered a diversity of representation that often compares favourably with today’s TV drama.


Volume One:

A Touch of Eastern Promise; Girl; Early to Bed

A Touch of Eastern Promise (1973), is not officially a Second City First, though it emerged from a very similar slot. Written by Tara Prem, it’s the tale of a daydreaming shop-boy who has the opportunity to meet his favourite star. Partly shot in Balsall Heath, all the cinema scenes were captured at the now-demolished Imperial on Moseley Road. To follow, an Alison Steadman double-bill: studio-shot military drama Girl (1974), which features the first lesbian kiss seen on British TV; and then Early to Bed (1975), with Steadman smouldering on location in a depressed mill town. This claustrophobic tale of infidelity was the first television script by Alan Bleasdale, who later went on to Boys From the Blackstuff and GBH.


Volume Two:

The Permissive Society; Club Havana; Jack Flea’s Birthday Celebration

It was at the Midlands Arts Centre where Mike Leigh first embarked on his unique approach to devising scripts, and Pebble Mill which commissioned much of his early TV work. Made a year before camping comedy Nuts in May, The Permissive Society (1975) is an overlooked gem. Also confined to a single set, Club Havana (1975) is a tense portrait of a Handsworth speakeasy by playwright Barry Reckord, featuring Don Warrington as the landlady’s son newly arrived from Jamaica and an incredibly young Julie Walters as the barmaid. We conclude with Jack Flea’s Birthday Celebration (1976), a psychosexual nightmare from the pen of Ian McEwan which is very much in keeping with his short stories of the time.”



Studio 1 – Martin Fenton

Studio 1 control room

Studio 1 control room











Studio 1 light

Studio 1 light

Studio 1 Neumann U47s

Studio 1 Neumann U47s





























Photos by Martin Fenton, no reproduction without permission. Martin took these photos in 2003. Radio Studio 1 was the largest radio studio at Pebble Mill, and was also used for some television series in the latter years of Pebble Mill.

“Studio 1 was once a venue for glorious orchestral recordings, but by this point it had been deliberately priced out of the market (Abbey Road number 1 was cheaper) and was used for little more than Farming Today

The Neumann U47s , I was told were used at the insistence of Radio 3, when Studio 1 was regularly used for orchestral concerts.” [The mics may be Neumann U87s, see comment below from Andy Groves.]

Martin Fenton

(The Neumann U47s were condenser mics apparently well known for their clear sound. They were apparently the favourite mic of the Beatles manager, George Martin.)

The following comments were left on the Pebble Mill Facebook page:

Caroline Feldon Parsons: ‘Lots of happy memories doing programmes for Radio 3 in that studio. Everything from live Lunchtime Concerts to live drivetime programmes like In Tune, and lots of recorded chamber music. I did a fair bit of page-turning for pianists too!’

Chris Marshall: ‘Yes, it was really busy with Radio 3 programmes until the bizarre decisions around Producer Choice and bimedia put paid to that. Tony Wass could give lots of info on the technical stuff.’

Jane Ward: ‘Occasionally larger scale orchestral and brass band sessions for Radio 2 took place in there as well. I produced a fair number and, like Caroline, was involved in other ways before that, either page turning or acting as orchestral librarian before I became a producer… I arrived at Pebble Mill in February 1987 as the Music Assistant, a post which not only served Radios 2 & 3 but which ultimately extended to become a research and support service for the whole building.’

Andy Groves: ‘I think you will find the mics are a Neumann U87 rather than 47. Both fine microphones.’

Peter Trevena: ‘I think that the lamp is still working on Doctors




Pebble Mill office block

Pebble Mill admin block detailed sketch of admin block





















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

These sketches of the BBC Pebble Mill administration block are from 1965, although the building was not finished until 1970/1. They were presumably sketched by architect John Madin, or someone from his office. The second sketch is very detailed, and from my memory seems very similar to how the building was laid out when I joined in 1987.


Cafe 21 – series 3

cafe 21 flyer












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

Cafe 21 was an Asian talk show on BBC2 in the late 1990s. Below is part of a press release for the show:

“In November 1997, Café 21 was first broadcast on BBC2, it was regarded as a milestone in Asian programming as it gave young Asians a voice on national television.

During its first series it became a talking point in its own right, tackling issues such as Asian Identity, Families and Sexuality which put the show on the broadcasting map. Challenging British Asian stereotypes has always been of key importance in Café 21, the ‘cornershops and curry’ myth has been exploded ever since the first show.

Café 21 balanced hard hitting opinions and person stories to create what could be described as a ‘chat show – soap’.

There are 20 contributors in the Café, the 21st being the presenter Rajesh Mirchandani who also presents the BBC music show ‘The Ozone’.

Being on Café 21 has certainly encouraged some of our former contributors to take the plunge into uncharted waters:

First series

  • Narinder Kaur has since had a part as a gangster girlfriend in a forthcoming ‘Bollywood’ film called London.
  • Ashish Joshi has his own column in cult Asian magazine ‘Snoop’.
  • Victor Agarwal became the first Asian local councillor in his borough at the tender age of 24.
  • Ritu Dhammi has become the drivetime presenter on Radio Sabras in Leicester. She feels being on Café 21 built her confidence as a broadcaster.

Second series

  • Kevin Sherwani was a struggling stand up comedian, since appearing on Café 21 he has now secured a regular slot on the Comedy Store in London.
  • Krish Majumdar has since decided on a career in broadcasting by getting a place on ITNs news training scheme.
  • Anif Abdul became a R&B presenter on London based Kiss FM Radio.

Now the third series is about to go into production and we are looking for contributors. This time however we are opening up to any young person who wants to air their views on television, Asian or non Asian. So if you are between 16 and 29 and have views on Asian issues contact us now!”

Thanks to Dharmesh Rajput for sharing this information.


Don Leaver – The Chain

The Chain. Photo by Willoughby Gulachsen, no reproduction without permission

The Chain. Photo by Willoughby Gullachsen, no reproduction without permission

The Chain. Photo by Willoughby Gulachsen, no reproduction without permission

The Chain. Photo by Willoughby Gullachsen, no reproduction without permission

The Chain. Photo by Willoughby Gulachsen, no reproduction without permission

The Chain. Photo by Willoughby Gullachsen, no reproduction without permission

























“I read just read that the director Don Leaver sadly died back in December. Responsible for some of the best telly including Police Surgeon, the first series of The Avengers, The Protectors, Hammer House of Horror, and Armchair Theatre among much more. I had the good fortune to meet him as a 2nd assistant film editor on The Chain, which was made at Pebble Mill in 1989/90. Produced by Carol Parks it was film edited by John Rosser.”

Neil Roberts

Here is the link to Don Leaver’s obituary in The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2015/dec/22/don-leaver

Here is the entry from the Radio Times for The Chain, from the BBC Genome project: http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/b217a5f921884ca8892f412ae9b43864

“A tense thriller by Desmond Lowden.
1: Ten years of property boom in the rich south. Lots of losers, lots of tough cases for Crown Prosecutor Cassidy. Then the mysterious McRae arrives with the first pieces in a jigsaw of murder and corruption that takes over their lives.
Stunt arranger Alf Joint Music Courtney Pine
Script editor Brian Wright Designer Nigel Jones
Photography John Kenway Producer Carol Parks Director Don Leaver BBC Pebble Mill
Written by: Desmond Lowden.
Editor: Brian Wright
Robert McRae: Peter Capaldi
Michael Cassidy: Robert Pugh
Sonia Cassidy: Julia Hills
Phil Benson: Michael Troughton
Marianne Benson: Susan Kyd
Barry: Henry Goodman
James Denton: Terence Budd
Hickman: Kenneth MacDonald
Sergeant Roderick: Aran Bell
Samantha: Auriol Goldingham
Chief Prosecutor Royston: Tony Mathews
Assistant police commissioner: Graham Weston
Pike: Sean McKee
Pike’s mate: Ian Burfield
Court clerk: Colin Rix
Social worker: Karen Benjamin
Alison Cassidy: Anna Day
Jo-Ann: Viveka Dagnell
Dorinda: Eniola Jaiyeoba